Teyonah Parris: ‘I Had No Clue What My Natural Hair Looked Like’

“I got my first relaxer at 9 — my mom was against it, but I got it when I was 9 years old and every four to six weeks thereafter,” Chi-Raq and Dear White People actress Teyonah Parris tells Us. “Rewind to six or seven years ago and I was walking the streets of Harlem when I saw this young woman who had a beautiful twist-out and I thought, ‘Wow, how did she get her hair like that? It’s gorgeous!’ And I realized in that moment that I had no clue what my natural hair looked like without chemically altering it.” Stylish recently caught up with the 29-year-old Dark and Lovely brand ambassador and chatted about her journey towards (natural hair) discovery. Read on for more!

Us: How has your attitude towards your hair evolved over the past few years?

TP: My personal idea of what beauty was, was very narrow and didn’t include myself in the way that I was naturally made, the way I was naturally born — it was all about straight hair, lighter skin. You know, I felt like I had to alter what I naturally looked like in order to fit into that very narrow version of what beautiful was. I had to really recondition the mind because I didn’t look at myself and say, “Ooh girl, yes!” when I looked at myself in the mirror. “You look bomb!” I cried and there were times that I was trying to wash my hair in the shower and I just had no idea — it’s work! When you’re first learning how to style your hair and care for it and love on it, it’s so new and you’ve done something different for 20 years and now you have to learn a new way of doing it. And I felt frustrated and I didn’t feel beautiful and I felt like an outcast and like, “Why do I have to deal with this? Why can’t I just wet my hair and come out of the shower and shake it and I’m good to go?” Which I can now, but before I didn’t think that was beautiful.

Us: Walk me through your styling routine.

TP: One of my favorite products is the Knot-Out Conditioner. I use this as a co-wash, which is short for conditioner wash, where you don’t use the shampoo to wash your hair, you use a conditioner. That gets all the dirt and grime out just as well for me. Then I’ll use the clay cleanser, which is a deeper clean in getting those impurities out once a month. So that’s my wash routine. Then I like to wear twist-outs, so I’ll start using the curl soufflé, which keeps hair nice and fluffy, and because it’s anti-shrinkage, it also helps keep some length on it. So, you do the double-strand twists and then I’ll wear the two-strand twists for a few days, so I’ll pin them and just have a flat little hairstyle. And when I’m ready, you take them out and untwist them. It’s a two-in-one hairstyle, the first being more of a protective style for a few days when it’s in the twists and pinned back, and when you’re ready to have it more out and fun, then I take it out. I haven’t used heat in years, because I found that when I use heat, once I wet my hair again, the curl pattern has changed and has loosened. I want to keep my nice, nappy Afro. I don’t want a looser curl, because I want to keep the integrity of what my curl is. I try not to mess with heat at all.

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From left: Dark and Lovely Au Naturale Anti-Shrinkage Knot-Out Conditioner ($10.50, walgreens.com), Dark and Lovely Au Naturale Anti-Shrinkage Clumping Curls Clay Cleanser ($10, walgreens.com), Dark and Lovely Au Naturale Coil Moisturizing Souffle ($10.50, walgreens.com)

Us: Do you have advice for girls who look up to you and want to follow your journey?

TP: I say leap, ladies, leap. For me, it was more than just changing my hair, it was changing my mind about what I considered beautiful, about what I considered valuable and valid. So I definitely say leap, in the sense of, you don’t know what’s on the other side of changing your hair. For me, it was acceptance, validity and truly appreciating how I was made. It’s hair, it can change back, but attempt the journey. There are many rewards that you can’t even fathom before you take the journey that are waiting for you on the other side.

Us: You have flawless skin. What are the three essentials you always carry in your makeup bag?

TP: My must-haves are Skinn by Dimitri. They have an orchid primer and that primer gives me life! I’m in makeup 17 hours when I’m on set and primer helps foundation lay smoothly. The other one would be L’Oreal Infallible Setting Spray. It brings the juiciness back to skin. It hydrates and refreshes. I put it on after I put the makeup on because powder, for me, makes my skin look dull and ashy. But the spray brings it all back to life. For lips, I love Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in Hibiscus because it’s nice for a simple day, but it gives you a nice pink color that’s perfect for a more natural look.

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