Black Hair at Home: Mandela Cocores

The pandemic hasn’t been easy on anyone or their routines, especially Black women and their hair. Since lockdown, we’ve faced an aesthetic and philosophical reckoning. We’ve had to ask ourselves: What happens when we suddenly decide to let colleagues see our natural hair? How does learning — or relearning — how to nurture and style our natural hair affect our self-image? In “Black Hair at Home“, a diverse group of Black women share their experiences and the valuable hair tips and tricks they’ve learned during lockdown.  

When it comes to hair, Mandela Cocores has an adventurous streak. Since her teens she’s sported almost every style under the sun from pressed to short and even blonde. “I loved experimenting with my hair,” she explains, “even in its natural state.” Recently the Mac Weldon project manager returned to embracing her locks au naturel after her son, Rye, said, “Mommy . . . Your hair is so beautiful.” Below she shares her 30-minute routine and best post-shower style for easy curls.

Have you always been comfortable with your natural texture? What started your path towards loving your hair?

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my hair and scalp. My grandmother was a beautiful light-skinned Black woman, but very much hated being Black to be honest. She hated my curly and textured hair and always wanted to have it straightened, which I hated. But I loved experimenting with my hair and products. In high school it was cool to be natural. Then around 20, I straightened my hair again and got bangs. This time I thought it was amazing, in part because the guy I liked thought it was gorgeous, so I was obsessed. 

After college I moved to San Francisco and there weren’t that many Black hair salons. I had a tough time managing and heat styling my hair myself, and looking back at pictures all I can think is “Yikes.” The real turning point was after meeting my husband. I brought him home to meet my family and my Mom said, “Del, you’re not wrapping your hair at night.” My husband, who’s white, was like, “What? What do you mean wrapping your hair?” And my mom pulled out this durag. He thought it was so cool. 

I was mortified she called me out; but I wasn’t wrapping my hair because I had roommates and didn’t want to be the token Black girl. After that I start wrapping my hair. Then I cut my hair really short; I grew it out long again; I dyed my hair blonde. After I moved to New York, I had an amazing Dominican hair salon right next to my house and could get it pressed. Then a year ago, I really wanted braids so I started wearing my hair more natural. And opting for protective styles. One day, my son saw me get out of the shower and he said, “Mommy, you’re so beautiful! Your hair is so beautiful,” and it really touched me and inspired me to wear my hair natural again. 

How does embracing your natural hair feel?

Honestly, I feel more like myself with new hair care routine. When I straightened my hair, I couldn’t figure out hairstyles or how to get like my edges down. I always wore beanies. Now I’m loving this freedom and embracing my hair and who I am. 

What products for black hair do you swear by?

After 10 years of straightening and messing with my hair pattern, I’ve been retraining my curls. Since I don’t shampoo, I use SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash Conditioning Cleanser. Right after showering, I apply all of these products at basically the same time: Pattern Beauty Leave-In Conditioner, Pattern Beauty Styling Cream, Pattern Beauty Jojoba Oil, Curls Creme Brule Whipped CURL Cream and Curls Blueberry & Coconut Hair Milk. I have no idea if I’m doing it right, but this hair care combo keeps my hair soft and rehydrates it. You don’t need a ton of product either: Just a little squeeze. My whole routine — showering, adding product, braiding my hair — probably takes 30 minutes. 

What is your current work from home?

There is no look! It’s literally the worst. I throw on a sweatshirt and wear PJ pants all the time. Because I wash my hair at night, I put it in two braids. In the morning I’ll either take them out and spray on some conditioner and water or just leave in the braids. It helps that my boss is a Black woman, so she gets it. 

Any tips or tricks you’ve learned recently when it comes to black hair care routine?

I think it’s the braids! At night, I wash my hair and then braid it. I’ll let it air-dry, put a bonnet on, and keep the braids in for two days. It’s funny because everyone’s like, “You’re really pulling these off!” But I’m not going anywhere so I don’t care. On day three, I unbraid my hair and rehydrate them with a spray bottle of Pattern’s leave-in-conditioner and water. Then I scrunch in some Mixed Chick’s Morning Day After Foam, which is a life-changing, weightless rehydrating product. And the curls look really good!

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