Welcome to Mane Character, a deep-dive on the mind-mane connection and how our hair impacts our mental health.
As Refinery29’s beauty writer, my contacts book is bursting with hairstylists and trichologists, but one thing I’ll always fail to wrap my head around is that hair is essentially a dead tissue. Scientifically speaking, this is entirely true, but the emotional connection that many of us have with our hair proves that it is so much deeper than that.
Hair is innately linked to identity, gender, culture and religion, but one topic that goes mostly unexplored is its connection to mental health and how it makes us feel. A TikTok video I came across recently, for example, hit a nerve. It unpacked how Black women struggle to feel good about themselves until their hair is done — and it’s pretty damn true. In fact, there’s a long history of Black women facing discrimination for wearing natural hair styles, or feeling as though they are less than when their hair doesn’t suit their personal style or mood. One hair out of place when I’m already in A Mood can be world-shattering.
It's also no coincidence that when our mental health suffers, so does our hair. There is an abundance of research that links stress with hair loss, for instance. Even the language we use shapes the way we perceive our hair, particularly as it often has negative connotations. Words like “tame”, “unruly”, and “unmanageable” suggest that hair must be controlled and changed; that it is never good enough, and somehow worth less than other types. As beauty editors, we have a responsibility to avoid perpetuating such outdated and harmful stereotypes about hair.
Hair is personal, and our routines are undoubtedly intertwined with our mental health. This is the focus for this year’s Mane Character series, particularly this story, which is an ode to the hair products, tools, and accessories that the Refinery29 editors use daily. Though seemingly trivial, our hair routines can bring us joy, peace, control and encourage self-love. Read ahead to uncover the hair products that do all of this and more.
Amanda Mitchell, Senior Beauty Writer / Stories Creator
Me and my hair extensions are best friends. We've been through a lot together, and we're always going to be dependent on one another. This is likely something I should talk about with my therapist, but instead, I'll rave about these clip-in hair extensions from Bellami. Not all clip-in extensions are the same, and good ones should last you a long, long time. I'm a very, uh, jovial person — that's a nice way of saying I'm always moving in some fashion. I've had clip-ins get knotted after one tiny shimmy, the combs digging into my scalp and fully dragging out after a few hours. Not these — not only did they last a full night out dancing at a festival, but they stayed curled, shaped, and laid through several humid nights (humidity is the enemy of clip-in extensions, experts — me — say.) I love that they come in multiple lengths and colors, and they're flexible enough that you can toss them in your suitcase for a trip without worrying about damage to the band or the strip itself. And they're thick, too — these clip-ins will give you volume and length, depending on your ideal style and goals. These extensions have stayed silky and luxurious through many an activity, and they're incredibly easy to wash and blowdry, too. Not a tangle in sight, here. I feel like I'll be buried with these hair extensions, because I love them so much.
There’s something so refreshing about the freedom of throwing your wig across the room when you first get home. Yes, I love my wigs, I literally have talked about them for this exact same award last year! But there are days when I don’t feel like going through the process of gluing, molding, and styling a wig to my head. And that’s where wigs like this one from UNice come in. Not only does UNice have some of the fastest shipping I’ve ever known from a wig company (as well as one of the widest varieties of colors and styles) but they have a little something for everyone, too. They were the first company I saw do a money strip highlighting on a wig, so they’re also in the know when it comes to trends. Even though I’ve been wearing wigs for longer than I can remember, I’m still learning and growing my process. And sometimes, that makes me feel… icky. I’m the kind of person who needs to be able to be good at something the first time I try it, and even with a masters degree in Wig Snatchery from YouTube University, I’m far from an expert. Like, not an expert at all. But I’m also not in the place to find a stylist who can get my look together every two weeks, either. These glueless wigs are easy to wear and even easier to put on because the lace comes precut, meaning you don’t have to worry about a wonky lace front hairline. For human hair wigs, these aren’t going to cost your entire life savings and then some, only to fall apart after a year.
My wash days are chaotic. Anyone who has luxurious wash days, I commend you — I typically come out looking like a drowned, harassed rat in the debris after the apocalypse. Wash days used to be a full hour of shampooing, conditioning, detangling, and everything in between. I realized I really was just wasting so much of my time, my water, and my skin was dying. In streamlining my wash day, it’s now not a complete burden or a nuisance; it’s something I enjoy doing. This conditioner from Salwa Petersen was a real game changer, because I not only use it as a 5-minute deep conditioner in the shower, but as a pre-shampoo treatment the night before, which really helps cut down on all the extra steps I was doing before. Treating the hair before washing, whether it’s with an oil treatment or a pre-poo, has always helped my curls feel nourished and smooth, and the Chébé seed in this conditioner is great for my hair. (Maybe it’s because Petersen and I both have ancestry from Chad, where the Chébé seed comes from? Am I reaching?) I love a multipurpose product, and this one took a process I usually dread to one I may actually look forward to.
Jacqueline Kilikita, Deputy Beauty Director
I’ve tried hundreds of expensive hair serums over the years. (One even had real gold flakes inside it.) But not much beats this drugstore product by L’Oreal Elvive. The star ingredient is hyaluronic acid, which seems to breathe life into my dry lengths. It moisturizes hair without making it feel weighty, and whether I blow-dry or rough dry it, my hair always feels soft and silky afterwards. It smells incredible, too. Actually, it has given me the confidence to ditch my hair straightener (which only left my lengths flat and limp) and to embrace my natural wave pattern, which I’m trying to nurture and not hide going into the New Year.
Don’t underestimate the power of a microfibre towel. I was skeptical at first: How can something as simple as a piece of material minimize frizz and flyaways? I’m not sure how, but it works, and even though it’s relatively thin compared to a bath towel, it wicks away moisture quickly and effectively. I have three and I haven’t gone back to a regular towel in years. Hair is intrinsically linked to self-esteem. When I don’t have to worry about how mine looks or feels, I can take on the day easily. There’s something about wrapping up warm, freshly-washed hair that feels so comforting, too.
I could’ve just rolled out of bed or been wearing week old sweats, but when I whip my hair up into a claw clip, I feel instantly chic and put together. There’s something transformative about them. Tort is one of my favorite hair accessory brands. Made out of eco-resin, its clips (shipped globally, FYI) are weighty and substantial compared to the ones you might pick up at a drugstore, and the designs are Instagram-worthy. I’m particularly obsessed with the curved top claw, which the brand says is one of its strongest clips (perfect for my thick hair).
Karina Hoshikawa, Senior Writer
Scalp oiling has transformed the health of my hair, and Ceremonia’s Aceite De Moska is my product of choice. The formula is super gentle and nourishing, and a monthly application all over my scalp has helped rid my scalp of dryness, flakes, and irritation. I swear it’s also made my hair feel brand new — weightlessly hydrated, shiny, and happy.
I have naturally dark brunette hair, and got medium ash brown highlights a few months ago. Madison Reed’s Color Reviving Gloss is what I’ve been using to maintain my color between salon visits. The Espresso color helps neutralize any orange, brassy tones, and leaves my hair feeling hydrated, shiny, and soft. One tube lasts me about three uses, and makes my hair look like it just left the colorist’s chair.
After spending almost all of my 20s not bothering to brush my hair in the morning, I recently rediscovered the humble hair brush — Briogeo’s Vegan Boar Bristle, specifically. Boar bristle brushes are great for smoothing and redistributing oil through the scalp and lengths, but I was looking for an affordable, cruelty-free alternative. Briogeo’s checks all the boxes, and best of all, works just as well as professional-grade brushes, only at a sub-$30 price point. Now, my daily beauty routine begins and ends with this tool — and it’s truly made me fall in love with my hair all over again.
Breanna Davis, Most Wanted Social Editor
As someone with commitment issues, I find it hard to stick to one style for more than a month. (A happy problem being a Black woman with diversity at my fingertips.) Clip-ins have been a constant go-to in my everyday life. Kinkistry’s are especially perfect because the quality of the hair is amazing so I don’t waste time on a concoction of products to keep the curls bouncy and defined. They blend seamlessly with my natural hair, shedding is practically nonexistent, and I can switch my looks up as much as I want in only a few minutes.
Annie Black, Social Editor
Two things about my hair: it’s fine, and I have a lot of it. I feel the most like mmyself when I have long hair, but the longer it gets, the more tangly it gets. I will never forget the actual magic I witnessed using a Wet Brush for the first time nearly a decade ago. My hair, traditionally a very annoying rat’s nest after a wash, was no longer a misery to brush. The Wet Brush glided right through my fine strands, and I was immediately sold. Since then, there have been numerous Wet Brushes in my household, and I’ll continue to use them forever.
I don’t like admitting how much I hate washing my hair, but I genuinely despise it unless it comes with the glorious head massage only a salon bowl and expert stylist can supply. Because of this, I like to think I’m a bit of a dry shampoo connoisseur, and I will try any kind I can get my hands on. Nothing compares to Living Proof Perfect hair Day, precisely the Advanced Clean version. While it’s a bit more expensive than what I’d generally go for, whenever I feel like my hair is no longer acceptable without a wash, I reach for this dry shampoo. It feels clean, it smells fresh, and it adds just enough volume that I can (sort of) pretend I did an at-home blowout.
Megan Decker, Beauty Editor
I used to think that a silk pillowcase was overrated and just for fancy people, but over the years I’ve been collecting these cases for every pillow on my bed. They’re truly the best investments I’ve made in my hair — and my skin. Compared to cotton, silk fabric is much softer on the hair. There’s a glide to it. You can’t skimp or find a dupe for Slip, either, because most other brands cut their silk with satin and satin actually causes static and frizz. Real silk is worth it. Oh, and my skin now freaks out when I use any other pillowcase. This is probably because silk absorbs less moisture than cotton, so as a face-down sleeper, I know that my skincare isn’t just sinking into my pillowcase (also, ew).
I appreciate a brand that’s also thinking about diversity and inclusion in their hair accessories. Big shout-out to the slip skinny scrunchies in auburn. They’re the first hair ties I’ve ever had that match my hair color! It helps that they’re super gentle on my hair, too.
Whenever I want my hair to be really clean so I can stretch a DIY blowout through a long weekend, I’ll use this scalp scrub. I’ve tried others but I always come back to this one. Because it has a natural carbohydrate complex, it doesn’t dry out my hair and scalp the way so many scalp scrubs do. I use it every so often, not every wash. But it makes me less precious about my other shampoos (I’m good with anything sulfate-free) because this is my heavy-hitter that gets my scalp and hair right and feeling super light and fresh.
Ineye Komonibo, Unbothered Culture Critic
As someone whose natural curl pattern leans more kinky than curly, I have to be very intentional about the products that I select for those twist out days. Whenever I’m looking to achieve a super bouncy, super defined ‘fro that’s also soft and shiny, this defining cream is the star player in my arsenal. It’s moisturizing — never greasy — and it leaves my hair looking amazing every time.
After a bad run-in with vacation braids, my usually full edges had essentially been snatched right off my scalp. I was devastated thinking that they could never grow back, but Wild Growth Hair Oil had other plans. After a few months of nightly applications (and breaking up with the braider who played with my life), I was thrilled to see that the bald spots were actually growing in! There are a lot of fancier hair oils on the market right now, but you can’t go wrong with this beauty supply classic that even the old school hairstylists at the salon swear by. Pro-tip: Apply some to your sparse eyebrows and watch them flourish.
Hilary Shepherd, Beauty Editor, Branded Content
My hair is thick and long (like, down-to-my-butt long), and while I attempt to shampoo, condition, blowdry, and style it almost every other day, sometimes I simply don’t have the energy… or the arm strength. Whenever I forgo my routine, my hair suffers, quickly becoming greasy, stringy, and generally lifeless. Because my hair is my favorite physical asset, this naturally takes a toll on me mentally; I don’t feel my best and may even avoid social situations. Enter: Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk. I’ve been a long time user of dry shampoo, and this one is by far the best. In fact, all of Klorane’s dry shampoos are excellent, I just happen to enjoy the light, fresh scent of this one the most. You won’t find white residue here, although, if you’re a brunette like me, be sure to shake the can before use and brush out your strands a bit if you spray a lot in one area. It doesn’t leave that dreaded “powdery” feeling on your hair all day, either, which I personally can’t stand. It gives my roots instant volume, zaps oil, and adds life to my hair all while feeling clean, natural, and weightless.
I’d heard about this leave-in conditioner for years (it’s been a cult-classic since the early aughts for a reason) but I only just got my hands on it. I totally get the hype — my hair has never looked or felt better and it adds so much joy to my routine. About once a week, I’ll take an everything shower (IYKYK) at night. I spritz this nourishing elixir (it’s got a gentle and shine-boosting mix of sunflower seed and green tea leaf extracts, along with aloe vera and silk amino acids) liberally on my towel-dried strands, paying extra attention to the ends, which tend to get dry and brittle. Then I put my hair in a loose braid and let the product work its magic while I sleep. I really enjoy how the floral, jasmine-like scent lingers softly on my pillow and in my hair in the morning. Waking up with silky, fluffy tresses has been a game-changer for my mood — and my mane.
Even though I work in beauty and test tons of products (yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds) I tend to be pretty lazy when it comes to my own beauty routine, favoring a more minimalist approach to keep things efficient — and less crowded in my bathroom. A hair serum is not something that has ever personally excited me. That is, until a friend waxed lyrical about this stuff over dinner a few months ago. “It’s a game-changer for my hair, Hilary,” she gushed. It’s targeted as a “hydrating treatment” for all hair types, working overnight to strengthen, shine, and zhuzh up strands thanks to hydrating niacinamide and a slew of plant-based, strengthening proteins. When my hair feels particularly dull and dry, or my split ends are becoming Christmas tree-like and I don’t have time to get a trim, I run this delicious-smelling stuff (seriously, it smells so good, like rose, cedar, and sandalwood) through dry or damp hair and call it a day. But it’s also excellent as a pre-blowdry product, which is something I’ve been on the hunt for. After towel-drying my hair, I squirt two or three drops of it and run it through my ends, dabbing any residual product on my eyebrows and scalp. After blowdrying, my hair is devoid of frizz, smells expensive, and feels hydrated and supple.
Sara Tan, Beauty Director
I have no less than three Big Effing Clips in my bag at all times. It’s not a wise use of space in my purse, but that’s how important they are to me. I must have at least one of them with me, because as a mom of two, I need to be able to put my hair up at any second and there’s no quicker, nor chicer way to do so than with one of these signature hair accessories from Emi Jay. I often get asked if they’re worth it because they are pretty pricey ($34) for something you could find a reasonable dupe for on Amazon for a quarter of the price. But it’s not the same. I’ve banged these babies up, thrown them in every bag imaginable, given them to my baby as a form of entertainment, and still, they have endured and remained as durable as ever. They are so strong and can hold all of my hair in whatever weird composition I throw it in, but still manage to make me look like I have my life together. They come in so many different colors and prints for every mood or outfit. They make me happy just looking at them. I never knew a clip could bring me so much joy or, more importantly, make my otherwise disheveled hair look so cute.
This is my favorite hair brush of all time. There’s nothing fancy about it and it’s only $18, but it’s perfect for my hair needs and wants. It’s a detangling brush by definition, so it’s perfect to use out of the shower, but my favorite way to use it is after a long day or the next morning when my head and hair could use a little love. Not only do the metal bristles feel incredible on my scalp, but they also comb through my hair in a way that makes my strands look and feel refreshed. I also love using it after I spray dry shampoo on to help break it up and disperse throughout my scalp. It’s small and lightweight enough to throw in my bag too. Jen Atkin really figured it out with this one! I can’t live without it.
Carli Whitwell, Senior Director of Editorial
I’ve been going to Jason Lee, the creator of this hair cream, for too many years to count. As someone who is deeply impatient when it comes to styling my hair and can’t be bothered to learn the proper way to blowdry my curls, this cream, which contains a proprietary blend of ingredients such as moisturizing rose of jericho and green caviar and vegan protein to reduce breakage (I desperately needed them during my blonde days), does the smoothing work for me. After I blowdry, I like to add a bit on my ends for extra shine. Also, it smells heavenly. Jason, please make a perfume next? I beg you!
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