Nicole Mangrum always knew hairstyling was in her future. “As a little girl I carried a brush and a comb everywhere,” she says. “I styled anyone who’d let me.” All that practice (and a stint in beauty school) led to her own salon in Chicago, which she ran for 14 years. Three years ago, she started thinking about her next chapter. Not long after, Oprah’s longtime hairstylist Andre Walker was looking to retire. He asked a friend of Nicole’s if he knew anyone who might be able to replace him. “When Andre called, it was literally a dream come true,” Nicole says. “I’d made a vision board years ago; one goal was to work for Oprah. But I never thought we’d be working this close!” Oprah invited Nicole to do her hair for a couple of SuperSoul Sunday episodes. “I was beyond nervous,” Nicole admits. After seven months of try-outs, the job was hers. She joined Oprah as her full-time hairstylist in July 2015.
As she was about to take off with Oprah for her first trip to South Africa, Nicole revealed the best of her accumulated hair wisdom…
What are the toughest hair challenges for black women?
Dryness and breakage caused by overprocessing and heat tools. With natural hair, it’s hard to find the perfect cocktail of products to keep your hair moisturized but not too oily. A lot of women do protective styling in braids or weaves to give their hair a rest from treatments or heat tools—or when they just don’t want to deal with managing it every day. But protective styling can put stress on hair and damage follicles, leading to thinning or even hair loss.
What are the best solutions—and how do you keep Oprah’s hair looking so perfect?
There are three key words for maintaining healthy hair: moisture, moisture, and moisture. Sulfates can be drying, so look for sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners, and creamy formulas with oils such as coconut and jojoba. Co-washing, or cleansing with a conditioner that contains a small amount of gentle nondetergent cleansers, can also keep hair hydrated. Use a deep conditioning mask with oils at least once a week—Oprah gets a deep conditioning twice a week—and a heat-protecting spray when styling with a hot tool. (I always use a heat-protecting spray on Oprah’s hair when we blow-dry it.)
If you wear braids or a weave, tell your stylist if it feels too tight—which, by the way, won’t make it last longer and can damage the hair follicles. And even these styles must be washed and conditioned at least once a week.
When you’re feeling frustrated about managing your hair, see a stylist for a consultation. She can help you figure out the products you need, which can be helpful if you, like many women, have a mix of textures. And lots of my clients, after my consultation, have found videos on YouTube to be a terrific way to learn the how-tos of styling.
By the Numbers
70 pounds: Weight of the bag Nicole carries her styling tools and products in.
5 minutes: Shortest time she’s spent styling Oprah’s hair—in this case, a bun.
15: Number of brushes and combs Nicole brings to a photo shoot