From a elementary school teacher in Oklahoma City, to fan favorite on her season of Bachelor in Paradise, to top model, Serene Brook Russell and her curls have been through a lot. Dry, hot weather combined with the product and heat damage a T.V. personality and model has to contend with, it’s no wonder that Russell had to get real with her hair care a while ago.
Now, she’s breaking down her curl-care journey to help bridge the gap in textured hair for biracial curl types and share the tips and tricks she learned along the way.
Russell joined Wilhelmina Models in 2014, but she’s been modeling since she left high school.
“After high school when I started modeling, I tended to get booked more with my natural hair,” Russell explains. “And that was something that I never would have thought, just because like the comments a lot of people made growing up. I just thought it was something undesirable.”
Having interest in her natural curls inspired her to begin the long process of finding the right way to care for them.
“I think I was about 18 when I started getting booked with my curly hair,” Russell says. “And what was really cool about that is they didn’t really want to style it, they just wanted it in its natural texture with no product in it. And so that’s really when I started getting into curly hair-care.”
The Deep End
Of course, Russell has been taking care of her hair as a biracial woman her whole life.
“I actually started having to learn to do my own hair when I was in third grade,” Russell says. “I think I was eight. I’m biracial, and my mom is white. It was quite a journey for her to learn how to do my hair, since it was like nothing she had experienced before. She was really good at it, and did a lot of protective styles and braids on me. But very early on, she kind of just threw me out there to learn about it for myself. It’s my hair, I have to do it for the rest of my life. And that meant I had some bad hair days when I was younger.”
I get booked more with my natural hair…I never would have thought that.
For a long time, she didn’t wear her hair curly at all.
“I definitely had that phase when I went into middle school where having curly hair was not cool,” Russell explains. “And I started to think it was weird. And definitely went through a stage where I cut all my hair off. I had hair down to my elbows and cut it all off so it’d be easier to straighten.”
Accounting for Her Curl
Once she started becoming invested in hair care, it become quickly apparent that she would have a lot of work to do.
“I’ve struggled in the past to even find someone who can cut and style my hair,” Russell says. “I also used to think it was normal to pay more for the same hair services, even though I don’t have more hair than straight hair types.”
On top of that, the products marketed towards curly hair types were often just not right for her.
“I did use the Shea Moisture line for like a while,” Russell says. “That was one of the first affordable hair lines to come out. And while it did make my hair soft, my hair just wasn’t like living to its full potential.”
Ingredients like shea butter and coconut oil tended to weigh down her curls, and her hair didn’t appreciate so much thick product. Similarly, a lot of the curly-girl methodology recommended online relies on heavier products that control volume rather than provide lift and healthy shine, which is what Russell needed.
“If my hair is going to look its best, I have to have a clarifying wash,” Russell says. “For me, curl care is more about using a really good moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, rather than using styling products.”
Keep it Simple
“I remember I would when I first started modeling, I would start with my hair straight,” Russell explains. “People always told me it’s really versatile, that you can have your hair both ways, so I would start with it straight. And they’d say, ‘Well, what do you need to do to make it curly? Go do that.’ And I would stick my head in the bathroom sink upside down at a photo shoot, and just let my hair get soaking wet so that the curls would revert.”
One day, when her hair was too dry to be manageable, she unintentionally used the ‘plop’ method.
“I just let my hair soak up as much conditioner as I could,” Russell says. “And it was one of the best hair days I’ve ever had, and I barely had any product in it.”
Additionally, she’s realized that her curls tend to have a mind of their own, and it’s best to plan around their whims.
“I’ve honestly learned to not be frustrated,” Russell explains. “It never dries the same way twice, and my styling routine can look different every day.”
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