For more than two decades, Oprah’s trusted only one man with her hair—stylist extraordinaire Andre Walker. “I’ve had the same hairdresser for 24 years,” she says. “That’s why I still have my hair.”
Andre Walker—who’s also an interior designer—gives us a quick consultation on the dos and don’ts of keeping African-American hair healthy. (Here’s a hint: condition, condition, condition!)
Joan Wagner: How did you get interested in styling hair?
Andre Walker: As a teenager, I started styling my mother’s hair pieces just for fun. She loved the way they turned out, so she started asking me to style them rather than taking them to the beauty parlor (that’s what a salon was called then). I would get such a kick out of seeing her wear them out.
JW: Oprah credits you with keeping her hair healthy for the past 24 years. What can women do to keep their hair healthy?
AW: Healthy hair is always clean and conditioned. Make sure products such as sprays, gels, waxes, etc. are cleaned from your hair—otherwise you can create buildup, which is very damaging.
Apply heat such as flat irons, curling irons and blow-drying at a minimum, maybe once or twice a week, as this is very drying. Try pin curling or roller setting in between.
Excessive shampooing can strip the natural oils from your hair, which is very important if you chemically treat your hair with color or relaxers. Natural oils add nutrients and moisture.
JW: What’s the most common mistake women make when it comes to their hair—and how can they fix it?
AW: The most common mistakes I’ve seen are overcoloring or relaxing. These two processes are very damaging and should be done only when needed. I recommend every six to eight weeks. When you use these processes, you must condition, condition, condition.
JW: In Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, we meet a number of women who say they can’t get enough relaxer. How often do you recommend women get their hair relaxed? Are certain relaxers better than others?
AW: There are so many different types of relaxers on the market…some are better on different hair types than others. No-lye relaxers are better on color-treated hair than lye relaxers. Brazilian relaxers are great for frizzy, curly hair that needs just a bit of control and are not very damaging.
JW: What should women look for in a weave, and what are the best ways to maintain one?
AW: Weaves can serve many purposes: (1) to add hair where there are fine thin areas, (2) to add hair where breakage or alopecia has occurred, (3) to give yourself that texture of hair you always wanted or just to add length.Weaves should be tightened or replaced every two to three months.
JW: Times are tough. Do you have any tips on how to get a great look without spending a fortune?
AW: Stretch your salon visits an extra week. If you normally have your hair cut every four weeks, this can save you from paying for 16 cuts a year to 14.
JW: Solange Knowles made headlines when she decided to go natural. What’s your advice for women who want to embrace their own hair?
AW: If you want to embrace you natural texture, you should accept that your styling choices are limited to what you texture can do, and that is different for everyone.
JW: What are the hair products or tools every woman should have in their bathroom?
AW: You should have the very best shampoo and conditioner you can afford. One or two styling products such as holding spray, shine, wax or pomade. A natural bristle brush to use at least once a day. Brushing is very good way to distribute natural oils and also to brush away day-old sprays and everyday dirt. And, of course, a dryer and maybe a curling iron.
JW: What are your favorite products?
AW: I love Frédéric Fekkai and Neil George products. I’m working on a line of my own that will be available soon.
JW: What do you think a woman’s hair should say about her?
AW: It’s an obvious example of how she cares for herself. It can also make a statement about her personality (i.e., conservative, artistic, simple or flamboyant).