Wash Day and Chronic Illness

For Black women, Wash Day is more than an ordinary task — it’s a cultural ritual. Something precious that is passed down through each generation. It is a reverent moment in which we connect with ourselves and nurture our crown. It is a sacred time in which we pour back into ourselves. Cleansing away all our worries while nourishing our tresses and envisioning the style we will adorn that day, week, or month.   

Growing up, Wash Day wasn’t something I was taught about. Raised by a Dominican mother with a different hair texture from mine and an absent Black American father, I missed out on the tradition passed down through generations. I can’t even remember the very first time my hair was chemically relaxed because I was so young when it happened. 

As a teen, my mother would take me to the Dominican salon for a wash and roller set. In the Latinx community, I had what they would call “pelo malo” or bad hair, a phrase deeply rooted in toxic racist European beauty standards. For over a decade, I  never knew what my natural hair truly looked or felt like.  

Until I got sick.  

My Diagnosis, My Natural Hair Journey

Once I was diagnosed with lupus everything changed. My hair started falling out around my edges — and you know how sacred edges are to a Black woman. I was so frustrated and overwhelmed that I took a scissor and chopped off all of my hair. That was the start of my natural hair journey.  

For the next few years, I rocked a baldie. At the time, I was also battling seborrheic dermatitis (eczema) so keeping my hair shaved extremely low helped my scalp feel less irritated. 

A conversation with a close friend about the shape of the TWA (teeny-weeny afro) I was rocking at the time made me reevaluate my relationship with my hair. I kept thinking, “Why was my hair growing upwards in certain areas while the sides stayed flat? How come my fro wasn’t circular like all the ones I’ve seen in media?” 

Every time I saw a Black woman rocking her natural hair I was in absolute awe. It was so regal, and I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel similar when I looked in the mirror at my own reflection. I had all these complicated feelings about the way my fro looked.  

When my bestie said I had “hair dysmorphia,” I laughed…like what even is that? The more I looked into it, I realized she was right. I kept tearing myself down and didn’t understand why I didn’t feel as beautiful as the women I admired.  

I started looking up pictures on Google and Pinterest of TWAs and there were so many beautiful images of women with the same shape hair as mine. I suddenly realized: I kept holding onto this made-up image of what my hair was supposed to look like because I had never actually seen what it looked like naturally.  

For the very first time, at age 33, as my little afro began to grow, I finally began to get acquainted with my natural hair and that’s when my Wash Day journey began. 

My Wash Day Experience

There are two different phases of my Wash Day experience: The first is what wash day was like for me before I found a natural hair curl specialist, and the second is how it is now after I partnered with one to learn the proper way to care for my hair.  

Before finding my curl specialist, I absolutely dreaded wash day because it would take over eight hours. Sometimes I’d break it down into two days because it was such an arduous task. I have what’s called high-density hair, which is a fancy way of saying I have too much hair on my head.  

I would wash my hair in the bathroom sink, parting it with a rat tail comb into four to six parts. Then I would apply a leave-in conditioner and detangle each section. Next, I would shampoo each section twice and apply a deep conditioner and detangle again. My arms would get so tired and start to cramp. I found myself sitting there on my shower stool staring at the wall silently crying and wishing my hair would magically wash itself. Sometimes, I would give up, put on a shower cap, go to sleep, and finish my hair on day two.  

On days when I powered through, I would rinse out the deep conditioner and apply a leave-in, then detangle again and two-strand twist each section with a styling cream. After my hair dried, I would untwist it after a few days and rock a beautiful twist out.  

Please note that I take many breaks during Wash Day. As someone who has a chronic illness, it’s essential that I check in with myself every 15 minutes or so to gauge how my body is feeling and to stop and rest whenever needed. 

Once I found a curl specialist who was knowledgeable about maintaining Black hair in its natural state my entire wash day experience changed. During my first hair appointment, she taught me how to properly shampoo, condition, and detangle my hair correctly and encouraged me to try it on my own in the shower. She also taught me how to style and set my curls in a “wash and go” as well as which products I needed for each step of my hair care. I learned the importance of using a good-quality shampoo and that the only way to truly moisturize my hair is with water, weekly on Wash Day.  

Tips and Tools to Make Wash Day Easier

For those of us who have a chronic illness like lupus, Wash Day might look a lot different. We may have to check in with ourselves mentally to gauge our pain and energy levels first, but once we’re equipped with the accessibility tools to make our routine smoother it’s an opportunity to spend quality time pouring back into ourselves. Wash Day is an essential act of self-love.

Here are a few must-haves on my Wash Day list that have helped make it less taxing on my joints and draining on my energy — hopefully one of these can work for you, too.  


On Wash Day, the very first thing I do is arrange my Bluetooth speaker to set an energetic fun vibe with one of my favorite playlists on Spotify. It really sets the mood and creates an environment of enjoyment for a task that can sometimes make me feel defeated. 

A Shower Chair/Stool

It took me a while to purchase one. I kept thinking, do I really need this? I’m not that sick. Internalized ableism strikes again. I’m so proud of myself for taking that step to make Wash Day more accessible for me. One of the best gifts I ever gave myself was a shower stool, I didn’t realize how helpful having one would be for conserving my energy. 

A Tangle Teezer/Shampoo Massage Brush

These are small and compact, often ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in your hand, and can make detangling easier. Some shampoo massage brushes make scrubbing your scalp easier and have a convenient strap so you won’t drop it while trying to style your hair.  

Rake Comb/Felicia Leatherwood Brush

I like using a rake comb because it helps remove shedded hair while detangling. The Felicia Leatherwood brush is Black-owned — it’s made for us, by us — and makes detangling an easy process. 

A Blow Dryer Brush

In the past, I’ve used the popular Revlon one-step hair dryer brush, but there are a lot of options if you’re looking for something similar. I also use heat-resistant gloves to protect my hands from heat styling. 

Alligator Clips

These help me keep my sectioned hair out of the way. Get ones that have grooves to prevent it from slipping out of your fingers when styling your hair. 

Protective Water-Resistant Salon Cape

This is mainly for sensory needs. I cannot tolerate the feeling of cold water and sticky hair products dripping onto my shoulders, chest, and back so this tool is essential for me. I use it when styling my hair and it keeps all that off my skin. 

Hooded Dryer

It sets my styled hair quickly so I don’t go to bed with wet hair, which according to my stylists, is a big “no-no” as it can cause mold growth. It is also wheelchair/power chair-friendly and I don’t have to hold a brush and dryer separately in my hands.  

Pump or Travel-Sized Hair Products

Some may opt to use travel-sized hair products that are easier to lift on low-strength days. Personally, I prefer to buy my shampoo, conditioner, and stylers in larger quantities because they usually have a pump that helps me prevent arm strain. 

I won’t lie. There are times when I feel like Wash Day is looming over me like a dark cloud because while I know it’s necessary it’s also a laborious task that almost always aggravates the chronic pain in my joints and muscles.  

Depending on your curl pattern, it could mean you will spend a lot of time detangling, your arms will begin to ache, and your legs will shake from standing in the shower for so long. It’s during those moments that I am thankful for hair products with pumps and having a shower stool where I can sit while cleansing my hair.  

Too often, chronic illness robs me of the joy I should be feeling while nurturing my hair. I want Wash Day to be an aspect of my life that I look forward to. 

Join GHLF’s HEROES Program

GHLF invites you to make a difference in your community with our FREE and unique program called HEROES (Health Education + Reliable Outreach + Empathetic Support). HEROES is a FREE education and outreach initiative that equips beauty professionals to better support clients living with scalp and other skin conditions and offers people living with skin and scalp conditions helpful resources and information on getting a proper diagnosis, managing symptoms, and becoming an empowered patient. To learn more, visit GHLF.org/HEROES today.  

The ChronicHue Community

ChronicHue is a monthly virtual community empowering melanated folx living with chronic illnesses and disabilities. ChronicHue aims to connect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color/People of the Global Majority together in a space created for us, by us. In these virtual spaces BIPOC patients can have honest and open discussions away from microaggressions, racism, and systemic biases often encountered in chronic illnesses spaces. Sign up to receive monthly notifications about ChronicHue meetings.

  • Was This Helpful?