I've spent the past four years at school in Washington and I have yet to find two essentials: a church and a hair salon.

Stephanie Johnson, CEO of the Hair Care Co., at work in her salon in Camp Springs, Md. (Evy Mages/For The Washington Post)

At home, I knew of about four salons that could provide me with an adequate ’do for about $50. There just has to be some mysterious place here where I can get an affordable press ’n curl with lots of volume. There just has to be.

I spent the first few weeks making note of all of the hair salons I passed on a daily basis, and noticed something that really confused me: women flouncing out of the beauty shop with hair stiff under heavy amounts of spritz and/or grease. I was so used to seeing women leave the salon with bouncy hair.

I didn’t get it until I washed my hair here for the first time. Hate to say it, but the water felt different to me — harsher. I found myself using more and more conditioner to try to keep my hair feeling healthy. I asked other girls I knew whether they experienced the same thing, and they all had. I figured some women tried to combat the effects by using a little extra grease, but I knew I’d look crazy if I did it.

That’s when I started searching “African American hair salons DC” on Google and Yelp. I found a few leads, but in the end I was always disappointed. Either they charged too much, or I was not happy with the way my hair looked afterward.

One place was close to campus, cost-efficient, and had received rave reviews from girls I knew whose hair always looked nice. When I sat down in the chair, the stylist immediately asked me where I went to school. After I told him, he smirked, rolled his eyes and said, “Then, you want your hair to blow in the breeze. Not too much grease, right?”

I looked past all of the judgmental snark, nodded and smiled. Maybe I’d found just what I was looking for ... but even after that little discussion, he still made me look like I’d coated my hair with Vasoline. It was stick-straight, with no type of body. I didn’t complain right away because my hair is usually too straight the first day it’s done. A few days later, my hair had a little more bounce, but it still didn’t look its best.

I thought I’d found hair nirvana when I came across a Yelp profile for a swanky spot on U Street. It was supposed to provide a standard press ’n curl for about $60! I eagerly made my appointment.

The big day came. I walked in the salon, and there was a white girl working at the front desk. That’s just not something I was used to seeing at black salons. I started to look around, and noticed that most of the stylists were also white. I felt like I was in some alternate universe, and consulted the Yelp page on my phone to make sure I had the right place. 

I went to the back to meet my stylist, an Asian woman with a cute, short haircut. She must have noticed the dumbfounded look on my face, because she quickly explained that she specialized in black hair. 

I continued to feel uneasy while she was washing my hair. How would it turn out? I mean a “black hair specialist.” Who has ever heard of that?

Then there were the stares. The shops’ other patrons kept sneaking glances in my direction, fascinated by seeing black hair be styled. I can kind of understand the curiosity, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredibly rude and awkward.

Once she actually started to blow dry and straighten my hair, I started to relax. My hair was fullof body and would last at least a week. But when I went up to the front desk to pay, her services cost $120. My eyes nearly leapt out of the sockets.

That’s a month’s worth of utilities and groceries in my little apartment.

I can understand charging that much for heavy-duty services — hair cut, dye, weave, special occasions — but for my simple blowout and flat iron that would last only two weeks? Are you drunk? 

I’m on the verge of giving up hope. All the places I've tried have been disappointing. Most of the girls I know either spend a fortune to get their hair done professionally, do it themselves or wait until they visit their home towns to get their hair done. Some prefer to get Dominican blowouts, but I don’t think it’s healthy to put that much heat on my hair.

Lucky for me, the natural hair craze hit just in time. Now I can forgo the salon, and if anybody suggests I straighten it, I can scowl, thrust my fist in the air, and keep it moving — but I miss having a go-to stylist when I want a change.

Can anyone help me? Feel free to post suggestions in the comment section below. I’m desperate.

Lauren McEwen is a senior at Howard University and an intern for The RootDC.

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