Exclusive: Gabrielle Union on Letting Go of What "Acceptable" Hair Looks Like

The Flawless founder walks us through her curly hair routine.

Gabrielle Union

Gabrielle Union

Beauty has become a ritual for us in this time of uncertainty and chaos. Acts as simple as a morning shower and a scalp massage feel groundbreaking and grounding in a moment when so many things are out of control. Gabrielle Union has been turning to beauty and its healing powers for years now, so the current call for a routine steeped in peace and less perfection prompted her to relaunch her Flawless by Gabrielle Union hair care line—a revamp over a year in the making.

“Quarantine has really forced us all to slow down and shift our focus on many things in our lives,” Union tells Byrdie. “I have been keeping my mind, body and soul as one. During this time, I have been letting my curls be free and healthy.” And they’re flourishing might we add, as the multihyphenate creative showcases them in all their glory on Instagram constantly, as well as in the ad campaign for Flawless by Gabrielle Union, which features a myriad of Black women of all ages.

The relaunch of Flawless puts Union in the driver seat with longtime friend and celebrity hairstylist Larry Sims, making it a company that is both Black-owned and Black-led. Union joins a league of extraordinary Black women in beauty from the pioneer Madam CJ Walker to Rihanna with Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin, Tracee Ellis Ross with Pattern, Taraji P. Henson with her eponymous TPH Line, and countless others. “It feels good and pretty amazing to own a haircare line that can help inspire our community,” Union confesses. “I grew up with various products that were targeted to us, but it was rare that one was actually for us, by us. Ownership is so important, and it’s something that I can pass on to my children and generations to come.” Empowering the Black community is also a core tenet of the Flawless ethos, thus Union and Sims are launching their Lift As We Climb initiative to support Black-owned brands. “It’s our mission to empower other Black business owners and women by providing them with visibility and with business opportunities as we grow as a brand.”

I grew up with various products that were targeted to us, but it was rare that one was actually for us, by us.

Good-for-you, safe ingredients were paramount this time around as Union was in the process of growing her hair back after her IVF journey back in 2017 when Flawless first launched. “During that process, my hairstylist and co-founder of Flawless, Larry Sims and I were testing out so many different ingredients and realizing harmful ones that were in products that I’ve utilized previously,” she divulges. “With learning my body from the inside out and how it affects my hair, I wanted to make sure what I put on the inside also matched the outside.” So, she and Sims recreated products with nourishing ingredients they truly trusted like Brazilian Bacuri Butter, Himalayan Moringa Oil, and African Shea Butter. This is of incredible importance for Black women as so many of our hair products contain toxic chemicals, leading to harmful outcomes that only science is now uncovering.

Healthful ingredients also mean the world because Flawless is truly a family affair and one only need look at the flaming red hair of husband Dwyane Wade or the turquoise coils of daughter Zaya to get a sense that the love of hair runs in the fam. “We teach our children freedom of expression,” she explains of her and Wade’s philosophy. “Freedom to make their own hair choices. As a parent, I had to really work to unlearn a lot of traditions and let go of ideals about what acceptable hair is supposed to look like and really leaned more into healthy hair.” Union and Wade let their children choose how they want to present themselves because they believe that’s a personal choice. “No matter what, they're beautiful and amazing,” she gushes. “I just want them to have healthy hair and know how to care for it.”

I had to really work to unlearn a lot of traditions and let go of ideals about what acceptable hair is supposed to look like and really leaned more into healthy hair.

And with so many hair dynamos in the family, Union made sure those closest to her were the first to try her revamped products. “We all have different hair textures so it was important for me to know if it worked on everyone’s hair and if they liked it or not,” she reveals. “What my family thinks is super important and everyone truly enjoys using the collection on their hair.” First, the Union-Wade squad grabs the 3 Minute Restoring Conditioner and Repairing Deep Conditioning Masque—both routine essentials for rejuvenated, springy curls and coils. “A common need for all of our hair, no matter what texture, is hydration and keeping our hair soft and moisturized—which these two products help to do,” Union emphasizes.

When it comes to her personal routine, Union is grabbing for her Curl Refresher Spray more often these days. “It’s providing me ultimate hydration and reviving my curls while also giving it an extra boost,” she acknowledges. “I also live by the 3 Minute Restoring Conditioner. It is everything my hair needs and then some! It has strengthened my growing hair so much.” As Union does a lot of protective styles (we feel her as we’re taking down our box braids right now), it’s key she treats her hair both before and after as these styles last for weeks at a time. “And the Restoring Exotic Oil Treatment stays in my purse,” she admits. “It’s great to use no matter the style my hair might be in. My scalp loves it, primarily due to the tingling sensation I receive from its peppermint oil.”

Along with keeping her mind, body and soul attuned, Union is working on uplifting herself, so she’s ramping up her affirmations to keep herself in a positive, optimistic mindset. “Flawless is being on the journey of being flawless of spirit and soul—to be honest and transparent,” is the first and the other that keeps her going is “Flawless is looking in the mirror and seeing your flaws less." Exercise has also been a great way for her to stay sane and keep her body moving—if you haven’t seen her epic recreation of Aunt Viv’s iconic dance routine on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, run—don't walk—to watch it. She’s also just like us, living for Zoom and Facetime chats with her friends and family so she can stay connected to them virtually.

And as you may have imagined, Union has so many exciting things coming up that are giving us all something to look forward to. “Launching in the collection this fall is an edge taming gel,” she spills. “We had to make sure it was absolutely perfect before it goes to market.” Flawless will also be expanding into Sally Beauty in the fall, which will make it available in every community across the US. Union will also be on our TV screens starting on September 21st when her new series with Jessica Alba, LA’s Finest, debuts on Fox. Like we said, things to look forward to.

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