Have you ever spent hours scrolling on social media trying to find the right hairstyle? I know all too well what it feels like to search through every hair-related Instagram hashtag and Pinterest board (even my own!) and still not know what to do with my hair. I might even seek guidance from a friend or two in hopes that I’ll have a lightbulb moment, which does happen on occasion. The styling options for natural hair are truly endless, so it’s no wonder that trying to decide what to do with our hair next can feel like a major life decision.
Black women are unapologetically embracing the hair they’ve been blessed with, and our favorite celebrities are no exception. Over the years, Lupita Nyong’o has openly advocated for more natural hair representation in Hollywood as well as rocked a variety of beautiful styles including cornrows, braids, and updos, all of which proudly accentuate her natural texture. When it comes to natural hair inspiration galore, it’s safe to say that she’s a standout star to search for.
If you’re tired of opting for the same hairstyle over and over again and want to try something new, keep reading for our guide to 30 of the best Lupita Nyong’o hairstyles through the years, and get ready for some major inspiration.
MEET THE EXPERT
- Cortney Veney is a Pennsylvania-based master loctician and cosmetologist. She is the founder and owner of Naturally Crowned, a hair salon and spa specializing in natural textures.
- Bridgette Hill is a certified trichologist specializing in scalp health. She is also a member of invisibobble’s Hair Loving Task Force.
- Michelle Sultan is an award-winning celebrity hairdresser whose clients include Jennifer Hudson and Jordyn Woods. She is also an Imbue ambassador and creative director.
- Michelle O’Connor is an award-winning hairstylist, the global artistic director at Matrix, and an advocate for diversity and inclusion within the beauty industry.
At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2014, Nyong’o graced the red carpet with a short ‘do and taper fade. According to stylist, entrepreneur, and natural hair expert Cortney Veney, taper fades are super easy to create on 4C hair. You’ll need to constantly brush and comb out the hair while cutting it “so you don’t create any holes from the hair coiling back up,” she explains. “Once you’ve finished the cut, pick out the top and use a curl cream along with a light mousse to mold and shape the hair.” If you’re bold enough, shears can also be used to frame the hair all away around. For the perfect finish, apply a light sheen.
In February 2014, Nyong’o graced the red carpet at the BAFTAs with a gorgeous geometric haircut that showed off her hair’s authentic texture. “Whenever tightly coiled hair is combed out, the curls separate, creating a fuller, soft, moldable fabric which is termed ‘fro’ or afro texture,” trichologist Bridgette Hill explains. Ensuring your hair is full of moisture to minimize frizz and dryness is key.
Middle Part Moment
A week later, Nyong’o experimented with another geometric haircut, opting for a middle part shape to show off those beautiful coils. Hill tells us that this look is all about “maintaining a healthy, well-cared-for scalp and achieving the right hair shape.”
The acclaimed actress continued to rock a shorter crop for the 2014 Academy Awards, this time finishing off the look with a beautiful cream headband. To recreate this look, Hill recommends beginning with wet hair. “Apply a leave-in conditioner followed by a liberal amount of setting gel,” she says. “Comb the setting gel throughout the top of the head and use invisibobble Wavers ($5)across the top of the head to create Lupita’s soft wave pattern.” To create the soft waves, it’s important to allow your hair to dry with the clips, so don’t remove them too soon.
Nyong’o’s burgundy topknot, completed with an embellished headband across her forehead, was perfect for the 2014 Met Gala, which celebrated innovative couturier Charles James. Veney tells us that preparation is key when replicating this look: “4C hair will naturally want to coil, so using a leave-in conditioner, a textured paste, and light hold gel will help keep it in place.” Once all products have been applied, smooth the hair with a brush and blow dry. As for the topknot, tease out the hair and use pins to secure it. To make the style last all day or night, use a medium hold spray and sheen.
At the Golden Globe Awards in 2015, Nyong’o’s ‘fro was styled in a rounded halo silhouette that perfectly complements her face shape. For this style, Veney recommends starting with a clean head of hair and then “applying a blow dry serum, blow drying the hair, and trimming it a little before creating a rounded shape.” Once your hair has been trimmed, create volume with a pick, mold it into your desired shape, and apply a textured hair paste and a light hold spray. Finally, finish everything off with some sheen.
At the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards, the star wore small braids in a cascading pattern directed up towards the crown. Additional braiding hair wraps around the base of her ponytail puff, through which she shows off her natural ends. Hairstylist and Matrix global artistic director Michelle O’Connor stresses the importance of starting with freshly washed hair. “I recommend using a serum for a proper scalp hair treatment and then stretching the hair with a blow dryer using an anti-breakage spray,” she advises.
Although Nyong’o has become an overall red carpet fashion icon, her beautiful hair always takes center stage. Easy to replicate on all hair types, this polished and elevated updo complements her green Gucci gown perfectly. The key to recreating this look lies in molding and securing the ends for uniformity and modernity. “To keep the style in place, additional support or filler may have to be added,” Hill says.
Nyong’o’s go-to stylist, Vernon François, was responsible for this head-turning look. This elegant, structural updo stays in place with a combination of elastics and other styling aids. “The reverse of this style would be the long bubble ponytail, which can be achieved by securing elastics evenly down the length of the ponytail,” Hill explains.
Elevated High Pony
Dying to replicate the actress’s high ponytail that she wore to the European premiere of Black Panther? Hill explains that it won’t require over-slicking or straightening the hair, as “it is important to elongate the curl pattern for best results.” She adds that this look is easy to achieve after hair has been in braids or twists: “When hair is unwound from braids or twist sets, setting and stretching curls leaves hair with a pattern like the loose ends in Lupita’s ponytail.”
This look is all about the accessories. “Hair jewelry and accessories are instant game-changers to any hairstyle,” Hill says. “Black ropes [add] a monochromatic elegance to Nyong’o’s cropped ‘do.”
Although Nyong’o’s hair has been pulled back here, the key to achieving this look involves straightening her strands for “length and smoothness, then weaving a piece of jewelry through the hair for added effect,” according to Hill. After weaving in the jewelry, secure the style using hair pins, then use edge control to smooth any flyaways. Some hair types may find it more difficult to secure this style than others, so if you find yourself in need of some extra product, don’t overdo it as this can “cause casting on the hair,” Veney says. Instead, look for the right products that will keep your hair smooth and in place.
Nyong’o wowed everyone at Cannes in 2018 with a natural updo that focused on the beauty of her hair texture. The key to achieving this look lies in securely slicking back the roots into your desired updo position while allowing free-flowing movement at the crown. Hill suggests isolating the hair into two large sections (in front of the ears and behind the ears) and “securing the section in front of the ears with a scrunchie to keep it isolated.”
Once this is done, slick the section below the ears into a twist, “working from the bottom up towards the top of the secured hair with the scrunchie.” Lastly, secure the twist by making your way to where the scrunchie was secured and integrate the top section until you achieve the desired shape. To set the style, Hill recommends using your favorite moisturizing or curl defining product.
Short and Sweet
For the BAFTA Los Angeles Tea Party in 2019, Nyong’o opted for a shorter ‘do. “This look is better if hair is clean and pre-cut into shape,” says hairstylist and Imbue creative director and ambassador Michelle Sultan. She recommends using a leave-in conditioner to enhance your natural texture, along with a curl sponge to create and define coils.
This is one of many braided styles Nyong’o has worn through the years. While this style embraces the texture and fullness of her hair, the medium-sized braids that complete the look give it a fresh, modern feel. To achieve this look, O’Connor suggests stretching your hair using a holding gel, then parting hair down the center before braiding it on each side. Sweep the braids around the back, leaving out loose micro-textured tendrils in the front, and use a holding spray for a tighter hold. Add shine to finish.
Here’s another unforgettable Lupita Nyong’o hairstyle, which she paired with spooky makeup for the London screening of Us. To achieve her voluminous curls, O’Connor suggests first washing your hair, then applying a mask to diffuse and maintain definition. Once your hair is clean and ready for styling, accentuate and define random curls with a small wand for added drama. Finish with a setting spray.
Braids are probably one of the most versatile protective styles, as there are so many different colors, textures, and sizes to choose from. For the New York premiere of Us, Nyong’o sported jumbo braids, which are easy to style and don’t take long to create.
To replicate this look, Veney recommends blow drying hair but not straightening it as “you’ll want to leave some of the hair’s natural curl pattern.” When applying the extensions, tuck the natural hair into them and use a heavy gel to achieve the sleek look. “To finish off the look, use a small edge brush and edge control gel of your choice to create Lupita’s c-swoops, and dip the ends in hot water to smooth them and secure flyaways,” Veney explains.
Afro Pick Power
Another François creation, the star’s 2019 Met Gala look included a towering afro inspired by Black heritage, Marie Antoinette, and a self-portrait by artist Lauren Kelley. This hairstyle plays on the thickness and beauty that tightly coiled and curly hair can create when combed out to its expansiveness. “For a more ready-to-wear version of this style, I would recommend reducing the height by combing out the curls completely to create a ‘fro texture’ as well as using one or two hair accessories,” Hill says.
Classic Low Bun
Nyong’o arrived at the 2019 British Academy Britannia Awards with a classic low bun. To replicate the look, Sultan recommends prepping the hair with shampoo and conditioner first and letting it dry naturally. Then, “mold the hair back into a low bun, using the center parting as the main feature.” Once you’ve tied your hair back, Sultan suggests using a net and hair tie to set the bun in place, as this “will keep any flyaways at bay.”
Nyong’o has worn some beautiful updos through the years, and this one is no exception. A combination of cornrows and box braids offer an intricate, modern take on event-ready beauty. According to Hill, the key to achieving this style with braids is to first secure your base. “Divide the hair on the lower half of your head into two sections, then pull the two sections in opposite directions and secure the point where the two sections meet with hair pins,” she explains. Once the base is secure, gather and pin the rest of the hair for a finishing touch.
Luxe on Top
Here, Nyong’o is wearing a high updo embellished with a golden wire. To recreate this look, O’Connor recommends gathering your hair into a high pony using holding spray to separate the hair in four sections. “Next, loosely two-strand twist the four sections of the hair and tuck them in the center before adding the wire,” she explains.
The actress showcased her hair’s natural texture with a voluminous afro at the 2020 National Board of Review Gala. To achieve this style, Veney suggests doing a roller set on dry hair, then picking it out to create texture and length. To finish, use hair foam and oil to achieve hold and apply some edge control gel at the front with a brush.
Here’s Nyong’o in 50’s-inspired French rolls at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. According to Sultan, this look is all about the texture. She suggests using a heat protection product such as a mist while you stretch the hair with a blow dryer on low heat. “Once hair has been blow-dried, mold it into rolls at the front so it resembles a faux bow shape—you can use a hair ring to help mold the hair into a roll,” she explains. “Then, set with pins and finish with an oil for shine.”
We love the easygoing vibes of this sleek half-up bob on Nyong’o. Although this style requires minimal effort, you may want to turn to a stylist to ensure your hair is well-prepared. “This style can be achieved by using a blow-dry serum, brush, and blow dryer for pressing. After blow drying, the hair would be cut in an even bob cut before being flat ironed,” Veney explains. To keep hair in place, use a holding spray and secure it with bobby pins.
The addition of hair pieces to Nyong’o’s natural hair helped create this head-turning look at the 2021 Met Gala. The afro cloud-like effect with swirls and added texture is all about volume. O’Connor recommends starting with a washing process that stretches the hair—shampooing and conditioning your natural hair texture and using a mask to preserve your coils and curls. To complete the look, she suggests using an anti-breakage spray to lightly blow dry the hair using a paddle brush or pick attachment. Finish with a holding spray to lock in the pattern and keep the hold of the curls.
Created by François, Nyong’o’s fishtail braids help make for a sculptural masterpiece of an updo. “To create this avant garde look, you’ll need lots of small grips and bobby pins to hold everything in place,” Sultan says.
To recreate this look, O’Connor recommends starting with clean hair and applying an anti-breakage spray. “Once the spray has been applied, gather the hair in a topknot, adding the extension hair, and section off the hair to create multiple fishtail braids with some areas spread or pancaked. Keep some areas tight and leave two tighter textures on one long strand, wrapping it around into a topknot,” she adds. You’ll need between five to 10 braids to create a high-volume topknot. To complete the look, use a holding spray to keep the braids how you want them.
Sophisticated Space Buns
At the worldwide premiere of Nope, the actress opted for fine braids with ’90s-inspired top knots. We love the simplicity of this hairstyle, which is achievable with extensions or natural hair. As the braids are small, you might want to enlist the help of a professional. Be sure to consult your stylist beforehand, as you’ll need to ensure that the extensions match the actual color of your hair for a more natural look. For styling and general maintenance, Sultan recommends the Imbue Curl Worshipping Shine Oil ($13) for added moisture.
Here, Nyong’o let her hair do the talking with a gloriously natural updo accessorized with a bold and bright floral headpiece. To get the look, O’Connor suggests using a light hold gel to pull everything back into a high pony, then applying a moisturizing cream to create definition and diffuse before embellishing the style with a floral wreath of your choice.
In July 2022, Nyong’o went for something new by smoothing micro locs into a ponytail. Locs are a popular protective style due to their versatility and various installation methods. According to Veney, the best way to achieve this look is to use a leave-in oil, smoothing gel, and a soft brush to smooth the hair before pulling the locs into a ponytail with an elastic. Veney recommends using an all-elastic band, as a band with metal on it can cause breakage. Finish by adding sheen.
For the New York screening of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the star embraced her love for next-level topknots once again, this time via a set of stick accents. The base is simple, but the extension-wrapped rods take the overall style to the next level, paying tribute to African culture in a meaningful and eye-catching way. This can be a tricky style to do on yourself, so you may want to go to a professional if you’re looking to recreate the look just right for a special event.