You’ll never see a hair on Veronica Lodge’s head out of place on the CW drama Riverdale. But for her IRL counterpart Camila Mendes, that’s another story. The Miami-bred star, 23, has had insecurities about her hair her whole life — from frizz (that Florida heat!) to her haircut on the show to, yes, even her driver’s license photo. We sat down with the new John Frieda Hair Care spokeswoman in her hometown in honor of the brand’s “Your Hair Talks, Make A Statement” campaign to get the scoop on her hair story, her current beauty routine and of course some details about the show to hold us over now that it’s on summer hiatus.
Yes! I polled my dad’s side of the family and they all have frizzy hair. I don’t even know if I have thick or thin hair. But there’s just so much of it and my waves are just so inconsistent. I feel like I could never look up to my mom for hair tips because her hair was way straighter.
And you grew up here in Miami?
I did, which didn’t help. My driver’s license photo — my hair is just like the worst. My hair would get into all these weird curls, it was awful. And my school was kind of outdoors, it was a really big campus so we would have to walk like seven minutes to class to get to the other side of the building in the Miami heat. There’s no point in straightening your hair because it’s just going to frizz up again.
What’s your haircare philosophy now?
I’m more low-maintenance only because there’s so many more hot tools on my hair now than I’ve ever used, that I need to give my hair a break. That’s why I like the serum because I feel like it’s the one thing I can do that can smooth things out and it’s going to be shiny and pretty, but I don’t need to use a hot tool to make it look good.
On Riverdale, Veronica has a very specific signature hairstyle. Do you think we’ll ever see her change it up?
It’s funny because season one her hairstyle was always side-parted. I didn’t really like my hair season one… I didn’t like having short hair. It took us a long time to figure out what to do with it. And then season two I convinced them to let me grow it out and do a middle part.
So you cut it for the show?
Yeah. And I just didn’t like my hair for the show because it would, like, curl out, and it was really complicated on my off days. I just… I didn’t feel beautiful. I really felt insecure about it. I told them, like, ‘for my sanity can I please grow out my hair? We can still make this Veronica.’ So they let me have long hair and have my middle part, which I just think frames my hair better.
But you don’t think we’ll ever see her in a messy bun?
[Shakes head] We saw her in a ponytail in one episode, when she was in the hot tub, and that felt weird. There’s something about Riverdale… it’s a comic book. They’re so materialized, and we want it to be consistent and to always be the same kind of look. That’s why, on Halloween, we saw so many people dress up as our characters, because it’s such a specific look — with the hair and the clothes and the makeup — that people know exactly what to do. We can’t really branch out into each other’s zones. I’m never going to wear red lipstick because that’s Cheryl’s thing. I’m never gonna have a ponytail because that’s Betty’s thing.
You posed makeup-free for PEOPLE’s Beautiful Issue. What was the experience like for you?
I was a little nervous, but I was like, ‘What do I have to be ashamed of?’ I don’t think anybody out there is like, ‘I have perfect, flawless skin and people should expect me to look perfect all the time.’ We’re a lot harder on ourselves than other people, and I try to remind myself of that. Sometimes you do have to trust the women around you when they tell you you look beautiful. And that was what that day felt like. They were just cheering you on, and it was a great experience. And I felt great, I felt the most myself.
If you have an hour to yourself, what do you do?
I love lying in my bed with my laptop, playing music, making to-do lists, or journaling, or just doing something so low-key. I’ve forced myself to be alone more than I used to. I’m just starting to become my own best friend and wanting to hang out by myself. That’s how you learn about yourself! That’s become the most effective use of my time is any chance I get to ground myself and remind myself, this is who I am.
You and your on-screen boyfriend KJ Apa were nominated for best kiss at the MTV Movie and TV Awards. The world needs to know: Do you have a favorite lip balm you use before a kissing scene?
It’s probably Burt’s Bees because it’s the most organic one. But it’s always, you know, pop in a mint before every take, moisturize the lips. We’ll use a lip stain so there’s still a little bit of color but it won’t transfer onto him, because if I wore my actual color it would just be all over his face.
The Riverdale cast is super close. How do you guys decompress off set?
We go to karaoke a lot. We get a private room and it’s just the gang.
What’s your go-to song?
“If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys. And then me and Lili’s song is “You and I” by Lady Gaga. We love that song, it’s our duet song.
This interview has been edited and condensed.