And one way it's the same!
2016 Toronto International Film Festival - "Hidden Figures" Premiere
Credit: George Pimentel/WireImage

Taraji P. Henson loves makeup — after all, she just launched a cosmetics collection with M.A.C that sold out so fast that her own mom couldn’t get her hands on it. But don’t get her confused with her onscreen alter ego Cookie Lyons. Though she loves to get glam, she’s not in that perpetually done-up mode that her character enjoys.

From her hair to her nails, Henson says that she tries to keep the rest of her beauty routine as natural as possible when she’s off duty (a total 180º from the Empire matriarch). And, she tells PeopleStyle in this week’s issue on stands now, there’s a good reason for that.

“I feel like relaxing my hair for 26 years really damaged it,” she says. “But it’s natural now—and I love it. For Empire I use wigs. I keep my hair braided in lots of teeny cornrows, so the wigs fit on my head. When I take them out, I’ll sit under a steamer while I deep-condition my hair.”

Looking back, Henson wonders what her hair would have been like without years of relaxers. And she credits one hairstylist for convincing her to quit the chemicals and grow out her natural strands.

“When I did Baby Boy [in 2001], I had new growth and I was ashamed. I was like, ‘Oh my God, my hair is terrible, don’t look at my new growth.’ The young lady who did my hair [for it] asked me, ‘What are you talking about? Your hair is beautiful! Why are are you even getting a relaxer? All you have to do is know how to work it.’ So I grew my relaxer out. I was overwhelmed at first, because you go from straight, silky hair, to ‘What is this?'”

That’s why, after mastering the care and upkeep of her natural strands (she switches off between Shea Moisture, Aveda, and Joico products), Henson is on a mission to help girls embrace their hair, too. “Every time I see women who have daughters, I say, ‘Don’t ever [use a relaxer] on her hair.’ If you don’t, I think it will be thicker and grow longer.”And just like her wigs, Henson also ditches her character’s fake nails when she’s not on set. “[While playing] Cookie, I wear stick-on nails. When they yell, ‘It’s a wrap,’ I leave them there along with her wigs, and I turn back into Taraji. Before bed, I put oil on my cuticles. I have all different kinds in my bathroom,” she says, adding that Bio-Oil is one of her go-to favorites.

So what do the two have in common? An love of eyeliner. Cookie “does a lot of cat eyes” says Henson, adding that they’re also a part of her daily look. “I find myself wearing a cat eye a lot. I just highlight my cheek bones, put a little liner on, and go.”For more from Henson, check out this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands now. And tell us: what do you think of her natural take on beauty? Sound off below.–reporting by Jackie Fields