This post goes out to my fellow curly-haired fam, anyone lucky enough to style someone else’s curly hair, or anyone who is interested.
I love my hair. That wasn’t always the case. When I hit puberty, my hair (along with everything else, I guess) changed. It went from super soft and straight, to coarse wavy/curly. I have unique hair, both in it’s volume/amount and natural curl. Puberty coupled with growing up in the mythic age “before the internet” (when information wasn’t as easily obtained) lead to some pretty cringe-y hair moments in my formative years. I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time to make sure that my hard-earned knowledge is shared with anyone who might need it. These came to me through years of practice and extensive research in “the best” way to do something. Hopefully, you already know all these things, but I wanted to write this on the off chance that someone didn’t.
So, how and why do people have curly hair?
… the texture of a person’s hair derives from his or her genes. A 2009 study looked at the genetics of waves and curls and reported a heritability of between 85 and 95 percent. (That means about nine tenths of the variation in hair texture within the sample could be ascribed to DNA.) How does this play out at the level of a single hair? Research shows that the curvature of a strand depends on the nature of its follicle. When a follicle is asymmetrical, the hair that it produces is oval in shape and tends to curl. When it’s symmetrical, the strand that emerges grows round and straight.
A curly hair can also be described according to its composition and structure. A research team…used electron microscopy to compare straight and curly hair fibers. The former were circular in cross section and symmetrical in structure. The latter, though, had an uneven distribution of a particular type of keratin. This protein—which, along with other varieties of keratin, serves as the primary component of hair—accumulated near the inside edge of a curled hair, beneath the curve.
And while everyone’s hair is unique like its owner, here are some universal curl hair rules and essentials that I have discovered over the years.
Tip #1: Own Thee a Wide-Toothed Comb: If you have naturally wavy or curly hair, I would hope you already have one. If you don’t, then get one… like, yesterday. Wide tooth combs are the most essential tool in your curly-hair arsenal. I have one in the shower and one on the counter. If you take one thing away from this post let it be this: if you have naturally wavy or curly hair you need a wide tooth comb.
Tip #2: Learn How to Use Said Comb: Never start from the top. Work your way from the bottom in short downstrokes, moving on to the top. It’s more like raking than brushing– dragging the comb over the hair. Tangles are just dead hairs that have fallen out, but not off your head. The average person loses 100-125 hairs a day, so don’t stress about hair loss, too much. Think of it as raking the comb over your hair vs. brushing it through. The only time I ever brush brush my hair is if I’m straightening it, OR if I’m about to wash it. Only brush your hair before washing, never after. Try not to brush your hair when it is wet, for it is more fragile. Though I do recommend gently combing it in the shower to distribute product evenly (see tip #4 picture).
Tip #3 : Find Several Products That Work for You: Traditional shampoos will strip curly hair of what it needs. If you have curly hair, look for products that are sulfate-free. Find multiple products that work well for your hair, and rotate them out. Although we all love routine, hair follicles don’t. Product build-up and clogged follicles are serious bad news causing hair loss. Even if it is every month or so, rotate the products in your routine. Try alternatives like not using shampoo at all, conditioning your hair dry BEFORE getting into the shower (dry conditioning), or washing you hair with apple cider vinegar and baking soda like our pal Carina. Here is me trying my new favorite alternative: dry conditioning (applying conditioner on dry hair, pre-shower).
Tip #4: Rethink Your Shower: We have been conditioned (ha!) to believe that we need to wash our hair everyday. Some people do, I’ll give you that. But, for the most part, everyone could stand to wash their hair less. People are always shocked when tell them I don’t wash my hair super regularly. It’s not that I don’t take a shower on the reg, I do– especially after working out. But, it takes me so long to deal with my hair when I do wash it, I can’t even imagine doing the whole rigmarole daily– it would eat my life. Instead, when you are in the shower, just rinse around your hairline all around your head (the part that gets actually gets sweaty) and make friends with dry shampoo. And although there is nothing more soothing than a hot bath/shower, super-hot water is terrible for your hair. Turn the water temperature down when rinsing products out. Regardless of whether you condition your hair in or out of the shower, make it one of the first things you do in the shower. Apply conditioner, put it in a hair clip to get it off your face (or use a shower cap) and then rinse later in your shower. Bonus tip: rinse your hair as the second to last thing you do in the shower, so that you can rinse it, clip your hair back again, and let it drip dry(er) while you are still in the shower.
Tip #5 : All Fabrics are not Created Equal When Drying Your Hair: Ditch the traditional terrycloth towel and go for a jersey tee-shirt. We have some if you are interested. We’ve mentioned our love for microfiber clothes before. Turns out the right material for the job can make a world of difference (duh!). Terrycloth fibers are looser and fluffier so they can absorb all the things- which is great around the pool, or for your body. For drying curly hair, super absorbent isn’t necessarily a great thing. It absorbs water, yes, but it also absorbs other things that your curly hair needs. Jersey t-shirts are the perfect material to both soak up the water and leave more oils in your hair. Talk about the ultimate t-shirt mod! Here’s me showing you how to tie your t-shirt into a turban!
Styling Curly Hair
Tip #6: Patience is a Virtue…: Air-dried curls are the best curls. They last the longest and aren’t as bushy. But you do need to give them some help, by twisting them into clusters and pinching the tips together. Unless you are intentionally going for maximum volume, curl separation is a big no-no. Divide your curls naturally into large sections, not forcing any curls apart, and give them a twirl. Don’t twist them too tight and alternate the direction you twirl for each cluster. Wetting and pinching the ends together keeps the curls together and keeps volume at bay. For people (like me) whose hair is so long that gravity hinders the drying process, just do the same process as above, but then wrap the cluster around your hand and pin it to your head using jumbo bobby pins. Like an old-timey wet-set. I like to let my hair air dry as much as possible and incorporate it into my look by styling it with a loose-weave scarf for maximum circulation. Think Rosie the Riveter or turbans– turbans are so hot right now. If you are thinking to yourself, “who has the time to do all that?” then keep reading.
Tip #7: But If You Can’t Wait, Invest in a Diffuser: There have been times when I use my diffuser on the reg, but there have been others when it has remained untouched under the sink for months (generally the summer). If you don’t have the time or energy to do a pin set, or let it air dry, then diffusers are the answer. Diffusers are just that. They are a thing that diffuses. Its basically doing the job of a salons dryer chair, redirecting airflow. I like to do a combo of both air drying AND diffusing. Don’t fling your hair around and make your curls messier when diffusing, just hold the diffuser, piece by piece, over each part of your head. I like to do a combo of pin-curl setting and diffusing. I diffuse my pin curls, setting them with the heat, and then take them down and finish drying.
Tip #8: Embrace the Moisture: Learning to work WITH the weather is one of the nicest favors you can do for yourself. Don’t blow dry your hair straight if it is hot, humid, or it can get wet. It’s just not worth your time. Harness the humidity! Use it! Curls get better in humid weather, if you are using the right product. Also, invest in a spray bottle (with a misting setting) and learn how to re-wet your hair (not soaking, just damp) and it will open the world of multi-day curly hair life. I used to think that curls were a one and done deal; that once you slept on them, they were less-than. That is not the case. Water re-activates curls. Using a squirt bottle full of water (or water mixed with leave in condition, or mixed with sea salt, or both!) on the mist setting will bring your curls back to life and clump any pieces together that got smushed or separated from it’s curl cluster back together.
Tip #8 : Find Someone Who Has Hair Like You and See What They Are Doing: When it doubt, copy someone else. Find people who have a similar hair texture to you and see what you like or don’t like about how they are doing it. For example, here is my hair-type style inspo board.
Not only does having a celebrity hair-texture reference point give you ideas, but it is also good for your stylist. Speaking of which…
Tip #9: Make Sure Your Stylist is Comfortable with Curly Hair: Curly hair both cuts and dries differently than “normal” hair and some stylists aren’t as savvy with curls as others. Just ask in advance.
Tip #10: Learn to Love Your Hair: If you don’t already, start… you’ll be stuck with it (if you’re LUCKY) for the rest of your life. Stop fighting it and learn to accentuate what is beautiful about it and you! It’s so much easier!
And if your hair is still thirsty for even more curly hair tricks (some that were even new to me!), check out this Cosmo article: 18 Life-Changing Hacks for Curly Hair. What do you think? Do you need some styling vids in your life? Do you have a curly hair secret? Have you subscribed to our Newsletter? As always, let me know!
Lovely breakdown and advice – truly the essentials these! 🙂
Thanks, Emma! No substitute for learning things “the hard way” but if I could help even one struggling, curly-haired individual, then it was all worth it! Thanks for reading!!