Curly Hair 911

After 29 years of experimentation, good and bad hair cuts, using the right and wrong products, 

I am an expert on curly hair.

As silly as it sounds, I have shared my "knowledge" with others who have found luck with my process, and anyone with curly hair knows that as gorgeous as we are told our hair is, good curls are an art form.


under construction

The Six Commandments of Curly Hair

1. Thou shalt not brush.
Seriously. Never. Brushing your hair is probably the single most detrimental action one can take against their curly hair, unless you are purposely aiming for a half ass fro. Brushing interrupts the curl pattern, breaks up curl clumps, and remains in that frizzy mega-state until it is wetted or washed again. The only time I "brush" my hair is when I run my fingers through my wet hair in the shower. See #2. 

2. Thou shalt not wash your hair every day.
Curly hair has a tendency to be dry and, if not dry, definitely not oily. When you wash hair everyday that is already on the borderline of being dry, you are further stripping the strand of it's natural oils which help it to look healthier. These same oils help to keep the shape of the individual curls. Daily washing is going to make your curls prone to frizz. 

Warning: The following may gross some people out.

When you don't regularly brush your hair, your daily dose of hair loss happens but doesn't actually happen... What I mean by that is that your hair falls out at the follicle but doesn't free itself from your head. The curls trap it. Therefore, when you finger-brush though your hair in the shower, it all comes out in mass quantities. Seriously... a ton of hair... If I just let it free fall in the process, I could clog a drain in one washing... seriously... Especially since it's at least two days worth of hair. I am forced to catch it as it comes out. What you choose to do with it is up to your own imagination.

After finger-brushing my hair (this is the last time I run my fingers through my hair), I shampoo my hair with shampoo designed specifically for curly or wavy hair (this also depends on the climate... see #4) like any normal person. 

When I condition my hair, I use a lot a less that probably one would guess. Because my hair is so fine, as I discuss later, I don't follow the whole leave in for two minutes thing a lot of conditioner bottles instructs you to do. It weighs my hair down to much. If you have super kinky hair, you may want to abide by the two minute rule. My rule that EVERYONE should follow, however, is that you should seriously reconsider conditioning your roots. Probably the biggest mistake we have all seen in the curly-coiffed is curls matched with straight roots. This happens by over conditioning the part of your hair that by default is already the healthiest of the strand and weighing down with product. I use only a half-dollar sized squirt of conditioner and rub it OVER (not through) the lower half of my hair. I leave it in for maybe 15-20 seconds and rinse out. 

After conditioning, I ring out the excess water out from root to tip. Then, I flip my hair upside down and shake it to separate the curls. DO NOT use your fingers. Remember, you're done with running fingers through your hair at this point. When I get out of the shower, I simply squeeze any remaining water from my hair in chunks, being very careful not to pull it in a way that would straighten my roots. I flip it over again and shake the gently shake the curls again to keep the separation. 

Just as a side note, when you follow this regimen regularly, you eventually "train" your curls to remain loosely separated. Curls patterns are a lot like parts. 

3. Thou shalt not touch. 
Touching might as well be the same as brushing in my opinion. Once you are out of the shower and have towel squeezed your hair (as opposed to rubbing like you always see people do in movies and on TV), you put the product in your hair, AND NOT TOUCH IT UNTIL IT'S TIME TO WASH AGAIN! With every touch, you are tempting the frizz. 

4. Thou shalt not leave the house without product in your hair
What product you use is dependent on a couple of factors. 
  • Climate - As the seasons change, or I visit other places with different weather, what I put in my hair changes. In cold or dry weather I find my hair gets more limp, and mousse keeps my curls light enough to keep body, especially at the roots. If there is high humidity (a rarity in Texas as of recent), gel works better as it weighs down the curls more and keeps a better handle on impending frizz. HOWEVER... If you choose to use gel, do yourself a favor and choose a lighter hold. No one digs crispy curls...
  • Texture - My hair, despite being super curly, is also super fine. Because it is fine, my natural curls actually "fall out" over time at the crown, much like someone who curls their hair manually. Heavier product causes my curl to be pulled down before gravity even has a chance to do it's thing. Conversely, if you have super kinky curls, you need something that is going to aid gravity to keep some control over those things! 
But that's not it. The method of application is equally important if not THE most important product factor. The method I am outlining is based on years of experimentation. The following is based on shoulder length hair.
  • After gently squeeze drying your hair (as described in #3), put a golf ball sized puff of mousse into  your hand (or a quarter sized squirt of gel). Flip your hair upside down. Gently rub the product between both hands, especially gently if it is mousse. Pat the product into the back third of your hair and then squeeze to further distribute into the back third. Flip the back third of your hair so it falls over your back while the remaining 2/3 are upside down. 
  • Repeat the previous step with the middle third of your hair. 
  • Repeat step one with the front third of your hair. 
  • Sometimes I manage to miss the top back strip of my hair in this process. Squeeze this chunk to see if you have also. If need be, work a quarter sized puff of mousse into this section or a dime sized squirt of gel. 
  • If you notice any oversized clumps of curl, this is your chance to break it up into smaller curls. 

5. Thou shalt not blow-dry without a diffuser. 
The good news is that that the myth that curly hair can't be blow dried is just that - a myth. I was once of the same opinion, and while my curls were almost 100% frizz free in the process, it took about 2 hours for my hair to dry because of the density of the curls. 
When drying curly hair with a diffused drier, there is one important difference that the process those straight locked people employ. Instead of shaking the drier into one's hair (which does make the process go faster by access more individual strands of hair), hold the drier still into one section of hair for about 20-30 seconds and then move the drier to the next. Shaking, or rapid movements with the drier, break up the curls and create frizz.
The other important point when it comes to blow drying curly hair is that it is crazy important to do much of it upside down. A huge problem for curls is the weight of our secretly long hair pulling the roots straight, especially while drying. Working to keep the roots away from the scalp while drying allows for the curl to extend closer to the root and gives volume to a part of the hair that so many curly folk allow to lay plastered to their head. Does this mean you have to be inverted the entire time? No. But in my experience it is dramatically beneficial to flip your hair from side to side and then actually upside down periodically while drying.

The final point when it comes to using a hair drier is to make sure you are drying the roots, not just the tips. You want body from the roots out. 

6. Thou shalt have layers!
I had the absolute wrong hair cut for YEARS, and while I didn't realize it at the time, the actual cut was half of my hair battles. There are two dominant evil curly hair-dos that we've all seen.

  1. the clown - formed when curly hair is cut too short and "shrinkability" is not factored into the length. Sadly I had this hair cut from the ages of 5-9 and then again right before my senior year in high school. Unfortunately, because it takes so long for curls to acquire length, the clown can take almost a year to grow out to an acceptable length. 
  2. the pyramid - you've seen this poor woman... the lady whose hair only has bulk at the ends and therefore creates a pyramid affect from her crown down to the tips. This happens for several reasons. First of all, she's probably letting her roots go straight by not following any of a number of my steps. Second, she's probably using a product that is too heavy for her hair type/climate. Third, she's not drying the roots or using a blow drier at all. And finally and most importantly, her hair is all the same length and is gaining volume at the bottom instead of all over. 
The ONLY hair cut that works for great curls is a layered cut. Granted, there are lots of variations when it comes to a layered cut, but the layers allow you to have volume everywhere and keeps that top layer of hair from being heavier than the inner strands of hair. For me personally, my optimum lengths are chin length for the shortest layer and about 2 inches below the shoulders for my longest. You'll also have better luck if you can find a stylist that uses either a razor blade to cut or cuts textured ends. 

As long as your hair is layered, you'll have better luck instantly that with any haircut you've ever had. In fact, as long as it's layered you can almost not have a bad cut. I cut my hair all the time... If I have a curl that isn't doing what I want it to that day, I cut it off til it's the length that fits with where it needs to fall that day. :)