Reader Request: Care and Feeding of Curly Hair

curly hair advice

Reader Portia had this request:

How to style and care for curly hair. Your post about curly hair made me happy, and while I would love to embrace my curls, they are extremely unmanageable.

Steel youselves for the disclaimer to end all disclaimers: Curly hair comes in more varieties than can possibly be classified, and each head of curls will behave and react differently. So while I’m happy to share what’s worked for me, I would never, EVER say that my own preferences are guaranteed to work for everyone else. Or really, for anyone else! But I’ll offer up my favorite practices and products, and we can continue the discussion in the comments. Sound good? Right on.

To recap, the photo above left is what my hair looks like super long … although to get it to look that way, I had to wash it, apply product, and wait about three hours for it to air dry. While sitting perfectly still. Inside the house where there was zero breeze. My curls are natural and lovely, but SO FUSSY. Which is why I ended up going for the look on the right, which is short and curly/messy. Easy to style and maintain, suits my texture, everyone is happy.

Now, of course, I’ve got this going on:

MJM_4908

Yet another iteration of short and curly that I’m enjoying.

Since my hair is naturally wavy/curly, I was using curly hair products on it even when I was flat-ironing it. For starters, I do love the Deva Curl line of products for washing and conditioning. They leave absolutely zero buildup, and keep my hair happy and resilient. I’ve used the Deva styling products in the past on my shorter hairstyle, and they were among the only products I found that didn’t leave flaky white residue in my hair. (Not dandruff or scalp-related, believe me. I asked my dermatologist.) Right now I’m sad to report that I’m using the Oribe line, which is amazing but wildly expensive. My stylist used one of the products on me after a cut, created the softest waves my hair has ever had, and I was sold. I use the Supershine leave-in conditioner and the Curl-shaping Mousse. I’ve used and loved Oribe products in the past, too. (I occasionally nab them on eBay for cheaper.)

When it was shorter, I washed every other day. Now I try for three or four days between shampooings. My stylist has told me that letting the natural sebum penetrate for as long as possible will allow the strands to curl more easily. As I continue to grow the front out, I have notices that it keeps its curl better and longer if I leave it alone.

At age 38, I have finally purchased a diffuser … but I haven’t really needed it yet. I dry the back of my hair fully and the front about half. Allowing my curls/waves to air dry – at least partially – seems to work better for me. In my 20s, I would wash my hair each morning and go to work with it completely wet and full of product, allowing it to air dry over the course of the morning. Great for my hair, but in retrospect not the most professional move on my part. Half dry tends to look mostly dry to observers, though, so I let it go. Once the front is longer, I may end up using the diffuser more.

I never use brushes or combs. Ever. My hair is short enough to style without them, and I’ve read that brushes in particular can cause flyaways and frizz in curly hair.

I have tried many different products and techniques over time, and will continue to experiment, I’m quite sure. I know many women who are far more hardcore about the Deva Curl system than I, using the Deva diffuser and special supersoft towels for drying. If my curls were longer, I might try that out myself, but for now my system works well.

Portia, if your curls are unmanageable – I know I felt mine were – here are a few things I’d suggest:

  • Touch your hair as little as you can. Mine always looks better if I don’t futz with it too much.
  • Try mousse if you haven’t yet. It won’t weigh your hair down, but has decent hold and tends to create shapely curls.
  • Ask your stylist to thin your hair if part of the problem is weight or thickness. But request a thinning technique other than thinning shears, which will create bulk when your hair begins to grow out again.
  • Investigate flyaway solutions. People swear by dryer sheets for this purpose, but I’d be more inclined to try this John Freida touch-up cream myself.
  • Make sure you’re using moisture-rich products designed for curls. And heat protectant if you blow dry or heat style.
  • Read Hair Romance, especially this post and all of her curly hair posts. Christina knows far more about hair and curls than I ever will!

And that’s all I’ve got. What other tips would you all share for the care and feeding of curly hair? What are your go-to products? Do you blow dry or air dry? Help us out by sharing your input!

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14 Responses to “Reader Request: Care and Feeding of Curly Hair”

  1. Leah

    What works for your hair will depend on what type of curls you have! If anyone hasn’t looked at http://www.naturallycurly.com/hair-types it’s worth checking out. Mine are 3A and I follow many of the tips given there – rake and shake, and twirling my hair while it’s drying. I also air dry instead of blow dry, and I use an old t-shirt to scrunch my hair dry instead of rubbing with a towel. Product – I use Lush’s R&B, with a few drops of argan oil mixed in. Great hold, moisturizing, and smells lovely too. 🙂

  2. Yamikuronue

    If you’re looking for products on the cheaper side, Burt’s Bees makes a sulfate-free shampoo that does wonders for curly hair without the usual sulfate-free markup. I was hesitant about going “low-poo” when I saw how much the products cost, but this stuff I can pick up at my local drugstore like an ordianary person instead of having to special order 🙂

  3. Jodie Filogomo

    I agree with Leah that the naturally curly website is helpful. I used to think that the brand of product didn’t make a different, but, boy, was I wrong! Experimenting is probably the best thing!! (and accepting the bad hair days, makes life less stressful) jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com

  4. Shaina D

    For anyone with curly hair in the Twin Cities, I absolutely love The Hive Salon in Northeast Minneapolis for haircuts that really pay attention to how your curls work. They also introduced me to Intelligent Nutrients, a local brand of eco-friendly hair products, and I now use their leave-in conditioner religiously. I also stopped twisting my hair up in a towel to dry it, which has made a huge difference.

  5. Elizabeth Shoemaker

    I have used Aveda Be Curly products for years and I love them. They’ve recently added some new products like a cowash and detangling serum. They also have a line called Dry Remedy that I want to try out this winter to keep the frizz down when its cold enough to blow dry. They have sustainable sourcing and packaging, fair business practices, and don’t put goopy stuff in their product. Its not inexpensive, but it is worth it for me. A stylist at an Aveda Salon could set you up with a good line.

  6. Diane Stenglein

    I second the vote for Aveda – I love Be Curly! Right now I’m looking for something with a little more hold than the styling cream. For the record, I have a slightly more conservative version of Sally’s hair. Long on one side, and short on the other.

  7. Liz C.

    My biggest and happiest change for curly hair (mine does medium-sized ringlets) has been giving up shampooing altogether. I start by scrubbing my scalp with conditioner, give that a good rinse, and then deep-condition the length of it for a while before rinsing.

  8. livi

    I’ve been figuring out how to take care of my daughter’s curly hair for six years and I think I have is mostly figured out. She has medium to tight curls, with kinky hair around her hair line. It’s very dry and thick. I have it trimmed into long layers and only wash it during those trims about every three months. At home she gets her hair completely wet every other day. I use a big palm full of inexpensive conditioner and a wide tooth comb, and rinse lightly. Then, with it towel dried, I use a generous amount of a shea butter leave in conditioner and a pick-like comb for small knots, then let it air dry. On non bath day I spray her hair with water to dampen it and use more leave in to finger comb her hair. Since starting this routine, no comb on non bath days and LOTS more conditioner, I have seen a big decrease in frizziness, her curls are more defined, and there are fewer tangles to deal with.

  9. Amy Rothenfeld

    I have curly hair and right now I am attempting to grow it out from a very short pixie that I have worn for the past 7 years. I still work the curl like I had long hair. I was it once a week and condition it daily. I also use a t shirt to squeeze the water out of my hair and not rub it. I love Deva and use no poo and one condition and angel. Another great book is “Curly Girl” from deva.

  10. Lauren

    I followed a lot of the suggestions I found online for years – no-poo, different products, etc. What changed things for me was finding a great stylist. She told me that my hair is very coarse, which I didn’t know before (I don’t exactly go around touching lots of other people’s hair!). She gave me a totally new routine.

    I now wash my hair only at night. I shampoo with a hydrating shampoo (I just use Herbal Essences because it’s not too expensive), rinse it out completely, then use about three pumps of Shea Moisture conditioner (I have tried a few different conditioners from this brand and they all seem to work pretty equally for me). I make sure the conditioner gets to all parts of my hair, but then I don’t wash it out at all. After I get out of the shower (at least a few minutes after I put in the conditioner), I use a very old t-shirt to kind of scrunch the excess moisture from my hair, but it’s still very wet. Then I put the Shea Moisture Coconut and Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie all over my hair, just to the point where no more will soak in. It soaks in a lot! I don’t “scrunch” at all, just plop it in there and comb it through with my fingers. I go to bed and when I wake up I have perfect frizz-free ringlets which usually can last 2-3 days! This works for me but like I said this is not what I would have expected based on what I’d read online for the ~10 years before I found my current stylist. Everything will work differently depending on so many variables about you and your hair, that it is really hard to ask for advice on this online. I would say probably the only thing that I still do that I got online is not to use any brushes or combs ever.

    For reference, my hair is very thick with coarse texture (according to my stylist, but it feels soft to me), 3a ringlets, and I am caucasian.

    TLDR; find a good stylist who knows what they’re talking about and do what they say. The best way to find a good one is by reading reviews on NaturallyCurly.com.

  11. Nebraskim

    My good friend’s hair was stick straight for years but after she hit menopause a couple years ago, it’s grown in curly. I think it’s the change from one status to another that she is finding difficult. Same thing has happened to friends who have lost and then regrown hair after chemotherapy.

  12. Anamarie

    I have been a Ouidad devotee since I went to their salon in NYC in 2007. When I run out of products, I might try something from a drugstore or other salon line to tide me over, but always go back to what I consider the best for my hair. Their stylists are trained to cut sections of curls a certain way which takes out bulk but leaves length. I can’t have my hair cut any other way. Ouidad’s website lists stylists trained in their method throughout the U.S. I live in Minneapolis, but gladly drive to Burnsville to have my hair cut by Davvyann Chum at Le Beauté Salon. She is the best stylist I have ever had. Ouidad cuts are expensive – about $90-100 but I find that with longer hair, I only need to go 3-4 times/year. My hair is above my shoulders now, so I go every 8 weeks.

    As far as products go, I use all Ouidad products, which I buy online through Ouidad.com. The Climate Control Gel is awesome, formulated for heat and humidity. My hair is never frizzy. I attribute that to both the gel, and the fact that I use a LOT of conditioner. I supplement the Ouidad conditioner with other brands, I don’t think conditioner brand is as important as the gel and application. Daily: (I work out every morning) I rinse my hair really well and scrub my scalp with my fingers, then condition. I wash about twice a week. The Ouidad products are water soluble so they completely dissolve without using shampoo.

    To deep condition once a week, I slightly wet my hair, add a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil and let it sit for 15-20 minutes, then wash it out and condition again with regular conditioner. I use a small amount of leave-in conditioner (Ouidad has one, but I prefer Moroccanoil Intense Curl Cream). To style, I make sure my hair is soaking wet (using spray bottle to re-wet as necessary) and section my hair into 4 sections. I use about one tablespoon of gel in each section, pulling it through the section and then scrunching a bit before moving to the next section. No towel ever touches my hair. I usually have to use a paper towel just to get some of the drippy water out of the ends. Then I sit under a bonnet hairdryer (tabletop version from Amazon, about $50) for ten minutes, then a diffuser for a couple of minutes on the ends. Because I deep condition, my hair can handle the heat. It takes about 10 minutes to apply gel and distribute through my hair, twisting sections here and there, then about 12-13 minutes total to blow dry, not too bad. I love my curly hair and would never go straight!

  13. Cynthia Peterson

    The John Freida Touch-Up Creme you suggest is a godsend for me — works both when I blow dry my curly hair and when I wear it curly. I often use it on the second or third day between shampoos — it is light but so effective.