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The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Curly Hair

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Before diving into how to properly care for curly hair, it’s best to start off by understanding the biology behind what makes hair curly versus straight. Hair texture begins with the shape of hair follicles – straight manes are made up of round and symmetrical hair follicles. Curls, however, are oval or elliptical in shape, with flat, asymmetrical follicles.

Have you ever wrapped a gift and added ribbon, using your scissors to flatten one side of the ribbon so it would curl? Curly hair is shaped very much the same – with a flat side that drives the follicle to form a coiled shape. The flatter the hair shaft, the tighter or kinkier the curl.

Woman Following Curly Hair Care Tips Standing with Arms Behind Head on City Street at Dusk

So, what’s the takeaway from this? Simply that the flat, asymmetrical shape of curly hair follicles makes their hair more vulnerable to splitting and breakage, not to mention becoming knotted or tangled. Natural oils released from the scalp also have a harder time coating the entire hair strand, which means that curls tend to be dryer or less greasy than straight strands.

Curly Hair Care: 5 Essential Steps 

1. What to do with curly hair after showering? Moisturize! 

Now that you understand why your curly tresses are so thirsty, it’s easy to grasp why conditioner is your new BFF! If you’re just beginning to style your curly hair naturally, you’ll be surprised by how much moisturizer you’ll use – during and after your shower. A moisturizing conditioner with shea butter or cocoa butter such as SheaMoisture Restorative Conditioner for Dry & Damaged Curly Hair is a must and a leave-in conditioner for after the shower is also a good idea – try SheaMoisture Sugarcane Extract & Meadowfoam Seed Leave-in Conditioner for Dry Hair. During dryer months, using a deep conditioner once or twice a month on your hair before or during a shower, or even overnight, can help keep its bounce and shine, like Giovanni 2chic® Deep Moisture Hair Mask with Avocado.

Depending on how curly your hair is, (the curlier it is, the dryer and more fragile) you could also consider using oils such as jojoba, argan or grapeseed. Oils are heavier than conditioners so they should always be added to hair after moisturizing and are best applied to the ends where hair is driest. SoapBox Argan Oil Anti-Frizz Smoothing Serum is an excellent choice, just be aware that hair oils can build up quickly and may reduce hair’s volume, so use them sparingly as a deep conditioning agent and not as a styling product.

2. How often should you brush curly hair? Protection is key.

Curls are more likely to become damaged than straight locks when styling or even during sleep, so a few simple tools can help protect them, keeping them strong, thick and less susceptible to frizz. First of all, never brush curly hair when it is dry! Your hair will literally engulf your brush and you may never see it again! There is no need to brush your hair very often. But when you do, use a wide tooth comb to detangle hair in the shower or when it’s wet and always apply conditioner before detangling.

However, wet hair is weaker and more vulnerable than dry so detangle your hair gently and take your time – rushing can cause more harm. Speaking of rushing, if you need to dry your hair quickly, always use a diffuser with your blow dryer and keep the heat on a low setting. Air drying is the safest, gentlest method but either way, for bouncy curls with plenty of volume, you should know that gravity is not your friend. Dry your hair leaning over or if your back needs a rest, lie on your bed, hanging your head down so your hair drops toward the floor. After applying hair cream in sections, scrunch your hair with your hands or with a hair diffuser, lifting the curls up toward your scalp.

Finally, one of the easiest ways to protect your hair is when you sleep. As you toss and turn during sleep at night, friction from coarse fabrics like cotton can injure curls over time, so sleep with a satin hair bonnet on or use a silk pillowcase. Satin or silk fabrics decrease abrasion, and a hair bonnet retains moisture as well.

3. Dos and don’ts of curly hair – avoid alcohols, sulfates and silicones.

Don’t worry – you don’t have to give up happy hour or mimosas with brunch. Your hair, however, should definitely avoid inebriation. While it’s essential to control frizz and add volume, hairsprays, gels, and mousses that contain ethyl or benzyl alcohol, ethanol, propanol, or isopropanol will dry hair as they evaporate, leaving a stiff, crunchy texture behind. Instead opt for aerated mousses that resemble whipped cream or try curl creams. Alaffia Beautiful Curls Activating Cream is a great choice and if you have looser curls or fine wavy hair, Giovanni 2chic® Ultra-Volume Foam Styling Mousse will give you the lift you’re looking for without the drying side effects.

Never wash your hair with normal shampoos, which often contain harsh detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate that can strip hair of moisture. Your go-to shampoos should be cream based, like Alaffia Beautiful Curls Activating Shampoo or Maui Moisture Curl Quench + Coconut Oil Shampoo. It may feel strange to cleanse your hair with a product that doesn’t produce very many suds or foam so try incorporating a shampoo brush or scalp exfoliator into your shower routine, which can help spread a cream-based shampoo evenly throughout your scalp.

When looking for a conditioner or styling curl cream or moisturizing mousse, make sure that they do NOT have silicone in them. Silicone coats the hair follicle and acts as a sealant, blocking moisture from entering, and builds up over time so that it can be very difficult to remove. Products with cetyl dimethicone, cetearyl methicone, cyclomethicone, amodimethicone or cyclopentasiloxane will add amazing shine and silkiness to your hair at first, as well as reducing frizz, but over time these ingredients will starve your hair of moisture while building up in your strands, becoming increasingly problematic to wash out.

4. Get a dry, layered cut every three months.

By now you’re beginning to understand just how delicate curly hair is – despite its large shape and voluminous texture. Since it suffers from brittle, split ends quicker than straight hair, make sure to trim it regularly every 3 months or so. Look for a hair stylist who can cut it dry, since many people have uneven curly hair – with areas that are often less curly near the neckline or along the temples. Wet hair also looks much longer, giving a hair stylist the illusion that he or she isn’t removing very much hair when even a simple trim can greatly alter length.

Also, always ask for a layered look to help avoid the dreaded cone or A shape that curls can cause. Layers help create volume for those with looser locks, thus reducing the need for damaging heat styling tools like a dryer or harsh hairsprays.

5. Daily care for curly hair means styling it – then leaving it.

Technique is everything when it comes to well defined, frizz-free curls. It starts in the shower, by using a sulfate-free shampoo and more conditioner than you would think you’d need, followed by a leave-in conditioner as soon as you are done showering. Instead of using a terry cloth towel, try using a microfiber one instead and don’t twist, yank, pull or rub your hair but scrunch it gently toward your scalp.

Or you could try the popular “plopping” technique that’s trending, using a cotton T-shirt to dry your hair as you pile it on the top of your head. Once it’s no longer so wet that’s its dripping but not too dry, apply a curl cream or mousse, hanging your hair upside down. Scrunch it again with your hands or a diffuser, but don’t mess with it for too long or it will start to frizz. How long is too long? That depends on your how curly your hair is and what kind of environment you live in – you’ll scrunch it for less time in Yuma, Arizona – where it’s super dry – than you will if you live in say, Atlanta, Georgia. If you’ve scrunched too long and you start to see frizz, spray a little water on the frizzy spot and then put your hands down. Over styled hair causes frizz, so find your sweet spot and stick to it!

Anyone with curly hair knows that curls have a mind of their own, but hopefully with these tips you can begin taming them instead of wrestling with them, and you’ll be able to flaunt gorgeous locks with plenty of volume, definition and shine in no time!

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