Beauty and the Beast: How to Survive Having Curly Hair

I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on curly hair, because I’m not. But I do own a mane of curly hair, so I feel like that gives me a little authority on the topic.

  • First, find out your curl type.

There’s this great chart here that lists all the different curly hair types, from 2A to 4C. This is important to know because I feel like some people think of one specific type of curly hair when they think about curly hair, and there are a lot of different types. There’s wavy hair, and there’s curly hair, and there’s ringlet-y hair and kinky hair. Trying a product for wavy hair if you’ve got kinky coils is not going to work out, and vice versa. Learning more about your hair type will help, trust me.

  • Go to a hairdresser who knows how to cut curly/ethnic/African American hair.

The thing I’ve learned over the past couple years is that for the most part, people with straight hair don’t know how to cut curly hair. Until last summer, I got my hair cut at a salon that catered mostly to people with straight hair, and almost every day, I wore my hair back. If I was lucky, I had one good hair day a month. But now that I’ve learned more about my hair and found an amazing stylist, I’ve maybe worn my hair back once or twice. Since last August. (Awesome, right?)

Curls behave differently than straight locks do, and if you don’t take that into account, your hair is not going to look good.  Curly hair shrinks when it dries, so if you get it cut when it’s wet, it’s not going to look the same. If you have curly hair, always, always get it cut dry first. Also, if you want to avoid that dreaded triangle shape, get layers. So yeah. Find a stylist who specializes in curly/ethnic hair. Naturallycurly.com has a really good salon finder for this purpose. Which brings me to my next point:

Seriously. They have this awesome product finder where you can look up products and read reviews of them by people with the same hair type as you before you buy them, and if you want to make something yourself, they have recipes for you too. They also have articles and tips that can be filtered by hair type, and if that isn’t enough, an extensive gallery of pictures that you can use for reference for your next haircut.

  • Avoid sulfates and silicones.

Sulfates and silicones are chemicals found in most hair products (especially shampoos) that are very harsh on curly hair. They can strip hair of natural oils and dry your hair out, causing frizz and turning your hair into something that looks more beast than beauty. To do this, use products that are specifically for curly hair. Find a good sulfate-free shampoo or use a cleansing conditioner. Two products that have worked for me are Renpure’s Sweet Pomegranate Cleansing Conditioner (and it smells amazing, too) and Neuma’s NeuSmooth Shampoo, the latter of which was recommended to me by my hairstylist.

  • Condition, condition, condition.

This is a must. When I was using regular shampoo, I went through like half a bottle of conditioner every shower just to try and make my hair less dry. Now, I still use a ton of conditioner, and a ton of leave-in conditioner as well. I can’t recommend you any conditioners that are specifically for curly hair, because lately I’ve just been using whatever I can find in my bathroom, but one drugstore conditioner I really, really like is Herbal Essences’ Moroccan My Shine conditioner, because it’s really moisturizing and it smells great, too. (And it’s cheap.) And for leave-in conditioners, I’ve used both Mixed Chick’s Kids’ Leave-in Conditioner (yes, the kids’ stuff, because I like it better. Though the regular stuff should work too) and Neuma’s NeuSmooth Leave-on conditioner, and both worked really well.

  • Find a good styling product.

This is the product you put in to help your curls keep their shape. Usually, you put it clean, damp hair, but you can also mix a little with your leave-in conditioner for an extra boost. Right now, I’m using Neuma’s Styling Gelee, but most styling gels should work.

  • Find a good pomade.

This is the last step/product in my morning hair routine. Basically, a pomade is a mixture of different hair oils to both moisturize your curls and give them definition. Mine is made by my stylist and has shea butter, jojoba oil, coconut oil and I think castor oil among other things in it. You can find lots of pomades online or you can make your own with this recipe, or, as I recently heard from a really nice lady with really cool dreads, coconut oil works pretty well too, especially if you’re looking for an oil for twist-outs. Put it in your hair in the morning as your last step and put it in at night before you go to bed to keep your hair extra moisturized.

  • Invest in a diffuser.

This is a really good idea, especially if you live somewhere where it gets really cold or you just really don’t like going out with your hair wet. Because of the way they’re designed, the hot air from hairdryers can be very targeted and harsh to curly hair, which causes a load of frizz. A diffuser distributes this air more equally, and that takes off the frizz while still drying your hair. I recommend diffusing with your hair upside-down for best results, as it helps with volume (especially near the roots) and also makes you feel fabulous when you do the hair flip to get your hair right-side up.

  • Try plopping.

Plopping is a way of drying your hair without frizz or a hair dryer. Use a t-shirt instead of a towel, because often the towels will be too harsh on your hair. You can find instructions here.

  • Buy satin pillowcases.

Trust me on this one—cotton isn’t the best for us curlies. It knots up our hair and creates a whack of frizz. Try buying satin pillowcases, because they don’t create the same kind of friction and they leave your hair nice and smooth.

  • Pineapple your hair or put it back in a headband at night.

To help your hair keep its shape at night, pile your hair in a loose bun or ponytail (keyword: loose, because if it’s too tight you’ll break the curls) on the top of your head. Or if you hair is a little too short for that—like mine is—pull your hair back in a headband to keep it out of your face.

  • Drink lots of water.

Yeah, yeah, I know: your mom has been telling you this for the last five years. But it’s true; drinking a good amount of water will make your hair a little less dry. (I can literally feel my mom’s I told you so, Alex. This is the admission she’s been waiting for for years.)

Not everything you try is going to work for you. Everyone’s hair is different and will behave differently. Try a lot of different methods. Try bantu knots or twist-outs at night. Try the Curly Girl Method. Try switching up your products. I don’t know. But hopefully, through all the experimenting, you’ll find something that works for you.

And finally:

  • Accept your hair.

Having curly hair isn’t always fun. It’s annoying, and it can be a whole lotta work, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to love your hair and accept it. Sometimes it’ll make you feel like a goddess. Sometimes it’ll make you feel like a woodland creature. But on those days where your hair is fabulous, it’s all worth it.

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