Curly hair has its own agenda.
Get a haircut? It’ll sulk for a week. Going on holiday – my hair goes on strike. But when my curls cooperate – I get people asking to pat my hair, pulling the spiral curls down and watching them bounce back up.
It’s taken years to figure out what works for my hair – I’m still experimenting – and I’ve found myself talking to fellow curly girls, trying to explain how to look after their own hair (because it took me 30 years to find out about this and now I’m like ‘preaaaach sisters!’). I first started my curly hair journey in earnest when I was getting married – my hairdresser wanted to straighten my curly hair, to then use curling irons to curl it aka make it behave. I remember thinking “there has to be a better way” – my biggest breakthrough since I attempted to use petroleum jelly to control my hair in 4th form. On photo day.
Anyway, we’ve come along way since then, so if you have waves, curls, ringlets or a ton of frizz that occasionally kinks then this week is for you. Hopefully, if you’re blessed (or cursed) with the frizz factory gene, then this post will come in handy!
Before we start, I just want to be clear – I’m not a hairdresser, this is just info I’ve picked up from my own research, experience and trial-and-error.
What’s the ‘curly girl’ hair routine?
Ok, so, are you ready to dive down the rabbit hole? If you answer is yes, chances are you’ve got naturally curly hair too and you’re over. it. I (loosely) follow the curly girl method, which I discovered via the ‘r/curlyhair’ community on reddit. People post their haircare routines, hair wins, fails, and hacks. A large majority of those users are devotees to “the curly girl method” – shortened to CG in the community. A quick summary of how the method works, per the r/curlyhair wiki explanation:
Curly hair tends to be super dry, thanks to sulfates, the harsh detergents in shampoo. So we remove sulfates from the routine.
The problem is that only sulfates can wash away certain ingredients, like silicones, so we remove those too, leaving only ingredients that can be washed away with JUST water.
The CG method mostly focuses around removing both sulfates and silicones and replacing them with gentler products, along with some techniques to help our curls form and stick together!
The curly girl method is attributed to Lorraine Massey, the founder of Devachan hair salons. These guys specialise in curly hair; it’s on my bucket list to get a ‘devacut’ (most people head to the USA for the sights, I go for a haircut – and thus the lengths I will go to, to tame my hair are revealed).
Lorraine wrote Curly Girl – The Handbook which is my bible/reference for most everything I do with my hair. She walks you through quitting sulfates and silicones, identifying your curl type, products, hair dos and even how to trim your hair for those adventurous enough.
What products should you use (or not use) for curly hair?
Sulfates and silicones are out. The fuzz of frizz us curly ladies know so well is our hair looking for moisture. Sulfates strip curly hair of its natural moisture – oils – leaving it dry and frizzy. To make up for this, companies put silicones in their conditioners and hair styling products. This dampens down the frizz and adds shine, but build up, suffocating your hair and not letting any moisture in (see this video for a demonstration). To stop the build up of silicone in your hair, you need to use sulfates… which strip the hair of moisture and cause frizz. It’s a vicious cycle.
Using the correct combination of hair products is a mix of trial-and-error, but is the most important step in getting great healthy curls.
How can I identify if a hair product is curly hair friendly?
…you get really good at reading ingredients labels. Or failing that, plug them into this website, which helps you decode the bad from the good.
Lots of the websites that recommend curly girl hair products are based overseas and suggest brands we can’t get here in New Zealand. So you need to get educated on what to look for, when deciding on what to buy that’s available locally. Most hairdressers stock a lot of curly-girl approved products, and I’ve spent a bit of money on buying Devacurl from overseas. However the best value I’ve found is the Earthwise range from New World (about $6 usually) and free of all the nasty stuff. I use this one in particular (I have the shampoo too but still haven’t tried it – I take literally. years. to get through a bottle of shampoo).
When selecting a shampoo, it’s the sulfates you’re wanting to avoid. This is a relatively easy one for me as I hardly wash my hair (this horrifies a lot of people, but I’ve got to be honest, it’s the internet!). I’m still only halfway through a Devacurl shampoo that I purchased in January 2017.
Conditioner is my desert-island essential, and I go through a bottle a month (if not more). When you’re purchasing a conditioner, you want to avoid silicone – basically, anything ending in -cone is a silicone*. Silicone is found in styling products as well, and I’ve found curly-girl-approved styling products harder to find locally. I splash out on DevaCurl products when I get money for my birthday or if I’m feeling particularly unglamourous and start thinking shaving my head would be a good option. I do love the Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream but alas, it has Dimenthicone in it.
*There are some “…good silicones: Dimethicone Copolyol, Hydrolyzed wheat protein (Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane), Lauryl Methicone Copolyol and any Silicone with PEG as a prefix. These are water soluble and evaporate as the hair dries or is dried, they do not create a build up on your hair and are easily removed with gentle products” source
Washing curly hair
As I mentioned above, I barely use shampoo. Every 2-4 weeks, when my hair starts to feel like it needs it, I massage a small amount of the shampoo into my roots where it needs it, then wash it out.
I comb my hair with a wide tooth comb while I’m in the shower, and once I’m ready to get out, the last thing I do is smoosh a palmful of conditioner through my hair. I squeeze it through, draining the excess water out of my hair, and then hop out of the shower – I don’t rinse my conditioner out. No idea if that last bit is what you’re “supposed” to do, but I’ve found it works for me – if you have thin hair or waves that you’re trying to coax into curls, then you may not want the additional weight of the conditioner sitting in your hair.
The secret to frizz-free curly hair – it’s all in the drying
As I mentioned above, having good curls is in the products, but for me to get amazing, head turning curls, I need to manipulate my tresses a bit.
For the next step in my curly girl hair routine, I ‘scrunch’ hair product through my hair, then ‘plop’ it. This sounds super weird, and it’ll take a novel to explain it to you, so I feel like a video is necessary for this next step.
Watch this video for how The Glam Belle does it:
I’m not sure about the towel mentioned in the video (I haven’t tried it). Hair is especially delicate when it’s wet, and the texture and material of a regular towel is often too coarse and dry for fragile wet hair to handle. So you want something that’ll dry your hair but be gentle on it too. Lots and lots of curly hair devotees use old (i.e. super soft) cotton tshirts. I use a microfiber towel myself, or there are specially designed plopping towels that you can buy online – these look good:
Once I’ve plopped my hair for a while, I generally leave my hair to airdry, then twist my curls to manipulate them into ringlets. This is definitely not a full-proof routine, but I can less bad hair days than I ever used to! If I’m kicking round at home, just doing messages or not up to much, I am a little lazy with this part of the routine, but that’s why the messy bun was invented, amiright?!
So hopefully I’ve helped some of you – I know this post is a little outside my usual chat but I’ve had so many questions about my curls in the past that I thought it was worth typing it up. And for an extra special treat, here’s a photo of me with straightened hair: