Frieda was always my favorite Peanuts character because she had naturally curly hair like me, and talked about it being a “big responsibility.” I’m not sure hair qualifies as any kind of “responsibility”, but naturally curly hair sure does require more care-taking and know-how than most hair types.
I’ve spent several years straightening mine because I never could get it right, but I recently went to my stylist – who has curly hair herself and has done a great job on my straightened hair for over a year now – and asked her for a cut I could wash and wear that would work with my curls. She did that, then she gave me some good styling advice, but I realized I could use even more.
Different types of curly hair
The first important thing to realize is: there’s more than one type of curly hair, and what works for one kind may be exactly wrong for another. I used to ask friends with gorgeous curls what they did, and then drive myself crazy when doing the same thing didn’t work for me. Curly hair can be coarse and wavy, curly and fine, coarse and super-curly, etc. Naturally Curly has a great page to help you identify your curly hair type. Remember: many of us have more than one type of hair on our heads (I’m a 3A and 3B), so don’t stop reading at the first one that sounds like you.
Finding a stylist who knows curly hair is easier said than done. Most stylists are taught only how to cut straight hair, and assured they can cut curly hair the same way. This works for a few curlies, but not most. Cutting curly hair is just different. The important thing is to ask for a stylist who deals with your type of hair, and then ask that person some questions. If she had curly hair, how does it look? Can she show you pictures of other clients? When you tell her what your challenges are, does she seem to have answers that make sense?
The right cut for you depends on your texture, on which spots are thicker than others, and on what look you want. Layers will give you a more rounded profile, whether you have loose, long waves or an afro, while a blunt cut will give you the “pyramid effect”, with the bottom of your hair being wider than the top. I was always afraid of layers even though I hated the pyramid effect, but my stylist advised a layered cut this time and she was right. The layered look is much sleeker than I expected.
Be prepared for whatever cut you get to take some getting used to!
Keeping it healthy
Believe it or not, the main reasons curly hair looks “bad” (dull, frizzy, etc.) is because we’re too rough with it. Most shampoos – even the expensive ones – are too drying for curly hair, which reacts differently than straight hair. You should also avoid heated styling products – even blow dryers. In other words, most of the advice we hear is meant for someone else’s hair. The good news is, keeping curly hair healthy doesn’t have to cost more or be difficult. (For example, I’ve found all I need to do is: use a zero-sulfate shampoo, run cold water over it after I’ve rinsed out the conditioner, tie it up in a t-shirt to dry for about twenty minutes while I do other things, then apply an inexpensive mousse, and let it dry. Easy!)
Generally, most curly-haired people should not shampoo every day. Most conditioners are actually harsh enough to give you all the “shampooing” your hair needs, which means you might even try a “no-poo” method where you wash your hair with conditioner, using shampoo only when you notice your hair getting dull (which could be twice a week or twice a year, depending on how oily your scalp is, what products you use, and many other factors). No-poo is great if you have trouble with poof and frizz, and it’s perfectly hygienic when done properly. But it didn’t work for me and a lot of other curlies (seems to just weigh fine hair down). People are very polarized about this method, and will insist that you need to do what they recommend, but only you can tell what works for your hair.
However you wash your hair:
- Wash it gently. No vigorous scrubbing with fingertips. Rub it gently into the hair and scalp, like a massage.
- Condition it just as carefully so every hair gets the full benefit of the conditioner.
- Towel it gently. No rubbing: just squeeze chunks of it gently in a towel. A microfiber towel or t-shirt is best.
- Many curlies should comb only with a wide tooth comb or their fingers, and never brush. Kinky curls generally shouldn’t be combed at all. I actually find my hair responds well to being combed by a wide-tooth comb followed by a fine-tooth comb in the shower while conditioner’s on it, and other fine curlies have reported good results from that method.
- Air dry it or use a diffuser. Once you’ve done any scrunching or styling you do to it wet, leave it alone to dry so you’re not separating strands and creating unnecessary frizz.
- Use moisturizing products.
- If it’s damaged, be patient. It takes time for hair to improve. It is not true that all the damaged hairs much be cut off – many of them will smooth out and look better. Of course, the new hair growing in will look even better if you keep being gentle with it.
Once you’ve got healthy looking hair with a cut that looks good, you can try new styles. HairFinder has a FAQ full of recommendations for getting certain looks (taming poof, making curls looser, etc.). Try out their suggestions, or run them past your stylist for additional information or clarification. A good stylist should be happy to give you advice and tips about styling.
I’m sure I haven’t covered everything here, so if you have additional tips and suggestions, please share them in the comments.