After about a decade of demanding poker straight hair, the fashion industry has decided to smile favourably on curly hair again.
For curly girls, this is great news, but after so many years of running your hair through straighteners and using whizzy ‘ice shine’ shampoos designed for straight hair, it is easy to forget how to take care of curls.
The good news is it is dead simple. With regular attention and careful use of the right hair accessories, your curls will be looking great and you’ll be the envy of all the straight haired women.
How To Make Curly Hair
Hair is basically composed of a stretchy, stringy centre called the cortex (and occasionally, in thicker hair, also the medulla) which is protected by about seven layers of overlapping scales called the cuticle. The individual strands of hair come in a number of shapes ranging from crescent shaped to oval to perfectly round. The scales of the cuticle are curved appropriately to fit snugly along the natural shape and curl of your hair. On straight hair, the scales individually look quite smooth, like a fish scale. When you run your finger along a straight hair, if it is in good condition, it will feel completely smooth. In beauty industry marketing, this ‘feel’ is held up as an ideal.
Wavy and curly hair have more arched scales, appropriate to the texture of your hair. The individual strands can also vary in shape and thickness along the length of the hair, so your curl will not necessarily be uniformly tight or loose as it grows from the follicle. These two qualities give your hair a different feel. Some people describe their hair as coarse or wiry feeling, when in fact you are pulling a shaped hair straight and ruffling the cuticle away from the cortex.
When you do this, particularly when you use straighteners on naturally curly hair, only the cortex is straightened in the process. The cuticle doesn’t change its shape. The cortex is now more exposed, will lose moisture and is at much greater risk of being damaged. If you have colour treated hair, this opening up of the cuticle will also speed the fading of colour from your hair as it is much easier for the pigment molecules to fall or wash out.
It is also more difficult for conditioners to work effectively on a ruffled cuticle. First, there are more ridges for the conditioning agents to try and fill up. For this reason, when you condition curly hair when you are in the shower, the longer you can leave the conditioner on before rinsing, the better. Second, if there has been damage to the cortex, this changes the magnetic field of the surface of the hair, and conditioner cannot cling as easily to these spots. (For more information about this, read my review of Nanoparticle Technology in salon treatments)
So, to put it simply, to have healthy curls just let your hair be curly. But what about frizz? How do you improve the definition of your curls?
When you have straight hair, it looks best hanging in a shining, even blanket. To get this, you brush it. A lot. With curly hair, you want the opposite. You want your curls to lock and twist together sympathetically. How do you get this?
First, you need to make sure your hair has a good moisture content. You do this by conditioning your hair. A lot. Ideally, you should try to condition your hair every day, either in the shower with a rinse out formula, with a leave-in product, or both. Some very porous hair types benefit from also being oiled, and olive oil or shea butter are two very effective products for this. All this conditioning helps to protect your cuticle and lock in moisture. Avoiding heat styling also helps your hair retain moisture.
When your hair is wet is when your curls will “lock” together. Once you step out of the shower, either apply your leave-in conditioner or your curl styling cream while your hair is dripping wet. Squeeze out the excess water with your hands. Tip your head over with your hair hanging down to let your curls lock. Flip your hair back and DO NOT TOUCH your hair again until it is dry. If you really cannot bear your hair wet, you can use a diffuser on your hair dryer, but you may introduce frizz into your hair. Curls really are better left to air dry.
If you have wavy hair, you are nearly finished. All you do is brush your hair through once it is dry. Your waves will be perfectly formed according to their natural shape.
To add volume to curly hair, when your hair is dry, flip your hair over again and fluff it with your fingers and gently separate out a few of your curls. Some hair types benefit from a little diluted conditioner and water (something you can mix yourself and keep in your handbag or desk drawer) being spritzed on during the day to refresh the curl. You can use your ‘curl refresher’ to help tame down frizzies as well.
The most important thing to know is that all curls are different and there is no one magic, top styling product that will work perfectly on everyone. You just have to experiment to find the formulas that work best for you.
If you haven’t been conditioning your curls regularly and you want to start wearing your hair naturally, it will take some time for your hair to get used to the new routine. Be patient, keep a few good hair clips on hand in case of bad hair days, but try to stick with it. Your hair will really start to improve and in a few weeks or months I can guarantee you will love your curls.
Hair Accessories for Curly Girls
Here are just three hair accessories that I recommend for curly hair, but we have a wide selection that will work for your hair.
This Barrette is perfect for curly hair, it provides a sturdy hold all the while looking positively stunning in your hair.
This claw has a nice, strong hold and the swirly patterns on this clip bring out the best in your curly hair.
With no sharp edges or teeth to catch your hair, this comb is a perfect way to hold your curls up in a neat French Pleat.