Many of you know that it’s been a journey for me in learning to love and embrace my curly hair. We live in a society that values perfectly coiffed hair without a single strand out of place and well…that just isn’t an option with curly hair.
For many years I straightened my hair thinking I looked more beautiful and would be more respected with straight hair. The former could not be more untrue. I feel way more myself and way more beautiful with my curly hair. The latter is still a work in progress. I do think we have a cultural bias towards straight, perfectly manicured hair and part of this is perpetuated by people with curly hair thinking they have to straighten it. I was in that camp for many years. It took me years to embrace my curly hair let one how to style curly hair.
There are so few role models with curly hair who really embrace what they have and talk about actually loving their curly hair. I realized early on that if I couldn’t find those role models I at least had the opportunity to become one for somebody else. And that’s what the last two years have been for me. “How do you style your curly hair?” is now one of the most common questions I get.
I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time now but I’ve also been trying to learn and absorb as much as I can about curly hair because the answer isn’t so simple. Hair exists on a spectrum from pin straight to kinky curls. No person has the exact same hair as you. You have to account for hair porosity and texture. Curls also have their own designation and what you use for type 2a curls looks different from type 4c. Yes, there are different types of curls and figuring out how to style curly hair can be a very individual thing. BUT there are certain curly hair tips that anyone can benefit from.
So today’s post isn’t just about how to style curly hair naturally, it’s also about educating and empowering YOU to understand and embrace the type of curly hair style that you have so you can make the best decisions for it. Of course, I’m biased towards the products I use but I also recognize that what I use may not work for you, and vice versa. I’m also working against our North American preference for ultra-clean, perfectly styled hair and how you feel about that is up to you. In the end, I hope you can learn to be excited about what you have whether it’s curly, wavy, straight or anything in between. Self-love is about loving all of you, even the things you can change. Okay let’s jump in…
TYPES OF CURLY HAIR (TEXTURE)
As I mentioned above, no two curls are alike. Similarly, your curls can and will change throughout your lifetime. Some of this you control like heat and chemical exposure and some of this you don’t, like hormonal changes and pregnancy. Identifying the types of curls or waves you have now is the most important metric for figuring out how to get naturally curly hair. So what are the different types of curly hair?
Curly hair exists on a spectrum of texture from 2-4 and a-c. Someone with 2a “curls” has loose waves whereas someone with 4c curls has extremely tight coils. I have 3a-3b curls (depending on the day). You can figure out your curl texture HERE. More on how to style curly hair for each texture below.
WHAT IS HAIR POROSITY + HAIR DENSITY?
Besides texture, there are a few other metrics that help you better understand your curly hair and how to style curly hair. One of the metrics that has had the largest impact for me has been hair porosity. Porosity is defined as your hair’s ability to absorb or retain moisture. Low porosity hair takes a long time to absorb moisture and can take hours to even days for hair to dry. Products tend to sit on hair rather than be absorbed. High porosity hair can easily absorb moisture to a point where you almost can’t use enough oils but because the cuticles are so open it can also easily lose moisture. Curls tend to be frizzier and on the drier side but can also dry quite quickly. You can also have medium porosity hair, which is what I have. None are better or worse than the other, it’s just a matter of knowing what you have and how to work with it. There are several different ways to determine your porosity included HERE.
Hair density refers to the thickness or coarseness of your hair. It’s basically how many strands you have on your head. Here’s how to test your hair density: part your hair in the center and let the strands fall to either side. Without pushing or forcing your hair, how much of your scalp can you see? If you can’t see any you have high hair density, if you can see a lot of your scalp you have low hair density and if you can see just a little bit, you have medium hair density (which is what I have).
HOW TO PICK CURLY HAIR PRODUCTS THAT WORK FOR YOU
1. Find out your texture
2. Find out your porosity
3. Find our your hair density
I truly believe that when it comes to picking products, knowing your hair porosity and density is more important than knowing your hair texture. Texture is affected more by washing and styling techniques than products themselves. More on techniques for hair texture below so let’s chat about porosity and density first.
Low porosity hair: Because your hair has a hard time being penetrated and retaining moisture, you want products that contain humectants, which attract moisture. Anything with honey or glycerin is a good idea for you. You also want products that add moisture through oils such as jojoba, apricot kernel oil, argan oil etc… Stay away from heavier oils that will just sit on your hair such as coconut or olive oil. Avoid proteins in your haircare products. Proteins in haircare include: hydrolyzed wheat, oat, silk, soy or any type of keratin.
Medium porosity hair: Because your hair is pretty consistent with moisture you should avoid anything with too much protein that may change or affect the porosity of your hair. A bit of protein is okay but not as part of your daily regimen. Anything with moisture is good but find that happy place between too much and too little.
High porosity hair: Because your pores are so open, you don’t want products that attract moisture, but actually seal it in. Too much moisture = damage and frizz. You want anti-humectants (opposite of low porosity hair) which will seal the cuticles rather than just laying one products on top of another, including avocado oil, raw shea butter, coconut and olive oil. Products with proteins in them (listed above) can also help repair dry and damaged hair which high porosity hair has a tendency to be.
Now onto hair density…
Low density hair: You might think of this as “fine hair”. You want to be careful about the weight of your moisturizers. Stick to lighter oils like apricot kernel oil, argan oil, almond oil and neem oil (sometimes coconut, jojoba and olive oil can be okay). You’ll want to style with mousse and anything that adds volume and stay away from creams and thicker gel styling agents.
Medium density hair: like goldilocks, not too much, not too little. You can do a little bit of everything but try not to go overboard with the oils or gels or opt out of them either.
High density hair: Stay away from anything that adds volume and stick to heavier products like creams and gels. You do well with thicker butters like shea and mango.
Tell me below: what kind of hair porosity and density do you have?
CURLY HAIR NO-NOs
Regardless of hair texture, porosity or density, there are some curly hair no-nos that all should avoid. Below I’m sharing some curly hair tips and ingredients to stay away from:
DO NOT BRUSH YOUR CURLY HAIR WHEN IT’S DRY. Repeat this 10 times. Most people with curly hair know this, however I find myself having this conversation with parents of curlies who themselves don’t have curly hair. The only time and place to brush curly hair is in the shower, with a comb while the hair is still wet with a ton of conditioner in it. This is the ultimate curly hair tip.
Don’t get your haircut by ANY stylist – if you’re ready to embrace your curls, find someone who knows how to cut curls. Not every hair stylist does so be sure to call and inquire. Also have them cut your curls to be styled curly (this often means dry cutting). People swear by Deva Cuts and while I love the technique, I personally am not the biggest fan of their products – they’re better for curly hair but certainly not natural FYI. So it may be a hard ask but try to find someone who uses cleaner ingredients AND can cut curly hair. I’m still on the lookout too!
Don’t straighten your hair often – I still straighten my hair from time-to-time (about 3-4x a year) and it’s nice to change it up though it will affect your hair so beware. When you heat style your hair you affect the curl pattern and it will take a few washes for it to go back to normal. As you transition back to your natural texture I recommend staying away from your heat tools and letting your curls find their natural pattern.
CURLY HAIR INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
Silicones – silicones are the arch-nemesis for anyone with curly hair. At first they help tame frizz but over time they weigh your hair down and will actually make your hair look limp and lifeless and eventually frizzier than before. Lookout for ingredients that end in “cone” i.e. cyclomethicone or dimethicone
Sulfates – another important one to stay away from with curly hair. Sulfates are what create that lather in most shampoos. It’s something we’ve all gotten used to, however it’s incredibly stripping for the natural oils in your hair and can dry out your hair and/or cause your scalp to produce MORE oil in return i.e. Sodium Laureth, Myreth, or Lauryl Sulfate (commonly referred to as SLS).
Alcohols – in general alcohols are just very drying for curly hair. You should definitely stay away from alcohols if you have high porosity hair that tends to be drier i.e. Isopropyl alcohol, ethanol etc..
Parabens + Phthalates – both of these ingredients are bad for any type of hair (curly or not). Parabens and phthalates are used in skincare/haircare products as an emulsifier and preservative. Both are harmful to our bodies and have potentially been linked to cancer later in life. i.e. synthetic fragrance and and anything that contains “paraben”.
WAYS STYLE CURLY HAIR
As I shared above I have 3b curls with medium porosity and density. That means I can get away with using a lot of different products though I do find if I’m in drier conditions I need to amp up the moisture. In the video below I walk you through how to style curly hair, curly hair tips and why I use the products I use, but for a brief overview I’m sharing some tips below. Here are some ways to style curly hair:
1. Minimize shampoo and conditioner – I wash my hair once a week. I will often wet it and sometimes condition it more than once, but I don’t use shampoo more than once a week and sometimes up to 10 days. Your hair needs natural oils to thrive and shampooing it strips it of its natural oils. There is a lot of talk in the curly world of co-washing and the no-poo method. Cowashing involves combining your shampoo and conditioner together to help preserve the moisture as you wash. The “no-poo” method involves giving up shampoo all together and letting your hair do its thing. I personally use a sulfate-free shampoo so it doesn’t strip the oils as much as conventional shampoo. As a result I didn’t notice much of a difference when co-washing vs. using shampoo alone. I’ve also tried the “no-poo” method and had too much product build-up so that’s just my preference.
2. Use a shampoo and conditioner specifically designed for curly hair – Since I have 3b curls with medium porosity and density I can use just about anything but I tend to reach for things with a bit of protein and heavier oils since my hair can get quite dry. I personally love the Shea Moisture Coconut and Hibiscus Shampoo and Conditioner. But if I am straightening my hair (which I do a few times a year), I will use the Evolvh Ultra Shine Shampoo and Conditioner because I need a a shampoo that is more cleansing to remove any product build-up. It contains Disodium Sulfosuccinate which is NOT a sulfate but is a foaming agent to help cleanse the hair. I do get some build-up with the Shea Moisture products but I find these natural oils are good for my hair and actually make my curls look better…it just doesn’t look so good when I straighten it.
3. Seal the hair cuticles in cold water – because I have medium porosity hair that is somewhat dry, I always do one final rinse in the shower under cold water to seal the cuticles after conditioning. This closes them up and ensures they retain their moisture. Note: if you have low porosity hair, you do not want to do this – make sure you use heat to help oils and moisturizers penetrate your hair.
4. Use a microfiber towel or cotton t-shirt – Terrycloth towels can damage your cuticles and make your curls frizzier. Use a microfiber towel (such as this) to scrunch out any water and protect your hair as it dries.
5. Style using the right products for your hair – leave-in-conditioner is my best friend and I’m obsessed with this Smart Curl Leave-In Conditioner from Evolvh. As soon as I’m ready to style I spray is all over my hair. I then use the Evolvh Wonderbalm gel to style my curls by using roughly 3 pumps for each side of my head, lightly spreading over my curls and then scrunching at the bottom.
6. Airdry when possible – I know some people love using their diffuser and drying their curls but after years of straightening, I do my best to stay away from any heat tools. Also I’m lazy and find my hair air dries just fine. It usually takes a few hours for it to dry at which point I try to touch my hair as little as possible to prevent frizz.
7. Protect your curls overnight– some people use a cap but I find a scrunchie or non-kink hair band (not sure what the name is but I use these!) does the trick. I tie it up on the very top of my head so that I look like a pineapple and it stays in place overnight. If I do this my curls usually last for 3-4 days before they start to get dry and frizzy.
I realize this post is exceptionally comprehensive, however there is SO much more I could add. Having curly hair is a journey and honestly, that’s what keeps it fun! You never know what you’re going to get and learning to embrace the unpredictability is the only way to enjoy that journey. I so wish that I’d had a role model growing up telling me that my curly hair was beautiful and something to celebrate but if I can be that person for you that is good enough for me.
Just remember, we all want what we can’t have. One of the most highly searched terms is “how to make my hair curly” so if you find yourself frustrated with your curls know that there is most definitely someone out there who wishes they had curly hair.
Open for questions – hit me!
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Brooke HaywardSeptember 23, 2020 at 6:34 am
Perfect timing for this post! Appreciating the time and effort you put into your website and in-depth information you offer. You’ve really covered up almost all the possible info that every curly hair lover should follow. Worth sharing! Please do continue sharing updates! Thanks!
VruddhiJune 5, 2020 at 3:48 am
My scalp is oily n ends are dry. What u suggest for that. As u said comb hair only when it is wet, how to remove knots on daily basis??
KelliJanuary 25, 2020 at 7:44 pm
Somehow I stumbled upon your website… I have been all over your site and your podcast, etc. for the past two hours. Thank you SO much for your reviews not only on the hair tips above, but also your BeautyCounter reviews! I appreciate the honest opinions. I am so grateful for your insight to a more natural, healthier life. Can’t wait to study more!
JP KingNovember 19, 2019 at 9:49 am
Sorry! “do-wash” was supposed to be co-wash. Also, my hair looks best the day after it is washed/conditioned (not sure if that matters), By day 3, the roots can be greasy.
JP KingNovember 19, 2019 at 9:47 am
Hi! I have 2a, medium porosity, medium density, medium width and mid scapula length soft brown hair. It has never had chemical treatment (last one was 17 years ago). With normal shampoo/conditioner, it was very dry and frizzy, however, since switching to no SLS products, it is smoother. My hair looks best 2/3rds of the way through the air drying process while I go about my morning (soft, shiny, smooth and more curly). When it reaches fully dry, the curls are looser (almost gone in the back and bottom layers), frizzier and tend to tangle, I shampoo and condition every 2-3 days and if I need to wash the next day, I do-wash. I would like to try some product to scrunch in to try to hold them better and keep tangles/frizz to a minimum, but everything I’ve tried weighs it down, I haven’t tried any natural products though. Any recommendations?
Jullie RobetNovember 15, 2019 at 11:20 am
Hey! First of all, this is an awesome blog, I really love to read.
I have a question regarding my slicked hair. Do you any best “Gel” for slicked hair?
Emily @ Zen and SpiceJuly 19, 2019 at 10:25 pm
Thank you for writing this!! I’ve been trying to love my natural curls too. I’m a 3b as well! How do you deal with sweaty workouts if you only wash hair 1x a week? I find that when I sweat and have my hair up in a ponytail for working out, it destroys my curls and they get frizzy. Do you have a method for rejuvenating them after your workout?
Davida LederleJuly 20, 2019 at 4:54 pm
Such a great question Emily! TBH I can get away with not washing my hair after a sweaty workout. My hair doesn’t show much grease which is probably a result of texture and training my hair to go longer between washing. That being said, dry shampoo will be your best friend! Haven’t found one I love but the one from One Love Organics is pretty good: http://bit.ly/30LC8UM ! I believe Primally Pure also makes one but I haven’t tried it myself: http://bit.ly/2JOZUIw
Rachel EJuly 19, 2019 at 2:43 pm
Hi Davida!! This is the MOST timely post for me. My 16 month old daughter has thin curly hair and I am struggling to style it. It’s always frizzy. I am looking for a good conditioner that’s natural and baby-friendly. Any guidance? THANK YOU!
Davida LederleJuly 19, 2019 at 6:24 pm
Rach!! Checkout Shea Moisture. They have a kids line: https://www.sheamoisture.com/mango-and-carrot-kids-extra-nourishing-shampoo/764302905004.html I usually order mine off amazon but they’re sold in tons of stores too!