Sometimes it feels like curly hair has a mind of its own. The tried and true creams and gels your hair loves one day may despise them next wash day. Above all, curly haired folks know that caring for their curls—and sometimes learning to accept them—is a process.
Although 65% of the U.S. population is estimated to have wavy, curly or coily hair, information on how to care for it can be hard to come by. Whether you have your hair routine set in stone or are looking to test the waters of new routines or styles, here are some tips and tricks to make the most out of your curly locks.
Understanding Your Hair Type
First things first: curly hair comes in all shapes and sizes. Understanding your specific curly hair will help you understand how best to care for it. One way to help understand your coils is to figure out your hair type. These are usually categorized by type 2 (wavy), 3 (curly), and 4 (coily), with sub-classifications of A, B, and C. Once you know your hair type, you can find specific products, routines and styles recommended for your curls.
For example, 4C hair may require more moisture heavy products like gels and creams, while those same products might way 2A hair down. Sydnee Bradley, a sophomore from Topeka with type 3 hair, prioritizes moisture in their routine. “I always like to try new leave-in conditioners for it,” Bradley says. “I can tell my hair loves it because it’s very moisturizing.”
However, it’s important to acknowledge that your hair most likely won’t fit into a neat little box. It may be a combination of a few different types, and that’s okay. Find what works for you.
Products & Application
Once you have an understanding of your hair type, it’s time to assess what your hair needs and how to provide for it.
Breanna Bell, the co-owner of Prestige Salon in Lawrence, specializes in caring for curly hair needs. Curly hair is known to need moisture—and a lot of it. If you find that your curls are dry, Bell suggests using products that are water-based. “If someone's seeking hydration, your number one thing is going to be getting your hair to have access to water,” Bell says.
For Brittany Swearingen, a junior from Lawrence, thick, creamy and moisturizing products like curly puddings give the moisture and hold she needs.
While products are important, don’t underestimate how much technique impacts your curls.
Bell explains that you can use the best products in the world, but if there is no method to the madness you’re not going to get anywhere. “With any products you use, your technique is super, super important,” Bell says. “Always make sure that you’re smoothly applying the products. Raking and distributing it all evenly is super important.”
Test out how your hair reacts to certain products and routines, like the curly girl method. However, the best thing to keep in mind is to pay attention to your specific hair needs.
“In creating a routine, you have to do everything in moderation and do things based on how your hair is feeling,” Bell says. “So don't only base it off of what a blog is telling you to do.”
A Curl Specialist
When sitting down in the chair to get your haircut by someone new, beware of the phrase: “I’ve never cut curly hair before—this should be fun.” One too many bad haircuts have come out of going to someone who had no idea how to care for my specific type of hair. For your next curly haircut, it’s important to go to someone who understands your curly hair.
At Prestige Salon, Lawrence’s Black-owned barbershop and hair salon, Bell has made a name for herself in giving attention and care to each unique curl.
“It's so exciting because everybody's story is so similar but so unique to them, and it's kind of like helping them find, you know, a love of what naturally grows out of their head,” Bell says.
Rather than follow one specific method, Bell takes the time to understand each of her clients specific hair needs to determine what would work best for their concerns and curl patterns.
“Come talk to me, we can definitely find the root of the problem,” Bell says. “It's never a big deal, or like a huge problem to solve. It's just maybe some little routines that they've been doing at home that are kind of causing them to have a bigger problem in the end.”
Seeking out someone who understands your curls can make all the difference in your next haircut, and even in finally embracing your curly hair. After an experience with a stylist who didn’t know her hair type and practically pulled the hair out of her head, Swearingen explains that she won’t go to any white stylists anymore.
“Number one, it was like physically painful to go to someone else. But it was also, like, very emotionally painful because I was in the salon and I just didn't feel welcome,” Swearingen says. “Then when I go to people that know what they're doing, it's like, the easiest thing in the world. And we can just talk and it's not like a concern of mine, that they're gonna mess it up, or do something damaging.”
A Deeper Connection
For many people, hair means more than just the style you wear it in. Curly hair can be a connection to cultural, familial and racial backgrounds. For Bradley, what she loves most about her tight curls are that they’re a visual reminder of her family background.
“I'm pretty, I'm like, very white passing, but I'm also biracial. So, I feel like my hair represents that side of myself,” Bradley says. “I really love that I can kind of show that part of myself to the world.”
It’s common for many curly haired individuals to go through a period of hiding their hair. For me, this required getting up early almost every day of middle school to fry my hair with a straightener, attempting to get it stick-straight like most girls in my class. Swearingen dealt with a similar middle school experience before beginning to embrace her curls.
“It's not super easy to imitate when you don't have that hair. Even if you straighten it, it's still, like fuzzy, and it's still, you know, the hair that you have,” Swearingen says. “So after that, like one year of basically straightening it every day and damaging the hell out of it, I just decided to stop and decided that I love my curls, and they're what makes me unique.”
Learning to embrace your curls can come from accessibility to information, seeing a hairdresser that cares for your hair, and meeting other people that you can identify and share hair tips with. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things; curly hair can be just as diverse and fun as any other type of hair.
“I think the misconception is like, people aren't used to seeing curly hair just out and about,” Bradley says. “It's taken a long time for, like, me to accept my hair. And I know that's the way for a lot of other people. So when you finally do accept your hair, like just wear it the way you want to and feel confident in yourself.”