If you're pining away for sleek, straight locks, don't read this. Behold, the curly-hair ten commandments: the best tips, products and cuts for making the most of your (glorious) natural texture.
Shampoo Less - Or Not At All
The best way to wash curly hair is with a 100 percent sulfate-free shampoo (like DevaCurl No-Poo Zero Lather Conditioning Cleanser). Sodium lauryl sulfate, the key ingredient in most traditional shampoos, is both a salt and a detergent—an effective cleanser that's too harsh for most curls. "Without enough conditioning agents, it can lift the hair's cuticles," leaving hair dry and frizzy, says cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson. For those looking for even more hydration, consider a so-called "co-wash" formula.
Co-washing (our curly community's term for washing hair with conditioner) has resulted in the rise of cleansing conditioners; we like Ouidad Curl Co-Wash, which blends water and oils in lieu of abrasive detergents. Neither approach will produce a rich, satisfying lather, but both will result in a mound of bouncier, glossier curls. For fine hair, cleanse every other day; those with thick strands can usually go three or more days without a wash.
Condition, Condition, Condition
Did we mention condition? The curlier the hair, the longer it takes for natural oils to travel from the scalp to the ends, causing the lower half to appear dry and frazzled. Start adding moisture in the shower with L'Oréal Paris EverCurl Hydracharge Conditioner, then protect and hydrate every inch with a styling product that doubles as a leave-in conditioner, such as Hair by Tippi Shorter D Tangle Spray.
Just be sure to pick the right formula to deliver moisture without weighing hair down. Hairstylist Tippi Shorter, whose clients include Rihanna and Alicia Keys, recommends sprays for soft curls (we like Bed Head Foxy Curls Spray), thicker gels for medium to big curls (such as DevaCurl Ultra Defining Gel), and denser creams for crimpy coils (try Miss Jessie's Curly Buttercreme).
Style Your Hair When It's Sopping Wet
Hands off your bath towel for just one more minute—you can stave off frizz and prevent a stiff, sticky feeling by applying products before you've even stepped out of the shower stall, says Ouidad stylist Morgan Willhite. Use your fingers to rake products through from roots to ends, then scrunch and squeeze upward toward the scalp.
Styling products high in alcohol give curls a "crunchy, ramen-noodle" texture—they suck up every last bit of moisture, says Lorraine Massey of Devachan Salon. Hair spray tends to contain the most alcohol, while gels and mousses—really anything that provides hold or lift—come in second.
Massey recommends water-soluble gels that don't feel sticky on your skin, and aerated mousses or foams that resemble beaten egg whites, to give hair fullness, control, and a nonbrittle boost (we like Kinky-Curly Original Curling Custard and Pantene Pro-V Silky Moisture Whip).
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Leave It Alone
Don't Blow, Diffuse
A regular nozzle disrupts the curl pattern and focuses hot air on one small section at a time, while a diffuser dries curls evenly for a full, uniform look. After applying a heat-protecting product, flip your head upside down and "diffuse right at the roots and midlength," says hairstylist , making sure to dry the area completely to lock in volume. "Do the ends last," and leave them only semidry, she says. "Because the ends tend to be more damaged, let them air-dry more."
Throw Out Your Brush
"Bristles fray the hair, disturb curl formation, and create a cloud of frizz," says Massey. Use your fingers to tousle curls, and refresh wilting ones with a spritz of curl reactivator. (We like Redken Curvaceous Wind Up, but you can also make your own by combining one part of your regular conditioner with four parts tap water in a spray bottle). Mist it all over and then gently scrunch, says Massey. Un-snag tangles with a wide-tooth pick.
Always Cut Dry
"Curly dry hair and curly wet hair are two absolutely different things," says Massey. Curls retract significantly when dry; some pieces may coil tightly, while others hang a bit looser. A dry cut won't spring any surprises—you'll know exactly how every strand will fall.
Take Down the Heat
"Excess heat alters the proteins that give curls their spiral shape," says Procter & Gamble Beauty senior scientist Rolanda Johnson Wilkerson. "Over time, curls become more limp." Limit blow-drying to just twice a week, and if you use a flatiron, never go higher than 400 degrees. If you notice your curls have lost their bounce, abstain from heat-styling entirely and use a conditioning mask in the shower (like L'Oréal Paris Power Moisture Rush Mask). "Once hair is exposed to moisture, new hydrogen bonds begin to form and restore the curl pattern," says Wilkerson.