"She came in with Dep Gel, hand lotion and coconut oil, and swore it was the only thing that would work," Zimmerman says.
Any curly girl or stylist will tell you they have become makeshift chemists, creating their own mixtures of products in their search for the perfect solution for curls and kinks. These might include any possible combination of conditioners, gels, mousses, serums, creams and pomades. A product from one company often is mixed with products from others.
CurlTalker Velvet Paws, for example, puts on Curls Curl Enhancer Styling Lotion, followed by Curl Keeper, followed by Devacurl Angel, followed Long Lovely Locks Coco Light.
"It sounds like it would feel horribly producty, but it doesn't at all," she says. "It makes my hair very soft and shiny, with bouncy, defined waves and curls."
Why do we depend on so many products to get the right look?
"The benefit of using more than one product in curly hair is that you can fine tune the texture and resilience of the curl and the shape of the style," says Giovanni Giuntoli, a session artist for Redken. "Sometimes one product doesn't give you all the benefits of two or three. It's similar to giving your hair a multivitamin, compared to just a Vitamin C tablet. It helps out more."
A favorite curl combination for Giuntoli is a mixture of Redken Glass Smoothing Serum and either a gel or Redken Guts Volume Spray Foam. He likes to follow that with a spritz of Redken Forceful Super-Strength Finishing Spray. He calls this cocktail the "Curlsmopolitan."
"The Glass alone has no hold, but it has great shine and prevents frizz," Giuntoli says. "The gel or Guts has medium to strong hold. The two together create a pliable consistency that is manageable and easier to use."
Toronto stylist Jason Kearns loves to mix Joico Ice Whip with CHI Silk Infusium or ICE Gel for a crunchier curl.
"Any intelligent hairdresser is going to make cocktails," Kearns says. "I'm a very firm believer in cocktails."
Diedre Boone, owner of The Root of You Salon and Day Spa in Houston, which specializes in ethnic skin and hair care, says African-American and multi-ethnic women have a wide variety of hair types and one product rarely does the trick.
"The fact that their hair textures vary so dramatically, we find it necessarily to mix together different products on different people," Boone says.
Depending on how thick, porous and kinky the hair is, she uses different concentrations of different products. A favorite combination for Boone is KeraCare Foam, which molds the hair, with Miss Jessie's Curly Pudding or Curly Buttercream, which both redefine the hair. She also likes to mix Carol's Daughter Hair Milk with Graham Webb Making Waves for women with natural hairstyles.
"With curly hair, there are many challenges to fight," says Ramie Roth, a session artist for Redken. "Each product fights one specific challenge. By combining products, the result is a combination of combatants for every type of challenge of curly hair, accomplishing an overall better look."
Sometimes product cocktails may defy logic, Zimmerman admits.
"I'm always saying 'Oh no, they're using silicone-based, petroleum-based products with water-based products and they'll never bond to the hair or distribute through their hair the way they want them to," she says. "I imagine these fist fights between the water and petroleum, with the silicone waiting to wrap up the whole mess at the end. I'm a total geek!"
Zimmerman says she likes to keep her product combinations simple to prevent the ingredients from canceling each other out. She might mix MOP C-Curl with a leave-in conditioner to provide a softer hold, or a little styling gel with a straightening balm for loose, defined waves.
"I have two Kusco-Murphy conditioners I like to use together," Zimmerman says. "One is a super-delicious smelling, light detangler with a lot of slip. And the other is a massively moisturizing, olive-leaf extract conditioner. The two together make the perfect conditioner combination."
Some companies are catching on to this curly trend, and are responding with products meant to be mixed together. L'Oreal Professionnel is launching Hairmix by Textureline, three products designed to be used together for all types of curls and kinks. The line includes Supremesmooth smoothing cream, Spiralsplendor curl defining cream and Sublimeshine oil.
"For years, stylists have practiced blending products together to try and achieve the right formula for clients that would leave hair more manageable, soft and disciplined," says Andrew Bartfield, L'Oreal Professionnel's vice president of education. "All three products can be mixed to achieve the optimal level of control, moisture and shine."
Some favorite combinations
John Paul Mitchell Systems: For fine-medium curly hair: Gloss Drops or Super Skinny Serum with Sculpting Foam or Round Trip with Super Skinny Serum. For coarse or frizzy hair: Mix a few drops of Foaming Pommade with Super Sculpt or with Super Clean Gel for more control.
Christo of Christo Fifth Avenue: a quarter size of Curlisto Structura Lotion with a nickel size of Curlisto Control II Gel. "You're going to have a frizz-free summer."
Lorraine Massey of Devachan Salon: I like to put half Mist-er Right and half AnGell or DevaCare Arc AnGell. You mix it in a spray bottle and then you have yourself a nice spray gel. If you like a stronger hold, add a little more AnGell.
When I go to the beach, I like to mix a concoction of 3/4 water and 1/4 Devacurl One Condition into a spray bottle.
Ramie Roth, session artist for Redken: Redken Fresh Curls Spin Control with a splash of Redken Glass Smoothing Serum, followed by Redken Fresh Curls Curl Boost.
Marsha Coulton, Curl Junkie: 3a-3b finer hair: Curl Junkie Give 'Em Slip (use a little as a leave in) with Coffee Coco Curl Creme. 3b thicker hair: Curl Junkie Hibiscus & Banana Deep Fix(use a little as a leave in) with Guava & Protein Curl Creme. 3c: Curl Junkie Intense Protection, Guava & Protein Curl Creme
Ethan Shaw, Anne Kelso Salon, Austin, Texas: Devacurl B'Leave In followed by (for finer curls) Bumble & Bumble Tonic mixed with Bumble & Bumble fine to medium Curl Creme or (for thick hair) followed by Bumble & Bumble medium to thick Curl Creme and Devacurl Set it Free. If certain areas don't want to curl as much, a little Aquage Illuminating Gelade helps a lot.
Dana Grandy, Snippets Salon, Chicago Illinois: Tigi Catwalk Curls Rock Curl Amplifier with Sebastian Xtah Bondage Gel.
CurlTalker CurlyNurseJenn: ABBA Nourishing mixed with ABBA Gel Lotion
CurlTalker Mrfhnl: (For rainy, humid days) Curl Keeper on wet hair followed by Devacurl B' Leave In, with Devacurl Angell to top it off.
CurlTalker SuZen: Boots Curling Cream, with Curl Keeper and Jessicurl Gelebration on top of it.
CurlTalker Beaglecookie: Curl Keeper, followed by AG Re:coil and Abba Weightless gel.
CurlTalker Kimmyc: Jessicurl Rockin' Ringlet under Devacurl Angell
CurlTalker Lushaholic: AG Re:coil and Boots Curling Cream under Batia & Aleeza Bio-Herbal Mineral Styling Gel
CurlTalker Betweenshades: Jessicurl Aloeba under Jessicurl Rockin' Ringlets under Suave Professionals Volumizing Gel
CurlTalker OctoberBaby02: AG Re:coil mixed with Paul Mitchell Super Sculpt Styling Glaze
CurlTalker Tooj68: Honey mixed with Devacurl One Condition or Jessicurl Too Shea. Then Curl Keeper under Long Lovely Locks Curls de Light mixed with a little Devacurl Angell. For ends, I like two pumps of Devacurl B' Leave In mixed with a spritz of Devacurl Set It Free.
CurlTalker Sweetpeacurli: AG Re:coil with Long Lovely Locks Coco Light
CurlTalker Banjocurl: Devacurl One Condition as a leave-in conditioner. Then layer Boots Curling Cream, Curl Keeper and gel-of-the-day (Devacurl Angell, Batia & Aleeza Bio-Herbal Mineral Gel, ABBA Weightless Gel), plop and go!