Curly hair, by its very nature, is an ever-evolving entity that is sensitive to changes in temperature, moisture in the air, products, technique, and styling practices. This is what makes it unique and beautiful… and also frustrating and temperamental. I cannot tell you how many hair shots I have seen floating around the internet with accompanying statements about its failure to cooperate in some way. I realize that these self-perceived problems occur because many of us don’t know how to read our hair. In time, we learn to pick up its subtle to startling cues, and this makes all the difference in its care. The tips below will help you identify if your curls need:
- More or less moisture
- More or less protein
- A trim
- Different products
- A visit to a dermatologist
If your hair needs more moisture:
This easily-identified common problem has a few key indicators: hair feels dry and rough to the touch, is frizzy, and sometimes has pieces reaching into the air. Sometimes, the curl pattern has completely opened up leaving the hair without curl definition. It will look frizzy-straight. It will lack sheen, and have a matte finish. In extreme cases, like when the hair is damaged from heat and chemicals, it will break and/or lose its curl pattern entirely so that it cannot be restored with water.
What to do: if your hair is generally in good health, is well-maintained, and is just a tiny bit dry, moisturize it with a refresher spray. If you wake up to a head of dry frizz, a co-wash is usually in the cards. For more extreme dryness, look to a deep conditioning mask. If you really want to get maximum hydration, try a professional steaming treatment.
This is offered in some salons that specialize in curly hair. It generally involves coating your hair in a rich conditioner, covering your head, and sitting you under a steamer which finishes with a cool shot in order to seal in maximum hydration.
If your hair needs less moisture:
Moisture overload is something that can happen easily and without warning. It can occur because of constant co-washing, conditioning, deep conditioning, oils, butters, and balms. Over-time, this all builds up until one day the hair just revolts. When this happens, it will feel any combination of the following: greasy, sticky, spongey, mushy, frizzy, and weighed-down. It might stick to your head when you comb through it, so you need to detangle your hair with your head upside down.
What to do: Clarify, at least once or twice a month. Also, swap out some of your co-washes with gentle cleansing shampoos that do not contain a lot of oil. Finally, make sure that any conditioner you use contains some hydrolyzed protein.
If your hair needs more protein:
If your curls are spongy-soft, and lacking definition, more protein in your regimen might be the key. In extreme cases, like when hair is severely damaged by chemical processes, it will be substantially over-elastic. It will stretch significantly before breaking. It will stick together and be difficult to comb through. It will break easily, sometimes at the root.
What to do: For the first scenario above, a protein-rich conditioner can restore the protein moisture balance. In cases of severe damage, it is best to consult your hairdresser. Often this type of damage requires Olaplex treatments to rebuild the hair’s broken disulfide bonds, or if they are un-repairable a big chop might be in order.
If your hair needs less protein:
If you have ever heard the phrase protein-sensitive, too much extra protein is an issue. Most conditioners contain some protein, but if the conditioner you are using is making your hair feel stiff, hard, and dry, it is not the right one for you.
What to do: ditch the protein-heavy conditioner for one that is moisturizing. Look for words like hydrating and moisturizing on the label. Avoid strengthening conditioners, and ones that contain an abundance of protein ingredients.
If your hair needs clarification:
Everyone needs to clarify their hair periodically, even if water-soluble products are being used. Besides product build-up, hard water deposits and environmental toxins mixed with sebum can also build up on the hair. This will cause it to have any of the following reactions: greasiness, lifelessness, frizz, lack of curl pattern, resistance to moisturizers and conditioning treatments.
What to do: clarify with a quality clarifying shampoo or treatment at regular intervals.
If your hair needs a trim:
Do you find yourself doing a lot more to the ends of your hair than the roots? Do you have to spend extra time massaging in moisturizing conditioners, only to have the ends of your hair dry frizzy? If so, it may be time to snip them off. Other telltale signs that a trim is in store are: ends that refuse to clump, a looser curl pattern at the bottom of your hair, excess shedding, hair that feels itchy on your skin, and wet hair that is resistant to detangling.
What to do: get a trim.
If your hair needs different products:
Even those of us who have been at the curly girl method for a while can have a hard time figuring out if a product will work for us without road-testing it for a few times. In general, though, if your hair is showing any of the indications that it has too much or two little protein or moisture as described above, the products are the culprit. Other issues that you might experience are healthy hair that is constantly frizzy, or a scalp that is breaking out or inflamed.
What to do: If your hair is frequently frizzy, and you live in a climate with extremely high or low humidity, you may want to avoid products with humectants in them, particularly glycerin. If your scalp is breaking out, is red, or irritated, or showing any other signs of an allergic reaction, stop using the product (s). To find products that are right for you, start taking note of the ingredients in products that you like and check the labels on new products to ensure they contain those ingredients.
If your hair needs a visit to the Dermatologist:
Technically, it would be your scalp that would need to be inspected by a Dermatologist if any of the following are happening, but anything that affects your scalp can and generally does affect your hair, including:
- Hair loss on the top of the scalp, in patches throughout the scalp. Diffuse thinning throughout the hair should also be evaluated.
- Excessive itching, flaking, sores, cysts, oozing, crusting, or scaling.
- Tiny pimples at the hairline.
- Any signs of an infection including pain and tenderness.
What to do: find a Dermatologist that specializes in hair related issues such as alopecia.
When you read you hair, what does it tell you? Let us know in the comments. Check out this great article about protein moisture balance.