Photo by Karston Tannis
I once met an older woman with slightly wavy hair who looked at my 2c/3a curls wistfully and said, “Before I had kids, I had beautiful curly hair like yours.”
I didn’t know how to respond because I had no idea that could happen!
Sure, I knew that many mothers dread their baby’s first haircut because often, once cut, the adorable ringlets are never quite the same. But I hadn’t heard of someone who lived their whole life with luscious curls only to lose them postpartum.
Over on CurlTalk, we’ve heard from community members who lost the curl pattern they had as a child. Why does this happen?
Curl patterns depend on genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors in addition to your hair care regimen. If that sounds like a lot of factors — that’s because it is!
Folks with curly hair know that experimentation and technique are essential getting your curl pattern to be its healthiest. The good news is that if you had curly hair as a child, chances are good that you can implement certain changes to help your hair get curlier again.
In this article, I hope to discuss some factors that determine the curliness of your hair and suggest some ways to unlock your untapped curl potential.
Curl pattern is genetically programmed just like eye color, height, and most other aspects of phenotype. Throughout our lives, however, we experience biological changes to our hair texture. By diameter, our hair tends to become gradually thicker into adulthood, thinning again in middle and old age. These changes can impact curl pattern.
Science has proved that the shape of the hair follicle determines curliness, but it’s not clear what determines the shape of the hair follicle. The more perfectly round the follicle, the straighter the hair. When follicles are less symmetrical, that’s when interesting things like curls, waves, kinks, and coils happen!
In a paper by Westgate et. al. in 2017, the scientists note that “The strongest evidence for the control of shape comes from the evidence of the role of the inner root sheath [a part of the follicle] which appears to structurally mould hair fibre shape, including curl—but we are still a very long way from understanding the complete biological/biophysical mechanisms that produce such a wide range of curled, coiled, kinked and wavy hair fibres.”
But the plot thickens, as DNA alone doesn’t tell the full story.
In 2015, one of our co-founders, Michelle Breyer, wrote a helpful article entitled, “Why Does Hair Texture Change Throughout Life?” In it, Michelle writes about the three major hormones that affect hair:
- Thyroxine and triiodothyronine from the thyroid — too little causes brittleness and hair loss
- Androgen from the adrenal glands — too little can cause hair thinning
- Insulin from the pancreas — too much or too little can cause hair loss and/or changes in the way your hair looks or feels
Drastic hormonal changes or medical treatments like chemotherapy can also change the muscles in your hair follicles and cause new hair patterns to emerge. Hormonal changes around puberty can also affect your hair’s texture.
So what can I do?
If you’ve had long hair in the past twenty years or so, there’s a high chance you have chemical or heat damage. Even years of using products with sulfates can wreak havoc on naturally curly hair. Repeated use of a straightening iron can cause curly roots but straight, damaged ends. If you’ve bleached your hair frequently in recent years, you might look into protein treatments.
Some of this damage is reversible, but sometimes you may to get a big chop in order to restart.
Consider a cut
Another way to unlock your curls is to talk to a stylist who specializes in curly hair. Most haircuts are done while your hair is wet, which makes it almost impossible to see your curl pattern in its natural state. A professional might be able to help you think differently about your hair and suggest some personalized products or practices to help you regain your former locks.
Learn more by reading What is a Deva Cut? Is it for Me?
If there’s something that people with healthy curly hair know that the rest of the world does not, it’s the Curly Girl Method. This regimen will feel completely foreign to anyone who has straight hair. I used this method to “train” my hair to be curly in high school after I did a big chop — and my hair has been curly ever since.
Are you ready for our secret? Here it is: the Curly Girl Method.
Good luck! Let us know if you start to see changes in your curl pattern after implementing any of the suggestions above.
Here’s our CurlTalk thread if you want to add your own story: Curly as a kid; straighter now?