Curly Kids at School

If advertising is a good barometer of the hottest trends in back-to-school hair, the message is loud and clear. Classrooms will be filled with curls and kinks this year.

Everywhere you look are images of big beautiful afros, long kinky ringlets and short curly ‘dos. Whether it be kindergarten or high school, boys or girls, it’s all about texture and working with what you have. “Let it all hang out! Let it go!” says Philip Pelusi, who has 13 Pittsburgh-area salons and his Phyto-Life product line.

“We’re starting to do more perming and certainly people are putting away the flatiron. In past years, we’ve been flat ironing and smoothing and straightening,” says Lori Zabel, Redken performing artist. “This year, girls (and guys”> with curls are the ones who will be envied.” That’s great news for time-constrained school kids who want more time for their friends and studying than fighting their hair.

“Back to school means they want absolutely no care,” says Dana Kaplan, a stylist at M Salon in Cambridge, Mass., a curlyhead who specializes in curls. “They want things simple, simple, simple.”

Aaron Lawson of the Turning Heads Salon in New York says he’s seeing a lot more school-age kids experiment with their texture. “Before, they thought they had to use a chemical,” Lawson says. “Now they’re saying they want to see what their own hair can do. It’s way cooler to go with natural hair these days. It’s a good year to be going back to school with curly hair.”

The cut is key. Many curly girls want the versatility to wear their hair both down and up. “My main goal is to cut it so they can do nothing with it and still have it look good,” Kaplan says. That may mean a simple cut that allows the curls to fall around the face, leaving some length so it can be pulled back into a ponytail or up into a bun. Long layers are one of the best options.

For different looks, Pelusi suggests using a curling iron to accentuate some of the curls or to loosen them. The hair can be sectioned and small tufts can be pulled out for a cute look. Pelusi also likes braiding sections of the hair away from the face, letting the rest of the curl do its thing.Lawson is doing a lot of two-strand twists for kids. Kids can let their hair dry overnight and in the morning, the curls and kinks have a looser look.In the morning, when it’s wet, the hair can be twisted around the fingers to get a nice, defined curl, Pelusi says. Although it can be diffused to dry faster, the less touching the better.

Another fun look is to twist the hair up with a clip and spray some Redken Vinyl Glam or Outshine on it. When the clip is removed, the hair has a cool crinkly look to it.

Hair accessories can also provide versatility. Headbands are making a comeback as are bandanas. Clips, barrettes and scrunchies are always a good standby. Many curly boys are letting their hair grow rather than cropping it short as in years past. In some cases, they’re pulling out the curls to make it look even fuller rather than trying to tame it. “They’re playing with the curls, wearing it more tousled,” Zabel says.

Lawson says many of his male clients aren’t even combing their hair any more and afros have made a major comeback. “Afros are definitely back,” he says. “They’re just letting it grow.”

But no matter how wash-and-wear the cut, the right product is more important than ever, Zabel says. It’s about having some sense of control over your hair — whether that be accentuating the curls or reducing the frizz. “They’re going with what they naturally have and using the right products to enhance what they have,” she says. Don’t shampoo every night, and do use a good moisturizing conditioner. Leave-in conditioners can work especially well, especially for young curlies. Zabel advocates layering products to get different looks.

Shine products can be used to smooth out the curl. Redken’s In the Loop and Solid Water, for example, can create a bouncy curl without crunch. It doesn’t take a lot of product, stresses Kaplan. It’s just knowing which ones work best and how to use them. One of his favorite products is a lavender spray like Devacurl Mist-er Right, which can be used to revive curls. He’s also a big fan of Bumble & Bumble Curl Conscious Creme.

For Margo Bower of the Hair’s Lair in Austin, Texas — a salon specializing in kids for the last decade — she sees the current trend as immensely positive. “Kids are letting their hair go natural and aren’t trying to change what they have,” Bower says. “There’s so many girls that are in love with their hair. They’re not straightening it. They’re not fighting it. They’re just letting it go. There’s a sense of empowerment. I’m so glad they’re feeling that way.”

Experts share some locker staples for curlies

Philip Pelusi of Phyto-Life: RefresHair, Fusion Foam, clips and headbands.

Lori Zabel of Redken: clips, styling products, Outshine, Vinyl Glam, Solid Water. No combs or brushes!

Dana Kaplan of M Salon: cloth scrunchies, lavendar spray, Bumble & Bumble Curl Conscious Creme

Margo Bower of the Hair’s Lair: Circle of Friends Maya Papaya Leave-In Conditioner

Aaron Lawson of Turning Heads: PhytoSpecific Beauty Styling Cream and PhytoSpecific Moisturizing Styling Balm

Michelle Breyer, Spray bottle of water, headband, clips, smoothing gel, curl reviver. 

Michelle Breyer

As co-founder of, a website for curly hair she began with her business partner and friend, Gretchen Heber, Michelle Breyer helped create the leading community and resource for people with curly hair. Frustrated by the lack of information on curly hair and the limited products available in the marketplace, the duo launched the site in 1998 with the help of a 14-year-old web designer. When Procter & Gamble called three years later to advertise to the® audience, Breyer knew they had indeed created a force in the industry, providing helpful information and unparalleled expertise for what was then considered a niche market.

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