Woman with long, curly hair

There’s nothing more beautiful than long, lustrous curls. But for women with curly hair, perfect spirals are almost impossible to achieve. Heat and humidity, rain and wind — they’re at the mercy of the weather. The climate literally dictates how their hair will behave.

Or maybe not. According to Ouidad, a hairstylist in New York City specializing in curly haircuts, soft, smooth curls should and can be the case every single day — no matter the forecast. “If your curls are cut correctly, you won’t fear humidity,” she says. “The hair will be far more manageable, which is why it’s essential to go to a stylist with an expertise in cutting curly hair.”

Mechanics of a Curly Haircut

Because no curls are created equal, the cut is that much more important. Your stylist needs to consider the diameter of the curl, as well as its spring factor — how loose or how tight. The curl pattern and how it fits together is also a critical detail. “There’s really no room for error." notes Ouidad. "You have to understand curly hair and strategically plan your cut."

If the hair is cut blunt, it creates a boxy, almost pyramid-like effect. If thinned or texturized (a technique used to add dimension) the balance of each wave is thrown off, creating an uneven pattern and increased frizz. Dry cutting is not recommended — the hair should be freshly washed and conditioned before cutting. “You need to work with the natural nature of curl." says Ouidad. "Curly hair dries differently every time, so you need to cut it wet to guarantee a balanced, well-fit cut.”

The technique most curly haired specialists use is known as carving and slicing. Hair is cut with the curvature of the curl pattern so the curls fit together like a puzzle, as opposed to stacking. The carving and slicing process removes bulk while enhancing the natural curl pattern, resulting in curls that gracefully cascade and are easier to manage (less friction, less frizz).

Long Curly Haircuts

If you have long curly hair, you can go blunt along the bottom (the weight of the hair at this length allows for this), but your stylist should slice the outer layer to create movement and keep the hair from appearing triangular. The perfect example: Nicole Kidman, whose hair falls to one length, with strategically placed shorter pieces to create enviable shape, bounce and flow.

Medium Curly Haircuts

Medium length hair (hair that sweeps the shoulder when dry) looks best when curls are sliced shorter and at different lengths to create movement and maintain balance among the curls (think Katherine Heigl). One thing to note with all lengths, but particularly medium: never layer. Layering is the process of cutting hair straight across at an even level. Curls need to be cut to fit with each one gently meeting the next.

Short Curly Haircuts

Believe it or not, you can create any look or shape with short hair. “The sky is the limit as long as the curl is cut correctly,” says Ouidad. A pixie cut (a la Halle Berry) or a chin-length style (think Charlize Theron) are the two most wearable and requested styles.

Updos for Curly Hair

Pulling back curly hair is equally as limitless. And because the texture gives the hair more grip, it’s easier to manipulate — and it stays put. Half-up, a French twist and a loose chignon are the pro picks, but styles like braids can pose more of a challenge, depending on the thickness of the curl.

More: Get inspired for a new look with our gallery of curly haircuts.