For many with curly hair, it can be a lifelong challenge to find the right stylist, cut and style. There are plenty of hair-owing (sorry!) stories about stylists that didn’t know their way around curls, so they broke out the dreaded thinning shears, added too many layers, or tried to smooth things over with a blowout. But there are stylists who are both experienced and passionate about cutting curls, waves, and textured hair — and here’s how to find them.

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Where to Search for a Stylist

Ethan Shaw, stylist and owner of the Curly Hair Austin salon, recommends keeping an eye out for curly cuts you like when you’re at a grocery store, restaurant, or bar, and then inquiring about the stylist. “There’s a curly-hair sisterhood,” says Shaw. More than likely, that person will be happy to share information with a fellow curly-haired person.

An online search is also a helpful place to start. Try “curly hair salon” or “curly hair stylist” and your location. Then take your time checking out salon websites, stylist bios, and reviews.

Stylist Keith Pattillo of Bella Salon in Austin advises looking for a DevaCurl-accredited stylist. The DevaCurl technique was created at the DevaChan Salon in New York City. The highly touted technique involves cutting curly hair when it’s dry to see how each curl is shaped and falls in order to make it look its best. No “taming” of the curls here; it’s about embracing each one.

The NaturallyCurly salon finder can also narrow your search.

Qualities to Look for in a Stylist

Crystal Seeds, a stylist at Method Hair salon in Austin, says that it’s important to find a stylist who will listen carefully to your concerns and specifics, such as “I have a cowlick,” “My hair only curls in humidity,” or “Don’t use the thinning shears on me!”

Pattillo also considers good listening skills essential. He adds:

“A great stylist should be able to answer questions about what style suits your face shape and individual style, as well as have a thorough knowledge of the best products for your hair type.”

Important Questions to Ask a Stylist

There are a number of questions to ask a prospective stylist. If you’ve done a thorough search first, it should be clear that the stylist is comfortable and experienced cutting curly hair, but be sure to confirm.

Next, ask the stylist what his or her approach is to cutting curly hair. Wet or dry?

“Cutting the hair dry helps a stylist see what’s going on and the shape of the cut as it develops,” says Seeds.

While Shaw agrees that a dry-cutting technique like DevaCurl “changed the game for cutting curly hair,” there are times when he cuts hair wet. “This is controversial!” he exclaims with a laugh. According to Shaw, cutting hair wet has its place. He has found that when a curly-haired client is up for a major change, there are advantages to doing both wet and dry cutting. He describes his approach:

“I will rough in [sculpt] the shape while the hair is wet. Then when the hair is dry, I fine tune it.”

Shaw adds that the tighter the curls, the greater the likelihood for a completely dry cut.

For Seeds, it’s all about avoiding the awful “Christmas tree” effect: short on top and longer on the bottom. Proper layering is important, she says, so ask your prospective stylist what their layering approach is.

Pattillo also has his own approach.

“The DevaCurl technique helps me to take my time to understand the nature of someone’s particular hair type and how best to give them a great style that they can work with.”

Every stylist is different, of course, so let the prospective stylist know what you’re looking for and how you style your hair. Then ask how he or she would approach your hair.

Common Curly-Hair Mistakes

Just as you may have had your share of disappointing experiences, the three Austin-based stylists have also seen many mistakes in both cutting and styling curly hair.

In addition to the Christmas tree, Seeds has seen both too few and too many layers added, and incorrectly. She and Pattillo agree that using thinning shears can be a big mistake because, as Pattillo details, they distort the curl pattern and can make curly hair frizzy.

Shaw emphasizes that mistakes can be made when clients are styling their hair.

“While their hair is drying, they can mess with it too much. While the hair is still pretty wet, put styling product in — that’s when you’re setting the shape in — then leave it alone. Once it’s completely dry, shake it out just at the roots. Don’t rake through your hair with your fingers or you can make a mess!”

Cutting Curly Hair Is Personal

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The three stylists all share a passion for cutting curly hair — again, an important quality when searching a stylist.

For Seeds, cutting curly hair is very personal, as she has curly hair.

“I went through my own life looking for that perfect haircut, and I want to give that to others,” says Seeds.

Pattillo also has curly hair. While he’s worked with hair of all textures in his decades as a stylist, it was “a game-changer” when he learned the DevaCurl technique a couple years ago. He’s impressed with the quality of education and the products, and that there’s a community that people can join to understand and love their curls — just like NaturallyCurly.

Shaw, whose wife has curly hair, found his passion for curly hair years ago, when he was sent to New York City to further his education as a salon hairdressing instructor. The flat iron era was at its height, and his instructors considered this a disaster. “There’s no art to that style”, Shaw remembers them lamenting. So they instructed their students to really look at each client’s hair, and to find out what works best. Around the same time, he recalls, NaturallyCurly was founded.

“I became passionate about curly hair. It’s always a puzzle. It’s never the same!” says Shaw.

Shaw’s curly-hair clients have expressed to him that finding a wearable hairstyle they can do with ease daily at home has been life-changing.

You, too, can find that stylist and cut that could change your life. Do your research, ask the right questions, and see if you like what you hear before the haircut begins.

Exploring Products and Tools on Your Own

While your future stylist will be knowledgeable about hair products and have a line he or she prefers, NaturallyCurly also has recommended products you may be interested in exploring, including shampoos, conditioners and oils, hairstyling, and tools and accessories.

Do you have a favorite local curly hairstylist? If so, share it with us in the comments below; it may be helpful for a fellow curly girl in your area searching for a stylist!