IMAGE BY MAX-KEGFIRE VIA ISTOCK
Stringy curls or waves? Sounds familiar! But fret not, we’ve all been there — and we have solutions for you that are easily doable. Stringy curls — where you end up with an abundance of skinny curls instead of the big chunks of curls many of us crave — have many causes. Your hair could lack moisture, or you could be styling it wrong. Here’s my checklist for creating clumpy curls, in the order I’d start my problem-solving: techniques first, products second.
When in doubt, clarify!
Surely you know how I feel about a good clarifying session by now. (If not, you can check out a few of my other articles that touch on the subject here.) Clarifying is absolutely a crucial step for curly girls because buildup of all kinds —protein, moisturizing ingredients, butters, oils, minerals from your hard water — happens to everyone. This is step one before moving onto any of the other solutions, as you’ll need to start with a clean slate to diagnose the problem, and also to allow water to penetrate your hair strands. Hydration is key. And hydration comes from water. (If you choose to clarify with something stripping like Suave Daily Clarifying, be sure to deep condition for at least 20 minutes afterward. That step isn’t necessarily needed if you choose to clarify with something gentler, such as Devacurl Buildup Buster.)
Squish to condish method
While we’re on the subject of water, let’s talk about how to leverage the power of this substance when it comes to your hair. Having it merely touch your hair isn’t enough for most curlies or wavies. We have to "squish" it in to deeply hydrate our hair. Stylist Melissa Stites created and coined this method several years ago, and has a blog post on it that you can read for all the details, direct from the source. Essentially, it involves scooping your hair into your palm and cupping it up to your scalp, then squishing/pulsing water into your hair, before/during rinsing out your conditioner (should you choose to actually rinse any out at all). For me, this has made a world of difference in how hydrated my hair truly is. Frizz is a thing of the past. In fact, I love it so much, I created a video completely dedicated to this method. It’s a more important technique than any product I use.
Super soaker method
Another water-related technique for you to try! This one is great for those of you with really thick hair. Created by CurlTalk user rudeechick back in 2009, this method has become super popular, as it’s known for its ability to make curls clump like magic. It involves squishing handfuls of water into small areas of hair, section by section, before/during/after adding styling products. It’s pretty versatile, as it can be used effectively as part of one or more of several steps in the styling process (e.g. when applying leave-in, and/or when applying cream, and/or when applying gel, etc). It’s also completely foolproof. Hard to mess up water!
Skip Curl and Rake & Shake
Some curlies swear by the Skip Curl method for avoiding stringy curls and increasing clumpiness. Developed by Curly Hair Solutions' Jonathan Torch, the method involves twisting large (or small, if you prefer) sections of hair around your finger and then gently releasing. This technique yields well-defined, chunky curls. The method is similar to the finger coils often employed by our tighter-curled friends. Ouidad's Rake & Shake technique involves raking product-laden, wide-spread fingers through the hair, separating it into large chunks as you go. As you rake toward the ends, you gently grasp the sections between your fingers and give a gentle shake.
Using a Denman brush is a magical clump-provider for many curlies. The wide-spread bristles separate wet hair into clumps, eliminating stringiness. You can chose from a variety of Denman brush types, each offering different benefits.
Correct drying technique
If you use a blow dryer to dry your hair, be sure to use a diffuser, and be sure to use it correctly. Using a blow dryer sans diffuser is a surefire recipe for stringy curls and waves.
Use moisture-rich products
If the above techniques aren’t getting your curl clumps — or "families" as they’re sometimes called — where you want them to be, it may be time to reconsider your styling products. Using a leave-in conditioner is always a must for me; it makes a huge difference in the definition of my waves and also keeps frizz at bay. If using a leave-in is something you always do anyway, you may want to consider adding a cream on top of that, to further seal in the water you just squished and/or super-soaked into your locks, especially if your hair is high porosity. Last, you’ll want to use a moisturizing gel as the final step to seal in that hydration and lend hold to your look. Ingredients to look for: cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, behentrimonium methosulfate/chloride.
(Some of my favorites include As I Am leave-in, Curls Blueberry Bliss leave-in, MopTop leave-in, Innersense Sweet Spirit leave-in, ISO Bounce Creme, DevaCurl Wavemaker, Eco Cocktail, Only Curls cream, Living Proof Prime Style Extender, Boucleme cream, Boucleme gel, Bounce Curl gel, Innersense I Create Hold, Kenra 17, DevaCurl Light Defining Gel, MopTop Medium Hold Gel, MopTop Curly Hair Custard, Jessicurl Spiralicious, Only Curls gel)
Go protein-free for a while
Your hair is STILL stringy. At this point, the problem is likely protein. Your hair is either coarse and doesn’t want/need much protein applied to it, or it's on the medium/fine side and has just had ENOUGH protein to last you a while before it starts craving it again. Trust me, it’s a thing. This happens to me often enough, and it’s where I know I need to go protein-free in my styling products anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Here’s how I know a product contains protein. Look at the ingredients label. If you can eat it, it’s probably protein. Sure, amino acids, hydrolyzed silk, keratin and collagen don’t sound appetizing, but they’re edible (well, maybe not the silk). But corn, soy, quinoa, wheat, oat, seaweed (my sushi lovers out there!) are all snack-worthy = protein. And the latter are typically large-molecule proteins, which will affect your hair differently and build up faster than the aforementioned small-molecule proteins. Protein is the main reason I see more consistent results and better curl clumps when I rotate my styling products.
(Low-protein or protein-free favorites include As I Am leave-in, Curls Blueberry Bliss leave-in, MopTop leave-in; DevaCurl Wavemaker, Living Proof Prime Style Extender, Boucleme cream, Boucleme gel, Kenra 17, Jessicurl Spiralicious)
Try a light or medium hold gel or custard
Lately, hard-hold gels haven’t been working for me. They’ve left my hair stringy, stiff, and untouchable — even near the roots. Switching to lighter-hold gels has made a big difference in the softness and clumpiness of my waves, in a way I wouldn’t have imagined just a few short months ago. MopTop Custard, Devacurl Light Defining Gel, and Jessicurl Spiralicious have been three of my favorite products this spring and summer, and the clumps they each leave me with are just awesome. No crunchy, stringy waves here!
Time for a trim!
When all else fails, I scroll waaaay back in my calendar. When on earth was the last time I got my hair cut?? Oh, 6 months ago. Yep, problem identified. A cut can make more of a difference than you realize — even the curliest of curly girls need frequent trims. Don’t sell this one short! Dry, dead ends can really make your curl pattern suffer. If you’re not sure where to start your stylist search, you have several online resources to turn to. NaturallyCurly maintains a database of peer-recommended stylists nationwide; Devacurl keeps a regionally searchable list of all Deva salons and Deva-certified stylists via their website; Ouidad has a list on their website of regionally located certified salons, as does the non-brand-specific Curly Hair Artistry curl education company.
With luck, you have some new ideas for replacing stringy curls and waves with beautiful chunky curls. If you're looking for tips about how to banish frizz, check out this article.