Curly Hair Tips and Tricks
If there were a shape capable of striking fear into the hearts of women with curly hair, that shape would be a triangle. Perhaps their eyes glaze over pictures of the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, or they hesitate just a little longer than everyone else when presented with a bag of Doritos. But it's understandable. After all, almost every woman with curly hair has left a hair salon near to tears, their hair cut into one uniform length by a stylist who wasn't aware that curls need strategically placed layers to create volume at the crown and prevent the dreaded triangle effect. And if a trained professional doesn't know how to handle curls, imagine how hard it is for non-experts.
Whether you have coils yourself or simply are the straight-haired parent of a curly-headed kid, taking care of this hair type will always be a bit of an adventure. Read our curly hair tips to prevent your curly hair adventures from becoming misadventures.
Before you do anything, you first have to figure out what type of curls you're dealing with. The website Naturally Curly has created a curl-identifying system that's commonly used in the curly-hair community. (Straight hair gets the labels 1A, 1B, and 1C.)
Wavy Hair (2A, 2B, and 2C)
- 2A: Very loose-shaped bends
- 2B: Mostly straight at the roots with more defined waves that start around eye level
- 2C: Waves start at the roots and include a mixture of ringlets and waves
- Challenges: Flatness and frizz at the crown and a lack of definition throughout
Curly Hair (3A, 3B, and 3C)
- 3A: Loose ringlets with the circumference of a fat piece of sidewalk chalk
- 3B: Tight ringlets with the circumference of a Sharpie
- 3C: Corkscrews with the circumference of a pencil
- Challenges: Frizz all around and a lack of definition throughout; dryness, though 3C corkscrews tend to be drier than 3A and 3B curls
Coily Hair (4A, 4B, and 4C)
- 4A: Tight coils that form an S shape and have a more defined curl pattern; appears shorter than it is due to shrinkage
- 4B: Tight coils that form a Z shape and have sharp angles with a less defined curl pattern; appears shorter than it is due to shrinkage
- 4C: Looks almost the same as 4B, but the coils have tighter kinks with less definition, and they won't clump together without product; appears shorter than it is due to shrinkage
- Challenges: Extreme dryness
Use a shampoo and conditioner formulated for your hair type.
Many curly-haired women think that they need a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner loaded up with oils, but that's not necessarily the case.
- Fine waves or curls: opt for volumizing shampoos and lightweight conditioners.
- Thick waves or curls: pick creamy shampoos and conditioners—you need the hydration.
- Textured coily kinks: choose ultra creamy products. Your hair may be fine, but you probably have extreme dryness as oil produced by the scalp has a hard time making its way down tight coils.
But all curly-haired women should avoid products with alcohol, which can dry out hair. They also may want to avoid sulfates. Beauty editor Anam, who has a mixture of 2A and 2B waves, swears sulfate-free shampoo has made her own locks less frizzy.
Don't overwash your hair.
It's best not to wash curly hair too often as overwashing can lead to dryness and frizz. To figure out how often you should shampoo your mane, remember this general rule: the looser the curl pattern, the more frequently you should wash. So loose waves should be washed 2–3 times a week, whereas tight coils only need to be washed every 2–3 weeks.
But do frequently condition it.
Beauty editor Favin washes her 3B ringlets about once every two weeks, but she conditions every day to keep her locks from feeling parched. Her tip? Rinse out most of the conditioner (leaving enough in so that your hair feels "slimy"), then wrap your hair in a microfiber towel and leave the towel on for five minutes. This helps her curls form and tamps down frizz. For other frizz-fighting tips, check out our frizzy hair guide.
Pro Tip: Your curls may benefit from forgoing shampoo entirely and instead using no-poo and cleansing conditioners, which very gently wash away grime while conditioning hair. If you have a 3A–4C curl pattern, apply traditional conditioner afterward to keep them properly moisturized.
Use hair products formulated for your hair type.
- Fine waves and curls: you need lighter products, such as lightweight mousse.
- Thicker waves and curls: you need thick hair gel, hydrating curl creams, and creamy custards.
Rethink using a brush.
Although many hairstylists warn against using a brush on curls because it can cause breakage, sometimes you just have to live your life. Favin says, "When my hair is medium-dry, I brush it straight back ... finger-combing (the gentlest route) takes me forever. I'd rather brush and be on time for work." The Tangle Teaser Thick & Curly is a great brush for curly hair as it is designed to detangle without tugging or pulling.
For crazy-big volume, "milk" your curls.
The beauty world has really started to embrace wild, voluminous curls. To get them, celebrity stylist Hasblady Guzman, who owns Bokaos Pasadena, an Aveda Lifestyle Salon and Spa, suggests mixing Aveda's Flaxseed Sculpting Gel with Aveda's Be Curly Curl Enhancer and applying the cocktail to your mid strands and ends.
"With your hair completely wet, detangle with a wide-tooth comb after you have applied a leave-in conditioner. Then attach a diffuser to your blow dryer, and flip your head over to where you are looking at your knees. Start squeezing your hair as if you are milking a cow—never, ever run your fingers through your hair. After two minutes, flip back, and now put the diffuser over the top of your hair," she says.
Sample Curly Hair Routine
This is how beauty editor Favin achieves her "most natural looking" curls on her 3B type.
Step 1: Blend Moroccanoil Treatment with SheaMoisture Curl and Style Milk. Apply the mixture all over hair.
Step 2: Blend Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream and TIGI Catwalk Curls Rock Amplifier. Run the mixture through hair in a "sweeping motion," concentrating on the ends.
Step 3: Scrunch up the ends toward the scalp and air dry.
Need more help selecting a shampoo, conditioner, or styling product? See the best hair products for your hair type.
Colleen is a makeup/skincare junkie who has a serious Sephora problem. She writes about all things beauty and occasionally does hand modeling for work. Her job is strange.