Do you want to embrace your naturally curly hair but have no idea where to start? Look no further.
Many of us born with curly hair spend years of our lives fighting our natural texture— the reasons behind which warrant an in-depth discussion of their own— and it can be intimidating trying to reclaim it, particularly with the endless information available online. This guide, therefore, aims to get you started on your naturally curly journey in 4 straightforward steps.
1. Lay off the Silicones
Silicones are a common component of many hair and beauty products. They’re great for creating the silky texture or ‘slip’ in conditioners that allows you to work the product through your hair more effectively and make detangling easier. You will also find that silicones are used to give hair shine, combat frizz and are a key ingredient in heat protectors. So if they’re good at all of these things, what’s the issue when it comes to curls?
The first problem is that some silicones are very heavy and cannot be easily washed out— unless you are using a shampoo containing sulphates ( see more on this below)— which means that without proper care in your routine, they can build up on your hair over time, weigh it down and make it appear dull and lifeless. All of which are the enemy of bouncy, defined, healthy curls.
The second issue with silicones is that they can act as a barrier to moisture and nutrients trying to enter the hair shaft, especially when they have been allowed to build up over time. This can mean that conditioners and other hydrating products aren’t able to do their jobs, therefore leading to the dry and brittle hair we discussed above.
Thankfully, it’s fairly easy for us to identify silicones in a list of ingredients. Whilst dimethicone is one of the heaviest and most ubiquitous offenders, look out for other words ending in ‘-one’, ‘-xane’ and ‘-conol’ to quickly identify some other potentially problematic silicones. Not all silicones are the same, however, and there are many varieties that are water soluble and not prone to creating build up in our precious locks. Examples of these include most ‘-cone’s’ with a ‘PEG-‘ suffix and the nicer but more expensive cousin of dimethicone: dimethicone copolyol, which can be washed out without sulphates.
2. Give Sulphates a Miss
Sulphates are the ingredient in many shampoos that make them foam and effectively clean your hair and scalp. They’re also present in other household and industrial cleaning products to ensure a squeaky, sparkling clean. Sulphates shouldn’t be vilified as they are very good at what they do but this means that they can sometimes be harsh on hair, stripping it of essential oils and leaving it dry, frizzy and unable to look its best. This is especially true for naturally curly hair, which tends to be inherently drier than our straight-haired counterparts.
Beautiful curls form best in hydrated hair, so consider swapping your shampoo for one that is sulphate-free (e.g. Shea Moisture’s Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Shampoo) or going for a cleansing conditioner (a.k.a ‘co-wash’) like As I Am’s Naturally Coconut Cleansing Conditioner.
Remember that sulphates are necessary to remove most silicones, so if you accidentally, or intentionally— there’s no judgement here!— use a product containing them, you will need to use a sulphate-containing shampoo to remove them. Of course, it is therefore advised that you carry out a ‘final wash’ with sulphates to ensure that you are starting your naturally curly journey with clarified, silicone-free hair.
3. Heat tools can damage curls
As we all know, heat styling damages hair and when your hair is damaged, it’s harder for your curls to take on their best shape. In cases of severe heat damage, your curls may struggle to form at all. In an ideal world, you would never use heat on your hair again but strict rules like this can be off putting when you’re trying to transition and embrace your curls. You will get better results, faster, by giving up heat, but if you must use it, make sure that you are looking after your hair by using heat protectors, deep conditioners and other treatments regularly.
When it comes to drying your curly hair, you have two main options: air drying or blow drying with a diffuser. The former is, of course, the healthiest way but we often don’t have the time to let our hair dry naturally and many people swear by the added volume that diffusing gives. If you do choose to diffuse your curls, set the dryer on a low, steady heat and be gentle when placing your hair inside the diffuser attachment: you don’t want to disrupt your curl pattern in the drying process! One frizz-preventing tip that works wonderfully for me is turning the dryer off each time I want to place or remove sections of my hair from the diffuser attachment.
4. Styling your curly hair: leave-in conditioners, gel, and ‘scrunching out the crunch’
For lots of useful information on styling curly hair, you should seek out groups and individuals that follow the Curly Girl Method, which was outlined by Lorraine Massey in her cult text Curly Girl: The Handbook. In the meantime, however, there are two main product types you should have to hand when styling curly hair: a leave-in conditioner, which you apply first, and a gel, which should be applied last.
If your past experience was anything like mine, the word ‘gel’ will evoke flashbacks of ‘wet look’, slicked-back ponytails or crispy curls bearing an uncanny resemblance to blocks of ramen noodles. But gel is so much more than this and is a significant part of styling in the naturally curly community. So how should you use it?
After applying a leave-in conditioner of your choice, you should then apply generous amounts of gel to your hair using a ‘praying hands’ motion and smoothing it down along the length. On drying, the gel will then form a hard, crispy cast all over your curls— exactly as it is supposed to. What we missed back in the 90s was that we were then supposed to ‘scrunch out the crunch’ i.e. break the gel cast that has helped to define your curls. You must wait until the hair and the cast is completely dry before scrunching out the crunch. When you are sure that it is, gently cup your hands at the ends of your hair and push upwards to break the gel cast. Do this gently, or with hands lightly coated in a silicone-free oil, to help avoid frizz. And voilà. Perfectly defined— but soft and flowing— curls.