Curly haired women no longer have to envy their straight-tressed sisters. Today, curly hair – in all its beautiful textures – is getting the attention and products it deserves to look its magnificent best.
New research is helping manufacturers develop products that address curly hair’s unique characteristics. For example, French researchers discovered that African hair is drier, slower growing, and more likely to fray at the tips and split lengthwise. Hair care scientists have also determined that the twists and turns of curly hair bend the shaft’s scalelike covering, making strands rough and difficult to control.
For hair that’s curl-luscious, follow this advice from the pros:
ID Your Curl
“Think of texture in terms of how your hair is shaped – kinky, curly or wavy,” says Anthony Dickey, who operates a New York salon devoted to textured hair and is the author of Hair Rules!: The Ultimate Hair-Care Guide for Women with Kinky, Curly, or Wavy Hair. Kinky hair has the tightest curl pattern and is often frizzy. Curly hair has looser twists and turns, while wavy hair exhibits a softer, more open curl.
Treat Your Dominant Hair Type
You may have curly hair – but only in a patch at the back of your head. Or maybe your kinky hair calms to a gentler curl along the sides. It’s wise to cater to your dominant type, says Domingo Serquinia, co-owner of Paint Shop, a Los Angeles hair and nail salon. If portions of your hair are curly on an otherwise tame head of hair, Serquinia recommends using a temporary straightener, such as the new keratin treatments that many salons offer.
Stylists can moderate the amount of temporary straightener to add manageability to curls, not flatten them. If your hair is kinky rather than curly, skip the keratin and opt for paste-formula relaxers that can be applied precisely to new growth.
Choose a Product Line for Your Hair Type
Curly, kinky and wavy hair need extra hydration because their winding structure impedes the flow of scalp oils along the strand. Product lines formulated for curly hair, including those designed specifically for women of color, contain additional moisturizing ingredients that your thirsty tresses will drink right up.
Don’t Skip Regular Cuts
Curly hair may grow slowly, but it still needs trimming every three months to keep the ends fresh, says Serquinia. But he advises, “You don’t want your stylist to use a razor or cut into the ends, because that can fray ends and add to the frizz.”
Keep Your Curls Cool
If your hair has been processed with chemical straighteners or permanent-wave solutions, steer clear of high-heat styling tools like flatirons, suggests Miami, Fla., dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd. That’s because your hair may already have blisterlike bubbles from the processing, and heat can cause those bubbles to break or split, leading to damaged, distressed locks.
Handle With Care
Because of their lower tensile strength, some types of kinky hair have decreased resistance to repeated brushing, says Woolery-Lloyd. Avoid vigorous brushing and work carefully through knots and tangles to avoid breakage. After shampooing and conditioning your hair, remove wetness with a gentle squeeze. Apply a styling product to still-wet hair to protect the cuticle and retain the hair’s natural curl.
Think Breeze, Not Blast
To get salon results at home, without having to master the tricky two-handed round brush technique, look for a blow-dryer with a wide-tooth comb attachment and use it on a medium setting. Or, suggests Dickey, use an old-school portable hood dryer that lets hair dry in place with minimal tangling.
The gentler airflow of the portable dryers is less disruptive to the curl pattern than the typical blow-dryer. Bonus: Your hands will be free to apply your makeup.
Valli Herman has covered international fashion, beauty and travel for the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News and other print and online publications.