Sun, surf, steamy days and sultry nights – all the things you love about summer also make it the toughest season for managing curly hair. But instead of hiding your ringlets under a scarf, follow these tips from the pros and learn how to care for your hair ’round the clock.
1. Ready, set, wet. Sticky summer days may send you to the shower, but washing your hair every day can lather away the nutrients that help keep it manageable, says George Gonzalez, owner of George: The Salon in Chicago, and a hair stylist at the spa at Harpo Studios.
Instead, a few times a week, just wet your hair in the shower without shampooing. Apply a conditioner, rinse out and follow with a leave-in conditioner.
2. Wash and protect. Curly hair’s twisty structure impedes the flow of natural oils, leaving your hair prone to feeling rough and dry, says Dr. Jeni Thomas, senior scientist for Pantene. “If you have curly hair, avoid clarifying shampoo,” says Thomas. “A clarifying shampoo offers zero protection from damage, especially when hair is in its most vulnerable state – wet.”
Opt for a moisturizing shampoo that is specially formulated for curly hair and you’ll whisk away summer’s stubborn buildup and styling residue while defending your locks against damage and frizz.
3. Quench thirsty curls. “Curly hair has more protein and less moisture than straight hair, so it seeks to balance itself by absorbing any available moisture,” says Craig Carter, an ethnic-hair expert with the Carlos Lobo Salon in New York City. If your hair is parched, it will pull moisture from the humid air, leading hair shafts to become puffy and frizzy.
A weekly deep-conditioning mask will help curly hair stay well-hydrated and will create a humidity barrier.
4. Put down the hot styling tools. Make that half-hour walk or drive to work your drying time and embrace your hair’s natural texture. “In a perfect world, I would love to wet everyone’s hair, put on conditioner and let it air-dry,” says celebrity hairstylist Daven Mayeda. She advocates styling curly hair without direct heat whenever possible – and that’s especially true in summer, when your hair is already getting a light frying from sun exposure.
5. Use portion control. Applying products to curly hair should be more like buttering toast slices than tossing a salad. “If you want a uniform curl pattern, you need a uniform application of styling product,” says Gonzalez. Try this: Emulsify a small amount of product by rubbing it between your hands, and then apply – starting at the ends and coating the entire strand – up to the scalp.
6. Prepare to defeat beach head. Exposing the porous cuticle of curly hair to wind, salt and moisture at the beach will lead to frizz in a flash, says Gonzalez. “The trick to avoiding this is to coat the cuticle with thick leave-in conditioners or with styling gels,” he says.
7. Soak, coat, dunk. If you swim in the ocean or in chlorinated pools, rinse your curls before and after you get out of the water, then apply leave-in conditioner. “Spray-on conditioner is great for wavy hair or hair that’s fine and curly,” says Gonzalez, “but if your hair is coarse or frizz-prone, a cream or thicker leave-in conditioner is best.”
8. Sleep silky. A satin pillowcase helps keep curls from tangling and won’t soak up natural oils as much as cotton, says Ebony Mikila, a hairstylist at Paint Shop Beverly Hills salon. Avoiding friction is important, adds Thomas, because the complex web of curly hair’s rough fibers can rub against each other, causing damage.
Valli Herman has covered international fashion, beauty and travel for the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News and other print and online publications.