Over the years I have tried everything with my hair. I’ve thrown more products and money at it than is morally acceptable. I’ve tried to coax it and beat it into submission. I’ve read books about curls, watched tutorials for hairdressers, concocted dodgy homemade conditioners. I’ve hated my curls, then been a vocal curly hair zealot, and now am just about back to reality. So here’s my step by step guide to getting your hair back on track:
- Take a step back. It’s got to the point where you need a total hair care overhaul. There are two very simple rules at the start of this recovery process. First, take a breath and step away from the heat. That’s it. No hairdryers. No straighteners. At least not for a couple of months until your hair’s had some time to recover. It won’t always be easy. Your hair’s not going to look amazing overnight. At times you’ll be tempted to reach for the ghds. But resist. I promise it’ll be worth it. Second, bin all your products, or at least put them to the side. This is back to basics, introducing one product at a time – how can you tell what’s working if you have twenty products in your hair at once?
- Washing your hair. Curly hair is dry. Curly hair is not naturally greasy. So curly hair does not need to be washed every day. You’ve damaged your hair by over-washing (and by the products you’ve been washing it with). Stop it. Wash your hair every three or four days – you can step it back up to once every other day later if you like. You may get some itchiness initially but your scalp will adjust its oil production to the new regime fast. When you do wash your hair, use a sulphate-free shampoo. I’m currently using one with an impossibly long name from Schwarzkopf, but the brand doesn’t matter – just google ‘sulphate/sulfate-free’ to see what’s available. Sulphates are the chemicals that make shampoos froth so your shower may not be as bubbly, but they also strip out natural moisturising agents – good for greasy hair, fatal for curls.
- Condition. Being picky about conditioners isn’t as important as avoiding sulphates in shampoos, but as a rule step away from products with alcohol listed as a primary ingredient and those which contain a lot of ‘cones’ (chemicals including the word ‘silicone’ in their name). The fewer ingredients the better generally. I like this coconut-scented conditioner from small brand Curls. They cater specifically for mixed race hair types but their products are very gentle on the hair and so great for Caucasian curls too.
- Condition some more. To introduce even more moisture into your hair after washing, a light leave-in conditioner will do the trick without weighing curls down. I recommend Boots’ own-brand conditioners as they’re cheap and don’t contain too many chemicals. For an occasional more intensive treatment (once a week or fortnight depending on your hair’s thickness) a hair oil can be a quick and easy option, with a little oil going a long way. Moroccan Oil has been the brand on everyone’s lips but, although it does add shine, the formulation contains several ingredients best avoided by curly girls. Try pure argon oil (the active ingredient in Moroccan Oil products) instead. This is pure, natural and cheaper – what’s not to love? Another advantage of hair oils is that hair dries quicker when you’ve applied them – great when you’re waiting for hair to dry naturally and for limiting damage if/when you reintroduce heat.
- Styling your hair. In one of my many hours trawling through the internet reading about hair I came across one analogy that really struck me. The writer compared curly hair to a cashmere jumper. You wouldn’t dream of chucking a delicate knit in the spin cycle with some cheap detergent or being rough with it as you lay it out to dry. Curly hair demands the same careful treatment. Don’t brush it – detangle with a wide toothed comb while wet but then leave well alone. Never ever rub your hair with a towel. If you need to remove excess water squeeze and scrunch with a towel, or, better yet, an old cotton T-shirt since less friction = less frizz. I even sleep on a satin pillowcase to reduce the bed hair effect (trust me, it’s good for your complexion too). To style your hair post-shower simply part your hair the way you want it to dry. You can twist sections of hair to create the size of curls you prefer. When I want heavier ringlets – Victoriana chic, rather than Scary Spice – I use a curl defining gel. Generally though, the less touching the better. Style quickly, then leave to air dry.
- Bending the rules. You don’t have to be puritanical about you hair forever (but those who want to should check out Lorraine Massey’s book for heavy duty haircare, including DIY product recipes). My hair is now in such good condition that I am happy to bleach it monthly and blow dry it straight when I want to. Even the very occasional dose of sulphates isn’t detrimental, though I still wince when hairdressers lather me up with products I know are doing more harm than good. I’ve also discovered that using a tapered curling iron can be a godsend for touching up the upper layers of second or third day curly hair (technically the ‘canopy’), even if the high temperature isn’t ideal for hair health. The joy of this regime though is if I do see my hair’s condition deteriorating, I can cut out the heat styling immediately and give my hair some TLC.
- Extra tips. If you dye your hair, highlights are better for defining curls – a block colour will make your hair seem like a mass, rather than individual tresses. If your curls are loose enough to braid, side braids can be a good second/third day styling option (see my article on braiding here).
Finding the best beauty products and techniques is an evolving process, but this article has been years in the making. Everyone’s hair is different but following this advice may just work for you, saving you a lot of money and heartache in the process.