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One of the most common things people ask me about, or comment on, is my hair. Whether I know the person or not is irrelevant. My curls draw attention, everywhere I go.
Recently, another complete stranger asked what hair products I use, and how I get soft curls. I spent a few minutes sharing my wisdom and, afterward, thought:
I should document my process so I can just hand it to the next person who asks.
So, I’m here to share exactly how to style curly hair (hint: it’s not as complicated as you might think!).
Before we get started, I’ll confess I haven’t always known what to do with my curls. In fact, when I was in my preteens to early teens, styling my hair was one of my biggest struggles. It was either too poofy, too frizzy, or too something.
Since appearances are a BIG deal to girls at that age, you can imagine the “trauma” I experienced thanks to my hair, especially when other kids, and even well-meaning adults, pointed out the obvious.
Somewhere in my high school to college years, I started to figure it out. But, I never had consistent “good” hair-days, finding it a miracle when my curls cooperated. I even spent years flat-ironing my hair to avoid the issue altogether, where many people didn’t even know I had curls.
In hindsight, I’m aware of the
negative thoughts lies I allowed to creep in, voices telling me my natural hair wasn’t beautiful. That I wasn’t beautiful.
It’s a marvelous thing when you start learning to train your mind, and to love yourself just the way you are (because…you’re wonderfully made!). It’s even more marvelous when you finally learn how to consistently style those curls that have plagued you for so long.
And then, you start to like your hair until eventually…you love it.
And your teen-self realizes that all those adults who said you’d appreciate having curly hair, one day, were right.
So, if you struggle with your own curls or love someone who does, there’s hope!
Now, I’ve just recently learned the “secret” to consistent, happy curls. As in, three-years-ago-recently. But, better late than never, right?
2019 was the year I discovered Manes by Mell on YouTube, and that was the year my life changed. Sounds dramatic but it’s true.
Mell identified the #1 thing I was unintentionally doing to sabotage my curls. And when I made the change, I realized it was possible to have salon curls, every time I washed my hair.
Today my hair routine is a little different from Mell’s. But if not for her, I might still be fighting my curls and losing. Thank you so much, Mell!
Ok, here’s what you’ve been waiting for.
Step 1 - Wash & Condition Hair
Moisture is key.
Don’t worry if that sounds confusing. It did to me, too. After all, rain and humidity are archenemies to curly hair. But when it comes to setting your curls, you want all the moisture you can get.
So, the first step is to shampoo and condition your hair.
Because my hair is
freakishly thick and soaks up a lot of product, I generally go for the cheapest option that works. Right now, that’s an apple-scented shampoo that works well for product-buildup, and the conditioner included with the hair color (did I just say that out loud?) I use between salon visits.
After I’ve washed, conditioned, and rinsed my hair, it’s almost tangle-free. I don’t use any combs or brushes.
At this stage, leave your hair dripping wet. I gently squeeze the bulk of my hair once or twice to eliminate excess moisture, but not to the point where it isn’t dripping.
Step 2 - Apply Curl Cream & Gel
I use a dime-sized blob of curl cream for my entire head, but you may need more or less depending on the length and thickness of your hair. A little goes a long way.
I comb it through my hair using my hands, starting with the top section, then right, then left. Then I’ll do a final comb-through (again, using my hands) of my entire head to ensure even coverage.
If you do the same, your hair should now be tangle-free.
Next, apply gel. I’ve experimented with many different gels, and the one that works best for me is this inexpensive, mega-hold gel. Any less of a hold, and my curls frizz up.
I apply the gel in five sections – top, right, left, back, and underneath (with head flipped over). I comb it through with my hands, using a dime-sized blob for each section. Again, you’ll have to experiment with how much gel to use for your own curls.
Lastly, tilt your head forward and down, letting your hair completely hang away from your neck and shoulders. With flat or “praying” hands, smooth your hair together from the back to the front. This ensures your curls clump together as much as possible.
At this stage, your hair should still be dripping wet (because, remember, moisture is key!).
Step 3 - Scrunch
Gently scrunch the ends of your hair by letting them pile in your hands, as your draw them up to the roots and down again. You should feel and hear water squishing through your hands as you scrunch.
I find it best to scrunch, just enough, so that the curls stay together while retaining moisture. Read: set the curls, but don’t overdo it.
Step 4 - Wrap Hair (Optional)
Next, with my head still tilted down, I gently wrap it in a microfiber hair wrap. I wear it just long enough to absorb excess moisture, typically 10-15 minutes. Any longer and my curls won’t dry as smooth.
You may prefer to completely air-dry, instead, or skip right to heat-drying. I personally don’t have much success with air-drying, because it takes forever and leaves my hair crunchy. So, I won’t offer advice, there.
But if you want to know my process for heat-drying, keep reading.
Step 5 - Diffuse
Unwrap your beautifully-set curls and once again, let them hang down away from your neck and shoulders.
Grab your hair dryer and attach a diffuser – I’ve used the Conair Infiniti Pro for years and it’s still going strong. With it set to high-heat and high-power, start hovering the diffuser over the crown of your head.
Don’t touch your curls.
(And there lies the #1 mistake I was making in diffusing my hair. In fact, for years I thought I couldn’t use a diffuser, because my curls always frizzed up when using one. But that’s because I was scrunching my curls up into the neck of the diffuser, causing them to separate and lose shape. Don’t be like the old me. Just hover-diffuse.)
By first diffusing your crown, you’ll attack the wettest part of your head without drying out the ends. As a byproduct, the ends will almost take care of themselves without having to dry them separately.
Now, this is a slow process. It takes 20-25 minutes to dry my hair. But, again, it’s very thick. It may not take you as long.
I periodically tilt my head from one side to the other as I dry, to prevent getting a crick in my neck.
The good news is that once you’ve thoroughly dried your hair, your curls will be shiny, soft, and smooth.
Step 6 - Wear & Enjoy Your Natural, Salon-Quality Curls
If you’re getting ready to go out, simply style your hair any way you’d like. Just be gentle with your curls and avoid brushes and combs.
I typically wash and dry my hair at night. So for bedtime, I throw my hair into a ponytail that sits on top of my head. That keeps the curls together while I sleep. Then, when I pull them down in the morning, my hair is full of volume and still looks freshly-washed.
More good news is once your curls are set, they’ll keep for several days! Some women even wait seven days to wash their hair again. The magic number, for me, is three. Any longer and my head starts to itch, and look and feel oily.
Some women also “refresh” their curls, with moisture and/or hair products, between washings. Because that involves drying, I prefer to just wash my hair again – I like to have clean hair if I’m going to invest the drying-time.
Experiment and find what works best for you!
And, don’t be surprised when random people start asking you the secret to your curls.