How To Care For Curly Hair

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How To Care For Curly Hair

Words by Ms Danai Dana

26 February 2022

Men with straight hair can generally wash and go. Those with curls and coils, however, will attest that their hair is prone to dryness, dullness and curls that lack definition and is therefore in need of extra love and attention. So how to achieve Mr Timothée Chalamet’s cherubic curls, a luscious halo of hair like Mr Bob Ross or Mr John David Washington’s enviable afro? We turned to curly hair expert and stylist Ms Nicola Harrowell, aka the Curl Queen, who has worked for designers such as Kenzo and JW Anderson, for some advice.


Know your hair type

First, you need to figure out the porosity of your hair. “Porosity is the way that your hair absorbs water,” says Harrowell, and will depend how open or closed your hair cuticles are. High-porosity hair has open cuticles, which means water and product are easily absorbed, but easily lost, too. Low-porosity hair has cuticles that are tightly shut, which makes the hair less absorbent. When you get moisture into it, however, it holds on to it.

To test the porosity of your hair, Harrowell suggests placing a hair in a glass of water. High-porosity hair will sink, low-porosity hair will float to the top and medium-porosity will sit in the middle. If you have lower-porosity hair, choose lightweight hydrating products that will be easily absorbed. If you have high-porosity, go for nourishing products that are rich in oils. They will flatten the cuticles against the hair shaft so it holds on to moisture.

Identifying your curl type is also key. “There are so many variables with curly hair,” says Harrowell. “Commonly, coilier types of hair need heavier products, as there’s more bend in the curls and natural oils can’t travel down [the hair shaft] as easily. When the curls are looser, the oil can glide down a bit more.”

To identify your curl type, Harrowell recommends looking at a curl chart online. Once you’ve identified your curls, you can figure out which products will work for you. Afro hair is typically Type 4 and will need more occlusive products to trap in the moisture. If your curls are looser, like Mr Filippo Scotti’s, you are probably Type 2C or 3A and will benefit from lighterweight products. If your curls are tighter and more like Mr Mohamed Salah’s, you have Type 3C, which falls in the middle of the curl spectrum. Once you know your curl type and the porosity of your hair, you can determine how much extra moisture it requires and the type of products to look out for.


Start with the basics

Shampoo and conditioner are the building blocks of any haircare regimen and for those with curly hair, it pays to pick wisely. Whatever your hair type, steer clear of anything that will strip it of moisture. “You’d want water or aloe to be one of the first ingredients [for both shampoo and conditioner],” says Harrowell. “And make sure your products have no sulphates.” These open and close the cuticle, which helps with cleansing, but regular use can be damaging for curly hair. Most curly hair brands are usually sulphate free, says Harrowell.

A shampoo such as Oribe Gold Lust Repair & Restore Shampoo or Briogeo’s Banana + Coconut Nourishing Superfood Shampoo will hydrate while cleansing. When shampooing, massage only your scalp. Rubbing your hair can damage the cuticle your hair will be cleaned sufficiently when your rinse off the shampoo. If you use a lot of styling products, it’s a good idea to use a clarifying shampoo, such as Christophe Robin’s Purifying Shampoo, once or twice a month to get rid of build-up.

When choosing a conditioner, look for one that is enriched with oils and hydrating ingredients and avoid silicones, which can be drying. Briogeo Banana + Coconut Nourishing Superfood Conditioner, which contains banana peel extract, mango juice and avocado and sweet almond oils, and afro hair guru Ms Charlotte Mensah’s Manketti Oil Conditioner will both work wonders in terms of nourishing and moisturising your hair.

Harrowell recommends shampooing your hair no more than twice a week. “The oil doesn’t travel down curly hair as easily, so too much shampooing will strip the natural oils out of the hair and make it even drier and frizzier,” she says.

If you want to wash it more often, she advises giving your hair a rinse with warm water between shampoos. “Really get your fingers on the scalp,” she says, then run conditioner through your hair with your fingers, rather than letting it sit, and rinse. “That way you shake the product off the scalp, so you don’t get build-up.”


Style it out

Social media is awash with all manner of curly-hair hacks, from curl training with a Denman brush to plopping (scrunching your hair and tying it up with a T-shirt) to, more recently, the bowl method of styling your hair soaking wet and using a bowl to catch water and product, which you then scrunch into your hair. Between the genuinely useful and the downright bizarre, the main takeaway steps are as follows.

As you hop out of the shower and your hair is still dripping wet, start with a leave-in conditioner, such as this one by Sachajuan. Then, for definition, apply a curl cream, such as Briogeo Curl Charisma Chia + Flax Seed Coil Custard, which is designed for 3B to 4C coils, is enriched chia seed and flax seed oil as well as rice amino acids, and will seal in moisture and define your curls. If your curls are looser, use a product such as Rita Hazan Curl Crème or a mousse. Squish the product into the hair and coil your hair if you want your curls to be more defined.

While your hair is still damp, apply a gel, such as the Oribe Curl Gelée, which will seal in moisture and hold your curls in shape. Scrunch the product into the hair and then place your hair upside down in a towel and tie it up at the top so the curls don’t get squashed. We suggest a microfibre towel, which is designed to prevent frizz, or a T-shirt.

Air-drying is generally better than using heat to dry your hair, especially for drier hair types, but if you prefer using a hairdryer, then follow Harrowell’s advice. “Start with the hair very wet and use all your products in order. Start with the diffuser over your head, then flip your hair and do the bottom bits.”


Hit the refresh button

If your curls start losing definition between washes, you can refresh them by applying some more water and leave-in conditioner. Try the Mx Jonathan Van Ness trick of mixing a little conditioner or leave-in conditioner with water in a spray bottle and misting onto curls on no-wash days. Harrowell also recommends dedicated curl refreshers. Revitalising products such as Leonor Greyl Algues Et Fleurs Curl Enhancer or Ceremonia Pequi Curl Activator (which can also be used as a curl cream) will revive curls without the need to dampen the hair. “And I find that if it starts getting frizzy, I’ll use a gel, which will help catch that a little bit,” she says.

If you really can’t go another day without washing your hair, Harrowell recommends wetting your hair in the shower, conditioning and then styling as usual.


Use a mask

If your hair is very dry or frizzy, it might extra hydration. “A mask should be a deeper treatment,” says Harrowell. “It’s what’s going to go into the hair and repair and hydrate it. Conditioner sits on the outside layer. I would always follow my mask with a conditioner.” A mask such as Aesop’s Rose Hair & Scalp Moisturising Masque will deeply nourish and strengthen your hair. Use every week or two.

Protein treatments can work wonders on hair that’s prone to breakage. “If your hair’s short and freshly cut and there’s no colour on it, then it wouldn’t need protein,” says Harrowell. But, if your hair is long or damaged (whether from bleaching or the sun) and has a higher porosity, the occasional protein treatment mask, such as the Virtue Restorative Treatment Mask, added to your routine will help repair it. “I like to alternate my masks,” says Harrowell. “So, one week I’ll use a protein one and the next I’ll use a moisture one.” For damaged, brittle hair, Philip Kingsley Elasticizer (and Elasticizer Extreme for afro hair) or Olaplex No.3 Hair Protector every few weeks will rectify some of the damage.

Protecting your hair from friction while you sleep will prevent further damage. The coilier it is, the more prone it is to breakage, so afro hair will benefit the most from protection. Harrowell recommends wearing a bonnet or durag and investing in a silk or satin pillowcase. Slip pillowcases, for example, are crafted from mulberry silk, which allows the hair to glide while you’re sleeping, thus preventing breakage and frizz. Best of all, silk, unlike cotton, won’t soak up any of that highly prized moisture you’ve worked so hard to retain.

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