It may sound hyperbolic to talk about learning to style your hair as a “journey,” but when you’ve got a gorgeous head of curls, there’s really no other way to describe it. Growing up with natural curls can be especially tough when you don’t share your hair texture with family or friends who can help teach you how to take care of it. I know from experience: As a preteen, I remember looking at people with smooth, straight hair and wondering why the same brushes and blow dryers that they used made me look like a frizzy poodle. “One key to unlocking your best curly hair is maintaining structure and pattern with a dispersion of moisture to keep the curl pattern fresh,” explains hair expert Philip B. “Structure is intuitive in both shape and spring. By employing the right measures curls will stay voluptuous longer.”
After years of experimenting in the mirror, reading and watching countless tutorials, and a whole lot of help from my hair stylist, I finally figured out a curly hair care routine that makes my natural texture shine. And while the thought of focusing on caring for and styling your curls might sound time-consuming, once you've nailed your own styling routine you might actually be surprised to find yourself spending less time on your hair throughout the week.
So no matter if you're just starting your natural hair journey or looking for some new tools to throw in the mix, keep reading for 17 of the best hair tips, tricks, and products for styling every wave and curl pattern.
About the Expert:
Let’s start fresh at step one: washing your hair. Since everyone's hair type is different, it can be helpful to pick up some sample size shampoos and conditioners meant for curly hair and keep an eye on what works. In general, though, if you have thin or fine hair, smoothing or hydrating formulas can actually weigh down your curls or make them greasy, but they're ideal for keeping tight curls and coils bouncy (especially types 3 and 4). And, of course, you’ll want a color-safe formula if your hair is color-treated.
Our pick for a good starter curly-hair shampoo and conditioner is AVEDA’s Be Curly™ Set. The set's shampoo and conditioner are lightweight and moisturizing enough for most curly hairstyles, thanks to a wheat protein and organic aloe blend that expands when your hair is wet and retracts when it’s dry to keep your hair shiny and frizz-free. Another is PHILIP B’s Mega Curl line. “It’s formulated with time-released safflower oleosomes, botanical moisturizers that continue to hydrate and provide a moisture burst all day long to leave hair super-soft, glossy and keeps the curls beautifully defined,” says Philip B.
To get the most out of this curl-boosting pair, shampoo just your roots to avoid stripping moisture from the bulk of your hair (this is especially important if you have dry hair). Rinse, then condition from your mid-lengths down to the ends to prevent your roots from getting greasy faster. Curls retain their shape and moisture best when you don’t wash your hair often, so it’s totally fine to go a few days between washes.
Philip B recommends using a hair mask once a week to deep condition and really lock in moisture—especially important if you’ve lightened your hair through highlights, balayage, or bleach. NATURELAB. TOKYO’s Repair Treatment Masque is great for reversing damage and protecting against future stressors. It’s made with Smart Keratin technology and bamboo plant stem cells that penetrate and strengthen your hair from the cuticle down through the shaft, promoting growth and restoring luster. You’ll get the best results by applying the treatment before you get in the shower, so the product isn’t competing with water to soak into your strands. Run it through from root to tip, then pile your hair on top of your head and secure it with a big clip or shower cap to let it soak in for about 5 minutes.
Curls can develop frizz from the moment they start to dry, so it’s important that you apply your hair products while your hair is still sopping wet. Use a serum or gel designed to lock in moisture, like BRIOGEO HAIR CARE Curl Charisma™ Rice Amino + Quinoa Frizz Control Gel. This smoothing, sealing gel creates a light hold for wavy to curly hair (patterns 2A to 3C), enhancing texture and movement.
Air drying your hair is the best way to maintain the shape of your curls and prevent frizz and damage, but showing up to class or work dripping isn’t always an option, nor is leaving home with fully wet hair in the winter. Use a T-shirt instead of a towel on those occasions when you need to sap up some moisture. The soft, flat jersey fabric won’t rough up your ringlets the way the hook-like texture of a bath towel does.
Once you’ve absorbed as much water as possible with the T-shirt, dispense an orange-sized blob of OUAI HAIRCARE Air Dry Foam into your hand and gently scrunch it through your hair from mid-lengths to ends. This product locks in your natural curl pattern while keeping frizz at bay, so you don't have to worry about your curls looking mismatched or frizzy.
If you have cowlicks or sections that just refuse to bend, tackle them while your hair is still wet so they dry in the shape you want. You can twist small sections at a time and pin them close to your scalp, braid pieces here and there, or scrunch your whole head to encourage the curl. Use a sea salt texturizer like PLAYA Endless Summer Spray to help you get there. This one’s made with cane sugar instead of alcohol so it won’t dry you out, and marine collagen helps your hair feel full and soft.
As we mentioned before, tight curls and coils (types 3 and 4) dry out much faster than waves and can use some extra love to keep their softness and shine. Raw coconut oil—the same one you keep in your kitchen—penetrates deep to promote moisture from the inside out, especially when you apply it directly to your scalp, as well as your lengths.
To apply it, scoop a tablespoon of oil into a bowl and microwave it or hit it with a hairdryer for 15-30 seconds until it liquefies. Pour a small amount out onto the very top of your head and let it run down your scalp toward your neck. Massage it in fully, working your way down from root to tip and concentrating it at the ends. Let it saturate for at least half an hour before shampooing and conditioning as usual. (Note: if raw coconut oil feels waaay too heavy for your hair, try a coconut-infused treatment like PACIFICA BEAUTY Coconut Pro Strong & Long Creamy Oil Mask for similar benefits.)
Feel like you’ve used every curl cream, serum, and oil under the sun and still can’t find a solution? Try making your own cocktail! Mixing different products together is a great way to come up with new formulas that give you the weightlessness or definition you crave.
Here are a few of our curly-hair product combos for every curl need:
The first commandment of using hot tools on curls: never use a blowdryer without an applicator. The direct heat can cause frizz and damage. When you want to blowdry your hair, use a diffuser attachment to spread the heat flow evenly so your curls and coils hold their shape. You’ll get the most volume by blow drying your hair upside down and placing small sections at a time on top of the diffusing attachment. If your hair dryer didn’t come with a diffuser, pick up a universal attachment like CURLISTO Curlisto Travel Diffuser. It fits most models, so you can easily snap it on and get to drying.
For curly-haired kids (and adults, TBH), forcing a brush through your hair can feel like torture. The key is to stop fighting it and use a detangling tool that works through your curls, not against them. A wide-toothed comb like CURLISTO’s Curlisto Finger Comb gets the job done, tear-free.
The best way to detangle curls is to start at the tips and work your way up. Split your hair into 3-4 sections and begin by tackling the tangles at the ends of one of them. Once you’ve cleared the knots, inch your way up through the mid-lengths until you can pull the comb or brush all the way through from root to tip. Then move on to the next section.
Wanna look like a fine-apple? Then do the pineapple. This is a simple technique to keep your curls from getting flat or tangled while you sleep. Flip your head over and gather all your hair on the tippy top, then tie it loosely with a soft hair tie like PINK PEWTER’s Luxe Velvet Scrunchie (or the Long Tail Silk Scrunchie for even more protection against frizz). Avoid using traditional hair elastics at night and in general because they can cause breakage.
Maintaining curly hair can feel like a lot of work, but it has its glamorous moments. Sleeping on a silk pillowcase is the best way to prevent frizz and tangling while you toss and turn at night. (You can also sleep with your hair wrapped in a silk scarf, though they can be tricky to keep in place.)
Remember what we said about not washing your hair super often? Refresher sprays and second-day sprays are the dry shampoos of the curl world. Spritz your hair all over with water and then go over it with a retexturizing spray like BUMBLE AND BUMBLE Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Heat Primer. Your hair will air-dry right back into place. You can also just spritz on the texturizer and run if you don’t have time to re-wet your hair.
I know what you’re thinking: “why would I even buy a curling iron if I already have curly hair?” Well, for the same reason you’d buy a straightener! Whether you’re dealing with a weird cowlick, a section that refuses to twist, or just want to loosen or tighten up your curl pattern, having a curling iron on hand is always a good move. If you’ve never owned a curling iron before, check out our tips on how to curl your hair like a pro and then grab a great set of tools, like FOXYBAE 7-in-1 WAND SET. It comes with a bunch of different wand sizes to fit your curl pattern or help you shape a new one.
Like with any hairstyle, you’ll want to get regular trims to prevent split ends and keep your hair growing in healthy and strong. Using a product specifically designed to moisturize split ends can take this a step further by sealing your hair fibers and preventing further breakage from happening. Try AVEDA’s Damage Remedy™ Split End Repair to seal your hair between washes.
It’s important to remember, not all curls are the same. “Curly hair is spiral in structure but a flat strand with more density is common for African American hair,” says Philip B. “It has weaker bonds and is often more porous. When the cuticle is dehydrated and rough this causes the keratin protein to become more brittle and susceptible to damage.” Avoid this right after you wash with a microfiber towel. “Squeeze dry to release water with an ultra-fine microfiber non-terry cloth towel or water absorbing material. Even a pillow case will do,” says Philip B. Try DEVA CURL’S Anti-Frizz Microfiber Hair Towel.
“The feast is at the scalp,” explains Philip B. “So with tighter curls, the oil fails to spread evenly along the hair fiber. With straight hair we are brushing more often, which moves the sebum, so without lubrication, these fibers become very dry.” Start with the product at the scalp, and move down to the follicles. “Spend most of your application time upside down,” says Philip B. “First apply all over the hair with fingers crunching right side up, then run your fingers gently through the curls. Finally, flip upside down scrunching back up section scrunch to keep the curl pattern.”
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