Curly hair can be tricky. That’s why we’ve put together a definitive guide to caring for and styling curly hair. We’re breaking down all the deets, including the best products for your curly hair care routine and all the tips and tricks you need for happy, hydrated, healthy curls.
The first step in caring for and styling curly hair is understanding your curls. Your curl type is determined by the shape of the follicle that your hair grows out of from your scalp. The flatter or more oval-shaped the follicle, the curlier your hair; the more circular the cross-section, the straighter your hair. Curls types are broken down into a classification system, ranging from 2A to 4C, that makes it easier to identify your curl pattern. The number refers to curl families, while the letter points to how tightly wound your curls are within that. Curl type 1 is pretty much the absence of curl — in other words, straight hair. This breakdown will help you discover your curl pattern: but you’ll likely find you have a mix of a few different levels of curls.
Type 2 waves are bendable, can be fine to coarse, and have a definitive S pattern that lays closer to the head.
Type 3 curly hair can range from loose, buoyant loops to tight, springy corkscrews which have some sheen but are prone to frizz.
Coily hair is naturally very dry and spongy in texture, and can be soft and fine or coarse and wiry. Strands form very tight, small curls of zig-zags right from the scalp.
So how often should you wash curly hair? Our curl experts recommend those with Type 2 curls can lather up two to four times a week; those with Type 4 curl types co-wash weekly, and deep cleanse with shampoo once a month; and those with Type 3 curls fall somewhere in between — shampoo or co-wash every few days to a week. A good rule of thumb is if your curls feel dry, try washing less frequently. Use a moisturizing curl shampoo or cleansing conditioner, and always follow with a curl conditioner.
The best looking curls are air-dried. Blow drying disrupts the natural curl pattern, even with a diffuser. Enter hair plopping. What is curly hair plopping? It’s a heat-free technique that helps cut down on drying time while keeping frizz at bay, and it’s an indispensable step in your curly hair care routine, no matter what type curls you have. After you get out of the shower, lay a T-shirt out with the sleeves at the end closest to you. Flip your head forward, bending at the waist, so that all of your hair is in the center of the towel and on top of your head. Take the flap of fabric that is behind your head and flip it up over your neck, then tie the sleeves of the shirt behind your head in a knot. Depending on your hair texture, wait 10- 20 minutes for the excess water to absorb before taking your curls down.
Curls can be very fragile, so to avoid damage, it is important not to disrupt the curl pattern with a brush. Use a wide tooth comb and work your way up, gently combing through tangles. Hold each section as you comb through it, so you’re not tugging on your scalp.
Pineappling is an easy way to preserve your curls while you sleep so they don’t get frizzy overnight. Pineappling works on any curl type, and is as easy to pull off as a top-knot. Before bed, flip your head over, gather your curls on the top of your head, and tie them loosely with a scrunchie, letting your hair spill forward. In the morning shake out your curls and use your fingers to style.
A common tactic for refreshing second day curls is to add more water — but this only dilutes the product that's already there, further breaking the hold of the curls and creating frizz. Instead, use a curl refresher spray to boost elasticity and shine between shampoos. Spray throughout your hair and use your fingertips to gently pat the product into your hair without breaking up your curls.
Looking for a simple way of styling curly hair? It might be time to try a layered hairstyle. Adding layers is a great way to define your curls, coils, waves, and ringlets. A layered haircut promotes definition, adds texture, and helps to shape your hair. Be sure to find a hair stylist who is both experienced and passionate about cutting curls, waves, and textured hair — see our salon locator.
The most important thing to remember about maintaining your curls is that they’re naturally inclined to dry out and they crave moisture. It’s impossible to over-hydrate curly hair, so in addition to your favorite products for curly hair, use a hair mask once a week to deep condition and really lock in moisture. Use only high quality, sustainable hair products like the ones from Davines — this is especially important if you’ve lightened your hair through highlights, balayage or bleach. All of our formulas are free of harmful toxins, use natural ingredients, and are made with renewable energy and packaging that minimizes the environmental impact. Our hair care isn’t just good for your hair, it’s good for the planet.
by Jaclyn LaBadia, featured contributor