How-To: Care for Curls

There was a time when curly-haired women did everything in their power to straighten their waves, curls and kinks. But now an overwhelming majority are embracing their texture: A recent Redken study found that 65 percent of women have curly or wavy hair, 47 percent of them wear their hair “au natural” and 75 percent receive complements about their curls. Here, our curl gurus breakdown curl care fundamentals.

 1. Come Clean… Just like any other client, the curly girl’s experience starts at the shampoo bowl. But the similarities end there. “Cleansing and conditioning natural curls differs greatly from straight hair,” says Michelle Rouzer, master artist for Sexy Hair. “Curls need moisture and oils for definition. If they get too clean, they look like frizzy lion manes.” So moisturizing while cleansing is the key. And, ProRituals Creative Director, Terrence Michael Renk, has a trick for doing just that. “I like to add ProRituals Hair and Scalp Therapy to my conditioner. It replaces the depleted essential fatty acids, and provides moisture for shine and elasticity.” No time for cocktailing? Skip the shampoo all together and opt for a cleansing conditioner. “I come from a family of curly-haired sisters,” says Matrix Celebrity Stylist, George Papanikolas. “Matrix Biolage Cleansing Conditioners clean without stripping curls of natural oils—leaving a better curl pattern and definition.”

2. Dry and Mighty… Curls and moisture go hand and hand. Which makes the drying process a make-or-break moment for curls. “If you dry the hair just right, you can create gorgeous, voluminous curls with perfect definition,” says Fatima Sheikh, a Redken stylist for Rodney Cutler. “I use a micro fiber towel to gently squeeze the hair rather than rough up the cuticle with a regular towel. Then I have my client lean side to side and gently scrunch.” Once most of the excess water is removed, curls need dispersed air for optimal drying. “Using a diffuser is the best way to prevent frizz,” says Jane Carter, founder of Jane Carter Solutions. “It creates volume at the root without disturbing the curl pattern. Have your client lean forward, apply the heat at the root and gently stretch the roots for volume and length.”


Enjoying this story? Subscribe to the American Salon Newsletter

Get inspirational trends, techniques, tips, education and the latest beauty news delivered right to your inbox! To read on the go, sign up today to get weekly beauty news and updates.

3. Type Casting… C-pattern, S-pattern, Z-pattern—curly girls are always educated on their specific curl type. “That’s why stylists need to be type masters,” says Chadwick Pendley, Ouidad curl expert and master artistic educator. “Curl types tell us if the hair needs encouragement or organization. Products that work on loose curls aren’t the same products that work with Z-pattern curls.” Even application of styling products depends on specific curl types. “On C- and S-pattern curls, I comb through styling products with my fingers,” says Christo, Curlisto’s global artistic director. “For thicker, coarse Z-pattern curls, I use a wide-toothed comb to evenly distribute the product.”  

4. Troublemakers… If a curly girl is unhappy with her hair, there are two likely culprits: frizz or shrinkage. Frizz is a product of the strands breaking apart, unraveling the curl formation. “The more you touch curls, the more frizz forms,” says Sam Lavella, global stylist for Macadamia Professional. His suggestion: “When the hair is truly wet, apply a hydrating curl cream—such as Macadamia Professional Taming Curl Cream—that’s going to moisturize, hold strands together and control frizz.” Then, don’t touch the hair until it’s about 75 percent dry. Battle the other troublemaker, shrinkage, with a light-hold curl product and downward tension. “After the hair is fully dry, slide your fingers into the hair roots, and gently rock your hands back and forth, working the bottom layers downward, elongating the style.”

5. Emotional Support… Each of our curl experts mentioned that their curly clients come with the most emotional baggage. “That’s because for years no one addressed their needs, and they were made to feel unwanted,” says Pendley. “Curly girls tend to have trust issues from a bad salon experience. I make a point of complementing their curl pattern. I ask about their curl story—trust me, they all have one—and I educate them on their specific curl pattern. They might already be curl savvy, but hearing it from me reassures them and helps gain trust.” And once you get their trust, all of our experts agree, curly haired clients tend to be the most loyal in the business.