What most people who don’t have curly hair don’t understand about it is the amount of work involved. There’s nothing prettier than a mop of bouncy, perfectly defined ringlets, but getting curly hair to look gorgeous on a daily basis takes dedication — and how you care for curls depends on what type of texture you have. We asked two texture experts — Morgan Willhite, Creative Director at Ouidad, and Tippi Shorter, Aveda Global Artistic Director for Textured Hair — to school us in the basic care and feeding of curly hair.
The One Thing All Curly Hair Needs
For every type of curly hair, conditioning is priority number one. “Curly and coily hair don’t get the natural scalp oils that straight and wavy hair get,” says Shorter, because “curls and texture don’t allow for constant brushing, which is how natural scalp oils moisturize hair.”
Willhite agrees. “More than any other hair type, curls must be conditioned regularly,” she explains. “In fact, even the simple act of shampooing dehydrates curls; the warm water opens the cuticle, allowing the cleansers to flow into the hair shaft and rinse out many of the nutrients. It’s the same thing that happens to your skin after washing your hands – they just feel dry. This is why frequent conditioning should be an automatic part of a curly girl’s hair care regimen.”
Both experts recommend regular, twice monthly deep conditioning treatments to keep curls in healthy shape. “I recommend using the Ouidad Deep Treatment Intensive Conditioner [$26, ouidad.com] at least twice a month to combat curl-aggressors like the wind, air conditionings, and blow-drying,” Willhite says. Shorter swears by Aveda’s Dry Remedy Moisturizing Treatment Masque ($29, aveda.com). “It provides extraordinary moisture and suppleness to instantly transform even the driest, most brittle hair without weighing it down,” she says.
Wavy to Loose Curly Hair
What it looks like: “Soft, less defined waves that are approximately 2” wide. Hair is curlier with length,” Willhite says.
What it needs: Loose curls and waves have the tendency to fall flat. “I recommend products that will add life to those looser curls and waves,” Willhite says.
Shorter adds, “You may need a mousse or light gel to combat frizz when styling.”
Style hair with an ultra-light mousse to define curls and fight frizz. Moroccanoil Curl Control Mousse ($23.20, moroccanoil.com) won’t weigh down waves.
Add a curl-enhancing mist for hold and extra definition. Fekkai Perfectly Luscious Curls Wave Activating Spray ($25, fekkai.com) helps lock in texture.
Medium Curly Hair
What it looks like: Willhite says, “Hair that is ‘classically’ curly has wide curls with good definition, bounce and lots of volume. Occasionally two types of medium curls are found on one head, a bigger, looser curl mixed with tighter ringlets.”
What it needs: “Curly hair is usually soft to the touch, but needs a moisturizing system to keep hair smooth and healthy,” says Shorter. “As for styling, you will need products to keep hair defined and frizz free.”
“Classic curls should not use a brush or comb on dry curls which will cause the hair to expand and contribute to frizz,” Willhite points out.
Aveda Be Curly Curl Controller ($21, aveda.com) is a light lotion that defines and softens curls. “The consistency is a serum-like cream that glides easily through all types of curly hair,” says Shorter. “The hair dries soft and touchable with a generous shine.”
Paul Mitchell Twirl Around Crunch-Free Curl Definer ($27.50, paulmitchell.com) combines a frizz-fighting gel formula with a moisturizing cream to help coax curly hair into perfect spirals.
Tight Curly to Kinky Hair
What it looks like: Tight curly hair is “a mixture of 1/2″ to 1″ wide curls throughout the hair,” while kinky texture features “tiny ringlets of mostly Z-shaped hair when stretched,” says Willhite.
What it needs: The curliest type of hair is also the most prone to dryness and damage, so deep conditioning treatments are important. “It generally doesn’t have the protective layer that all other types have, so hair is much more fragile,” Shorter explains.
Willhite says, “I recommend sleeping on a satin pillowcase to reduce tangles. Also, air drying tight curls or using a hair dryer on low heat with a diffuser works best for this type.”
Products to try: Since tight curly hair is so dry, you can skip shampoo and just wash with conditioner. Try L’Oréal Paris EverCurl Hydracharge Cleansing Conditioner ($6.99, lorealparisusa.com) for a non-lathering option.
A leave-in conditioning product can also help moisturize curls and downplay frizz. Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk Original Leave-In Moisturizer ($20, carolsdaughter.com) has cocoa and shea butters to nourish parched hair.
Once a week in the shower, use a hair mask such as Ojon Dry Recovery Intensive Hydrating 2-Minute Hair Mask ($29.50, ojon.com).
Read more: Top 10 Curly Hairstyles