Caring for curly hair when cutting, washing and drying

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Every day, wherever I am, I get asked the same question: how do you get your hair so curly?

People ask me this because I’ve done something that defies a hugely popular beauty trend — I’ve embraced my natural curl.

Right now you may be clutching at your straightener in complete shock.

My response is simple: put down your heat devices and step away from the relaxers. You don’t need them where we’re going.

With great curls comes great responsibility — it’s not easy learning how to correctly care for your unique hair.

I’ve found comfort in joining online communities of like-haired women to share my experience with, but all my best tips and tricks come from trial and error.

I took my learnings to the experts and together we’ve nutted out the best way to embrace the curly hair you’ve got.

First things first — you need a good (and dry) hair cut

Woman with red, curly hair leans on a car in orange crop top and jeans
IMAGEHairdressers who work with curly hair say you need to work with the frizz, not remove it.(Unsplash: George Gvasalia)

Sydney-based dry-hair cutter Tara Walker has been cutting hair for more than two decades and exclusively performs the dry-cutting method on her clients.

She says cutting hair dry and in its natural state is best for curly hair.

Selfie of Kaley-Jade Baker with straight hair
IMAGEKaley-Jade Baker used to straighten her hair.(ABC Life: Kaley-Jade Baker)

“If you’re wetting, blow drying and stretching the hair just to cut it, people can’t replicate the look at home without professional skills,” Ms Walker says.

Brisbane hairdressing duo Amanda and Peter Rickman are also big fans of the dry-cut method, and practise the curl-by-curl cutting method where possible.

“It’s definitely not a possibility with all curly hair … some of it just doesn’t have the definition but it should all definitely be cut dry,” Ms Rickman says.

Ms Walker says people should work with their natural texture and use the frizz to build a great shape as opposed to removing it.

“You’re never ever going to win unless you’ve got time to ply your hair with a lot of products daily and you’ve got the money to afford those products.”

“Sulphates are a drying agent and they can be very harsh,” Ms Rickman says.

Silicones, however, are OK in moderation.

“There’s a whole movement at the moment for curlies to have no silicones in their products whatsoever, but there are some silicones that people can used which are water soluble,” Ms Rickman says.

“You just don’t want to go overloading it.”

And you should only be putting shampoo on your roots.

When you’re washing out the product and its running down your strands, that’s more than enough cleaning for your delicate ends, according to Mr Rickman.

Woman with black curly hair in a bun touches her hair
IMAGEWhen washing your curls, be sure to finger comb as they shouldn’t be brushed dry.(Unsplash: Suad Kamardeen)

I find conditioner does the job well enough most days if you make sure to scrub your scalp properly. 

That process — cleansing with a conditioner rather than a shampoo — is called co-washing.

It also helps to do this with your head upside down so the excess oils run out of your locks with the product.

Once the shampoo or co-wash is rinsed, soak your hair with water and apply a hydrating or protein-based conditioner.

“Because curls are dry they’re constantly looking for moisture,” Mr Rickman says.

While you’re conditioning your curls, finger comb using a wet detangle brush or a wide-toothed comb to remove knots.

I find it useful to do in the shower with a head full of conditioner, because you should never brush your curls dry.

If you do, you’re just asking for frizz and breakage, so I really can’t help you if that’s how you choose to live your life.

Don’t be afraid of gel and mousse for styling

If you like a super defined curl with minimal frizz, or you’re wanting extra hold, apply a gel or mousse to your dripping wet hair.

Night-time care for curly hair

I know many people find it hard to embrace curls because regardless of what products they use, they still get frizz.

Ms Rickman suggests swapping out your cotton pillow case for satin or silk.

“We all move around while we sleep and even the best quality cotton pillow case won’t stop the cotton absorbing the moisture from your hair and causing friction when you move your head around — which all creates frizz.”

In the past I always thought mousse was the best for super curly hair. But recently I discovered you shouldn’t be afraid of using gel.

Apply it when your hair is still wet, and gently scrunch it out when your hair is fully dry.

To get extra volume in my curls and avoid the dreaded flat top, I like to do this with my head upside down and pull the product through my lengths between my hands in a praying position.

Mr Rickman suggests the clipping technique for avoiding the flat top. It involves using clips at your roots to lift the curl from your head while drying — it adds volume and encourages the curl to form.

Because my hair is super curly naturally, I don’t have to encourage my hair to curl while it’s drying.

To dry my hair and elongate my curls at the same time, I usually like to use a microfibre towel over my shoulders until it stops dripping, then I finish my routine and let it air-dry from there.

Ms Walker says an old T-shirt would also do the trick!

Diffusing is a much-loved option for many curly-haired ladies.

Mr Rickman says while air-drying your hair allows your curls to be elongated, some people like extra volume, which diffusing is good for.

“Your hair can be soaking wet while diffusing. To get volume, you would start by tipping your head forward and cup sections of hair into the diffuser head,” he says.

“Use a low heat and a low fan speed. If you have a hot and cold shot on your dryer, I suggest that you go in with cold first then switch it to hot, using the cold to cool off the heat when it gets a bit much.”

Practise, and be thankful you’re a unicorn

Caring for curly hair is like any good skill — you have to practise in order to perfect it.

But make sure you enjoy the journey.

Get to know your hair like you know your face because it’s just as much a part of you.

Be thankful that you’re a unicorn. No-one else has hair exactly like yours and you can’t get more unique and mystical than that.

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