These Two Things are Essential for Curly Hair

by Erin Mayer

Like most people, I've spent a lot of time wanting things I don't have. When I was a teenager, that included straight hair. Being too lazy to actually straighten my curls everyday, I daydreamed about having been born with pin-straight hair instead of the ringlets genetically bestowed upon me.

But that all changed when my mom bought me Curly Girl: Th e Handbook. I expected it to be really lame, like most guidebooks for young girls, but it turned out to be life-changing: That book taught me how to take care of my hair and made me feel like wavy locks were cool for the first time.

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These changes sprung from two indispensable lessons, both of which I'm going to share with you, because curly hair is beautiful and we really need to stop frying the hell out of it with flat irons.

Stop Using Shampoo

Stop it. Right now. Put down the shampoo and back away. Forever. The chemicals in shampoo, namely sulfates and surfactants, are bad for curls. They are too harsh and strip curly hair of super important oils and moisture that keep it shiny and healthy, thus drying it out. Additionally, curly hair is highly porous, making it nearly impossible to wash shampoo out entirely. The shampoo can build up over time, resulting in frizz.

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Intimidated by the no shampoo lifestyle? I get it — I was, too. But not using shampoo doesn't have to result in permanently dirty hair. There are plenty of gentle ways to clean your curls. Most importantly, do not skip conditioner. Conditioner is not optional for us. The right product will do the job of shampoo, only better. Look for a bottle with emollients, proteins, and humectants on the ingredient list.

Naturally Curly, a website that teaches curly girls how to love their locks, recommends you style your hair with a silicone-free gel (shampoo is the only effective way to remove silicone so if you're avoiding shampoo, avoid silicone as well), never brush it, and stay away from playing with your hair while it dries.

Fall In Love with Your Hairstylist

The right haircut is key. If you get your hair done by a stylist who doesn't know how to cut curly hair, you will end up looking like a poodle. Poodles are cute, but you don't want one living on your head.

Curly hair should not be cut the same way as straight hair. This seems obvious, but a lot of stylists don't know what to do with a head full of ringlets. If a stylist tries to cut your hair wet, this is a warning signal. Curly hair is drastically shorter when dry than when wet. "Curly hair may be halfway down your back when wet, only to spring up as much as 6 to 10 inches when it’s dry,” explains Lorraine Massey, author of Curly Girl: The Handbook.

Another major warning sign is if your hair stylist is dying to straighten your hair before or after the cut. You love your curls, or are learning to, and your stylist should respect them! Do your research and find the salon and stylist that is right for you (this list from Naturally Curly can help you find pre-approved curl specialists in your city).

After you've narrowed it down, make sure you come to your appointment prepared. Bringing a photo is always a good idea, but you have to understand what cuts work with your hair and face shape. Don't bring in a photo of Jennifer Lawrence's pixie cut if you have tight curls! Know what you want, and how to communicate that to a stylist. The right cut can do a world of difference for a head full of Botticelli curls.