How To Wash Curly Hair Without Damaging It

Growing up I saw a lot of shampoo commercials where the women lathered up their hair until it was a foamy mountain, rinsed it in two seconds, roughly towel dried it and voilà — their hair was perfectly styled. Turns out, that’s not how to wash curly hair without damaging it. I really believed that would be my life, but as usual, the media lied to me. Not only was that process impossible to recreate, it also would never work for washing curly, natural hair like I had.

It took me years of research and finally going to a salon just for curly-haired girls to figure it out. Last month I went to Devachan SoHo and met my curl angel/expert, Jessica Fitzpatrick. She walked me through the process of how to wash curly hair without damaging it. Because I had so much silicone build-up from wearing my hair straightened, it was a lengthy process to getting my curls poppin’, but Jessica gave me some sage advice to help me along.

Fitzpatrick said, “Beautiful, frizz- free, defined curls do exist, I promise! But they do not happen over night. Your curl journey is a lifestyle change. Be patient day-to-day as your curls become healthier. Take your time when conditioning your curls.” Read on for her step-by-step on how to wash curly hair.

1. Start By Getting Rid Of Silicone Build Up And Wash With A Clarifying Shampoo

Malibu Un-Do-Goo Sulfate-Free Clarifying Shampoo, $30, Amazon

In the beginning of your own curl journey? Fitzpatrick said to try a sulfate-free clarifying cleanser like Malibu Undo Goo to get rid some of the silicone build up that you get from using regular conditioners, anti-frizz, and shine products.

She said silicones should be avoided because they coat the cuticle layer of each hair strand, which repels the moisture the curls require — in order to hydrate the curl strands from the inside out. Fitzpatrick said, "On a silicone-free regime, the curls are able to bounce up to their full potential because the silicones aren't holding them back from being poppin'!"

2. Wash Regularly With A Sulfate Free Cleansing Conditioner

Ouidad Curl IMMERSION Cleasing Conditioner, $37, Amazon

Sulfate based cleansers (shampoos) strip hair of its natural moisture, causing curls to become drier than they are naturally, Fitzpatrick said. So look out for sulfate based ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, and sodium laureth sulfate — they should be avoided in all cleansers. A cleansing conditioner like this one is rich, low-lathering and sulfate-free.

3. Don't Brush or Comb Curls — Detangle With Your Fingers

Curly girls know how hard it is to comb their hair, but I always thought doing it while wet would be better. Turns out, it's not. Fitzpatrick advised me to "only detangle with your fingers while it has a generous amount of conditioner in it and plenty of water!" Otherwise, you'll get a lot of damage and breakage.

4. Find A Do-It-All Conditioner For Everyday Use

Deva Curl One Condition Ultra Creamy Conditioner 32 oz, $32, Amazon

Fitzpatrick said that DevaCurl One Condition is her holy grail product as a curly girl. "It can be used as a co-wash scrubbed directly on the scalp, or scrubbed clean to cleanse the scalp. It can be applied generously to very saturated hair mid-strands (avoid directly applying to scalp) to ends to condition hair." (Pro Tip: When using it as a leave-in conditioner, Fitzpatrick said you'll know you've left enough product in when your hair has a slightly cloudy drip.)

5. For Deeper Conditioning, Use Products With Emollient Natural Ingredients

Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner 13 oz., $11, Amazon

Curly hair needs moisture more than anything else, Fitzpatrick said, and emollients smooth the cuticle layer and reduce frizz and soften hair strands. She recommended emollient ingredients like wheat germ, cetyl esters, shea butter, which is found in this restorative conditioner for damaged hair, and jojoba oil.

6. For Frizz Free Curls, Don't Tousle Hair Post-Wash

Bamboo Hair Towel, $10, Amazon

I always thought towel drying hair was the way to go thanks to those commercials, but Fitzpatrick said that's a big mistake. "Avoid tousling the curls roughly at all with a towel. Avoid terry-cloth towels. Always scrunch dry or blot dry with either a microfiber towel, cotton T-shirt, or paper towels." This bamboo viscose hair towel comes ready to be wrapped and makes drying a breeze.

7. No Time To Wash? Refresh Curls With A Homemade Spray

Stylist Sprayers Atomic Spray, $10, Amazon

If your curls need a day two refresher, Fitzpatrick recommends making your own moisturizing spray. First, concoct a spray bottle mix of water and enough conditioner to create a cloudy liquid, shake well, and spray. This spray bottle is better than a traditional one because it sprays a superfine mist, similar to an aerosol can without the chemicals.

8. Shake It Out, Air Dry And Enjoy Your Bouncy Curls

After washing, minimal towel drying (Jessica said "you'll want to keep your curls as wet as possible until after you've applied your styling products," in order to lock the moisture in) followed by air-drying (also recommended), you'll be on your way to clean, bouncy, enviable curls — and you will have skipped damaging your curls!

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Images: Jessica Fitzpatrick/Instagram (and used with permission from Frances Smith) (1); Giphy (2); Amazon (6)