Curly Hair Routine Tips, Straight From The Pros

Expert-approved tips and tricks, right this way.

It’s hard not to stop and stare when you see a wild mane of curly hair bounce by. It’s a showstopper and a statement-maker, but, as anyone with curly or kinky hair can attest, it’s not all glamorous. Due to the free-spirited nature of curly hair and because of its tendency to be drier and more fragile than other hair types, caring for coily strands can take a fair amount of time and attention (oh, and money). But when you get it right, it’s... *chef’s kiss*. Even within the curly hair community, though, one size doesn’t fit all. And so, if you’re just starting to embrace your natural curls and kinks, remember to pack your patience — because figuring out the products and curly hair routine that will work for you may take some trial and error.

To help you focus your approach, Bustle called on a couple of hairstylists that specialize in curly and coily hair for their go-to tips and tricks as well as the best products to shop. Read on to discover 10 expert-approved ways to care for curly hair.

The Experts

Antonia Wazir, hairstylist at Bianchi’s Salon & Spa in the metro Detroit area and a MIZANI global curl specialist.

Yasmine Young, hairstylist and owner at Diaspora Salon in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Hydrate Properly

The experts agree that moisture is key when it comes to caring for curly hair. “The tighter the curl, the more moisture the strand needs to stay strong and healthy,” Wazir explains. Young notes that low porosity hair especially can struggle to absorb moisture, so it’s essential to infuse hydration by way of the right products.

This mask contains Cupaucu butter — a seed butter from the Cupaucu tree found in Northern Brazil in the Amazonian rainforest — to hydrate, argan oil to moisturize and restore shine, and honey to prevent damage and promote scalp health.

Review: One reviewer wrote that this mask is now their go-to deep conditioner. “I’m in love with how bouncy and shiny my curls are. I have Black, Afro-kinky hair with a coily curl pattern and use this product as a leave-in or deep condition after braids. It really revives my curls!”


Shampoo Wisely

Because curly hair can run on the dry side, it’s important not to shampoo too often or with harsh soaps that strip your strands’ natural oils. This one is formulated specifically for curls, and boosted by silk protein and neem oil — two ingredients that can help restore moisture. It also boasts coconut oil and hibiscus flower extracts to gently cleanse as it hydrates, protects, and enhances curls.

  • Pros: Contains no silicones, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, or petrolatum
  • Cons: Experts disagree about the benefits of coconut oil; the concentration of oils could make it too heavy for hair that’s more wavy than curly.

Review: “I can tell the difference between this and some other shampoos that feel like they're drying your hair out as you wash. With this, the feel is softer, smoother, more moisturizing,” one reviewer wrote.


Avoid Over-Manipulating

To prevent damaging or breaking curly hair, which can be more fragile than other types, be careful about over-manipulating it. If you can leave your hair alone for even a couple of days, you’re off to a good start. That’s why protective styles that you can carry from one day to the next, like twists, braids, and intricate updos, are a curly girl’s best friend.

Most styles, especially if it’s a two-in-one situation (like bantu knots that become heatless curls after a day or two) will be served by a hydrating styling cream of some sort. This option promises to hydrate, smooth, and define curls without the dreaded crunch.

  • Pros: Cruelty-free, vegan, free from sulfates
  • Cons: Contains isopropyl alcohol, which can sometimes be drying

Review: One reviewer says this holds up against the competition. “My hair type is between 3b and 3c, and it requires products that are super moisturizing. While I have tried a lot of other products from different brands I always come back to this one because it’s the only one that my hair loves. It’s super moisturizing, smells great, and extremely easy to use.”


Tame Frizz

As Wazir explains, “Coily hair has fewer cuticle layers and can experience breakage and frizz pretty easily since natural oils have a hard time making it down the strand.” To hydrate in between wash days and do away with frizz, a leave-in conditioner is a handy tool that you’ll want to keep in your curly hair arsenal.

This conditioning spray uses 98%-naturally derived ingredients, including rosehip oil — an antioxidant-rich fatty acid — to help detangle hair, nourish, minimize frizz, smooth strands, restore shine, and lock out humidity.

  • Pros: Works on all hair types, cruelty- and gluten-free, no artificial dyes
  • Cons: Contains benzoyl alcohol, which, in rare cases, could trigger an allergic reaction

Review: One reviewer has been hooked since discovering this product. “Love the texture and scent. Does not weigh down hair and is not sticky. My thin hair needs something light but nourishing and this works. I have a friend who has very thick, coarse hair and she loves it too.”


Detangle Carefully

To prevent breakage, how you detangle curly hair is super important. For the job, grab a wide-toothed comb or detangling brush, and always start at the ends and carefully work your way up the length of the hair. If your hair is especially coily, you may even want to reserve detangling for wash day and do it while your strands are wet and slathered in conditioner for slip.

This detangler comb can be used on wet or dry hair and is designed to move through the hair without pulling and snagging.

  • Pros: BPA-free
  • Cons: At over 9 inches in length, it’s not the most travel-friendly

Review: One reviewer wrote, “My hair is naturally wavy and does not do well with regular brushes or combs. This comb allows me to comb my hair, detangle, and keep my waves. It doesn’t pull on or pull out my hair like other brushes and combs. I was about to chop off all of my hair, but this has been a complete game-changer for me!”


Sleep In A Silk Bonnet Or Scarf

Those beautiful kinks and coils can easily wrap around each other and lead to tangles that can be tough to manage. So, sleeping in a scarf or bonnet made from a less absorbent material that won’t draw moisture away from your hair is key. Plus, it’ll prevent friction with your pillowcase and keep your ‘do looking fresher for longer.

  • Pros: Available in multiple colors, adjustable size
  • Cons: Not authentic silk

Review: For one reviewer, the search for the perfect bonnet is officially over. “I have the purple bonnet and it’s so soft and smooth. I wear it every night faithfully — this is the only bonnet I’m ever wearing because it does the job.”


Consider Your Porosity Levels

When talking curly and coily hair, Young says that porosity matters more than your actual curl pattern. Porosity measures the ability of your hair to absorb and retain moisture, she explains. “If your hair is always dry or it takes a long time for it to get wet, you may have low porosity hair,” says Young. “Low porosity means your hair cuticle is somewhat closed and moisture can’t penetrate the hair strand.”

If this is the case, Young recommends using a clarifying shampoo, as this will open the hair cuticle to allow water in while removing product buildup that may also be keeping moisture out. This color-safe formulation from Malibu C promises to gently remove buildup and restore manageability and shine.

  • Pros: Sulfate-free, removes hard water mineral deposits, vegan
  • Cons: Some reviewers found that they needed a second shampoo afterwards

Review: “I use this once or twice a month, and it really helps open the cuticle and really allows my deep conditioner to work on my low porosity hair,” one reviewer wrote. “It cleans my hair and makes my conditioner work better.”


Add Protein When Needed

For curly hair types especially, you want to strike the right balance between moisture and protein, the experts say. Young adds that high porosity hair that soaks up too much moisture, or hair that’s been color-treated or damaged, may benefit from regular protein treatments to strengthen and rebuild bonds. This one treats excessively damaged hair, improves strength, prevents breakage, and improves manageability, all thanks to the collagen and wheat-based amino acids in the formula.

  • Pros: Conditions, contains collagen keratin
  • Cons: Some reviewers note a strong scent

Review: “I wish I would have discovered this product a long time ago,” one reviewer wrote. “It changes the texture of your hair right away — mine is so soft, I can tell the difference after one use. I plan to continue to use this product as long as available.”


Use Hair Oil To Lock In Moisture

On drier hair types, hair oils are a great way to protect strands, smooth curls, and create a barrier that locks in moisture. “Oil should be used in small amounts while hair is towel dried or after it’s styled,” Joico ambassador and celebrity hairstylist Larisa Love previously told Bustle. “Split the hair in half when it’s wet and apply a small amount starting at the bottom and working your way to halfway up the hair.”

This multitasking spray can be used on wet or dry hair and uses a blend of oils and extracts — including baobab, ama, and borage oils — to smooth, add shine, and protect against UV damage.

  • Pros: Lightweight, color safe, paraben- and sulfate-free
  • Cons: Some users aren’t a fan of the floral scent

Review: As one reviewer wrote, “This hair oil strikes a perfect balance for me because it hydrates and protects my curls so well without being so heavy that it weighs my curls down.”


Always Use Heat Protectant

One of the many beautiful things about curly hair is its versatility. Some days, you may want to rock big, bouncing curls, and on other days you may hear the flat iron calling. Whenever you’re using hot styling tools, a heat protectant is a non-negotiable — especially if you’ve got curls and coils. That’s because using too much heat on your hair can leave it dry and damaged, and even kill your curl pattern so that you may be forced to cut it all off and start over.

This lightweight drugstore buy promises to block humidity for that sleekness that you want if you’re going to risk the heat, and it offers protection against up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Pros: Affordable, aluminum-free
  • Cons: Some reviewers note that it made their floors slippery after spraying

Review: “Every other heat protectant spray weighs my hair down so I end up diluting them with water, but I still lose volume,” one reviewer wrote. That wasn’t the case with this spray: “This comes out as a fine mist, so it’s absolutely perfect. I have fine naturally wavy and curly hair that needs protection without weight, and this is the perfect product.”

Studies referenced:

Cloete, E. (2019). The what, why and how of curly hair: a review. Proc Math Phys Eng Sci.