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Breaking Down Beauty: Curly Hair Care

By Sheila Arkee

For a long part of my life, my hair looked like this:

It was big, unmanageable, and I just didn’t know what to do! Back in the day, there just weren’t a lot of resources available on how to deal with curly hair. It wasn’t until I was about 18 in the mid-1990’s that books and styling products specifically for curly hair appeared on the market and utterly changed my life.

This is what my hair looks like now, and I can say that I’ve been in curl acceptance for a good amount of time. Even though I sometimes wish my hair could look like this all the time…

… I love having curly hair because it’s not only versatile, it’s wash and wear! Here are my tricks to achieving healthy and happy curls, and the best part? It doesn’t require spending tons of money on styling products! Yay for curls!

First and foremost, if you have curly hair, get your hands on these books. They really helped me understand my curls and guide me towards curl acceptance.

Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey – the Bible for curls!!!!

Andre Talks Hair by Andre Walker. Andre is Oprah’s main hair man, and this book helped me break down where I was in the curl world. I am proud to say I am a 3B!

Also, visit naturallycurly.com – great info here!

What I use –

1. Conditioner only! You do not need shampoo, believe it or not. Just make sure you agitate your scalp while rinsing off the conditioner, and you’ll be fine, I swear! I avoid any products with silicones because of buildup issues, and have been very happy with the Revitalizing conditioner from Trader Joes.

2. Wide Tooth Comb. The only time I ever use a comb on my hair is in the shower, when the conditioner gives my hair a slip and allows me to run the comb through.

3. T-shirt wrapped around my hair turban style. Regular run-of-the-mill towels can cause frizziness, but a jersey knit eliminates that!

4. Apple Cider Vinegar. Every couple of weeks after conditioning and rinsing out, I’ll take a cup full of ACV, dump it on my hair, and rinse. It helps get rid of buildup, keeps your hair shiny, and NO, you will not smell like salad after you’re done!

5. A light gel. I used to be a big fan of Tigi’s Curl’s Rock past, but then I realized it was only gumming up my hair and making it feel and look like a greasy mess. I stay away from silicones and have never had a problem with gels, which I comb through my hair using my fingers. As much as you  may want to coat your hair with a heavy duty product, you really do not need to – just a little structure will do!

6. A good oil. Right now, as I am typing these words, I am sitting down with my hair drenched in sweet almond oil and up in a bun. Once a month or so, I’ll oil up my hair, throw it in a ponytail or bun, and let the oil moisturize my hair and scalp. You’ll love how great your hair looks and feels afterwards! FYI, olive oil left my hair feeling softer and more supple than any other oil I’ve tried!

7. Avocados and flax seed. You are what you eat, and eating good fats helps your hair and skin to look healthy and shiny.

Here are some more of my secrets:

1. Get a good cut with long layers, avoiding any layers near the crown of your head. Find a hairstylist who specializes in curly hair. I know so many other curly heads who are paranoid about getting their hair cut because of previous bad experiences, self included. The best way to find such a stylist is through word of mouth. See a curly head you like? Ask them who does their hair.

2. Don’t wash your hair too much. Sounds nutty, but true. The less often I wash my hair, the better it looks, which means going 3 to 4 days without a wash to help keep your hairs natural moisture intact. If I’m working out I go into the gym 70’s style with a sweat band and if I really need help with oilies, I’ll use a dry shampoo.

3. You do not need to use a gel, curl enhancer, curl spray, curl enhancer, and hairspray all at once. Keep things simple! A light gel or paste is all you’ll really need. Right now I put a light gel in my hair post wash, toss my hair across my pillow, and get my sleep on. If it’s cold at night, I’ll put my hair in a french braid.

I don’t really use heat on my hair, except when its super cold or I’m flat ironing my hair.

4. Whatever you do, please do not ever run a brush through your hair. My mom mistakenly did this for EVER and it only made me look like a poofy ball of fluff. Not cute!

If you have curly hair, what are some of your favorite hair styling tricks?

  • http://www.nvbeauty.blogspot.com NV Beauty

    Thanks for this! I don’t have curly hair, but my 3 year old does and I don’t to make her look like a hot mess!! =) I do most of this already, but I had no idea to not shampoo her hair!! =D I love your hair by the way!

  • admin

    You’re a great mom! :)

  • Miss Boom

    I WISH I had beautiful curly tendrils!!! Lately I’ve been pin curling my hair to get that Shirley Temple look. I envy you curly girls, for real.

  • Michou

    Thank you thank you thank you for this! I can’t wait to try some of these tips!!!

  • http://echosidestyle.blogspot.com Jen

    I love having curly hair too… I want to try out some of these!

  • http://sweetlibertine.com Sarah Waller

    I love Curly Girl! I no longer follow it to get curly hair, but it did switch me to no-poo, and my hair has been so much happier ever since.

  • Amanda

    I have seen this tips before, but for me they never work :( I have to shampoo and condition every other day. I tried the conditioning only and it did not work at all! I have extremely thin hair, which gets greasy quick, but it’s also curly. It’s a MESS. But for curly girls who have thicker hair, I bet these work like a charm!!

  • Martha Lastra

    Ok this is the second time I write this. The first time it did not publish for some strange reason. Personally, I know many women who don’t love their curls. I think it’s sad so many women spend so much time straightening their hair and spend so much money relaxing their hair. i am proud to say I am not one of those women. I love my naturally curly hair and wouldn’t change it for anything. I have tried many products in my lifetime. Moreover, in my lifetime I have come to find out that not all curly hair is the same. What works for me may not necessarily work for another curly haired person. But what I have found works best for me is creamy leave in conditioners. Currently I use a product, which I stocked up on because it’s not found in the states. It is a rich creamy leave in conditioner. Once I finish my stash of this product, I will probably turn to Moroccan Oil’s intense curl cream. This product not only works fabulously with my hair but it smells heavenly. I am in agreement with the last post by Amanda. I too have thin, greasy, curly hair. Therefore washing my hair frequently is necessary. Being introduced to the diffuser was almost life changing as it not only provides volume but definition to my curl. I will definitely try the oil treatment suggested above. Moroccan Oil also has a great hydrating mask that leaves your hair silky soft and again smells divine. Great post! I heart people who also love their curls.

  • admin

    Love this comment, Martha!!!!

  • The Gothbrarian

    I’m a curly girl and wouldn’t have it any other way. I, too, looked like a poofball until I learned how to take care of my hair. Step one: don’t brush it. EVER. I don’t even use a comb in the shower. When I have conditioner in my hair, I run my fingers through it and work out any tanlges.

    Also, I am loving Hair Rules Curly Whip. The directions say to use it *in* the shower, but I use it after my shower and it works great! It doesn’t gum up my hair or leave it hard and crunchy like other products.

    Also, scrunching is an important last step. After you’ve worked the product through your hair, flip upside down and scrunch away! After that, air dry, then “fluff”, and you’re done!

  • admin

    I’m loving all these curly hair tips! I’m going to gather these together for a separate post!

  • Liz

    I have naturally really oily hair and I’m not sure if using no shampoo will help me any. I also have fine, thin hair, and try as much as I can to volumize it and find my self using the blow dryer every morning. I use pantene hair gel for fine hair and hairspray and I usually still have to “poof” my curls for the thicker look. Any tips?

  • Sheila – Painted Ladies

    If you are super oily, the no shampoo method might not work so well. I’d suggest trying more of a paste, like Beyond the Zone’s Noodle Head. Pantene always has a knack of making my hair feel limp, so I’ve been using Tresemme and it’s been working great so far. In terms of volume, I have a couple of tricks: 1. Wash my hair at night, and lie down with my hair splayed behind me, and 2. If I do wash my hair during the day, I’ll let it dry with sunglasses on my head. LOL. Does the trick.

  • Bridget

    I have really tight, kinky curls and as much as I love having curly hair…I don’t always want to look like Shirley Temple. So, I started showering at night to sleep on my curls. Wow! What a difference! At night after I wash my hair, I comb it out with some all natural leave-in conditioner and a little oil. When I wake up I smooth a little bit of cream through my hair and my curls are bouncy…but not too tight. Love it!

  • Sheila – Painted Ladies

    I’m glad it worked for you, Bridget! :)


    Ok Ladies,you won’t believe this tip but it does wrok,KY Jelly!! YES KY Jelly,a friend of mine told me about it, it makes your curls bouncy,light,love howit does not weigh down my hair.Like the above comments,all curly hair is different,try it out for yourself you will be surprised,oh and by the way, im an extreme couponer so when i was told this tip i had about 40 boxes of it in my stockpile already,yea me!

  • Katie

    I have 2 daughters who are curly girls, but one day while browsing on Pinterest I saw a woman’s blog who talked about using the CG technique on her wavy hair. OMG. I bought the book and dove in whole-heartedly with CG techniques and now I’M a curly girl. My hair went from wavy to full-on curly. My daughters also follow the regimen. The 3 of us are each different types of curlies. For me, the biggest thing is wrapping my head in a t-shirt at night. I get my hair slightly damp–sometimes I add a little gel, but not always. This technique, called “plopping” is, for me, the key to going from wavy girl to curly girl. I sometimes scrunch the hair near my part and pin it with bobby pins so that it doesn’t flatten out. Also, in the front, my bangs (they’re long so they don’t really qualify as bangs) are much straighter than the rest of my hair so I usually pin curl them and then remove the pins once I have the t-shirt wrapped. Hubby loves the t-shirt head look. Ha ha. For romantic evenings I forgo the wrap. :) Oh, one more VERY IMPORTANT thing: you must be sure to avoid products with dimethicones in them. There are other products to avoid as well, but that one is the most prevalent. If you are using only conditioner or your hair feels otherwise weighted down or greasy, google CG and check the evil ingredients list. Even within the same brands, different conditioners have different formulations.

  • http://www.slashedbeauty.com/ Miranda Mendoza

    I have heard the tip to not run a brush through the hair, but when my hair is curly, it knots up so easily and because it’s heavy, it HURTS when it gets tangled on its own! Any tips?

  • http://www.painted-ladies.com/ Sheila Arkee

    You know what I’ve been doing – I spritz a little bit of the Garnier Triple Nutrition and it helps TONS! http://www.painted-ladies.com/snarled-curls-thankful-garnier-fructis-haircare-triple-nutrition-miracle-dry-oil-hair-body-face/