10 February 2011

the girls with the curls: how to love your curly hair

My hair is curly. Very curly. And in magazines and online I've found surprisingly little info on how to style, care for, and generally love curly hair. I've had to work at it myself (gasp... what did people do before Google?) and find what works best for me. And now I'm going to share it with you lovely ladies... with the girls with the curls. Rock on, hair sisters.

Before we start... not all curly hair is created equal. Some have big ringlets, others tiny ones. Some people have hair that is almost straight in bottom layers and very curly on top layers. Some curly hair is fuzzy, other is oily. My hair falls in pretty bouncy ringlet-y curls that are all over the place, and it's dry and prone to frizz. If this is you, read on.

Section One : The Haircut.
You have to start with something good. In this case, a good haircut is a must.
Curly hair will naturally fall into what one of my haircut girls once put as "triangle-head". This happens especially if your hair is long, since more weight is put on the bottom — this makes the top of your head very flat. Hence... a triangle. (See photo, left side.)
Unless your barber-slash-hairdresser is untrained or exceptionally stupid, she will probably know this already. But it's good to tell her. What you want — well, what I want, I don't know about you — is for your hair to be shaped and curly all over. So you want lots of layers, pretty blended (but it doesn't much matter because your hair is curly anyway and will naturally separate), with the shortest ones, at the crown of your head, a couple inches long. About four, for me. I know it sounds extreme, but since curly hair puffs out what you get is a nice teardrop shape. (See photo, right side.)
Very rough, very smudged sketch... ahem.

Section Two : The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Curly hair is in some ways easiest to take care of and in other ways a real pain in the neck. Here's the good, the bad, and the downright annoying:

- most girls with curly hair don't have to dry their hair in the morning — just shower, scrunch in a little moisturizer (more on that later), and go.
- natural curls don't lose their shape during the day.
- curly hair is unique and — to be frank — gorgeous.
- you have way more options with curly hair — waves, straight, messy buns with cute little curls on top — than other hair types.

- putting your hair in a ponytail spells death to curls for the rest of the day. Your head is now flat — you have to keep it in a ponytail. Same with wearing a hat. {How I fix this: see Quick Fixes and Straightening}
- fee, foe, fuzz: curly hair is much drier than normal hair. That means that when it can absorb moisture, it literally laps it up. Unfortunately, this means — you guessed it — frizz. Ew. {How I fix this: see Frizzasaurus}
- sleep on it... or not. If I sleep on my hair it is flat. That means a shower for Olivia every. single. morning. {What I do in mornings: see Hello Morning}
- the downright annoying: people pulling on your hair and saying "ohmygod, it goes right back to a curl!" Wow. I had no idea. {Just had to put that in there...}

Section Three : Hello Morning
OK, so you wake up, take a shower, go out the door. Eh. Not that simple.

I use Pantene Medium-Thick shampoo and conditioner. It's very moisturizing and helps with frizz.

I normally just towel-dry, but sometimes you need hair dry fast. Use a diffuser on your hair dryer, scrunching and twisting as you go.

I put in some Garnier Fructis Shine Serum or leave-in conditioner. Not too much, just enough to make it happy, moisturized, and bouncy through the day.
What not to use: hairspray and anything with alcohol in it (check your ingredients). Hairspray makes curls crunchy and alcohol-based products will dry it right out.

There are, of course, days when I just scrunch right out of the shower and head out the door. But to make it a little nicer I like putting a tad of product in.

Section Four : Gym Class.
Whoever designed PE class obviously did not have in mind the girls with the curls. Ponytails are required, and as I mentioned in Section Two this presents a problem.
So what do I do? Simple: Either straighten it on days I have gym (see Section Five) or slap a hat on it. The bottom of my head is still curly and fine. A hat quickly fixes the yucky on top and looks oh-so-cute.
 example of a cute outfit including a hat. strategically planned for gym class that day.

Section Five : Straightening.
And I'm a hard girl
Loving me's like straightening curls...
-Lady Gaga

Even Lady Gaga knows it: straightening curls is a pain in the neck. Frankly I dislike straightening. One, why straighten such beautiful curly hair? Curly hair is to-die-for. And Two, heat damage to your hair is no fun.
Unfortunately (see above Section Four) sometimes straightening is necessary. So here's how to make it safe and simple for best results:

  • Apply product to your hair before you straighten (or blow-dry, for that matter). A heat protectant is best but really anything you can put between your hair and the heat is good.
  • Straighten a little bit at a time, in layers. Use a clip to put it up. (See below photo, on the bottom right)
  • I like to leave a little wave so it looks natural. That's a personal preference, though.
  • Don't straighten too often, and put some moisturizing product in if you do. Curly hair wants moisture even when it's straight.
  • Finally, this is for everyone... pleasepleaseplease make sure your straightener is turned off before you put it away. Mine was not. It went in a wicker basket full of flammable blankets and such. It was not good. (Nothing burst into flame, thank God, but a bit of my yoga mat got singed.)
^^^ please ignore the red tint to my eyes. not sure how that happened. probably due to editing.

Section Five : Frizzasaurus.
As I mentioned many times before, curly hair needs more moisture. The moisture it can get is quickly absorbs — the hair swells and hello, frizz.
To combat frizz, there's a couple things you can do.
One, use product to moisturize. Not too much, mind — about a dime-sized amount will do. Comb with your fingers so it's distributed evenly — best to do this when it's damp.
Two, never brush your hair. Ever. Comb it when there's conditioner it in while you're in the shower, but when it's dry or damp all a brush will do is make is fuzzy and poofy. Curly hair rarely tangles since it's already separated by ringlets, so a brush isn't usually needed anyway.
Three, don't sleep with your hair back. Or let it dry in a ponytail or bun. This makes little wispies that aren't very helpful or attractive.

ack. frizz.

Section Six : Quick Fixes.
Finally, a quick problem-and-solution section...
  • I have a {insert big event here} coming up, what do I do with my hair to make it look really special? I suggest using some sort of hair oil to make your locks really shine. Moroccan Oil is very popular right now (my mother has some) and it is really awesome.
  • My hair gets flat as the day goes on, what do I do? Try blow-drying it upside down in the morning. This will give you extra body that should last the day.
  • My only problem is that I need to actually find some gel. What kind do you recommend? Hmm, I don't really know. I don't gel my hair... look for gel without alcohol, because alcohol will damage your hair.
  • How did you get your hair the way it is in section 4? I left most of my hair naturally curly, then used a 1" barrel curling iron to get the front pieces in nice sweeps.
  • Do you really use shampoo? Yep. I'm really paranoid about dandruff since my hair is dark, so I scrub into my scalp and rinse all the way, then put in the conditioner and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before washing it out.
  • I have curly hair just like yours only it's short (above my ears). Have you got any tips? I had a pixie cut when I was about 10 and growing it out wasn't too bad because it was wavy rather than curly — it only got really curly about a year and a half ago, oddly. Anyway, that's off topic... I think the best idea get layers so you don't get mini-triangle-head.
  • Do you have any tips for girls who have fairly curly hair (actually, more like just a step above wavy) in the back of their head and stick straight hair at the very front? That sounds like my mother's hair. Try scrunching your front pieces with mousse while your hair is damp, and if you want to look extra nice either straighten the back or curl the front.
  • For most of my childhood, I've had super straight hair. When I turned 14, it began to get curly. Do you have any idea why my hair suddenly changed? Same here. My hair was in ringlets as a toddler, then wavy as a preteen, and once I hit about thirteen it got curly. It also changed from blonde to dark brown. I'm guessing it's some weird bodies-changing thing... whatever it is, I'm not protesting! I did a little research and found that this change most often occurs with people whose mother has straighter hair and whose father has curly hair. That's my situation, so it looks like it's genetics.
  • I am considering perming my hair, but I don't know if this is the right choice or not. I'm still contemplating it. Do you have any suggestions? Ack, please don't perm your hair. Love the hair you have!
  • What happens half-way through your day when your hair is tangled and starts to feel rough? I brush my hair right when I get out of the shower and after that, I try not to brush my hair again, but, eventually, towards the end of the day, I am fed up with the knots, I brush it and then it's poofy for the rest of the day. First, it's not a good idea to brush your hair right out of the shower — that makes frizz go crazy. Comb it while you have conditioner in. As for snarls... look for a leave-in conditioner that isn't too greasy but has anti-tangle in it. You can even buy just plain anti-tangling spray; try using that and a wide-toothed comb instead of a brush. It will define your curls and make your hair poof out less. Or, just finger-comb your hair when you're bored... that's what I do.
  • I need your questions... ask away and I'll answer here!


  1. very helpful! I have problems with my curly hair.

  2. okay. here's my question. i have curly hair, but it gets flat throughout the day. it gets more wavy than curly by the afternoon! what to do?!

    thanks for this post! very helpful:)

  3. OK, thank you so much for doing this! I have curly hair as well, but have had a really hard time finding tips to make it look, well, not like a fro. :)

    My only problem is that I need to actually find some gel. What kind do you recommend?

    I have not seen a picture of you with your hair curly, and I love it!


  4. Ah, I relate 100%. My hair is the curliest hair I know. It's a pain in the butt. I'm actually saving up for a straight-perm. It's a reward I'm going to get if I am accepted into my choice high school. I've considered the option for a long time.My hair takes 2 and a half hours to get straightened in a hair salon and 3 hours at home, so flat-ironing isn't really an option. I also use Garnier Fructis styling products, but with my hair it's very hit-or-miss. One day it can be ringlets and the next day it can be an afro. But I love these tips, they'll definitely help me out until the time of the Keratin Perm comes!


    P.S. Triangle-head is my life. Trust me. I've had way too many bad triangle-head haircuts, and I usually get it cut too short to pull it back, thus worsening the triangle-head effect.

  5. this was very helpful. i have very curly hair, and never know what to do with it.

  6. Gosh, I sure do wish I had your hair!!!! :D My hair is STICK STRAIGHT. And annoying, because I can't do anything with it. It never works right when I try to curl it (I either have "triangle-head", lol, or it doesn't stay but half an hour, or both). My mom is considering letting me get a perm, and drastic layers (like you were saying) but we're both apprehensive (sp?) about it because a] what if it doesn't turn out right? b] what if I get tired of it? (I doubt it, but you know how moms are :D) and c] will it be too much for me to take care of? *sigh* You are SO BLESSED! :D You have wonderful hair, and I'm sooo happy for you.


  7. A lot of this I already knew,but still helpful! Thanks! I have curly hair and loooove it,my problem is fizz (AGH) no mater what I do it seems my hair seperates. How did you get your hair the way it is in section 4?
    My hair is alot like yours,same type of curls 9add some frizz)Do you really use shampoo? That always makes my hair really puffy! I had my sister in law trim my hair a while back and I had it long layers a few years ago,I think I should go and get it layered again. :)Great post I enjoyed reading it!

  8. Wonderful post! My friend, Skylar, has really curly hair. She does quite a bit to it (stuff I don't do to my own hair). Mostly because she's in ballet and has to put a bunch of spray and stuff in it, but she puts a few things in her hair that I don't.
    I have a natural straight hair (natural cut-not completely chopped at the bottom or anything) with side bangs (well, sometimes I make them myself!) and what-not. Don't leave out us straight-ies! We're pretty cool, too. :D
    My hair is really easy to take care of. I just take a shower. Brush my hair however I want, and that's it. I'm kind of obsessed with keeping it looking good though. I don't like frizzy, tangled, or any kind of hair like that on me. I'm always wanting to brush it. :D I also don't blow-dry.

    We're all so awesome, aren't we?

  9. Great, informative post, Olivia! If I had curly hair, this would (no doubt) help me a ton! I have no clue why I read all the way through this if I don't even have curly hair... but I guess it's just good to know in case I have a daughter with curly hair! :) You should do more posts like this! May I suggest doing how-to posts for makeup?! ;) Just a thought! :D
    Have a great weekend!
    ~Kaycee Lee~

  10. *sigh* I've always wanted curly hair. :)

  11. Great post! I use the Curly Girl or "no poo" method for my curls. Naturallycurly.com has helped me A LOT, if it wasn't for that site I'd be totally lost. But ditching the shampoo has definitely been the best thing I've ever done for my hair. Ever since I went all conditioner it's been shiny, bouncy, curlier and full of life. Also, I love using coconut oil and Tropical Traditions' new hair oils. They're amazing. :)

  12. Oh no, now I so want curls. :P
    (Ok, maybe just for one week. Then I think I'd probably wanna go back to my hair.)

  13. I also have super curly hair. But I've straightened it because I seriously needed a new look. Besides, I think I look better with straight hair. :)

  14. I have curly hair just like yours only it's short (above my ears) Have you got any tips?

  15. Wow, thanks for this! My hair sounds really simular to yours, so this is really helpful. :)

  16. Alrighty, I'm so glad you did this post, because I have REALLY curly hair. I don't have any moisterizer or anything but after reading this post I want to get some :)
    I usually just comb it after a shower and towel dry. Later in the day if I think its tangled I'll brush it and BOOM! A million times worse.
    I'm so happy you made these tips! And I totally here you in the annoying section ;)

  17. Nice post! The pictures add a lot! =)

    Do you have any tips for girls who have fairly curly hair (actually, more like just a step above wavy) in the back of their head and stick straight hair at the very front? I have this naturally, and it is such a pain!

  18. I have curly hair as well and I found a great resource called The Curly Girl. It is a book all about curly hair. I usually just wash my hair with conitioner. it explain it in the book . Have fun with all those curls.

  19. Great photos! I have plain straight hair, but I like it. =D I actually don't care too much about my hair. Thanks for the post though!

  20. Thanks so much! This has helped a lot.
    For most of my childhood, I've had super straight hair. Until 6 months ago, that is. When I turned 14, it began to get curly. Not much at first, but more as time went on. At first it was a bit wavy, now it is completely curly. I haven't known what to do with it, so this has really helped.
    Do you have any idea why my hair suddenly changed? I wonder if it'll change back.

  21. Nice Post!!!

    I don't have curly hair *sighs* but I wish I did!!! I got a perm last year, and it was great!! But I'm actually growing my hair out, then I'm gonna get long layers, and I want big, soft curls. Anyways, it was a fun post to read! Have a great day!!!

  22. Oh! I forgot to mention, I usually only wash my hair every 2-3 days (otherwise the natural oils get stripped out too much, resulting in frizz). And to get 2nd-3rd day hair, I pineapple (loose ponytail on the top of your head). Gently scrunch with a little water and/or spray gel in the morning and all's good.

  23. My hair is about as curly as your but very thick. It is hard to manage but with a little [scratch that: a lot] of time invested it can look really stunning:)

    High five for curls!

  24. I have curly hair too, and I love it! But some days it's just ANNOYING! I never use shampoo, I only scrub hard with conditioner. I got this really good book from the library about how to take care of curly hair by a lady that professionally cuts curly hair (which I, but the way, would <3!). It's called "Curly Girl" by Lorraine Massey and Deborah Chiel and it's really helpful, just like your post was! Thanks!

  25. I agree with the few above: don't leave out the straight haired gals! In fact, I've deemed my hair uncurlable. As in, I got a perk that was supposed to last for four months and it lasted for two weeks. Sad, huh? And if I curl it with an iron, it falls out two hours later, no matter how much hairspray (for the record, I hate the stuff) I funk onto it. Ugh...
    --Love MCat

  26. Hey Olivia! I was browsing Etsy, and I found a shop full of things that seem really... you. Just thought I'd give you the link!


    *sigh* I wish I had curly hair sometimes. I have thick-ish straight-ish wavy-ish hair. My hair can't make up it's mind :P

  27. I meant perm, not perk, and gunk, not funk, in my last comment, by the way. I don't know what happened when I typed!
    --Love MCat

  28. Hmm, this was a lot of interesting tips. My hair is very wavy and very, very thick . . . it's normally really, really curly straight out of the shower so I'm thinking if I use your tips I could probably get it to be curly all the time. Hmm . . .

  29. Hello Olivia!

    I had a question. I have very thick, pretty long, straight hair. Sometimes it tends to look "flat." I am considering perming it, but I don't know if this is the right choice or not. I'm still contemplating it. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank you!

    Elizabeth Rose

  30. haha. I always wished that I either had straight or curly. Unfortunately, I have neither. I have this annoying kind of in the middle hair. So basically half scrunches and half poofs. Kind of odd. haha I love your pictures to go with it and you have GREAT hair.
    Tessa Brooke

  31. This post is a life-saver Olivia!

    My hair is usually straighter at the top of my head and I get waves in the middle and tiny ringlets at the ends. (It looks almost identical to your pictures in section 4, only my hairs somewhat wavier.)

    You convicted me... I let my hair dry in a ponytail today and I've got those wispies... Oh, dear.

    My question is this:
    What happens half-way through your day when your hair is tangled and starts to feel rough? I brush my hair right when I get out of the shower and then I let it air-dry. After that, I try not to brush my hair again, but, eventually, towards the end of the day, I am fed up with the knots, I brush it and then it's poofy for the rest of the day. I can't find the happy medium.
    I'm also only allowed to shower once every other day so, on the second day I need to brush my hair and it's not a pretty sight...

    Any suggestions?

  32. I've answered all your questions to the best of my ability... check the post. :)

  33. I'm thinking about getting a perm - do they damage your hair? and what is a "textured perm"?

    Thanks Olivia :)

  34. Okay, I have curly hair like yours. Is there any specific sort of comb I should use?

  35. I am very much the same! crazy ringlets as a toddler, straight/wavy as a preteen, and now my curls fall in curly ringlets cascading down my back. Sometimes I love them but sometimes I wish I had straight hair! Everybody is always playing with my curls and making them bounce back up! It's so funny! I only have one problem with my hair, if I sleep on my curls AT ALL i wake up and they look horrible!!! Any suggestions?

  36. My hair is stuck between curly and straight. Aka, frizzball of hair that looks decent on very rare occasions. Occasions when I don't need it to look nice and then it looks nasty whenever I need it to look half decent. I just got it layered a lot though and it's helped a ton. Your hair is amazing, FTR.


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