How to Style Curly Hair: 15 Best Tricks, Products, and Hacks
If you’ve got curly hair, you already know how freaking ~moody~ it is. You can kiss it and hug it and load it with all of the best creams, gels, and conditioners, and yet it can still poof out, frizz up, deflate, or look like you’ve neglected it for the last five years (is this what having kids feels like?).
And though you’ve probably got a good handle on what your curls and coils do and don’t like, that doesn’t mean you can’t play around with a few new tricks to live your best curl life. Which is where we come in. We rounded up the 15 tips, hacks, and products you really, truly need to know (or, realistically, be reminded of, because you keep ignoring them). Give ’em a skim, learn something, and get ready for really, really excellent hair.
1. How to Detangle Curly Hair
The Trick: Use a curl-specific detangling brush
In the most ideal of worlds, you wouldn’t detangle your curly hair when it’s wet. Why? Because hair—especially fine or damaged hair—is extra fragile when it’s wet, leading to breakage, split ends, and even more tangles. Instead, before hopping in the shower, gently brush through your dry curls with a detangling brush specifically meant for your coils (they usually have longer teeth at varied lengths).
While in the shower (or after towel-drying your hair and adding your curl products), gently detangle your wet hair again with a wide-tooth comb to distribute the products without breaking up your curl pattern.
2. How to Prevent Breakage on Curly Hair
The Trick: Brush from the bottom like you know you should.
No, this isn’t exactly a secret, but I’m willing to bet you never actually follow the rules, so, hey, I’m repeating it again. And again. Don’t start brushing your hair from your roots, or even from the middle of your hair, or you’re basically begging for breakage and split ends.
Each time you start brushing from your roots, you push tiny knots lower and lower, until you create a big ol’ snarled mess. Instead, brush from the ends, gradually and gently moving upward. Your curls will thank you.
3. How to Deep-Condition Curly Hair
The Trick: Apply your conditioner to dry hair, not wet.
It sounds insane, but the key to keeping your curls really, really moisturized is to use your deep conditioner on dry hair to help maximize its potency. “You don’t want your conditioner to compete with water for space in your hair cuticle,” says Mona Gohara, M.D., dermatologist at Yale University.
Basically, if your strands are already saturated with water, they won’t be able to absorb as much conditioner. So before stepping into the shower, rake giant blobs of deep conditioner through your hair, twist and clip it up, slide on a shower cap, and wait 20 mins. Then, hop in the shower, wash your body, do your shaving (if you’re into that), and let the steam from the shower help the conditioner penetrate your strands. Finish by washing your hair as usual.
4. How to Wash Curly Hair Without Stripping It
The Trick: Make your own cleansing conditioner
An annoying thing about curly-hair products: They’re often way too heavy for anyone with fine curls. But, on the flip side, most “regular” shampoos are often too drying. So instead of playing a game of risk, try making your own cleansing conditioner that will gently cleanse your scalp while moisturizing your curls.
Just mix a squeeze of sulfate-free shampoo with a few squeezes of your favorite conditioner in the palm of your hand, then massage it into your roots before rinsing. Make sure to still use a conditioner on your ends for max moisture.
The Trick: Skip the shampoo and co-wash, instead
If you have extra-dry curls (or if you have type-4 hair), skip the shampoo completely and try co-washing—i.e. washing your hair with only conditioner or a specific co-wash formula. Co-wash your curls once a week, or as often as needed, to keep your hair moisturized without it drying out.
6. How to Keep Curls Clumped and Defined
The Trick: Comb your curls when they’re sopping wet.
Instead of combing your hair after you’ve dried it and applied all of your products, do your whole curl routine on sopping-wet hair while you’re still in the shower. Why? Because you want to encourage your curls to clump together and dry in their natural pattern, which can’t happen if you comb through them when they’re partially dry and already starting to clump.
7. How to Prevent Frizz on Curly Hair
The Trick: Plop your curls with a T-shirt.
If you’ve never plopped your curls, I feel like you’ve never experienced really, really, really good hair. Because plopping—i.e. a technique that uses a T-shirt to dry your curls in a self-contained mound on top of your head to help them stay springy and defined—is the key to smooth, defined, frizz-free curls, while your regular terry-cloth towel is the enemy (its nubby, rough texture causes frizz, while the twisting motion ruins your curl pattern). Convinced? Check out this tutorial on plopping and give it a try.
8. How to Wear Curly Hair Overnight
The Trick: Pineapple your curls.
If you’ve got natural curls, you’ve probably heard of—and even tried—pineappling. But if not, hey, this is your life-changing day. Pineappling works on any curl type, from 3a to 4c, and is an easy way to preserve your curls while you sleep, so they don’t get pulled out or fuzzed up overnight. And, thankfully, it’s easy. Before bed, just flip your head over, gather your curls on the top of your head, and tie them once (or twice, max) with a scrunchie, letting your hair spill forward.
9. How to Get Defined, Bouncy, Perfect Curls
The Trick: Cocktail your own curl cream.
If you can’t find a curl cream that works for your curl type, try making your own using a leave-in and a curl gel. Mix a squeeze of your favorite leave-in conditioner (for hydration) with a squeeze of lightweight gel (for definition), then rake it through your damp, plopped hair, drying it as usual.
10. How to Deep-Condition Curly Hair
The Trick: Slather your curls with coconut oil.
Not exactly ground-breaking, but if you’ve never actually tried putting some coconut oil on your curls…welp, here we are with your new hair trick. Before showering, scoop and rake a palmful of coconut oil through your dry (yup, dry) hair until it’s fully saturated, then twist and clip it into a bun for 30-45 minutes.
To make it even more moisturizing, diffuse your clipped-up hair on low heat for a few minutes to help the oil penetrate your strands better (or microwave a heating cap and slip it over your oil-saturated hair until it gets cold). Wash and condition your hair as usual, then live your life.
Important note: Coconut oil is heavy. And that’s a good thing—if you have coarse, thick hair. But if you have fine curls, you might find a coconut-oil mask is too heavy for your hair (it’ll leave behind a bit of a residue even after you shower), so play around with this trick on a day where you’re not, you know, walking the red carpet.
The Trick: Soften the crunch with a dab of oil.
Ah, yes, the crunch—happens to the best of us, especially if your goal is defined curls. If you wake up with crunchy, ramen-looking sections, rub a bit of hair oil between your fingers and smooth it over the stiff pieces to break down the mousse/gel and give them bounce again.
12. How to Style 2nd-Day Curls
The Trick: Make your own curl-refreshing spray.
If second-day hair seems relegated only to beauty vloggers and fairytales, please meet your new not-at-all-secret weapon: a DIY curl refresher. Though you can cocktail a ton of moisturizing and defining ingredients and play around with the recipe, start with the most basic mix of one-part warm water and one-part leave-in conditioner. Shake it all up in a spray bottle and mist it over your dry hair until it’s almost damp,then style as usual. If your curls end up drying too fluffy, add a squeeze of gel in with your concoction, re-shake, and re-mist.
13. How to Prevent Frizzy Hair While You Sleep
The Trick: Sleep on a silk pillowcase.
Hey, nothing wrong with frizz—it’s a natural part of curly life. But when that overnight frizz leads to tangles and breakage in the morning, we’ve got a problem. If sleeping in a silk/satin bonnet isn’t your thing, try swapping your cotton pillowcase for a satin or silk pillowcase instead. It sounds ~extra~, but your curls can stuck and knotted on the rougher surface of a cotton case, yet will slip and slide over silk/satin. The result: Smoother, shinier, less-tangled and frizzed-out hair in the morning.
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