No, I’m not a hair stylist.  Just someone who suffered for years because I had no idea what to do with my unruly hair. So I’m offering some thoughts for anyone out there with curly or wavy hair who feels the way I did.

I so wish I’d known these things when I was 5 instead of just beginning to learn them at 50! If I had, my hair would have looked like it does now—much like that of the girl in the picture on the left instead of the way it did

What I’ve learned:

1. Don’t try to make your curly hair “behave.” It’s being itself. Instead, figure out what it wants to and help it. And if you’re a parent who complains about your child’s hair not behaving, remember that children with the unruly hair will feel that you are blaming them, because it’s their hair. And they will feel both helpless and guilty. Instead, accept the challenge and love both the child and the hair!

2. Don’t assume that all curly hair is the same. There are different kinds. I used to think my hair was wavy, not curly. And looking at it, that makes sense. But I was wrong. It’s actually curly. And it’s always been curly. But it’s a more delicate kind of curly than some. And the way it was treated kept it in a kind of curly jail. Right now, I think I have Botticelli curls, although I’m not 100% sure. (See my previous post.)

3. Curly hair is actually very delicate and fine. It only looks thick because it twists into curls. Think soft wool. My mom, who had very fine, straight hair, always told me my hair was thick and heavy, and I believed her.

4. Only “comb” your hair when it’s wet and has conditioner on it. Otherwise, you might break it. And NEVER use a brush or a regular comb on curly hair. Ever. At most, use a wide-tooth pick or a really wide-tooth comb made for curly hair. But far better, use your fingers. Brushes and combs can break up the curls and even break the hairs. Oh, sigh. When I was young, I was told that my hair needed to be brushed 100 times every night. No. It. Didn’t.

5. Protect long hair at night. I used to leave it long and it was always getting pulled. Now, I gently gather my hair at the top of my head and wrap it loosely with a cloth-covered elastic. It no longer gets pulled while I’m sleeping, and because it doesn’t get flattened, it appears to have a lot more volume than it used to.

6. Curly hair needs moisture. Lots of moisture. I use a stray container, the kind you can get at the dollar store to spray your clothes for ironing or to keep your indoor plants happy. Every morning, I spray my hair all over with distilled water that has a few drops of lavender or another essential oil in it. While it’s wet, I scrunch it all over, in an upward motion. And this really helps keep my curls curly!

7. Curly hair, especially heavily processed or grey hair, loves safe oils like argan, olive or coconut oil. It doesn’t take much. In the morning, I’ll just squeeze a drop or two in the palm of one hand, then rub my palms together before scrunching my grey curls.

8. Don’t use a shampoo that includes sulfates. They’re way too harsh for hair. Unless you’ve been mud-wrestling, working out in a sweaty gym, or your baby just spit up in it, your hair isn’t likely all that dirty anyway. Uusally, it just sits there in the air. Sulphates basically make bubbles, but your scalp and hair don’t need bubbles.  Alcohol isn’t very good for your hair, either. Look for an organic cleanser. I use mostly DevaCurl products myself, but there are many others out there now. (Many more than there used to be!)

9. Don’t assume that your hair and your scalp are one entity. They’re actually quite different. So they don’t need identical care. When you wash your hair, first let the water flow  all over it. Then, put some gentle cleanser on your fingertips and rub your scalp until you’ve gently rubbed all of it. Then, as you stand under the shower to wash the cleanser off, it will trickle over your hair and clean it. If you feel you need to clean your hair, make sure you use a gentle product, and don’t rub it hard. Just gently smooth the cleaner or conditioner on it and then let the water remove it. (My mother used to wring the water out of my hair as if it were a wet towel. It’s not!)

10. Don’t use a conditioner with harsh ingredients, including silicone. Look for natural ingredients like olive oil, humectants such as vegetable glycerin, and moisturizers like aloe vera. If you do this, you don’t need to make sure all the conditioner is out of your hair. In fact, some conditioners are meant to be left in. The easiest way in the shower is to cup your hands a few times and splash the water on your hair instead of putting your whole head under the shower. When I first did that, it felt totally weird, but now I do it without any hesitation. I love the way my hair feels! So soft and fluffy.

11. Don’t rub your hair dry with a towel. Think about it. Hair is delicate. Instead, use a micro-fibre towel, an old cotton T-shirt, or another soft fabric, like a flannel receiving blanket. And instead of rubbing, gently scrunch your hair in an upward motion. I have a micro-fiber towel and I love it for wrapping up my wet hair as I get out of the shower and dry off. I put it on by leaning over and then kind of scrunching my hair up into it. And I don’t leave it on long. Maybe five minutes, just so the water isn’t dripping when I take it off.

13. Don’t use a blow dryer on curly hair. Let it air-dry. If you absolutely HAVE to dry it quickly, make sure you use a diffuser and keep it warm, not hot. I’ve been travelling and had to blow it dry because it was winter and I didn’t have a lot of time, so I leaned over and just scrunched up wtih the diffuser to get it mostly dry. That worked quite well.

11. When it isn’t dripping wet, add a small amount of styling gel without alcohol, silicone, parabens, or phthalates. Again, I use DevaCurl’s and I love it. But there are others. You might have to try a few before you find one that works for your hair.

14. Don’t straighten or relax curly hair. It’s just not good for it.

15. Cut curly hair when it’s dry, not wet. When it’s wet, you can’t see the curls as easily. Plus, because curly hair is shorter when it’s dry, and not every curl has ths same spring, when it’s wet, you can’t really tell what it will look like after drying.

16. Cut each curl individually, as a unit. And let the shape of your hair dictate how much you cut. And don’t thin, layer, or razor-cut curly hair. Doing any of these will mess up the curls and the shape of your hair.

17. A few strategically-placed hair clips in wet hair, can make a big difference if the hair on the top of your head is kind of flat. I’m still experimenting when them. I’ve also recently tried clipping up the curls so they aren’t weighed down while they’re drying. Haven’t quite figured out how to do that best.

18. This might be weird, but I recently realized that my hair is like a poodle’s fur. When a hair falls, it often gets held by the other hairs in the curl. And then it mats, just like our poodles’ fur did. Not sure if this is useful, but it sure makes sense to me.

And yes, most of this applies to guys, too!

Some of it (e.g. no sulphates) also applies to people with straight hair.

Where did I get most of this information? Mostly from the book, Curly Girl: The Handbook, by Lorraine Massey with Michele Bender. It comes with a DVD that helps in understanding some of the concepts. The before and after pictures are really interesting, too.

Some helpful websites:

Just google “curly girl” and you’ll find many more website with information and stories.

May 2, 2017

About the author 

N. J. Lindquist

N. J. Lindquist is the award-winning author of books, articles, short stories, and blog posts. She also edits and publishes the "Hot Apple Cider" anthologies. A former high school teacher, N. J. co-founded The Word Guild and teaches workshops for writers as well as speaking on various topics including creativity and leadership.

  • I have know I had curly since the beginning when I had a poodle cut. Over the years I tried everything to straighten it, except beauty parlor procedures. Mostly, I blow dried it and used a huge round brush. Everyone, except my best friend who also has curly hair, used to tell me how lucky I was. i finally found an analogy that shows what it is really like to have curly hair. Take a thousand or two of the tiniest fishing hooks you can find (about 1/4″) put them in a pile and then try to comb them! Friends have told me to “go with dreds”, but as a white woman I look silly, and I hate not being able to comb my hair. “Just wear it natural” like the author does. Problem: I loathe having a wet head, and it stays wet for at least 2 days. In other words it never dries. So, while the author has several excellent points, they do not fit all of us curly-headed gals.

    • I totally sympathize! My hair takes a while to dry too. When I’m in a hurry, I use a blow dryer with a diffuser and try to push up the curls so it stays curly. It usually works.

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