Sure, some hair techniques are universal. For example, no matter if your hair is straight, curly, wavy or coily, applying shampoo and conditioner is pretty much the same across the board. But when it comes to drying and styling our tresses, those of us with curly hair know there’s a whole lot of effort, planning and preparation that goes into getting bouncy, flawless spirals. No, we don’t just wake up like this (most days, at least).
One of the most popular drying techniques for curly hair is plopping. The name may be strange, but it really is like magic for wavy, curly and coily strands, and it works no matter what your hair's length, from short to long. If you’re not familiar with plopping or you just have no idea where to start, look no further. We tapped a curly hair expert to get the ins and outs of how to plop hair.
First, what is plopping?
Plopping is a drying method used to keep curls intact before or after styling curly hair, says Mia Emilio, senior stylist at Devachan Salon in New York City and member of DevaCurl’s Expert Curl Council. “Plopping uses a t-shirt or microfiber towel to keep curls defined while removing excess water from the hair before air-drying or diffusing.” Bonus: It’s also a great way to get sopping wet hair off of your neck and shoulders while you’re getting dressed or working around the house.
When is the best time to plop hair?
“I recommend plopping after product application,” Emilio says. But those with fine hair may want to plop before applying products to remove excess water that’s weighing the hair down. Like most things with curly hair, you’ll have to experiment to see what gives you the result you love most.
Okay, so how do you plop curly hair?
Wash and condition hair. The first step to proper plopping is the standard shampoo and conditioning session. Choose your favorite formulas and try leaving in a small amount of the conditioner, just enough for a smooth, slippery feel to the hair, Emilio suggests. This will add moisture and help act as a primer to your styling products.
Don't touch curls after showering. At this point, hair should feel extremely wet, but don’t start wringing the water out yet, she says. Instead, flip your head upside down and gently shake your head from side to side. This will get rid of excess water without manipulating your curls.
Grab your styling products. Dispense a blob of your favorite gel and/or leave-in into your hands and glide them over the curls, dispersing evenly. “Next, scrunch the ends up to your roots, squeezing out all that extra water at the same time,” Emilio advises. Then repeat this method with the rest of your styling products. At this point, you should start to see your spirals becoming really defined.
Plop hair with a microfiber towel or t-shirt. Use a short sleeve t-shirt or microfiber towel to squeeze out the extra water. “Then, pull the shirt or towel over the nape of your neck, criss cross it towards the front of your head and flip it up gently,” Emilio says. And viola! You’ve plopped your hair.
Leave hair plopped between 15 and 45 minutes, Emilio says. And yes, "some people even sleep with their hair plopped overnight,” she adds. It may require some trial and error to find out what works best for you. You’ll want to choose the timeframe that gives you bouncy, strong curls, not flat, smashed ones.
Pro tip: For best results, make sure to keep the plop loose enough that your curls aren’t crushed, but tight enough that it doesn’t fall off your head, she notes.
How often should I plop my hair?
The point of plopping is to speed up the drying process of the hair and to keep the curl shape as defined and frizz-free as possible. So it's totally fine to plop every time you wash and style your hair, hair pros agree.
Can I plop if I have straight hair?
In general, plopping only applies to curly hair, but Emilio says it’s similar in method to using a towel turban after getting out of the shower. The reason a t-shirt or microfiber towel is recommended for plopping instead of a terry-cloth towel is because traditional towels are too thick and rough on fragile curls. “They create too much friction which leads to frizz,” Emilio says. Our straight hair friends don’t have to worry too much about this, but if you’re looking to reduce frizz (and breakage), reach for an old tee instead.
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