Curly hair: The ultimate guide

Got natural curls? We’ve got you covered. 

Every year, for the past eight years, I’ve had my hair chemically straightened. Turned off by hour-long stints with my straightener and hair that frizzed up anytime it touched water, I turned to Japanese hair straightening

It changed by life.

But over the past few months I’ve started thinking differently about my curls. For one thing, the harsh chemicals used to straighten them definitely aren’t healthy, but I’ve also noticed more women with ineffably chic curls roaming the streets and in the media. Gals like Zendaya, Willow Smith and Solange Knowles have been rocking their natural curls like nobody’s business, and they’ve inspired me to rock mine. 

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“Frizz is no longer an impossible challenge to face - there are very easy ways of managing frizz and controlling style to create beautiful curls,” says Jonathan Torch, owner of The Curly Hair Institute and inventor of Curly Hair Solutions.

To better understand the inner workings of curly hair, I reached out to Torch to get the scoop on all things curly. 

Here’s what I learned:

Fight the frizz

For most people, the most daunting thing about curly hair is the frizz, which Torch informed me is the result of open cuticles. 

“The best way to stop frizz is to dry the hair cuticles into a closed position.” 

He suggests using water-soluble ingredients and products that imitate the way water works and reactivate when exposed to high humidity.

Curl Keeper Original duplicates water’s ability to penetrate the hair using lightweight ingredients that style the hair and close the hair cuticle, and with no greasy film that builds up on the hair.” 


Must-have curly products

Torch warns to stay away from products that contain ingredients like silicones, heavy oils, waxes, and vaselines as they create a heavy water barrier that kills the curl. Since your hair depends on moisture, it’s essential to use products that work with the moisture in your hair and in the air, and that don’t try to repel it.

ALSO SEE: This is why you might want to consider conditioning before you shampoo

“It is very common that people learn how to ‘cocktail’ several products together to solve personal frizz issues,” he says. “You can use leave-in conditioner for extra moisture, a pinch of gel, or styling cream if your hair requires a stronger hold.” 

Washing and the “no-poo” approach

Curly hair doesn’t need to be washed as much as straight hair since it doesn’t get greasy or absorb oil as quickly. Torch recommends only doing a full shampoo once or twice a week to keep your curls healthy and clean.

“The no-poo movement came from companies promoting that hair should feel ‘squeaky clean’  but these heavy formulas are disasters for curly hair,” Torch explains. 

The problem is that many shampoos have been formulated for straight hair, which needs harsher cleaning agents. Curlies noticed that the longer they refrained from using shampoos, the more natural oils built up in the hair, and the easier it was to control.

Shampoos with very low pH balances (4.5 to 5.0) are key to controlling curls since they are weak, which makes them safe for cleaning dirt from the hair without stripping natural oils. And don’t forget to wash your scalp as well, to help stave off infections.

DevaCare No-poo (photo: DevaCare)

Tool time

Brushes with nylon and flexible bristles work best for curly hair. Torch explains that since they work through the hair easily they wont rip into a tangle or pull the hair out.

For heat tools, it’s best to keep away or make sure the temperature is turned down and that you keep it moving the whole time.

ALSO SEE: The right way to blow-dry your hair

“If you are straightening or styling your hair with a heat-based appliance, you should use a heat protector product on your hair before you start to style – something that will protect your hair from being burned,” Torch advises. 

Curl maintenance

Salon visits depend on hair type and style. 

“You don’t have to cut your curly hair in order to keep it healthy, so in many ways, how often you come in becomes about style maintenance rather than about the health of the hair itself.”

Understanding and working with your hair is the key to rocking a head of curls.

“Curly hair is not your enemy or adversary. The best and easiest way to style and work with your curls is learning to embrace them, and not to force your hair to be something it’s not.”

With this in mind, I’ve decided to let my curls fly free for the first time in almost a decade. Sure, I’m nervous about the grow out, and I haven’t had to worry about frizz since I was in high school, but I’ve never felt more encouraged to embrace my natural curls. And if the world around me is any indication, a lot of people feel the same way.