Tangles, frizz, dryness… Desperation!
It's amazing how bad hair can put us practically in tears, isn't it?
I've been there, just hating my hair and the misery of dealing with washing, tangles, tearing, static, frizz… Yuck!
I even told my husband not too long ago that I now know why women cut their hair off when they get older.
Thankfully, my hair has recovered and I'm not chopping it off!
…it only took one night, one shower, one particular method of cleansing/conditioning my hair for its condition to change OVERNIGHT. For the better!
And in the past month, since that one night, I've learned and incorporated more tips and tricks just for curly hair… and my hair continues to get healthier, shinier, curlier, and less frizzy.
My life (and my hair) is forever changed… for the better! And my daughter Haniya can say the same thing.
So… on today's #AskWardee, I am sharing my definitive guide on how to care for curly hair naturally… including which products to use and how to get it cut!
It made a huge difference for me — and I know it will for you, too!
The Question: The Best Way To Care For Curly Hair Naturally!
Mary B. asked:
Could you tell me what you use in your hair and what you tell your hair stylist when they cut your hair? My hair is about the same curliness and length and I love the way yours is cut and styled!
Mary actually asked this question about 4 years ago. Can you believe it!?
My hair wasn't in bad shape then — even though I wasn't doing everything I'm doing today. It just goes to show that if you don't have issues (like dry climate, hormonal imbalances, and aging) going on, your hair has more resilience.
However, this past year or two I found myself with a tangled, dry, unhealthy, frizzy mess. Due to climate and hormone changes and age catching up with me, I'm guessing.
In desperation, I started looking for more answers and here's what I found…
Thank you to all my email and Instagram friends for the tips and encouragement! You all mean the world to me!
By The Way…
…In past podcasts, I have talked about how I care for my hair. While some of it was correct, now I know so much more. Please use this guide that you're reading right now as my final word on the subject. Take all my past discussions with a grain of salt, because they pale in comparison to what I know now.
And even though I will continue to tweak, I doubt I will change much from here on out.
Because I can say with 100% confidence — I am there!
What You Need To Identify Up Front
Although there is an overall right method to care for curly hair — which involves knowing it has a tendency to dryness and frizz and using products that help you retain moisture as much as possible — even within curly hair you'll find different types.
If you have curly hair, you must identify two things about your hair up front — its porosity and its curl type.
Knowing these two things will make the WORLD of difference when choosing products and tweaking the general routine to work best for you.
Well, if you've ever read a glowing review for a hair product, only to try it yourself and hate it… then you know what's going on here.
That reviewer's hair was different than yours. The product isn't necessarily bad. It's that it didn't work for you.
Wouldn't you rather know ahead of time what kind of hair you have so you can identify from the get-go which products are more likely to work for you?
The bottom line is, you'll have less chance of wasting money on products that don't work. (Notice I said less chance; it's not a guarantee but it will shorten the trial period considerably.)
Porosity refers to how porous your individual hairs are. They are either low (closed cuticles or low absorbency), medium, or high (open cuticles or highly absorbent). The photo above illustrates this.
A Wikipedia summary states:
Low hair porosity is when the hair cuticles are tightly shut. Low porosity hair has difficulty obtaining moisture but once moisture is absorbed it will remain moisturized. This porosity type is common with hair that has suffered little to no damage (either from heat styling tools or from chemicals) and thus it is the preferred porosity level.
Medium porosity hair is when the hair cuticles are loose, allowing moisture to be easily absorbed and retained.
High porosity is when there are gaps in the hair cuticles which allows the hair to easily absorb the moisture but also easily lose the moisture just as easily as it was absorbed. These gaps are caused by long term damage to the hair from things like over-manipulation, heat damage and chemical damage from hair dyes and relaxers. (Source.)
Picture a pine cone. The cuticles of the hair are like the scales. If the cone is young, the scales are tight to the cone. This is like low porosity hair (tight cuticles). On the other extreme, if the scales are opened quite up, like a more mature cone that's releasing seeds, you could say this is more like high porosity hair's cuticles (open cuticles).
How To Identify YOUR Hair's Porosity
You might be able to identify if your hair tends toward low or high porosity with this quick list of “symptoms”:
- low porosity — shiny hair; takes a long time to dry; easily susceptible to product build-up
- high porosity — dries quickly; extra prone to frizz and dryness
(Medium is in the middle of these extremes.)
If this doesn't help, there are several “tests” to help you discover your hair's porosity, although it seems like none is foolproof.
The best one I have found, which is a bit subjective, is to take a strand of hair and put it between two fingers at the end of the strand. Now run your fingers back to your scalp.
Does the hair feel smooth, somewhat bumpy, or really bumpy? Smooth is low porosity, somewhat bumpy is medium porosity, and really bumpy/coarse is high porosity.
It's helpful to compare multiple people's hair at the same time! We did mine, Naomi's, and then Haniya's in a short span of time. We found that my hair is low porosity, Haniya's is medium porosity, and Naomi has areas of medium and high porosity.
Share in the comments what your porosity is and why you think so! Also, keep in mind that you can have different areas of your hair with different porosity levels!
Why Does Porosity Matter?
Low porosity hair needs lighter, protein-free and humectant-rich products that 1) won't sit on the hair, building up and causing it to look or feel greasy and 2) will draw moisture to the hair, especially in humid climates.
On the other extreme, high porosity hair needs more deeply moisturizing protein-rich products that add structure and shine to the hair, as well oils and butters to seal the hair to prevent moisture from escaping.
What's Your Curl Type?
One day I was browsing Shea Moisture hair products (they're for curly hair and non-toxic) and reading the comments, I noticed people asking questions like: “My daughter has 4b curls. Will this work for her?”
Or reviewers writing things like: “This product works great on my 3c curls!”
First, porosity? Now, 4b and 3c curls??? What is going on? What planet am I on? I thought.
So I did an internet search for curl type… and found out that I had indeed entered a new world.
You see, on Curl Planet, you have categories of curls called 2, 3, and 4; 2 is wavy, 3 is curly, and 4 is kinky.
And within those, you have degrees of curl, from lighter to stronger— 2a, 2b, 2c; 3a, 3b, 3c; and 4a, 4b, 4c.
My hair is a combination of 3a and 3b curls. My daughter Haniya has a combination of 2b/c waves and 3a curls. Finally, my younger daughter Naomi has 2a waves.
Another Way To Identify Your Curl Type…
In the book “The Curly Girl Handbook” (which I'll talk about in a bit), the author Lorraine Massey suggests other names for curl types such as fractal, zigzag, corkscrew, corkicelli, cherub, botticelli, wavy, and s'wavy. They're fun to explore, too. 🙂
My curls are a combination of botticelli and corkicelli.
Anyway, now that you know your hair porosity and curl type, we can move on…
How To Wash And Condition Curly Hair
Much of the following method comes from what I learned in “The Curly Girl Handbook” (pictured above).
The day I read this book, I washed my hair using the “method” that night. I didn't do anything else, not even switch products, although I did skip the shampoo that night.
My hair was immediately different: not tangled, not too frizzy, softer.
The differences were so big, in fact, that I realized it was pretty healthy, I just hadn't been treating it right. (I had thought it was damaged beyond repair… that's how bad things seemed.)
I wish I'd known of the damage I was doing to my hair by not washing/conditioning properly!
Although you need to read “The Curly Girl Handbook” for yourself, here are a few principles from the book to get you going now.
Please note: You will find when you read the book “The Curly Girl Handbook” that there are slightly different ways of doing all the these steps to best enhance your curl type, plus there's trial and error… also known as “figure out what works best for you”. And… be sure to use the right products for your porosity! I'll talk about products in a bit.
#1 — Throw Out Your Shampoo!
You either need no shampoo at all or a detergent-free, sulfate-free, non-toxic shampoo used less frequently. Regular shampoo is wayyyyy too drying, and causes tangles and tearing and frizz and pain.
Because I have low porosity hair that is susceptible to build-up, I wash more often than someone with high porosity hair… see how this comes into play?
The right shampoo will NOT tangle your hair.
On days that you skip the shampoo, massaging the conditioner into your scalp like described below will provide ample cleansing.
#2 — Always Condition Your Hair
Curly hair is drier hair and needs conditioning! Carefully work a non-toxic botanical conditioner through your hair by massaging gently and using your fingers to detangle and comb your hair. Leave it in for a few minutes or the duration of your shower while you wash the rest of your body and shave, etc. If you have medium or high porosity hair, you can leave some or all of the conditioner in without rinsing it out. (Low porosity hair that's sensitive to build-up should have conditioner rinsed out.)
You can also use a deep conditioner in place of regular conditioner, and leave it on for the duration of the shower or even overnight. Doing this weekly or so is good for most hair.
#3 — Ditch The Bath Towel
Instead of a terry cloth bath towel, which is excessively drying and causes frizz, use a 100% cotton t-shirt or microfiber towel to scrunch dry your hair while your head is tipped upside down. Even better to do this before getting out of the shower.
The first night I tried the Curly Girl method, I used a t-shirt. Then I ordered this microfiber towel.
#4 — No Combs Or Brushes, Or Heat Tools!
Regular combs and brushes not only introduce frizz, they damage hair and make it break more easily. If you're using the right products, your hair will not be tangled. Although, if you like, you can use a wide-tooth detangling comb, very gently, in the shower when applying conditioner.
Also don't use heat tools such as blow dryers (except on low or medium with a diffuser; see below), straighteners, curling irons, etc. These cause so much damage! Plus, they are just not necessary — let your natural waves or curl go free!
#5 — Apply Styling Products While Hair Is Wet
Apply your styling products (appropriate for your porosity), such as leave-in conditioners, styling milks/creams, and/or gels, while hair is still wet. If your hair is low porosity, add the products after hair is scrunch-dried with a t-shirt or microfiber towel. If your hair is high porosity, add the products while hair is sopping wet, then scrunch-dry the excess. I learned from my stylist to do all of this in the shower! She also said to use the products in the order listed above (whichever ones you use). It's pretty cool to come out of the shower with your hair “done” — if you're air-drying it, that is. 🙂
#6 — Don't Touch Your Hair Until It's Dry
Once you're done adding products, don't touch your hair until it's dry. This keeps down the frizz. If you use a diffuser to speed up the drying, see below under Tools for how to do it to minimize frizz.
#7 — Break The Cast
I think this is what it's called! After your hair is dry, tip it upside down and gently shake out the curls with your fingers. This will break any gel cast and leave the curls soft and defined and fluffy. It really does work! If using, you could set the curls with a hair spray at this point. Although I'm going to be testing some lighter-weight hair sprays, I don't usually use it because I hate build-up on my hair.
Now… Which Products Are Best?
As you might know, I have high standards for which products I use on my body as well as which foods I eat. Toxic body products are a HUGE issue in hormone disruption, skin irritation, allergies, cancer, inflammation, chronic illness, and many other modern-day diseases.
(This is one reason I only use and recommend Beautycounter skin care and makeup… they have a list of 1500+ toxic ingredients they will NEVER use in their products. I completely trust their safety.)
For the time being we're very happy with Shea Moisture hair products. It's hit or miss finding the different products on EWG.org's Skin Deep Database, so I've been entering the products' ingredient lists manually. So far, the products we use are rated 2 or 3 (out of 10; the lower number, the better). Three is as high as I will consider, so that's good.
I use Shea Moisture's shampoo and conditioner line for low porosity: Low Porosity Protein-Free with Baobab and Tea Tree Oils.
My daughter Naomi uses their line for high porosity: High Porosity Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils.
They also have a whole bunch of other lines that work for medium porosity hair, once of which Haniya is currently using: Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine line. I'm trying out the styling milk from this line since my line (low porosity) has no styling products. 🙂
I think I will always use the light-weight and amazing Morrocco Method Blood Of The Dragon Styling Gel. All these years I declared I could only use a light-weight gel because otherwise I hated how stiff and heavy my hair becomes with heavier products. Well, now I know why. It's because my hair is low porosity and sensitive to build-up! This gel is PERFECT for me. Haniya uses it now, too!
Also… water. Water in a spray bottle, with a little lavender essential oil à la Lorraine Massey, author of “The Curly Girl Handbook”, does wonders for resetting curls on in-between days! (My glass spray bottle, pictured, is from Grove, and you can get a free one when you become a new subscriber to their pantry service. More info is here.)
I know a lot of people use DevaCurl products. Although we've tried them and feel they work great, they don't get the same safety ratings as the Shea Moisture products. Plus they're more expensive. So, we're going with Shea Moisture.
Tools & Equipment
Oh, yes, there are more things to look into for your curly hair journey!
#1 — Microfiber Towel
Mentioned above, a microfiber towel is far superior to a terry cloth towel for drying your hair. Terry cloth introduces frizz and strips too much moisture from curly hair. I have this this microfiber towel (suitable for long hair) and I stopped using a regular bath towel entirely. I use the microfiber for my hair and body. Remember to scrunch dry your hair (even with head upside down). You can also use a 100% cotton t-shirt! Just no terry cloth!
#2 — Silk Pillowcase
Did you know that what kind of pillowcase you sleep on matters? Yes! Because normal pillowcases, like cotton and cotton blends, cause itching, frizz, and tearing. On the other hand, silk or satin are smooth, cool, and don't irritate or encourage frizz. I purchased this silk pillowcase right after learning this and the difference is astounding. Not only does my hair not itch me at night anymore, I don't wake up a frizz ball. It's quite amazing.
Diffusing Haniya's hair so it would be completely dry for the photos we took for this post!
These pictures show how to gather up the hair in the diffuser as I explain below.
#3 — Diffuser
I used to use a diffuser in high school and college and gave it up because of the time involved. Well, I just purchased another to go on the end of my hair dryer (this is the diffuser I got) and I'm really enjoying using it on most days when I wash my hair. I love the extra body and curliness. Plus, with my low porosity hair, this means my hair is nearly dry in 20 minutes instead of 5 to 6 hours!
I learned from our stylist, Haley, how to do it.
You use low or medium heat, plus low or medium air flow. You gently enclose a section of your hair in the diffuser and roll it up in the diffuser, bringing it all up close to the scalp (see photo, above). Just hold it there for a good 10 to 15 seconds before doing another section.
Minimally touch as you diffuse. There's no need for scrunching while drying because that just introduces frizz. Haley also said to diffuse only until your hair is 80% dry (to keep the frizz down).
I usually watch a video on my iPad or read a book while I'm diffusing my hair. It's restful and when I trouble myself to do it, I like the results.
A photo from this morning when I “clipped my roots” before and during diffusing for extra body on top of my hair.
You put these double prong hair clips in small sections of hair along both sides of the crown of your hair to lift your roots and add body there (instead of the top of your hair being flat). It's called “clipping roots”. This is so new to me that I'm not sure how to describe how to do it, but I can say I really like the effect. I use about 6 to 8 total in my damp hair along both sides of the crown and leave in for about half of the time I'm diffusing. (See photo above for placement.)
At the beginning of diffusing, I just hold the diffuser about the top for a few minutes to simulate being in a hooded dryer. Then I diffuse the rest of my hair, stopping at about halfway dry to remove the clips and then dry the rest.
Tip: You can achieve body on top of your head without clips by diffusing with your hair upside down for at least the first bit!
Shared with me by a friend on Instagram! I love these hair ties! No damage, no tearing, doesn't leave creases in your hair, and easy to get on and off. If you put your hair up in a pineapple at night, they work perfectly.
What's a pineapple? It's when you do a pony tail on top of your head. Although women wear them at other times of day, at night, this protects your curls from being crushed or frizzed up during sleeping. 🙂
If you must comb, do it only with this type of wide-tooth detangling comb. I was (and still am) shocked at how changing the products and method of washing/conditioning my hair has meant I no longer need to comb at all. This is what I doubted the most, because tangles were a daily headache.
My “before” and “after” photos from the day I got my first DevaCut!
Which Hair Cut Is Best
You knew I was going to go there, right? If we've talked about everything else and the right way to do it, there's got to be a RIGHT way to cut curly hair.
And there is!
I confess, this was a revelation to me as well. I heard about it from Vicki B., who replied to one of my emails and told me about the thing called a “DevaCut”.
DevaCut??? A haircut just for curlies???
Yes! These stylists are trained in the BEST way to cut (and style) curly hair. They cut your hair when it's dry and they cut it to best enhance your curls, whether a long or short hair cut. Generally, though, layers is the answer.
(Layers is another thing I have instinctively known since I was a teenager. With the exception of one time I got my hair cut as short as a boy's, I have always known that “long layers” was best for my hair.)
I will warn you, though… I called two certified stylists who told me they were full and couldn't take on any more clients. There is a big shortage apparently! (Business opportunity!!!)
Yet one of them recommended her friend Haley from Nancy Jane Salon in Meridian, Idaho. (She's pictured above.) Both Haniya and I got our cuts from Haley and we were really happy!
Even better, at our appointments, which were our first of the kind, Haley gave us the whole DevaCurl education — how to wash, condition, add products, and style hair. We learned so much and had so much fun!
What Happens During A DevaCut?
Here's what to expect during your first DevaCut!
- talk about what you want
- do the basic cut with your hair dry
- wash, condition, apply products (while learning how to do it yourself)
- “clip your roots” (see above in tools)
- sit under the dryer for 5 minutes to dry roots a bit
- remove clips
- diffuse hair
- cut a bit more to feature your curls
- leave oh-so-happy with bouncy, natural curls!
It takes about an hour and it's so fun!
If you're interested, DevaCurl has a directory of DevaCut trained stylists/salons right here.
I thought I would end with a quick section on my biggest surprises through this journey… things I never expected to happen as a result of getting my hair care right.
First, my grey doesn't stand out as much any more. When my hair was looking really bad, dry, flat, and frizzy, those wiry grey hairs stuck out all over the place. You could see them a mile away. When my hair is soft, shiny, curly, and moisturized, the grey hairs blend in a lot better. That is a surprise I didn't expect at all!
Second, I thought my hair was in really bad shape. I thought it was unhealthy and might take months to restore. Yet when I started treating it right, it literally only took one washing/conditioning to turn it around almost completely. So it really wasn't as bad as I thought!
Third, my hair doesn't itch me any more. Who would have thought!? It doesn't itch on the pillow, it doesn't itch my neck, it just plain doesn't itch. Wow, total surprise.
And fourth (though I could probably keep going)… I'm not dribbling hair all over the place any more. I still lose my 100 strands a day (which is average) but because my hair is staying curly, mostly they aren't falling out. They're getting hung up in the curls. So I collect them in the shower instead. The floors are staying cleaner. Again, who would have thought???
Haniya has two surprises to share, too. She used to hate using gel or anything because it made her hair feel greasy. Yet when switching to these methods, she is now LOVING gel and her hair doesn't feel greasy, it feels soft! She says she had to change her perspective so that “clean hair” feels saturated and velvety in the shower instead of stripped and squeaky. It’s a nice change and she's thankful!
She was also surprised by how easy it all is. It was a little daunting at first to incorporate all these new steps but in the end, it made things easier. No more brushing, for one thing! She has simplified her routine. All it takes is a quick shampoo, conditioner, scrunching her curls, and gel about twice a week. For the sake of time, she doesn’t often diffuse or clip and her hair still turns out fantastic! So for any busy moms out there, it’s possible for you, too!
I think that's it!
Except plopping! LOL I never got to that! Actually, I have yet to try it… so I'll leave that to talk about in the future. 🙂
What do you think? Will you try any of these tips or the method for your curly hair? I do HIGHLY recommend you buy “The Curly Girl Handbook” to get the whole scoop!
- FREE: 9 Natural Remedies For Common Female Infections
- Shea Moisture hair products
- Wikipedia article on porosity
- Pictures and descriptions of curl types
- “The Curly Girl Handbook” book
- Microfiber towel
- Beautycounter safe and non-toxic skin care and makeup
- Low Porosity Protein-Free with Baobab and Tea Tree Oils (Shea Moisture products)
- High Porosity Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils (Shea Moisture products)
- Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine (Shea Moisture products)
- Morrocco Method Blood Of The Dragon Styling Gel
- Free glass spray bottle from Grove
- DevaCut trained stylists/salons directory
- Silk pillowcase
- Hair dryer
- Diffuser attachment
- Double prong hair clips
- Telephone wire hair ties
- Wide-tooth detangling comb
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If you have curly hair, please share your tips in the comments! And if you learn any surprising benefits from improving your curly hair care, share those, too!
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