Curly hair is a challenge that comes with frizz, dryness, tangles, split ends, and a plethora of other issues. It’s tempting to give up and use a straightener to “tame” the tangles. But after much trial and error, I came to love my naturally curly hair. With the right products and the right hair care routine, I was rewarded with more curls, major shine, and limited frizz. Here’s how I care for and nourish my naturally curly hair.
Editor's Note: This gorgeous girl is my niece, Sofia Quasem. As someone with super fine, stick-straight hair, I am so jealous of her beautiful curls! She has mastered her haircare routine so I asked her to share her secrets. Read on for her DIY hacks and recommendations for the best curl-friendly products.
My Curly Hair Washing Schedule
Natural oils take longer to penetrate curly hair. So to avoid stripping your hair of its natural protection, curly girls need to wash their hair less often and incorporate a more intensive hair care routine for when they do. Here’s my routine:
Go at least 2-3 days between hair washes. You can even stretch this out longer, depending on personal preference.
Surviving Non-Wash Days
Spritz a simple curl refresher spray
In between washes, you can use a curl revitalizer or just water to refresh your hair. To start, use a spray bottle filled with plain water (or include a few drops of leave-in conditioner or hair oil), then begin misting your hair.
Once your hair is damp, begin to scrunch your hair until the curls start to reform. This is a quick way to revive your hair, without the full routine.
Use a comb or pick
Using a wide-tooth comb or a hair pick is a quick way to perk up your hair, reduce frizz, and retain your curls daily, as the gaps between the teeth of the brush are perfect for gently detangling and preserving your hair volume and pattern.
It’s best to avoid using a hairbrush, as it both brushes through your natural curl pattern, creates frizz, and distributes the natural oil in your hair unevenly.
Find a lightweight hair oil
Using lightweight hair oil can also add shine to your hair throughout the week; argan, jojoba, and coconut oil are all great options for your hair. I use jojoba oil and focus more on hair hydration throughout the week. The Jojoba Oil from Cliganic is an affordable go-to of mine!
It is okay to adjust your routine and time between washes. Experimenting with different ways to protect and care for your hair is the key to figuring out what works best for you, your hair, and your schedule.
How To Wash Curly Hair
Finding the perfect washing routine and products for your hair takes time. It’s not a one-size-fits-all formula.
Often, it is best to lean towards shampoos and conditioners designed specifically for curly hair, with a focus on deep conditioning and hydration. Here are the steps I follow:
Use sulfate-free shampoo
First, I wet my hair and apply a sulfate-free shampoo. I’ve found that sulfates are often drying and harsh on my curls, so I turned to products such as the DevaCurl No-Poo shampoo, specifically formulated to cleanse without stripping away necessary oils.
Focus on the scalp
I massage the shampoo into my scalp to remove buildup. I try to avoid spreading the shampoo to the ends of my hair, as this can cause tangling and frizz.
Be generous with conditioner—on your ends
Once the shampoo is massaged and rinsed out, I apply a generous amount of conditioner to the ends and middle of my hair, as those sections tend to be drier for curly hair. I also use the DevaCurl One Conditioner, perfect for restoring hydration to dry curls.
I keep a wide-tooth comb in the shower to disperse the product evenly (but using your fingers would also work).
Then, patience. A big part of this routine is allowing the conditioner to sit in your hair, giving it time to sink into the curls and fully nourish them.
I give it at least five minutes to work its magic, then carefully detangle and rinse with lukewarm water. Hot water is drying on the scalp, while lukewarm water is gentler, and allows for easier moisture penetration.
Post-Wash Curly Hair Routine
The steps directly after washing are the make-or-break for how your curls will set and dry. So this routine is just as important as how you wash!
Especially because hair is most sensitive to damage when wet. Here’s how I take special care of my curls after washing:
Scrunch your curls
I use microfiber towels or non-coarse T-shirts to dry and ‘scrunch’ my curls. This helps prevent frizz or breakage directly after showering.
Use leave-in conditioner
I use a lightweight leave-in conditioner to bring out the curls. A good leave-in conditioner will provide extra moisture without weighing down your natural curls. I use the Mielle Pomegranate & Honey Leave in Conditioner, and smooth it through my hair, starting from the ends of my hair and working my way to the roots.
Hair oils, like sweet almond, grapeseed or argan oil will add an extra layer of shine and nourishment to your hair. I've been using the Coconut Milk Anti-Breakage Serum from OGX, working the serum through to my ends.
Gel or mousse for special occasions
Sometimes I’ll use a gel or mousse for extra hold. Gel really sets and defines the shape of your curls, but it can dehydrate your strands, too, so I keep it for special occasions.
When I do use gel, I use the Mielle Coil Sculpting Custard. You can adjust how you apply the gel for different hairstyles, but for natural curls, I usually just scrunch the product into the tips of my hair.
I don’t use mousse very often (just a personal preference), but the Activating Mousse from Not Your Mother’s gives my hair amazing hold and shine. To use it, dispense the product into your hand then work the product from roots to ends.
Mousse creates and sustains volume without the crunchy texture that often comes with gel. But, similarly to gel, it can dry out your hair if used too much.
Drying + Styling Curly Hair
Using heat on curly hair is a major cause of dryness, frizz, and even permanent damage. I try to limit the usage of heat tools and avoid direct contact between styling tools and my curls as much as possible.
But in the real world, using heat is inevitable—a quick blow dry or a straightening is bound to happen. Here’s how I use my tools and protect my curls at the same time:
Use a heat protectant
Proper protection is the most fundamental step of prep before using heat. So you definitely need a heat protectant spray or a serum to create a barrier between your hair and the heat tool.
I don’t have a consistent heat protectant, but recently I've been using the CANTU Shea Butter Thermal Shield, and have seen good results. I also like the Miracle Leave-In Conditioner Plus Keratin, it’s an incredibly versatile product, acting as both a leave-in conditioner and a heat protector.
Air dry when possible
I let my hair air-dry most days to let my natural curls maintain their shape. But there are days I need to speed things up with a quick dry.
Use your blow dryer diffuser
If I’m blow-drying my hair, I use a diffuser attachment to evenly distribute the airflow and quickly dry the curls. This helps maintain the natural curl pattern.
I don’t often use a curling iron, unless I am aiming for consistently styled curls or simply to touch-up my natural curls.
Deep condition if styling regularly
If I’m styling several times a week, I add a deep conditioning treatment to my routine to add extra moisture and repair heat damage. A thick conditioner or hair mask provides nourishment and deeply penetrates and moisturizes the scalp.
They can be done weekly or monthly, depending on your personal preference. I love using hair masks every so often, especially the Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Masque. It deeply hydrates and reduces frizz, making up for any moisture lost during heat styling.8