Wednesday, May 30, 2007

everyday: life with curly hair (a gentle manifesto).

If you know me, you have probably always known me as a curly-headed person. Rare is the occasion on which I will appear with sleek, styled tresses. Sometimes people who don't know me well think I curl my hair daily. That's pretty surprising - I tell them that my "hairstyle" is what happens when I roll out of bed in the morning and gravity pulls my hair downward - somewhat downward, natch. I am not a person who can tolerate spending hours each day on her hair and am more than happy to be as curly as nature intended me to be.

Granted, this style isn't for everyone. It can look a bit unruly on a bad day, and I'm sure some people would like to attack my head with a brush. But I quite like my curls, and when I let them do their thing, taking care of my hair is ridiculously easy. On some occasions I'll be asked what exactly I do to my hair to get it to curl the way it does.

So here's a curl primer for beginners, in case you have ever wondered about the mystery behind curly hair care.

1. You don't need to brush your hair. If you have some natural curl in your hair, the hair tends to curl together in waves/ringlets according to a natural curl pattern. You may notice your hair beginning to do this when you leave it for a while after brushing it. As soon as you brush your hair, you start to mess with your natural curl pattern. Brushing encourages frizziness, as your hair tends to rebel against brushing and the curliness in your hair will make each hair stand apart from the others. Curly hair tends to be somewhat coarse in texture, and it's therefore easy to break hair when you pull a brush through it. Hair breakage also contributes to frizziness. If left alone and unbrushed, the natural curl pattern will begin to define itself and form curls/waves.

Of course, un-brushed hair is different from brushed hair. Brushing naturally distributes oils from the root to the hair shaft. And oils are good for curly hair, which tends to be dry. Therefore, in order to properly moisturize your hair, you will need to adjust your hair cleansing technique.

2. You don't need to use shampoo every day. Most of us like a clean scalp, and so most people achieve this by using shampoos that contain detergents, to lift away the layer of dead skin/oils on the scalp. But, unless you are using uber expensive salon products to wash your hair (and I certainly don't), chances are the detergent in your shampoo is the same as the detergent in a bottle of dishwashing liquid. It's harsh stuff, and it dries out your hair and scalp pretty effectively. Curly hair tends to be dry to begin with, and dried-out hair becomes frizzier and less manageable. However, the scalp tends to have the opposite problem, producing more oil to compensate for the removal of oil by detergents.

3. You can cleanse and moisturize with conditioner. For the curly-haired, conditioner should suffice to cleanse the scalp and moisturize on most days. I use one kind of conditioner to "wash" my hair, using it as I would shampoo. Then I rinse that out and use a second conditioner, applying it to the hair just off the roots (as you would apply conditioner normally). I let that sit for a while and rinse most of it out, but leave in a little to help moisturize my hair. Rinsing your hair in this manner takes literally four seconds.

Of course, you will be used to a squeaky-clean scalp, and the odd feeling of your non-scrubbed hair will drive you batty at first. If you're interested in trying this, it works well to ease into the routine. Try using half the shampoo you normally would for a while. Then try using it every other day. Then try going for a week using just conditioner.

It is necessary to do something to clean the hair beyond using conditioner occasionally. To thoroughly clean the conditioner/skin residue on your scalp (once a week or less), first coat the ends of your hair in conditioner to protect it, and then use a very small amount of shampoo on your scalp. Or, instead of shampoo, fill a water bottle with two tablespoons of baking soda, mix it with water, and slowly rinse your hair in the mixture, lightly massaging your scalp as if you were washing with shampoo. I do this every week and a half or so - it's cheap and effective.

4. Let your hair dry without doing things to it. There are several schools of thought about hair-drying. I have heard it recommended that you should let your hair air- dry in the morning while you are sitting upright so the curls fall naturally into place. My hair takes at least 3 hours to dry, so I usually just sleep on a towel overnight with wet hair. Since my curls are fairly loose, my hair curls the most effectively this way. Other people recommend using a diffuser on a cool setting and scrunching the hair (cupping the hand under the curls, lifting towards the scalp gently for a few seconds, and releasing). I find this makes my hair a bit frizzy, but it may work for you. The most important thing to remember is to not pull at your curls, attempt to smooth them down, or arrange them vigorously. When you towel your hair, pat it gently dry without squeezing or rubbing your hair unnecessarily. Hair curls best when the curl is allowed to just do its thing.

5. A curl-specific haircut can make a huge difference. The best way to cut curly hair is when it's dry. This is because you can see the natural shape of the curl and cut it correctly - at the end of one of its curves, not in the middle. When curly hair is cut incorrectly, the ends flip out in unpredictable ways, which is very frustrating to style.

I tried for several years to find a hair salon that would cut my hair dry. I didn't have any luck in Winnipeg. When I moved to Vancouver, I found a stylist who would cut my hair dry. He cut it short, I decided to grow out my hair shortly after, and I went literally a year without another haircut. It only looked a bit out of shape in the last couple of months, but otherwise it curled quite nicely. It was an expensive cut, but I think it was worth it - it was definitely less, total, than the 3 haircuts I typically get per year. I've been back once since then, and received the best haircut I've ever had in my life.

Hair salons tend to be a bit touchy over the issue of dry haircuts, and most refuse to do them. If they don't want to cut your hair dry, go elsewhere, and find someone who will be happy to do so and who knows what they're doing. And when you are searching for someone who does a curl-specific haircut, seek out someone who has been recommended by a curly haired person who wears their hair curly.

Even if a stylist has curly hair themselves, this does not necessarily mean they know how to cut curly hair. I went into several salons to inquire about curly haircuts, and was told, "oh yeah! stylist X has curly hair! she knows all about how to deal with it!" Enter stylist X, who has evidently been spending quality time with the straightening iron and sports stick-straight locks with a blunt-edged cut. Sure, she knows how to torture her hair into being straight, but she may not know how to properly cut curls. That funky-layered edgy cut is totally not going to work for your hair if you like to wear it curly.

Likewise, if you are told that "it's the same to cut your hair wet if we cut it in layers!" don't believe it. In two months or less, you will be cursing the strands of hair that stick out from your head at a ninety degree angle. Or else you will be sporting the lovely "shelf look", the result of misapplying the jennifer aniston shag to curly hair, and your hair will have a distinct line between top and bottom layers, which looks hideous.

A good haircut should make styling painless. The curls should fall into place - maybe with a little help from gel - but they should be cut according to the natural direction of your hair and should not require a lot of taming.

6. Certain products may help out your curls, but it is not necessary to spend a fortune on them.

Salon products are lovely, but the drawback is, of course, price. I personally believe they do make a difference - my hair is far less weighed down and curls more nicely when I emerge from the salon having had my hair lavished in expensive curl-specific shampoo, conditioner and gel. Additionally, if you use salon stuff, you may be able to go two days with one hair-rinse, as there will be less build-up of product on your hair, and your curls may still be curly (as opposed to weighed down by heavier, cheaper products.) However, I'm simply not going to shell out $20+ for a small bottle of shampoo or conditioner at this stage of my life.

I am going to do a little "high/medium/low" categorization here of my favourite products.

$30/100 ml: Momo styling gel. Made in Italy specifically for curly hair! smells divine-ly of grapefruit and myrrh! gorgeous minimalist packaging! I use it sparingly for special occasions so the bottle lasts me a year. To be applied to damp hair.

I haven't bought the conditioner or shampoo but it is also recommended (as per my salon visit) for those of you with silver-lined pockets.

$12/250 ml: Lush Coolaulin conditioner. This conditioner doesn't smell pleasant, exactly, but it works exceptionally well for its cost. It's lightweight yet moisturizing. I am a supporter of Lush in general.

$8-11/250 ml: John Freida Brilliant Brunette conditioner. I stock up when it's on sale. It works decently and whether or not you believe it will improve your hair colour, it seems to have a positive effect on your hair condition. (Of course, there are versions for blondes and redheads too). I found it seemed to improve my hair colour over the winter months, when hair is naturally bit darker at the roots; the chestnut tones in my hair seemed nicer than they are typically during this time. It is a more heavyweight and leads to more build-up than the Lush conditioner, but moisturizes equally well.

$8-11/250 ml: John Freida Frizz-Ease Calming Masque. This resembles the intense, thick conditioner that comes along with hair-dyeing kits. Fun to use twice a week, especially on frizz-prone areas!


$5-7/900 ml: TreSemme Extra Moisturizing Conditioner. This stuff is the most lightweight, gentlest, best-moisturizing conditioner you can buy for the price. I use loads of it as my hair-cleansing conditioner.

(almost free!) baking soda rinse. As described above, mix a couple of tablespoons of baking soda with water in a water bottle. A honey bottle or sports-drink bottle with a nozzle also works well to pour water on the roots of your hair.

You can make more hair-care recipes yourself, such as hair scrubs and conditioning masks, but this is getting quite long, so I'll leave that for another day.

Curl Handbook:

Curly Girl: Lorraine Massey's handbook on curl-care discusses the method behind the madness. I don't own this book - yet - but I have read much of its contents online. Most of the techniques I've talked about come from this source. this is a great resource. I have found the salon search tool to be most useful. There are articles on hair types, expert q+a, and online forums.

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Lyss said...

Ok, so I have a question for you, my new official curly hair guru. How do I not shampoo my hair after the gym? I go in the morning, as often as I can, and my head is full of sweaty disgustingness afterwards. Does your baking soda, or washin with conditioner, solutions work for this situation?

i.inviolate said...

hello Laryssa!

I found that when I was training for the sun run, I was still able to use the conditioner routine I described even when I was disgustingly sweaty. I might have had to supplement it with baking soda/shampoo a bit more often, but not that much more often (about once per week instead of once per 1.5 weeks, maybe). The conditioner still washes away dirts/oils so long as you massage your scalp. Using 2 kinds of conditioner helps to prevent it from building up on your hair, too.

I'd say you could try these things (in order of preference:) 1. doing the conditioner rinse, 2. using the baking soda rinse on your roots, but protecting the rest of your hair with conditioner, 3. using a small amount of shampoo, but ditto on protecting with conditioner. You could try using a smaller amount of shampoo for a while (conditioning the ends of your hair while you cleanse your scalp) and then start using conditioner only on some days to ease in.

It'll probably take some experimentation to figure out what works and to ease into a low-shampoo routine. Good luck with trying this!

Lyss said...

Holy crap! So I was in a vile store that will not be named yesterday, and picked up some Tresemme Sleek and Strong conditioner (I couldn't remember which one you recommended), and used it as 'shampoo' this morning, and I can't believe it worked! That's awesome!!! This is exciting. How much water do I mix in with the baking soda? I think that will be used in my routine on Sundays :)

I love that I've commandeered these posts :)

i.inviolate said...

great to hear day 1 was successful! I think any of the TreSemme conditioners are probably good.

to make the baking soda rinse, I use a funnel, dump approx. 2 tablespoons of baking soda into the bottle (which is an average bottled water size...650 ml?) and then fill it half-full with shower water. I let the baking soda dissolve completely before I use it.

Remember to coat the ends of your hair in conditioner first, and rub your scalp as you pour the rinse over your head - but avoid piling the hair on top of your head.

I'm going to post some more hair product recipes soon. There's some fun hair masks you can make, a brown sugar scrub, and a lavender hair conditioning spray (which I haven't tried yet, but it sounds nice)!

Lyss said...

Day 2, and the conditioner system is still going well! I'm looking forward to your hair mask recipes :) Tim will laugh at me for that. And then ask if he can have one too.

Anonymous said...

Did i miss read or should you use two different kinds of conditioners? One kind for first application (shampoo) and another kind for the second application?