Confessions of a Curly Girl: A Hair Evolution
26/11/2010 § 3 Comments
I’ve been a curly girl since birth, but I haven’t always loved my unruly locks. I was blessed with rather thick hair that isn’t very coarse, but is extremely strong — I can pretty much do whatever I feel like to my hair and it will bounce back. I’ve bleached it to blond, made it magenta (oh, the follies of youth), skunkily highlighted it, hit it with so much heat that the bathroom was full of smoke and the acrid smell of burnt hair, subjected it to the illustrious Dominican blowout, shellacked it down with super mega hair spray, etc. etc. The worst thing its ever done is get a little dry and frizzy, and was easily corrected with a bit of deep conditioning. My curl is well-defined, but not so tight that I can’t force it to be stick-straight with a good blowout and a bit of flat ironing. My relationship with my hair has gone through a few phases, which I think will be familiar to all curly girls.
Hit the flip for the full story.
Born Free: (Birth – 3 years) My mom (she of coarser, more African-American-like, hair), pretty much left my hair to do what it wanted. Pictures of me reveal that when my hair finally did grow in — I was a bald baby forever! — she let it form an extremely cute unruly halo or persuaded it into two shortish ringlet pigtails, usually decorated with ribbons.
Blowout or Death: (3 years – 13 years) Of course, my mom was not about to allow that foolishness to continue. I started getting my hair blown out by my mother after I got my very first haircut, which was a shortish bob with bangs. Great haircut, but not a haircut my hair naturally took to. This required my mom to blowout my hair every single time it was washed. I have memories of sitting on a stool while my mom went to work with a Conair Yellowbird Hair Dryer. I can remember the hair dryer’s twisted yellow cord, mainly because I would try to catch it in my mouth as she whipped it around my head. (I am a smarty, no?) Throughout this period I had a few different hairstyles, but the default was long with bangs. Oh, bangs. Bangs are cute, but if you have curly hair it is a constant battle to make the damn things lay straight. They do what they want. Say you sweat a little bit, or it gets just a smidge humid outside (let alone rain), or you allow them to even think about parting themselves — your bangs will be throwing up gang signs on your forehead in no seconds flat. I believe this hair vendetta is best illustrated by my 8th grade school photo where the damn things managed to split themselves, frizz on one side, and curl up at the bottom on the other side. Just thinking about this photo gives me hair nightmares. Quelle horreur!
Make It Straight: (13 years – 18 years) I managed to ignore really dealing with my hair (and actually, really caring all that much) until I was about 13 years old. This was also about the time my mom made the announcement that she would no longer be performing Yellowbird duty on my unruly head. So, I had to figure it out. After 10 years of being forcibly straight haired, it was all I knew, so I defaulted to straight hair. And I found out how annoying and how much work it took to make my hair straight. I became familiar with round brushes and how long I could hold my arm up over my head before all the blood would leave my limb. I should probably note that I was not particularly good at doing my hair at first. It was more a “poofy, generally straighter than it would normally be” situation until I reached my late teens. That’s when I figured out how to section it and then dry it. I also figured out that, with enough heat and tension, I could re-blowout sections of my hair if they happened to get a bit wavy. This period was also when I became familiar with “product” — leave-ins, detanglers, frizz serums, the works. All in the name of straight, flowing locks.
Getting to Know You: (18 years) Around 18 was when I started to be curious about what was lurking below my blowout. What would my hair do if I didn’t burn the hell out of it? Would it be pretty? How would I do it? Partially I was tired of having to commit an hour plus to straightification, but partially I wanted to see what my real hair was like. So I got down to the business of embracing my inner (and outer) curly girl. This required all new and entirely different hair products. And a lot more product than I was used to wearing. My hair is pretty dry to begin with, so this meant lots of conditioners and smoothers, in order to avoid looking like a dandelion. I was like a hair scientist (add a little of this, and more of that, in a specific order, dry just like this, etc. etc.) in order to pull off successful curls. I still had bangs though, and curly hair with straight bangs has to be one of the weirdest hairstyles ever. And I still liked my straight hair better. My senior picture would have made Farrah Fawcett proud: straight hair, bangs, highlights and layers all bangin’ — it’s hard to overcome years of straight hair brainwashing.
Follicular Champion: (19 years – present) I’m able to harness my hair to really do whatever I want it to. Super curly, super straight, loose waves, whatever – what my hair looks like is just a question of available product and time.
Some of my best curly hair secrets:
- Don’t ever ever ever EVER brush your curly hair with a brush – dry or wet. You’re really just begging for frizz. The only time I comb my curly hair is when I am in the shower, immediately after I’ve applied my conditioner, while my hair is soaking wet. That’s it. Brushing it too much will mess with the curl pattern – your hair will think you are asking it to be straight.
- Shampoo and conditioner: Curly hair is thirsty. You need to make sure that you are washing and conditioning with products that will add moisture. Your hair and scalp type will determine how much moisture you can handle, but for me, the Hair Milk line by Carol’s Daughter has been a godsend. The shampoo doesn’t have any sulfates and is certified organic, both the shampoo and conditioners are paraben-free, they smell great and really moisturize my curls. Plus, the company has a really great founder (Lisa Price) and history, and if you live in New York you can visit their shop in Harlem.
- So after shampooing and combing my conditioner through, I wring out the excess moisture and wrap it up in a towel. Do NOT rough dry your hair with your towel — this is another *asking for frizz* situation.
- Product bonanza! Here’s where it gets fun. Time to embrace experimentation, because you need to figure out what combination works for you. For me, I will add anywhere from 3 to 5 products, in varying amounts, to my mane — usually 3 conditioning products and 1 curl defining product. You have to be careful to apply these products throughout all of your hair. Be sure to separate. Be sure to apply to the back of your head. When you apply, do not comb the product through, but start scrunching now to encourage your curls to come to life. Here are some of my favorites:
CONDITIONERS & LEAVE-INS
Garnier Fructis Sleek and Shine Serum
Totally a steal, as it’s usually under $10. I apply this first, to soaking wet hair, to lock in moisture, concentrating on ends, not roots. If you have fine hair, be sure not to go overboard, because this can weigh the hair down.
Kiehl’s Formula 133
This product is a great 2-in-1, as it can be used as a conditioner and a styling aid. It’s a little light for my hair type to use as a conditioner, but I usually work a quarter-sized dollop from roots to ends of damp hair.
Ojon Revitalizing Mist
This is a great moisturizing leave-in conditioner and detangler. For me, it also doubles as a curl revitalizer, if I’ve slept on my curls and they’ve lost a bit of their oomph, or if my dry hair hasn’t curled up quite enough, a few spritzes and my curls come back to life.
Fekkai Brilliant Glossing Creme
It’s always hard to coax curls to shine, but the Fekkai Brilliant Glossing line definitely works. My favorite product in this line is the Glossing Creme, which I can add to my hair when it’s damp or dry.
CURL DEFINERS & BOOSTERS
Living Proof Wave Shaping, Curl Defining No Frizz Styling Cream
In order to get this product to work properly in my hair, I have to really carefully section my curls and apply a LOT of it. While it does do a generally good job, it’s just not cost effective to use up an entire bottle in about 4 uses. But, for someone whose hair is not quite as thick, it might do the trick beautifully.
Fekkai Luscious Curls Creme
This was my absolute favorite product for a very long time. It does a great job of defining and separating my curls while keeping them bouncy and light. Unfortunately, Fekkai is no longer available in Sephora. While you can buy some Fekkai products in your local drugstores now, they don’t offer the full line and the curly products seem to have been left off. So, if you want to get this Creme, you’ve got to either order online or head on over to a Fekkai salon. I think if I wasn’t open to experimenting with my products (like a lot of women I know), I would have immediately placed a bulk order.
Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk The Original Curl Definer
My current go-to is Hair Milk by Carol’s Daughter. It defines my curls quite well, keeps the frizz down and smells great. In addition, if I feel like not washing my hair and sleeping on my curls, it manages to hold on to the waves but gently relax them – instant sexy bedhead – which can be a little hard to achieve with curly hair (frequently I would end up looking like an oil pit or a fuzz ball). This formula comes in two levels – Original and Lite. I use a smallish amount of the Original and I’m good to go. I have to be careful not to use too much, or else my hair looks a bit weighed down.
- Drying. The best way to let your curls free is to not forcibly dry it, but to allow it to air dry. But we don’t always have the luxury of time. My morning routine would be to shower, get it all the product in there, and then do everything else to get ready. Just before I leave for the day I will hit it briefly with a hairdryer with a diffuser, taking care to have it on the lowest setting and heat possible. As you dry, continue to scrunch your hair. Flip your hair over and side to side. Always keep your dryer, your hair and your hands moving.
- Finishing touches. I usually apply a tiny, pea-sized amount of a shine/conditioning product as a finishing touch. As a rule, I will keep with me throughout the day a travel sized shine/conditioning product for touching up any frizzies that might arise.
- Give it a rest. Don’t shampoo your curls every single day. Shampoo is extremely drying! If you are hitting up the gym on a pretty regular basis and must to do something with your hair, I recommend giving it a really good rinse and adding a bit of conditioner. Try alternating, or doing two rinse + conditioner before washing. Here, your hair/scalp type will determine what is best. As a rule, I will use less product on hair that I haven’t shampooed because you will already have moisture in your mane.
Some of my best straight hair secrets:
- Shampooing and conditioning. As a rule, I don’t buy separate “straight-hair” cleaning/conditioning products. What my hair needs is moisture, and curly products work fine, so no need to drop extra cash here.
- Product. Unlike my curly hair, my straight hair doesn’t need or like a lot of product. Here, I would use a little bit of the Garnier Fructis shine serum on soaking wet hair and a bit of the Ojon mist to get rid of the tangles. Sometimes I like to use a “curl relaxing” product, but again – be careful not to use too much or else you’ll end up looking over-conditioned. A favorite of mine is Bumble and bumble. straight
- Put in the work. Making my hair straight takes work, patience, butterfly clips, a round brush and arm strength. You’ve got to make sure that you section your hair so that it is in manageable pieces. Don’t try to blowout a section that is larger than your round brush, because you’ll just end up with frizzy peices. This will mean a lot of sections and quite a bit of time if you have really thick hair like me. Use as much heat as your hair can stand, and pull that sucker tight. Tension is what will make your hair behave! You will need a serious blowdryer – 1875 watts or more – a good brush with a comfortable handle, and a ceramic flat iron. As I dry my sections, I immediately flat iron them. Because my hair is already sectioned, it’s easier to concentrate on smaller, more manageable pieces with the iron. After everything is straight, I touch up any wayward pieces with my flat iron. Be sure to get those smallish wispys near your temples – those are a dead giveaway of a blowout.
- Finishing touches. I like to use a little bit of a shine serum or creme to smooth my flyaways and add shine.
**REMEMBER** Your hair has memory. When I come off of a long few weeks of completely straight hair, my curl doesn’t bounce back immediately, and straightening hair that has been curly for weeks takes extra effort. Don’t be surprised if the first time you experiment straight to curly, your curls are a little lackluster. Have patience with your hair. When it realizes you are giving it the freedom to curl up, it will do it!
Brazilian Chameleon: The curly or straight decision is made for me when I go to the gym a lot. I was in training over the last year for the New York Marathon, which I ran this November, and that meant a lot of sweating. Curly hair can be blessedly low maintenance. You can pretty much apply your product and go, as long as you don’t mind walking around with damp hair — and I didn’t mind over the summer. The frequency I blew out my hair also fell off. Right around the time of my marathon, I realized that I had only blown my hair out myself twice since spring. I also realized I missed my straight hair. But I knew that it wasn’t worth it. It would be at least an hour of work to get an end result that would last for a day, tops. For someone who can go about a week on a good blowout, the ends weren’t justifying the means. While I love my curly hair, I do feel a bit more polished when I have straight hair. I love my wild and crazy waves, but I missed being able to change it up.
I started hearing raves about the Brazilian Blowout (or Brazilian Keratin Treatment, aka “BKT”) from a few of my friends with varying hair textures and decided I wanted to give it a try. I liked the idea of it — it is supposed to cut the time you spend drying your hair way down, your frizz is completely eliminated, it makes the hair straighter, but you can still have waves if you like, and instead of actually changing the composition of your hair (like a relaxer or a perm) the treatment was topical and would slowly fade away over the course of 3 to 5 months. It was a little pricey — the treatment can run close to $300 at some salons — but I managed to get a really great deal through Lifebooker.
The week after my marathon, I went to a salon close to my office, Sergio Limpopo, for the treatment. My hair was washed twice and then roughly blown out. The stylist spritzed the treatment, a lower formaldehyde product by Rejuvenol, throughout my entire head, blew it out again and then ironed the hair to seal in the treatment. I chose to do a 24 hour treatment (you can also do a 72 hour version, which tends to be a bit cheaper, but not by much). What the hours refer to is how long you can go before you can get your hair wet. You can’t wash it, you can’t get caught in the rain, and you can’t sweat. You also can’t put any clips or rubber bands in it, but it behind your ears or style it at all because those marks might stay in your hair for as long as the treatment stays in your hair. The whole process took under 90 minutes and while the treatment does have a rather strong smell, the salon sat me next to an open window which really helped — my eyes did not water, as I have heard is common.
My hair was stick straight, shiny and soft. After being so curly for so long, I was immediately in love. After waiting 24 hours, I got ready to see my BKT in action. You have to be sure to use sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners when you have a BKT, as sodium chloride will neutralize the treatment. Rejuvenol makes an entire styling line, but I opted for the L’Oreal sulfate-free EverPure line, which is less than half the price, available in drug stores and is working just fine thus far.
For my first wash I was at the gym, I was without all of my usual styling products, so I simply used my hands to make a part and pull my hair straight while blowing it dry. It was like I had entirely different hair. There was no frizz, there were very loose waves that I could flatten with my fingers and a bit of tension, and my hair was dry in about 20 minutes. I can’t tell you how amazing it was for me to be able to make my hair look like I had painstakingly blown and ironed it with just a few minutes of effort. I didn’t use any product at all. Mind = blown. I had to call my mother to celebrate. I can go to the gym every day and still have straight hair.
I do feel a little guilty though, like I’ve given up on my curly hair again. But I am assured that I am still able to coax it into waves and the waves will be the smooth and “beachy.” I must confess that I am loving my straight hair too much right now to try. Every time I wash it, it’s almost like I am waiting for a magic trick — will it come back?! will it come back?! — that I almost don’t want to waste a wash on wavy hair, because I know my hair will always be wavy. I know some curly girls are steadfast in their loyalty to their curls, but this curly girl endorses the BKT