Exactly How To Maintain And Style Curly Hair

Curly hair can feel like an enigma. Some days, you just can’t get it under control. Other days, it air-dries to perfection. So, how do you get more consistent results? We asked the experts.
Written by Samantha Stone
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Exactly How To Maintain And Style Curly HairPaul Siewert/Unsplash

Curly hair can feel like an enigma. Some days, you just can’t get it under control. Other days, it air-dries to perfection. So, how do you get more consistent results? “Curly and textured hair needs a maintenance routine that maintains and continues to add hydration,” says Dominique LyVar, a senior stylist at Devachan Salon SoHo in New York City. “The types of product used depend on the texture, but all need a balance of moisture and protein.”

Generally speaking, the curlier and coarser your hair, the more moisture you need. These hair types can also handle heavier products. Looser waves and softer textures, meanwhile, need hydration, too — albeit with lighter-weight products. But these rules are anything but one-size-fits-all. To better understand the best way to maintain and style curly and textured hair, we’ve tapped four curl experts to answer all of your burning questions (spoiler alert: there are some really simple changes you can make to get big results!).

Determining Your Curl Type

Did you know that not all curls are the same? The first step of maintaining curly hair is determining your texture and curl type. Hair texture refers to the thickness of the individual hair strands and is most often measured on a three-point scale:

  • Fine
  • Medium
  • Coarse

Thicker hair tends to be stronger and can be styled more easily than finer, weaker hair because coarser tresses hold their shape more effectively. It should be noted that the texture of the hair can vary. “For styling uneven textures, you may have to use products specific to the styling need in those areas,” LyVar says. In some cases, the variations are the result of hydration levels and can be corrected. “To help even out your texture, I find staying consistent with your conditioning will relieve this issue over time,” he explains.

Curl type, on the other hand, refers to the shape of the curl. While there can be a lot of nuance to curl patterns, there are three main curl classifications with sub-categories in each group based on the diameter of the individual strands:

  • Wavy
  • Curly
  • Kinky & Coily

If your mane feels like it could fall into several curl categories, you’re not alone. “It is very normal to have different curl patterns throughout the hair,” says Merian Mismmo, a cosmetic chemist and founder of Bounce Curl. The key is to pay attention to your ’do and style as needed. For example, “if you have a looser pattern, you can finger coil the hair to get the curl more uniform,” she shares. Similarly, “you can also stretch a pattern out if it is too curly and you want elongation,” Mismmo notes.

Tips for Maintaining Curly Hair Health

The reason for determining your hair and curl type is so that you can curate your hair care routine accordingly. While individual hair goals may vary, there are general rules of thumb to abide by that correspond to texture:

  • Fine Hair: People with fine hair will usually need help creating volume. But, in addition to looking for volumizers, Mismmo also recommends adding in deep conditioners because “the hair strands are more fragile.”
  • Medium Hair: The Goldilocks of the bunch, Mismmo says those with medium manes will be able to layer products, “as their hair can hold [them] better.”
  • Coarse Hair: Adding moisture back into the strands is key for thicker hair types. Hydrating products will help ward off the dryness that leads to breakage.

And then there are certain tips that transcend hair type. “You want to avoid products with hair sulfates, parabens, and silicones,” LyVar says. As he explains, sulfates strip the strands of their natural moisture, while parabens give a false sense of hydration. “Parabens are a form of wax that coats the hair to make it feel smooth and conditioned, but they don’t add any moisture,” LyVar shares. Similarly, silicones create a barrier effect. “Silicone also coats the hair and prevents moisture from entering the hair shaft, causing dryness and, possibly, breakage,” he says.

So, what about hair oils? LyVar says it depends on the use case. “Oils can be great for your scalp and skin, but oil directly applied to the hair can prevent moisture,” he cautions. If you wish to apply an oil to the scalp and shaft, he recommends using a leave-in conditioner or other hydrating styler first — that way the oil is not resting directly on the strand.

More Curly Hair Care Tips:

  • Shampoo Strategically: Daily (or even weekly) washing isn’t always required. Removing product build-up is necessary, but Mismoo says to avoid getting your hair wet too often.
  • Condition Constantly: “I look for conditioning ingredients, as they will help moisturize and detangle hair,” Mismmo shares. Incorporate conditioning treatments, washes, and hair masks to get silkier, more defined curls.
  • Fight Frizz: To reduce frizz, wash hair with cool (read: not hot) water, swap out your terrycloth towel for a microfiber cloth or t-shirt that’s not as rough or textured, and sleep with a silk pillowcase to reduce friction.
  • Add Definition: Scrunch your curls after a shower to restore shape, and add a diffuser to your blow dryer to get more definition and shine — without frizz.
  • Trial & Error: Curl care is as personal as skincare. Don’t be afraid to experiment with conditioners, gels, serums, and sprays until you find what works best for you.

How to Style Curly Hair

Now that you know your curl type and how to care for it, it’s time to talk styling. Whether your texture is fine or coarse, loosely wavy or tightly coiled, your style goals likely fall into two main categories: straightening it out or defining your texture. Below, two celebrity hairstylists break down the simplest (and safest!) way to achieve both looks.

Straightening Your Curls

We love natural waves and curls, but sometimes you’re in the mood for a sleeker hairstyle. To make curly hair straight without chemical processing, you’ll need a heat styler in the form of a blow dryer and/or flatiron. Either way, it all starts with proper protection. “When straightening curly hair, you want to do everything possible to avoid heat damage,” says T.Cooper, a celebrity hairstylist and Eva NYC hairstylist partner. “Make sure your heat protectant game is strong.”

She recommends prepping your strands with a heat protectant like Eva NYC Mane Magic 10-in-1 Hair Primer before any thermal styling and then using a good quality blow dryer to smooth the hair. “While blow drying curly hair, it’s very important to use steady tension, and don’t be shy with the shots of cool air,” she explains. “Follow up by using a flat iron on small sections to thoroughly silk out the hair.”

It’s important to recognize the process involved in styling curly hair. “Your hair makes a physical change in two ways: wet to dry and hot to cold,” says Sarah Potempa, a celebrity hairstylist and inventor of the Beachwaver. Her go-to combo for achieving a “sleek red-carpet look” involves a blow dryer and paddle brush. “When straightening wet hair, you want to dry your hair roughly 80 percent by loosely blow drying it,” she shares. “When drying the last 20 percent, dry with the Beachwaver Paddle Brush Pro.”

Ready to give blow drying a try? Potempa offers these tips:

  1. Rinse with cool water in the shower and towel dry your hair with a t-shirt to reduce frizz
  2. Use a gentle detangler to prep the hair before adding heat
  3. Apply a heat protectant before styling
  4. Place your part before you start (Potempa says a center part goes “straight down the middle of your hair,” while a side part should be placed “at the arch of your eyebrow”)
  5. Loosely dry 80 percent with a blow dryer and paddle brush to smooth out large sections; flip the sections right and left to smooth out the curl pattern
  6. For the last 20 percent, section the hair by starting at the bottom and working your way up (use the Paddle Brush Pro and concentrator on the nozzle parallel to each other)
  7. Finish off by closing the cuticle with a quick cool shot

Depending on what you’re going for, a blow dry alone may or may not be enough. Following it up with a flatiron, like the Beachwaver Coast Pro, can add sleekness and shine, but you need to be careful to avoid damage. “When straightening with a flat iron, heat protectant is important – it protects the cuticle,” Potempa shares. “And start at the lowest temperature. You can always increase the temperature as needed.” With that in mind, below are her pro tips:

  1. When straightening, split your hair straight down the middle and comb small, clean sections with the Beachwaver Prep Brush
  2. Line up the iron with that section and continue to take small sections
  3. Pin the sections of hair that you’re not working on with darby clips
  4. To avoid frizzy ends, try gliding down and making the shape of a crescent moon towards your body
  5. To gain volume, lift the iron perpendicular, like a candy cane, and pull the straightener down – giving a slight bend at the ends
  6. If you have really frizzy roots, use the Beachwaver Braid Balm to smooth or Half Up to create a top knot

Curling Your Curls

The concept of curling curly hair is difficult for non-curly hair types to understand, but we all know there is a big difference between beachy bends and tight ringlets. “I absolutely recommend curling naturally curly hair,” T.Cooper explains. “Most people don’t have curls that are consistent — curl patterns tend to change from one area of the head to another.” She is a fan of the Eva NYC Spectrum Far-Infrared Curler to “make sure curls stay lit.”

The next question that is likely on your mind? To straighten or not to straighten. “It really depends on the curl pattern whether to straighten the hair first or not,” she says. Her preferred method depends on curl type. “For looser curls and ringlets, I prefer my clients not to straighten the hair first,” she explains, adding that pre-straightening looser textures often leads to a lack of volume and poor hold. “For my kinky and coily babes, straightening the hair first — with a straightener like the Eva NYC Healthy Heat Nano Silk Styling Iron — makes for a smoother looking curl, even if you just straighten the roots a little bit,” she shares.

Both T.Cooper and Potempa emphasize the importance of starting with your curling iron’s lowest possible heat setting and adding warmth as needed. From there, it’s important to choose a barrel size that complements your natural curl pattern. In the case of Potempa’s Beachwaver, there is a tool for every type:

  • For Beachy Waves: “If you have a slight wave, detangle your hair, split it in the back, and bring the sections forward and over each shoulder,” she explains. “Starting with the bottom section, take the Beachwaver with the clamp facing forward and curl away from your face.”
  • For Smooth Waves: “Use a paddle brush and mousse, along with a larger barrel like the Beachwaver B1 and curl away from your face for smooth medium waves,” Potempa shares.
  • For Medium Curls: “In the case of medium-sized curls, a larger barrel – like the Beachwaver S1.25 – will give a blowout type look,” she notes. “The ceramic barrel will smooth the curl into a nice, relaxed wave.”
  • For Bouncy Curls: “For a more defined voluminous curl, use a smaller barrel,” she says. “The Beachwaver S.75 will enhance the curls and reduce any frizz.”
  • For a Natural Finish: “For a more natural look, alternate the direction of the curls, and use small sections of hair,” Potempa explains.

Once you’ve finished curling, you’ll want to finish off your ’do to maximize results. Dealing with flyaways? “Use a little styling cream, like Eva NYC’s Satin Dream Smoothing Leaving-In Cream, to tame any frizzy pieces,” T.Cooper says. Looking for added volume? “Especially for fine textures, my advice is to spray the roots with a dry shampoo for root lift and alternate the direction of the curl with each row,” she shares. This makes it so that the curls stack on top of one another, and the result will be a big, bouncy head full of voluminous curls.”

Regardless of your look, don’t forget to top it off. “Finish with Eva NYC Just Glisten Shine Mist for added bling,” she says.

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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SAMANTHA STONEis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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