Words by Danae Kirk-Ayton
Curly hair should come with a manual. If you’re blessed with naturally curly hair you’ll know that most of the general hair advice you read rarely applies to your spiral mane. Your natural hair texture bounces to the beat of its own drum. And while it’s all well and good to ‘let it do its thing’ it pays to have a few helpful hints for styling curling hair up your sleeve to tame your tresses and achieve the best curls.
We spoke to Australian hairstylist (and curly hair guru) Danae Kirk-Ayton to find out her expert advice on styling curly hair, along with her insights on whether the Curly Girl Method is worth trying.
Understanding Your Curly Hair Type
Hair is categorised into four different groups when talking about hair type: 1) Straight, 2) Wavy, 3) Curly, and 4) Coily. They are then categorised into three sub-groups: A,B, or C. For example, if you are 4C you have the tightest coils or curls; if you are 1A your hair is dead straight. If you are 3B then you have quite curly hair but it is probably more manageable than being at the other extreme.
You can also have a combination of curls. This is usually because of mixed backgrounds and ethnicities or sometimes it can just be the result of a hormone change. I see quite a lot of women who after giving birth have a triangular section that starts at their crown area and runs down to their nape of tight waves (2C) or something similar, while the rest of their hair remains on the straighter side of things - and understandably, it can be very frustrating to have such differences in hair texture. Your hair may also change after something like chemotherapy, which almost always happens. If you had straight hair, your hair may suddenly grow back curly and since you’ve lived most of your life with different hair it can be a struggle to know what to do with it.
What Is The Curly Girl Method?
So, just a little run through of what the Curly Girl Method (CGM) is about. It’s an approach to haircare designed by Lorraine Massey for the care of natural textured hair. The method discourages use of regular shampoos and instead promotes cleansing conditioners or co-wash (conditioning wash) to keep the hair's integrity and keep it hydrated, which is what curls need the most.
The CGM Rules
The Curly Girl Method is all about embracing your natural texture. Most women or men go through their adolescence fighting their curls but when you’re actually taught what to do with your hair it can be life changing! There are many groups online that support the Curly Girl Method - most are pretty harsh about if you want amazing curls then DON’T TRY AND CHANGE THEM.
No heat styling of any kind to try and stretch out your curl, and no straightening or blow-drying unless it is to diffuse-dry your curls. Only techniques and products that will help your curls feel hydrated and loved! On this topic, the reason they don’t want you stretching out your beautiful curls is because heat styling and stretching of the hair will damage and dry out your hair cuticle. The elasticity in your hair worsens as a result so the spring back of curl lessens.
“Hair products containing sulphates and silicone are big no nos as they can build up in your hair and weigh down your curls.”
Danae Kirk-Ayton, Australian hairstylist
How To Style Curly Hair
OK, so… This brings me to the next big thing that will be a deciding factor in how you look after your curls. You may have a really tight curl but your individual strand of hair may be quite fine. Or you may have some kind of wave in your hair but your individual strand of hair is quite coarse. Fine hair strands need lighter products and possibly something with a bit more hold in it. Whereas if your hair is coarser, you will need products that are a little heavier.
So many factors, right? Well, that’s why so many people are confused about what to use on curly hair, and with so much information and misinformation out there, it’s no wonder. What will work for a fellow curly haired friend may not work for you. It’s about keeping an open mind, doing your research, and unfortunately, sometimes trying a lot of different products.
Curly Hair Products You Need
Any time I have a client in my chair, they are always desperately seeking that perfect product that will work for their hair (and usually they've already tried a thousand products over the years). Unfortunately, you will usually need a mix of two to three styling products to find that right balance of what your hair needs.
Don’t feel like you need to stick with one brand; you can totally intermix… that includes from your shampoo and conditioner, to your styling products and hair treatments. If you have a good relationship with your hairdresser, I would suggest asking for a sample of products so you can try before you buy; or if they don’t have single satchel samples for you to take home maybe even take in your own little sample pot and ask if they wouldn’t mind putting a small amount into it so you can try it yourself first. I always try to offer this when possible.
For fine curly hair, you need...
A leave-in conditioner to suit your hair type - this could be a lightweight oil or lightweight cream or silicone-free serum. And then something to define your curl. It could be a modern mousse (by this I mean a product that isn’t filled with alcohol). Then you might also need something to give your hair a light hold finish, like a texture spray or lightweight sea/wax finish spray.
For medium curly hair, you need...
A leave-in conditioner, a product to define your curl whether it be a little stronger hold or more moisturising, depending on how dry your hair is. And you can always finish your hair with an oil or something for hold (or both).
For coarse curly hair, you need...
A leave-in conditioner and an oil, possibly mixed together; a curl cream for moisture and definition; and possibly a curl gel to control any frizz or something for a bit of extra hold or moisture depending on your hair.
Finding A Hairdresser For Curly Hair
How do you pick a hairstylist for you? Unfortunately, not all hairdressers are pros with curls. This is due to a lack of education within our industry on afro/coily hair, which is terrible, but luckily we have an amazing hairdresser Chrissy Zemura in Australia advocating and currently working on a syllabus for TAFE on all types of curls.
I would definitely try and do your research to find the right stylist for you… How? Ask other people you know with curly hair for recommendations. Instagram is obviously a great platform to look at the hairstylist’s work but I would also book in for a consult before taking the leap. This is something most of my curly hair clients (especially those with quite tight curls) book in for first. You want to make sure that you are truly comfortable with the hairstylist looking after you and you want your hairdresser to be confident in looking after your beautiful hair. I think asking for honesty is the best policy here.
Danae's Dos & Don'ts For Curly Hair
DON'T: Use a regular towel to squeeze out excess moisture in your hair.
DO: Use a microfibre towel instead as it causes less friction on your hair.
DON'T: Just whack all your styling products in at once.
DO: Layer in your styling products. Take the time to section your hair - you should create at least four sections to apply your product.
Just as an FYI, I myself am probably a 1C or 2A depending on what day it is. I try and follow the Curly Girl Method as much as it applies to me. I hardly heat style my hair, and I try and encourage as much natural movement as possible - I wish I had more. I guess the whole grass is greener applies here! I love curls and would love curlier hair myself because I understand how to look after them BUT I do not have curls myself (insert sad face).
I have seriously considered a perm before but alas I have not taken the plunge. Nevertheless, I have spent my whole career trying to understand curls and what they need. I started my career in a salon where my boss was of Italian background so he himself and others in his family had curls. I found it fascinating and still do.