Read an Excerpt
Understanding Your Hair
Curly Hair Categories (The Nine Lives of Curly Hair)
All curls are not created equal, which means there is no universal regimen that works for every type of wave. Therefore, it's essential to identify your hair's texture correctly in order to treat it right. After all, you wouldn't wash your face with dishwashing liquid or polish your nails with housepaint. Knowledge is power, so get to know your curls. Once you're familiar with your hair's personality, you'll know how to anticipate its mood swings and be able to control and prevent outbursts. A curl's best friend is awareness.
The following section outlines the various curl widths, textures, and conditions. Most manes contain a combination of each category-for example, one person may have fine, loose waves in the back with medium, coarser curls in the front-and each section needs slightly different care. Most of the time, we are so focused on its overall appearance that we don't take time to examine our hair in sections. If you study your own hair carefully, you'll be able to spot the various curl patterns and understand its unique language. As I always tell my clients, "Listen to your hair. It speaks to you." It may seem like a lot of work, but the payoff is huge. A healthy, well-tended head of curls is what turns straight-haired people green with envy. Need I say more?
So scan the following section for the characteristics that best describe your hair. As you read the book, mix and match the advice about styling products, cleansing, conditioning, and cuts to determine the best routine for your unique set of curls.
* LOOSE: This soft, less defined curl features big, shiny waves approximately two inches wide. Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Roberts, Heather Graham, and Ananda Lewis are the poster children for this category. When loose waves are cut short, they tend to look straighter, and they become curlier with length. But longer styles may weigh down a small face or diminish natural body, so keep this in mind when choosing a cut. While this curl pattern is easiest to straighten, don't be tempted to do it daily-even gentle waves are vulnerable to dehydration and heat damage.
* CURLY: Your "classic" curls fall into tendrils one to one and a half inches wide. Your mane boasts lots of volume that may fool you into thinking your hair is coarse. Don't slip into this trap! Chances are, your tresses are fine and delicate and require tender care. The spiraled position forces the cuticle (the outer, protective layer of hair) to stay open and vulnerable to dehydrating forces that penetrate and rob the hair of its necessary moisture. This type of curl is tighter when cut short, and it transforms into looser spirals when worn longer. Many people who fall into this category bemoan the fact that they always look "too cute" or childish. Actresses such as Debra Messing, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Julianna Margulies, Keri Russell, and Melina Kanakaredes remind us that this type of curl can in fact look sexy and sophisticated.
* KINKY: These tiny ringlets of an inch or less in diameter are probably the most fragile of all three categories. Like medium curls, the tightly coiled shape leaves the cuticle susceptible to dryness and damage from heat styling, chemical processes, the sun, pollution, and artificial air. Tight curls fall into several patterns. When stretched out, you may see an S shape, a loose, reverse S like a Z, or both. The looser the curl pattern, the more moisture the hair has retained-although it's never enough. Hair in this category is often chemically straightened or softened, which demands extra care and maintenance. Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Diana Ross, Carmen Ejogo, and Macy Gray's signature curls prove that proper styling, frequent deep conditioning treatments, and the right cut will keep that Bride of Frankenstein look at bay.
* FINE: The biggest surprise my clients find out about their hair is that almost 99 percent of them have baby-fine locks. Contrary to popular belief, curly hair is often fine and quite delicate-no matter how voluminous or tightly spiraled. People frequently mistake density for coarseness, which leads to improper and harsh treatment. Care for your silky curls with a light touch-steer clear of thick styling gels and creams, silicones, and moisturizing formulas that contain oils. By applying lightweight products to your hair, you'll allow your fine curls to reveal their natural shape and spring.
* COARSE: These strands are thicker in diameter than fine hair and are much more resilient to damage. Curly hair is usually fine-coarse hair is typically found on the straighter hair of Asians and Native Americans. (Remember Pocahontas and her long smooth braids?) Sometimes mature women with gray hair will also find their tresses have become coarser. The cuticle of coarse hair stays closed, which keeps out frizz-causing moisture, flyaways, and split ends. While this hair texture may sound like a dream, it's actually so thick and heavy that curled sets rarely stay in.
* FRIZZY: Frizz is created when hair lacks its own internal weight. The spiraled pattern of each curly strand forces the cuticle to stay open, inviting dehydrating forces such as heated styling implements, the sun, and dry artificial air to rob the hair's inner segment of moisture and nutrients. The hair shaft is then virtually weightless, allowing tiny baby hairs to float away from the cuticle, creating that fuzzy halo effect. Well-conditioned and hydrated hair possesses inner weight that prevents flyaways, fostered by a closed cuticle, thus sealing the hair shaft off from a ruffled cuticle and the resulting frizz. The best way to eliminate frizz is to dry your hair naturally. Nature (read: water) is the best defense against dehydrated hair.
* DRY: By now, you've learned that curly hair is prone to dehydration. A perpetually open cuticle is a magnet for moisture-sappers such as harsh cleansers, heat styling, and environmental forces like wind and sun. A dry mane acts "tense"-strands don't relax and fall into healthy curl patterns. If you spend lots of time outside or are addicted to heat styling, weekly or biweekly deep conditioning treatments are vital to maintaining a beautiful set of curls.
* BRITTLE: Brittle tresses are most likely fragile from repeated permanent hair coloring, straightening chemicals, and excessive styling-product buildup. Just as you cleanse your face of makeup and dirt to prevent clogged pores, you must rid your hair of outside elements, such as silicones, waxes, and oils, that may stifle the hair shaft. Styling is a real challenge with brittle hair because it doesn't want to fall into a shape-it behaves lifelessly despite careful blow-drying or use of a curling iron. Give your hair a vacation from any chemical processes, and treat it to weekly conditioning treatments to restore its lost moisture and nutrients and rebuild its strength. Fortunately, this level of damage is rare.
* SPLIT ENDS: Every mane-curly, straight, short, long-is susceptible to split ends. Strands become dry and "empty" from a variety of assaults, including the environment, frequent heat styling, and harsh cleansers. In this condition, the cuticle remains open and feathery. These tiny raised layers are actually split ends, also called flyaways. They are weightless and lift away from the cuticle, creating that halo of frizz. Contrary to popular belief, split ends are found all over the hair and cannot be fixed with cutting. The best treatment for split ends is to feed your hair, just like your skin. A nourished hair shaft will have enough internal weight to keep the cuticle closed so that each curl is smooth. Clearly, trimming split ends is not an option-you might as well shave your head. Since split ends can appear anywhere, frequent deep conditioning is the only way to prevent them. Note: You'll see the most flyaways in the winter, when the hair is prone to extreme dryness. For a quick fix, spray your tresses with a leave-in conditioner to quench their thirst.
What about humidity? Why does moisture wreak havoc on dry hair? The typical curly hair shaft is either empty or full of gaps where moisture and nutrients have escaped. Humidity fills the strands with moisture, forcing the cuticle to bulge open, creating a ruffled effect from the tiny baby hairs lifting along the hair shaft. The only kind of "good" moisture is the kind that remains self-contained within the hair shaft.
Why is it harder to hide frizz on curly hair? The corkscrew shape of each wave is predisposed to the frizzy effect (as described above), whereas on straight hair there's a single surface that can be flattened out with heavy styling products that would spoil the flow of natural curls.
MYTH: The only way to prevent frizz is to use silicone-based products.
TRUTH: Silicone is like hot fudge-it's best in small doses. Silicone creates a barrier between your hair and the elements, so in one way strands are protected from frizz-inducing rain, humidity, and perspiration. Unfortunately, silicone also smothers the hair's cuticle, preventing it from "breathing." If silicone products are used too often, the strands will become weak and limp and won't be able to form healthy, vibrant curls. Resort to silicone for emergencies, when you don't have time to style your hair properly.
MYTH: Curly hair is always dry, so always choose moisturizing shampoos, conditioners, and stylers.
TRUTH: While curly hair is prone to dryness, you should rehydrate your locks carefully. Many moisturizing products use oils and waxes to lend hair a smooth, silky texture. Your hair may feel less dry, but it will be difficult to style. These ingredients are too heavy and occlusive for curly tresses. By weighing down each strand and clogging the cuticle, your hair can't "breathe" and reveal its natural curl pattern. Look for products that contain cetrimonium chloride (vegetable), panthenol/pro-vitamin B5, and wheat amino acids to truly restore your hair's moisture. Don't be lured by Grandma's myth that olive oil is a great hair hydrator. Not only is it messy, but it will suffocate your hair shaft much like heavy styling aids.
MYTH: Use a flat iron to get rid of frizz.
TRUTH: Why not hold a match to your hair? Heat implements such as curling and flat irons singe the cuticle-and damage to this segment renders far more long-term damage and immediate frizz than blow-drying.
MYTH: Split ends occur when the tips of your hair break apart.
TRUTH: Surprise! Split ends are synonymous with flyaways and can occur in any section of the hair: the crown, the bangs, the sides, the nape, and-yes-the ends. As I mentioned earlier, split ends are the tiny baby hairs that lift away from the cuticle when the hair shaft is depleted and weightless. When your strands are dry, there aren't any nutrients to give them substance, so they float away from the cuticle, causing that dreaded ruffled, frizzy effect.
Don't be fooled . . . Hot oil treatments claiming to seal and repair split ends merely provide a temporary and incomplete service. Oils may smooth frizzy hair for a few hours, but they cannot permanently tame those flyaways. Oil will only perpetuate the problem by cutting the hair shaft off from valuable nutrients and moisture and causing the hair to become sticky with oily residue. Shrewd marketing causes consumers to believe split ends appear only on the tips of the hair, and that these forked hairs can be re-fused with their magical elixirs. Yes, it's too good to be true!