Curls, Curls, Curls
September 5, 2010 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Help me style my curly hair.

I am a girl, early 20s, and I have dark brown curly hair. My hair is long, reaching a few inches past my shoulders (to the middle of my chest or so). Picture here: I'm on the right, with the longer hair.

My hair has pretty much been the bane of my existence for my entire life. When I was younger, I would put it up in a ponytail every day because it was so frustrating to deal with. In college I cut it short and started to straighten it occasionally. Last year I straightened it almost every day, but this was a huge pain because I had to get up really early, wash it, blow-dry it, and then straighten it. It took ages and I can't be bothered to do it every day anymore.

Now I have accepted the curls and I wear it curly most days. What I usually do is part my hair in the middle and tuck it behind my ears after washing it, then take one end in each hand and scrunch each end a bit. Then I leave it alone. After a few hours, it dries into nice loose curls and I fluff out my hair from behind my ears and it looks acceptable.

That's fine if I don't have to go out the whole day, but if I do, I'm walking around for a few hours with wet hair and I look like an idiot. I don't even mind that, but I really don't want to go into work like this every day. And with the weather turning colder soon, it's not going to be an option anyway.

Whenever I've tried to blow-dry my hair, it just frizzes and becomes huge and unmanageable. I don't really know what to do and it always turns out looking crap. I'm also afraid my hair might be too long and straightening it is the only way to keep it from looking messy.

I've read some related threads here and I tried the suggestion of putting my hair up in a towel right from the shower and then just leaving it alone. I found that this dried my hair out a little too much so I couldn't scrunch the curls properly and it just looked messy at the end. It did dry a bit faster though.

So: what should I do to my hair each morning to get it ready to wear? Are there any products I should be using? Is there a nice way to deal with those 'ha ha, have you just been to the gym?' comments whenever I go out with wet hair?

I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow and I'm planning on just asking for a trim as I'd like to keep it long. Is there anything else I should be asking for? I've had layers in the past, but I'm a little wary of them now. If I don't wear my hair down, I wear it in a braid, a bun, or (occasionally) a ponytail, so I want to be able to still wear my hair these ways if I want, and I think even lengths of hair work best for this.

Any tips, ideas, product recommendations, what have you are welcome and would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, MeFi!
posted by Put the kettle on to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Fellow curly girl here.

Since you've asked our opinion, I'd suggest not wearing your hair long.

Do your same procedure - wash, comb, scrunch and do 2 things differently:

- towel dry your hair. I keep mine in a towel for 8 minutes or so.

- product is your friend. I do either Aveda Be Curly (low humidity) or Paul Mitchell Super Sculpt (high humidity).

I'm on my phone but I'll send you some good haircut photos.
posted by k8t at 9:29 AM on September 5, 2010

Layered and short photo:

Phone makes it difficult but if you search for tag katy on my flickr, you'll see some haircuts.
posted by k8t at 9:32 AM on September 5, 2010

I have pretty much the exact same hair as you, and pretty much the exact same hair-story as you. It is only really recently that I decided to embrace my curls, and with some advice from my stylist I've been really happy. I am quite low-maintenance, and very unskilled in the gentler arts (ha) of beauty, so understand that everything I am about to describe to you is really easy and quick.

First off, you need a diffuser. This will CHANGE YOUR LIFE. :) When I have time I like to let my hair dry naturally, but when I'm short on time, or when I want bigger curls, I dry my hair with a blow dryer diffuser. Put your blowdryer on low, hold it low, facing up, and scoop your hair into it. Hang your head upside down and do the same thing. I don't know if that makes sense, but I am sure there are tutorials on youtube.

The other thing that I highly recommend is an Aveda product called Be Curly curl lotion. It's expensive (I pay $30 for a bottle), but it has lasted me 6 months or so already. You just put it in your wet hair and then either blowdry with diffuser or air dry. I also buy the Aveda Be Curly shampoo and conditioner, but I don't really notice anything incredible with them. The lotion, though - amazing.

I recently went out on a limb and had bangs cut. I read a bunch of older AskMes on curly hair styles, and went for it. I love them - so cute and feminine. Adds some style to what used to be boring. I do have to flatiron them every morning, but flatironing bangs takes almost no time and effort at all. Bangs aren't for everyone, but if you are at all interested, don't let your curls scare you away.

Those are basically the three simple things that helped me go from hating my unmanageable hair to loving my awesome curls, getting lots of compliments, and feeling really stylish and pretty. Good luck!
posted by arcticwoman at 9:37 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

My hair is neither curly nor long, but a while ago on a similar question here, someone recommended plopping to dry/style curly hair. The technique looks and sounds insane, but the results look good.
posted by phunniemee at 9:41 AM on September 5, 2010

As a fellow curly girl, I want to recommend the website Naturally Curly. They are big proponents of the "no shampoo" method, which I really like (and find my hair dries faster and looks less goofy when wet now). But even if you're not interested in changing your washing habits, there are some great resources on there, including some fairly active forums where people tend to post pictures of their hair styles and methods.

Another tip for drying is to wrap your hair in a linen or cotton towel straight out of the shower. No towel drying - I just wrap my sopping wet curls in an old tee shirt and leave it on for ~10-20 mins. This helps me form really nicely defined spiral curls.
posted by k8lin at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have hair that looks quite similar to yours, maybe with a little more curl up to the root but same loose structure.

For me the routine that works best is washing at night, letting it air dry at home where I don't give a crap about who sees me with wet hair, adding a very small of product once my hair is about 70% dry, and then going to sleep with it fanned away from my head so I'm not crushing it on the pillow. In the morning, a little plain water mist and scrunching "reactivates" the product and resets the curl and that takes all of 30 seconds. A dab more product if things aren't looking right.

Second some sort of plopping technique.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:51 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I work in a salon, blah blah etc credentials. Your hair is beautiful. Like previously stated get a diffuser. It allows your hair to be dried without it blowing all over the place like a weather man in a hurricane. Also, get some curl product. I recommend bumble&bumble, but it's expensive.

Now, if you want to go that little extra step, get some bangs. like this. Or even just side-part your hair, it'll make a big difference. you'll need a round brush to make the bangs flat yet curved like that. You can find loads of tutorials on youtube. And if you want all of your hair flat, round-brushing does this, too.
posted by shesaysgo at 10:01 AM on September 5, 2010

I was totally expecting to see a photo of some unmanageable nest, but your hair is really pretty, and personally I think you should keep the length (I really like long curly hair so I'm a bit biased).

Anyway, I'd suggest you get a superabsorbent towel and use that to dry your hair so you take out more of the moisture. Then put in whatever product you use and finger-comb. Then blow-dry very gently, using a diffuser and holding the dryer from a bit of a distance. Don't touch your hair with your hands or the diffuser as you blow-dry, and try to hold the dryer at enough of a distance that your hair isn't blowing around, or it'll get fuzzy. Doing all this should cut your drying time in half.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:08 AM on September 5, 2010

I have naturally curly hair, and the best length I've found is between just below chin length and shoulder length (dry). I have no sense at all for stuff like hair and makeup, but I've gotten the most compliments on my hairstyle by using the following routine:

When I get out of the shower I wrap my hair up in one of those terry turban things, and leave it up like that for about 5 minutes while I get dressed. Then I take it out, spray it liberally with spray gel (I love the Herbal Essences line of products, and they're cheap), then detangle with a wide-tooth comb. For styling, I wrap pieces of hair (mostly around my face) around my fingers to give some shape and definition to the curls. Then I STOP TOUCHING IT until it's dry. By the time I get to work, it's dry, but crunchy, so I scrunch it a bit to soften it up. That's it.
posted by cottonswab at 10:12 AM on September 5, 2010

Did you read these threads?

Here are the tips that totally changed the way I feel about my hair: don't dry it with a towel - use a t-shirt or similar for less frizz; use products without sulfates, silicones, and other bad stuff. I also don't shampoo at all, but we have pretty different hair. The forums on Naturally Curly are full of people who are VERY involved in their curly hair, and VERY enthusiastic about that way of doing things. If you go to the forum for your hair type, you might find some good tips.
posted by alphasunhat at 10:16 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your hair is beautiful! I use this hairdryer, that spins your hair around while it dries so it keeps the curl. I love mine.
posted by MsMolly at 10:38 AM on September 5, 2010

I'd reassess who's cutting your hair. My stylist has curly hair like yours and mine and does impeccable work. Next time you see a curly-haired woman with a fab cut, ask her where she got it. In my experience, it's well worth the money for a great cut. Bangs and a microfiber turban type towel will go a long way, too.
posted by mynameisluka at 11:32 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I could not be happier with my Curl Ease Hair Towel. Terrycloth is NOT your friend. I usually keep my hair tied up in the towel for about 10 minutes, if I'm not doing anything right away I'll leave it up for longer.

I would also think about cutting it. I really only fell in love with my curly hair after I cut it above my shoulders but I think you can do a lot with it longer too.

Good Luck!
posted by magnetsphere at 11:43 AM on September 5, 2010

You have beautiful hair, and it shouldn't be too hard to find a way to work with it that's attractive and easy.

Now I'm about to barrage you with links, so take only what you need and leave the rest!

Here's another thread that may help you, since it focuses on low-maintenance ways of dealing with curly hair.

I will plagiarize my own comment from that thread and note that this haircut (which I first saw on yet another curly-hair thread) has worked well with my fine, very thick hair, although it is much curlier than Miranda July's -- or yours, for that matter. (The haircut also has a side part, which shesaysgo suggested above.)

My hair is very dry, so washing with Jason Natural Apricot Conditioner has made a world of difference in how well it behaves. (It actually shines now!) I detangle in the shower with my fingers, and I second drying it with a linen or cotton towel -- I blot with an old pillowcase.

Then I put Kinky Curly Knot Today on it, followed by Kinky Curly Curling Custard. Finally, I smooth my bangs with Sally Hershberger Style Primer for Wavy Hair. (Note: This is the reverse of the instructions on the Style Primer bottle, which call for putting it on before other products -- hence, the word "primer.")

All of my products are procured at the local outlet of Whole Paycheck except for the Hershberger stuff, which I bought at Target. (I have heard that some Targets have Jason and Kinky Curly products now -- YMMV.) And I do my whole routine at night, like slowgraffiti does.

Several folks have mentioned Naturally Curly, and there's a good link on the discussion board to a video of how to use the Kinky Curly products. Some of the reviews on the site of Knot Today and Curling Custard have good tips, too.

Best of luck!
posted by virago at 12:42 PM on September 5, 2010

Devachan. I use their one curl conditioner (rinse it mostly out, but leave a bit in) and a bit of their arc angel gel. I put the top layer of my hair up in clips near my part while I'm getting dressed to give it some lift, and scrunch it dry with paper towels (good for my hair, bad for the environment, so moving quickly along...) or an old cotton t-shirt (seriously, a billion times more absorbent and useful than towels for this sort of thing). This speeds up the drying process just enough for me to shake out my curls right before walking in the office door.

Also, your hair is gorgeous. Just FYI. I'd vote against cutting it short. It looks like just a trim should be great for you! (I do layers, but my hair is much curlier and wonkier. Yours doesn't look like it needs them for nice shaping. Lucky you!)
posted by Eshkol at 3:15 PM on September 5, 2010

Your hair is really pretty and a beautiful color, too. In addition to the Naturally Curly website, my friend recommends the book Curly Girl. Some of the styles might be a few years out of date, but you can probably update them.

Just to inspire you to not cut it all off if you don't really want to, check out the style photos here (and think how hard most of these women had to work to get their curls and waves): Rasysa (Long) - it's a selection of cuts from various Japanese stylists.

I'm struggling with what to do with my halfheartedly wavy long hair in so-so condition (yours looks so much nicer!) myself, so I'm paying attention to these answers!
posted by wintersweet at 4:52 PM on September 5, 2010

I'm a lot happier styling my hair if I get it wet less often (two or three times a week) but don't cut any corners when it does get wet.
posted by anaelith at 1:09 AM on September 6, 2010

You have such pretty hair :)

So, you don't towel-dry at all at the moment? I may have misunderstood your question. But your hair will take much longer to air-dry from soaking wet. Towel-drying it will speed up the drying process. You would do better to get one of those special Curl-Ease towels, but I use normal towels and do not have a frizz issue. For a long time I did not towel-dry my hair at all and just applied product and let it air-dry. It took HOURS and even though my hair looked fine when it finally dried I was sick of looking bedraggled for most of the day. But towel-drying does not seem to have caused significant frizz for me at all.

Now, I tend to put leave in conditioner in it when it's soaking wet, just when i've come out of the shower, and then put it up in a towel for about five minutes while i put my clothes on etc. Then I take it down and apply some gel and scrunch, but - and this is important - i try not to break the curls that have already formed.

DON'T TOUCH it while it's drying, and it'll dry well, as you probably know. if you can invest in a satin pillowcase, you will wake up with hair that doesn't need much doing to it between shampoos.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:09 AM on September 6, 2010

Another curly girl here. My hair is a lot curlier than yours, which you can see here.

I nth the suggestion of using a special microfibre towel for curly hair, or even a large t-shirt (which is what I use). I put my leave-in and gel in my hair when it's soaking wet, and then I use the t-shirt to squeeze all the water out of it. It still takes about an hour to dry, but it's better than the 3-4 hours it used to take. Sometimes I also do this at night, and then go to bed without running my hands through it and loosening it up, and when I wake up it usually looks pretty good. I notice a difference in how it looks, but no one else does.
posted by canadia at 6:51 AM on September 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your responses, everyone! I'm in the process of moving flats right now, but once I'm all settled I'll try some of these suggestions and mark best answers.

My haircut ended up a little more intense than I'd planned -- it's still long, but not as long as I'd hoped, and I have layers now. But after messing with it for a few days, I like it now -- I do a deep part, so it's almost like I have side bangs now. What I don't like is that the layers make it difficult for me to braid my hair or put it in a bun. The hairdresser really wanted to give me bangs, and I was tempted, but too scared to go through with it in the end.

Also, I just want to thank everyone who said nice things about my hair. I wasn't expecting anything like that, and I've been self-conscious about my hair for a really long time, so those comments were really, really nice of everyone. Thank you!

I'm looking forward to trying out these suggestions -- thanks so much to everyone who responded.
posted by Put the kettle on at 7:41 AM on September 19, 2010

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