Even though I struggled with my curls growing up, flip-flopping between my natural hair and straightening the crap out of them, I've fully embraced the wave in the last few years. Actually, I've been a full-on curly girl for so long that I've forgotten what my hair looks like straightened! My curls have become a big part of my beauty identity and while I love them, they take a lot of tender loving care. I've tried dozens of products promising to moisturize, strengthen and soften my curls, yet most of them have disappointed. But more recently, after doing lots of research and reading many reviews, I've developed a haircare routine that actually works.
Remember, everyone's hair is different, especially when it comes to curly hair, and your hair type will help determine the products that will work for you. For example, I have a head full of 3A, high porosity, medium density, medium width hair (you can learn more about hair types here and find out your texture here). This means that I have a variety of curl patterns and I also have to focus on keeping my hair moisturized and frizz-free. I also don't follow the official Curly Girl Method, so some of these products may not vibe with your preferences. With that in mind, the products and tools below help me keep my curls happy - and almost all of them are under $20!
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So, I don't use a shampoo every time I shower. Shampoo tends to strip my hair of moisture and leave it feeling dry. Instead, I use an apple cider vinegar rinse or clarifying shampoo once a week to help get rid of any build-up of products. My go-to clarifying shampoo is Ouidad's Water Works Clarifying Shampoo ($18).
DIY Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
Mix 5 parts water with 1 part apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle
Before conditioning, wet and detangle hair, then thoroughly mist with the ACV rinse from roots to ends
Massage the rinse into your scalp and let sit for 2-3 minutes
Rinse out and follow with conditioner
Since my hair is color-treated - though I'm trying in the process of growing it out - I use a color-depositing, non-lather co-wash (also known as a conditioner-wash). This cleanses my hair without stripping it, while also conditioning and depositing semi-permanent dye to help maintain my hair color. My absolute favorite co-wash is the Keracolor Color + Clenditioner ($22). I use this every time I wash my hair (typically 2-3 times per week). I also use this incredibly soothing scalp scrubber ($6.99) to really cleanse and moisturizer down to my roots.
Did I mention my hair tends to crave moisture? A leave-in cream is a must for my routine. I use Cantu's Shea Butter Leave-In Condition Repair Cream ($5.99) for this step. With soaking wet hair, I flip my hair upside down and apply about half a golf ball-sized dollop of the leave-in. Starting at the ends, I gently scrunch the cream up toward my roots, making sure to evenly apply it and stopping about an inch from my roots.
After applying my leave-in, I apply five pumps of SheaMoisture 100% Pure Argan Oil ($6.99). I focus this product on the ends, again gently scrunching from the tips toward my roots. Since oil and water don't mix, I sandwich this step between my leave-in and my styling cream (some curly-haired readers might recognize this as the LOC method - Leave-In, Oil, Cream).
I'd been using Miss Jessie's Multicultural Curls ($17.79) as my curl cream for a hot minute, but recently switched to Miss Jessie's Pillow Soft Curls ($22.49) after running out of the former and hearing tons of rave reviews on the latter. I would recommend Multicultural Curls if you're looking for a styling cream with a more mild scent and slightly more defined curls. But, if you're like me and prefer softer curls, I'd go with Pillow Soft Curls (the name does not lie!). Both are great products and I apply them the same way after my oil. With my hair still upside down, I apply a silver dollar-sized dollop of cream starting at the ends and working my way up to my roots. Then, I take my holy-grail Denman brush ($19.95) and gently brush through my hair in sections to make sure the product is evenly distributed.
The last product I apply - I promise! - is LA Looks Sport Xtreme Hold Gel ($1.99). I try to avoid the crunchy look but have found that gel is a must to help tame the frizz, so I apply about a silver dollar-sized dollop of gel, scrunching from the ends up to the roots. I then gently rake my fingers through my hair to break up any clumps and tangles.
These next steps are totally optional - sometimes, I just let my hair air dry with zero effort to help it along. However, my hair takes somewhere around eight hours to dry completely on its own, so when I don't want to walk around with wet hair, I use these tools to speed up the process.
Microfiber is great for my curls because it soaks up excessive water without the friction that a standard terrycloth towel can cause. This helps me reduce frizz and breakage while still speeding up how quickly my hair dries. I like using a Turbie Twist Microfiber Hair Towel ($12.99 for two) for this step. I flip my hair upside down and gently scrunch with the towel - the key words being gently and scrunch. Vigorously rubbing a towel against your hair is a recipe for breakage, frizz, and tangles. Then, I wrap my hair up in the towel for about 20 minutes.
I've found that while I totally can air dry after using the microfiber towel, my curls really pop when I use a diffuser on them. In case you don't know, a diffuser is an attachment for a blow dryer that diffuses the heat so it's more evenly spread and doesn't blow your curls around. I've been using whatever blow dryer I had in my arsenal, but Nathan got me an early birthday gift in the form of this Dyson-dupe Ionic Hair Dryer ($42.99). This blow dryer has more than 2,500 reviews on Amazon and while I haven't tried the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer ($399.99), I'm very impressed with my new dryer for about 10% of the price!
Last but not least, sleeping with curly hair can be a challenge. You have a couple options here to protect your curls while you sleep. Silk or satin fabric is the key for all of these: pillowcases can help reduce damage and tangles (but aren't great with longer hair), bonnets can keep your hair contained, and big scrunchies are great for tying hair up in a pineapple or loose bun. However, I've found that the best method for me is using a silk scarf like this one ($15.99).
To wrap up my hair, I fold the scarf in half to form a triangle, flip my hair upside down and wrap the long edge of the triangle at the nape of my neck. Then, I twist the corners around the front before tying them together in the back. This leaves me with sort of a Marge Simpson look, where my roots are covered by the scarf and just the ends peek out on the top. The products and tools I use are important for my curly haircare routine, but honestly they're all for nought if my hair gets totally ruined while I sleep. Implementing one of these methods for protecting your curls is highly recommended.
Do you have a curly hair routine in place? I'd love to hear about the products you like and how you take care of your curls!