Recently, after two decades of blowouts, flat irons, and Frizz Ease, I decided it was time to stop forcing my hair into submission and wear it the way God and my 99.9% Ashkenazi genes intended it: curly, with a halo of frizz.
Luckily, there’s an internet rabbit hole for that.
I dare you to google “curly hair” and then meet me back here in three hours. Did you figure out your curl type? (I’m a 2c.) Did you find the surprisingly robust Reddit community, with its helpful infographics and miles of threads? Are you now following 17 curly haired influencers who offer daily 360 degree curl tours on Instagram Live? Is your Amazon cart full of root clips, protein masks, and Buffs?
Where was all of this when I was growing up? No Fantastic Sams in the South Louisiana humidity knew what to do with my hair besides blow dry it straight. The only curly hair literature I came across was — if I was lucky — an afterthought paragraph in a four-page glossy spread about the cutest new hairstyles of 2001 (usually featuring a photo of Keri Russell as Felicity). I can’t bear to calculate the amount of time I’ve spent running a flat iron over my hair, only to have it curl immediately.
Essentially, I had to straighten my hair uphill both ways in the snow. Kids these days don’t even know how good they have it.
But then I dipped my toe into the online curly haired community, and not to sound dramatic, but I can’t think of anything else on the internet that has changed my life so completely (aside from discovering TV recaps during the first season of Veronica Mars, but that’s a different story).
If you, too, are curly curious, you might appreciate these life-changing things I’ve learned about curly hair:
1. Silicones and sulfates are the enemy.
I was too busy worrying about my hair to pay attention in high school science, but here’s the layperson gist: Sulfates give shampoo that fluffy, so-fresh-and-so-clean lather. But, they also strip away oil, leaving curly hair — often already desperate for moisture — even drier. Silicones help hair feel shiny, but they build up and leave curly hair flat. Plus, the only thing that can wash them away are sulfates.
So, the internet says, people with curly hair should get rid of both.
You can either make flashcards for words like trimethylsilylamodimethicone and TEA-dodecylbenzenesulfonate, or plug the ingredients on the back of your hair product into one of the handy ingredient checkers that are out there. What a time to be alive.
2. The best gel is $3 and hasn’t been redesigned since 1992.
The curly haired Reddit community swears by LA Looks Absolute Styling Extreme Sport Hold Gel. And now, so do I. (The bottle looks like it would have fit in perfectly on the set of Saved By The Bell, but hey, so does the entire juniors section of Target.)
3. Speaking of gel, you’re not using enough of it.
The first tutorial I read instructed me to use a lemon-sized ball of gel. “That’s a mistake,” I thought, and checked the next tutorial. Lemon-sized again. Even if we’re talking non-GMO lemons, that’s a lot of gel. But I do what the internet tells me, and my hair looks better for it.
4. People with curly hair love alliteration and rhymes and you’re just going to have to get used to it.
First, co-wash. When you apply your conditioner, use praying hands. Then make sure you squish to condish. After you get out of the shower, you’re going to either pineapple or plop your hair. Finally, scrunch out the crunch.
5. Russian Doll was influential.
6. Yes, cultural appropriation is a problem in the curly hair community.
Embracing my curls has changed a lot about my personal routine, and though I do love the phrase life-changing, I can’t pretend that my struggles with my hair are anywhere near the scrutiny black women face over their natural hair. It was only earlier this year that New York City officially banned discrimination based on hair — an issue that overwhelmingly affected black people.
But this doesn’t seem to come up often in the utopian society of curly haired folks — the few times I’ve seen the issue raised, it gets shrugged off. It’s not lost on me that my Instagram explore page is full of white women with 120,000 followers making money on techniques, products, and terms that, as far as I can tell, were staples for black women long before white women caught on. If you know of any POC rocking it in the curly hair world who I should be following, please let me know. Bonus points if they can finally tell me the difference between disodium cocoamphodipropionate and ethyl PEG-15 cocamine sulfate.