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This morning, for what may very well be the first time in my life, I was excited to shower. It was not because I was eager to feel clean again, though that has typically been the motivator, but because it was wash day. This post not only reveals my curly girl routine, which is perfect for my low porosity Type 2a, 2b, 2c curls, but I also take the opportunity to share how I've come to discover this curly hair routine… and some rough patches along the way.
Growing Up with a Deltoidal Frizzball
Growing up, the shower, particularly its impact on my hair, was the bane of my existence. My dad was proud of his 3-minute showers, and my inner environmentalist was jealous. Okay, if my showers took 20-30 minutes, perhaps I could even it out if I only showered once a week? That didn’t last very long, but I’ve spent the majority of my life postponing a shower, at least one that involved getting my hair wet, as long as I could get by without offending someone.
Why such aversion to the societally expected daily scrub-a-dub? Because the mop on my head was never satisfied: too dry, not enough definition, too itchy, too many flakes, my “curls” were limp, and I never knew what the magic formula was to make it pop.
I am an African American, Hispanic, Desi whose parents had no idea what to do with my mixed mane, entirely different from their respective experiences. I remember my mom tugging out knots (“rats’ nests”) in the bath and my dad trying to brush it out and back into a ponytail in the mornings before school, inadvertently making it fluffier and wilder with every pass. (I now wish I’d been a fly on the wall for these moments.) We grew up without much, and my mom, whose afro hair is completely different than mine, unknowingly took me to Great Clips one too many times before I decided at the age of 14 to completely chop it all off. (There is only one photo from this time in my life, and I can’t find it, thank goodness.) From then on, I grew it out. I cut and/or trimmed it myself until I was about 23 years old. I tried a fancy, expensive haircut once or twice, but I never understood how to maintain the gorgeous tresses I had after leaving the salon and started to assume I would never understand their black magic.
Hair in my teens and twenties...
I had no idea what I was doing in high school… Who did? In college, I started to find myself. I started to find my hair, too. I love some of these looks, I hate some of these looks, but I wouldn't trade them for anything.
Hey! I Spy Straight Hair…
On occasion, I would find myself suckered into spending 2(+) hours straightening my hair, a fun exercise initiated by well-meaning white friends who didn’t really believe me when I explained the time commitment they were making. Quickly though, I noticed the attention I received from white boys when they saw me with such a radically different look than my normal frizzy, pulled-back style, something more of an accessory or a part of my identity rather than a compulsory side effect of being human.
At 25, I moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains. North Carolina was a crazy experience for me for more reasons than I care to recount. Still, as far as hair is concerned, it’s too damn humid there for most women to bother straightening their hair. It wouldn’t last, so most embraced their texture and curls. I was blown away by the confidence all of these curly girls exuded. Where were these women when I grew up? (I desperately wished I had ‘normal’ hair like all of my Type 1 friends. #RepresentationMatters)
Shortly after moving, I met a bright, vivacious, beautiful human, a white woman, who wore her stunning curls proudly. They were gorgeous, healthy, well maintained, and I loved them. If she could do that, so could I! She introduced me to her hairstylist, and I was reintroduced to the Curly Girl method by DevaCurl. This was not my first encounter with this curly hair routine, but it was the first time that I gave the products a decent effort.
I dove into the no-poo approach, learned to “squish to condish,” t-shirt plopped, and saw improvement. Also, we did something drastic. I desperately wanted an undercut, but not a cute little one. My undercut, which I’ve now kept for years, extends from the nape of my neck to just below the crown of my head. It’s as if a full third of my hair is gone. Most people don’t know this unless I point it out or they see my hair up. I love this. Everything was faster: showering, washing, and drying (which could take over a day if I put it up into a pony while it was even slightly damp). Straightening it would probably take much less time too! I wouldn’t know though, I’ve never tried. The weather was so humid that straightening hair, which I hadn’t done in almost a decade, seemed even more futile. In fact, the humidity was good to my hair and my scalp. I didn’t have nearly as many flakes, itchiness, and I could wear my hair in ways that I started to actually enjoy. Looking back, this seems like an obvious message that my hair was screaming to me from the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, “YOU NEED MOISTURE!” But alas, I didn’t know my hair well enough to speak its language yet.
When we moved backed to Colorado in January of 2019, my hair health was the last thing on my mind. Still, I had noticed that on my trips back home throughout the years, upon arriving in Colorado, my hair limped, curls depressed, and frizzy. My scalp itched and flaked, and build-up was noticeable. I started sneaking in a deep clean with a clarifying shampoo every couple of weeks. I felt like I was lying, cheating on the Curly Girl method, doing a disservice to my strands on behalf of my irritated head. But I just needed to dig in with something to stop the itching and irritation. I tried apple cider vinegar, shampoos, and just raw mixes. I tried tea tree oil products and I tried mayonnaise. It didn’t work. And I had nowhere to go but clarifying shampoo.
–> Don’t let me fool you; my hair was pretty while it was wet, the wavy curls adequately moisturized and clumpy. But by the time it dried, it returned to its typical, frizzy and triangular shape.
… And I really missed the mark. There's that deltoidal frizz again!
For the remainder of 2019, I felt like my hair was pretty enough. I died it dark magenta and it frizzled a bit. I didn’t think about it too much, letting it grow out past my shoulder blades.
Seven months into Covid and trying to shake the oppressive inertia this year had become, I felt inspired to get a new haircut, trim my inches of split ends, and get fresh honey brown highlights. So I visited a curl expert stylist who relies heavily on Deva products in the Colorado area. I’ve asked hairstylists embarrassing questions throughout the years like…
“What can I do for my build-up?”
*Is sold DevaCurl Build Up Buster, which does nothing for me.*
“What should I do for my scalp?”
*Is sold tea tree oil products, which do nothing for me*
“Is this flake amount normal?”
*Is sold scalp moisturizing conditioners, which does little for me.*
In hindsight, these predecessors are far worse than the question I asked him this year, but for some reason, it was still embarrassing to ask, “Can you tell someone’s curl type pretty easily? What would you say mine is?” As a thirty-year-old woman spending $350 on a haircut, it felt inexcusable to not yet know my hair type.
“Oh yeah! You have type 2A, 2B, and 2C.”
What happened next was visceral. Thank goodness he wasn't actually “cutting” my hair at that exact moment! My breath caught in my throat in surprise, and I felt deflated. I’d fantasized and came to believe that my hair was the “perfect” Type 3, true “curly” hair. But there it was, out there and vocalized, permanently added to the record of all words to have ever been spoken. I’d had a sneaking suspicion that this may be the answer, and he finally confirmed it… I have “wavy” hair. A piece of my identity lay on the floor of the salon with strands of split ends and swept up into his assistant’s dustpan. Despite the less-than-desirable answer to my question, he still made a masterpiece of the mop on my head. “It looks amazing,” I’d told him as I left. (FYI: after a few weeks of my new routine, I still insist that I have a few strands of Type 3A… #justsayin)
Tired of not reproducing his magic on my own, I picked up the reigns on my curly hair journey, dusted them off, and tried again.
Learning from Others
A coworker, also a mixed woman of color, sits across from me. We frequently reveled in each other’s “good hair days,” often asking for product names that elicited the effect we had on any given day. She inspired me to take a trip to Target, where I found the tiny, three-foot section of “ethnic” hair products, meant to serve all of us with hair with different needs. I met the Shea Moisture brand. I got an overnight hydrating mask, and the result was immediate and phenomenal. “Wow! My hair really loves a decent hydrating mask.”
I kept playing around with different products, as did she, and we compared what was good and what was a dud. My Amazon wishlist quickly expanded to encompass jellies, mousses, curl creams, Ouidad products, and I even purchased a LUS brand set to give it a go. (I am hesitant to say how much money I’ve spent figuring out what ‘works for me’…) One day, as oft happens when Rabbit Hole-ing on Youtube, I discovered a curly hair guru that has rocked my world. Known as “Manes by Mell,” this sister-sister duo captivated me for hours.
In that short time, I learned about the crucial balance between overhydration and protein deficiency. I learned about the porosity of hair, something I’ve started to see creeping into the curly conversations I was a part of, but nothing as accessible as Mel. I learned about different textures needing different mixes of these two things. The curly hair products on the market are typically for primarily one or the other, though some can address both! My own hair porosity, I learned, is low. Once I figured this out, I ordered more products [than I care to admit] and changed my curly hair routine. The results have been amazing!
Throw on my favorite satin beanie at night, and I can have gorgeous hair for days! A quick mid-week wash and style and I am set! I’m in heaven, honeymooning with my hair in this new and unfamiliar relationship… Hey there, I think I might like you. *bites nails* Please let me know if you recommend any tweaks or have loved or hated a product. I’ll get around to things that have worked well for me and things that haven’t, but right now, this is my routine:
Curly Hair Routine
Wash Day (typically Sundays):
- Clarify with Garnier Triple Nutrition Shampoo
- BTW, this changed my life. 100% recommend; you won’t regret using it while you shampoo.
- Deep condition with either:
- LUS Deep Conditioner – can be done in the shower if in a hurry
- Rinse thoroughly and brush out tangles with a Wet Brush
- Jessicurl Deep Conditioner – for a more relaxed experience (heat, bath, relax, etc.)
- If my scalp feels irritated, I’ll use a Scalp Conditioner directly applied to my scalp and rinsed extremely well.
- Use a leave-in conditioner (applied after shower water is turned off)
- Get dressed on top, to an undershirt at least (I don’t like to style until I’m dressed, so putting on a shirt won’t ruin my hair)
- Using Mel’s suggested method, I use a Denman brush and section my hair into parts. After applying the following creams and potions, I brush each clump out, up, and away from my head (instead of brushing down). I will typically twist the clump away from my face or scrunch it to help it form more defined curls (“waves,” whatever…).
- Depending on how much curl I want and how long I want the look to last (I find “creams” to build up much faster than other curl enhancers, so I need to wash more frequently if I use it. This normally means I head for the mousse.
- LUS all-in-one styler: If I don’t feel like all the effort of using a curl cream, I’ll opt for the lightweight, all-in-one option from LUS.
- Drying process:
- Lazy day, no plans: I throw my hair up into a Hair Towel and call it good. If it’s still wet when I take it down, I’ll diffuse. If it’s been in the hair towel long enough to dry, then I won’t diffuse.
- If I’m in a hurry, I’ll put my hair in a hair towel for as long as I can, and then diffuse for 10 minutes, and let Mo’Nature handle the rest.
- If I just want dry, pretty hair, I then use Mel’s method(s) to dry:
- Diffuse upside down, starting with the back of the head and blowing down, to “train” roots to go up and out instead of down. After a few minutes, I’ll rotate my head, so the blow dryer is blowing my hair perpendicular to my face for a while.
- I do this until the hair is dry at the roots. Slowly, I’ll start clumping hair on the end of my diffuser and blowing it up, like you’re “supposed” to diffuse. I never do this for very long, only if any remaining clumps are wet enough to bother me.
Light Wash Day (typically Thursdays):
- Wash with LUS Shampoo
- Condition with LUS Conditioner
- Style with LUS Styler
- Dry for about 10-15 minutes using the method above (typically just enough to get crown dry), air dry the rest
- Add Pantene Curl Mousse if desired for extra hold
In Between Wash Days
If I need a freshen up, I’ll use Ouidad’s Clean Sweep Moisturizing Dry Shampoo. In the shower, I’ll wear a satin-lined shower cap and can [sometimes] beat my dad’s 5-minute shower when I really try.
A huge newbie curly girl mistake that I made was not sleeping in a satin hair cap. All the hard work during the day goes away the instant my head touches a cotton pillowcase. So, I got myself this sleep cap satin-lined beanie thing, and I love it. In my opinion, a hair nightcap is more important than a microfiber towel or a plopping towel. It might even be more important than the diffuser. I’ll have to ponder that.