If you have curly hair, you already know how freaking ~moody~ it is. You can kiss it and hug it and load it with all the best creams, gels, and conditioners, yet it can still poof out, frizz up, deflate, or look like you’ve neglected it for the past five years (is this what having kids feels like?).
And although you’ve probably got a good handle on what your curls and coils do and don’t like, that doesn’t mean you can’t play around with a few new tricks to live your best curl life. Which is where I come in. I rounded up the 13 tips, hacks, and products you really, truly need to know (or, realistically, be reminded of because you keep ignoring them). Give ’em a skim, learn something, and get ready for really, really excellent hair. Truth: I use about 80 percent of these tips to get my curls below:
1. How to Find the Right Curl Products
The trick: Figure out your curl porosity
Okay, so this was really the most revolutionary, game-changing “trick” I discovered in the last year, and it fully changed how I approach my curly hair. Your curl porosity is your hair’s ability to absorb moisture (whether that’s water, oils, butters, etc). Low porosity means your hair cuticle is tight and hard to penetrate, which can lead to product buildup and weighed-down hair, while high porosity means your cuticle is raised (usually through damage or chemical treatments) and absorbs a ton of moisture, but also has trouble retaining that moisture.
Curls with low porosity require lightweight products and heat treatments to look their best, while curls with high porosity need butters, oils, and proteins to keep them moisturized and healthy. Buy me a drink and I’ll spend three hours breaking it all down for you, oooor just take this really fast porosity quiz (we didn’t create this—I just personally love it) and stock up on the curl products that work for your porosity.
2. How to Treat Dandruff on Curls
The trick: Make your own dandruff spray
It’s kind of unfair: Curls need a ton of moisture and oils to stay healthy, but moisture and oil can increase dandruff (the yeast that causes dandruff feeds off of oil). Usually, the fix would be a dandruff shampoo, but the sulfate-filled formulas tend to be way too harsh for already-dry curls. So I did some research—uh, texted my dermatologist friends—and DIY’d my own dandruff scalp spray that curbed my flakes without ruining my curls.
In a spray bottle, mix:
— 1/4 cup hot water
— 1/4 apple cider vinegar (which disrupts yeast growth—the cause of dandruff—by changing the acidity on your scalp)
— 6 drops of tea tree oil (a natural antibacterial and antifungal)
— 5 crushed-to-a-powder aspirin tablets (a major source of salicylic acid, which reduces flakes and soothes inflammation)
Once a week, I’d spray it all over my dry scalp, let it sit for 20 minutes, then hop in the shower to shampoo and condition like usual.
3. How to Fix Flat roots on Curly Hair
The trick: Root-clipping your curls
You probably wouldn’t guess it by looking at my curly hair, but my roots are actually stick-straight and ultra-flat, giving me the very coveted pyramid head. So since high school, I’ve relied on root-clipping to give my roots volume and hold while my hair air-dries.
Here’s how: After showering, plopping my hair, and raking on all of my products, I’ll twist a half-inch section of hair from my roots, twisting away from my face and clipping it with a mini claw clip a few inches above my ear. I create three twists on each side of my part, leaving an inch of hair between each twist, and a twist in the back. I’ll either diffuse or air-dry overnight (yup, sleeping on the clips), then undo the clips, rake through the twists to break them up, and boom—voluminous, curly roots.
HOWEVER, my method takes a long time to dry (thanks to the twists), so for a faster, more natural-looking root boost, try the tutorial above, which gives you volume with a few strategically placed root clips.
4. How to Detangle Curly Hair
The trick: Use a curl-specific detangling brush.
In the most ideal of worlds, you wouldn’t detangle your curly hair when it’s wet. Why? Because hair—especially fine or damaged hair—is extra fragile when it’s wet, leading to breakage, split ends, and even more tangles. Instead, before hopping in the shower, gently brush through your dry curls with a detangling brush specifically meant for your coils (they usually have longer teeth at varied lengths).
While in the shower (or after towel-drying your hair and adding your curl products), gently detangle your wet hair again with a wide-tooth comb to distribute the products without breaking up your curl pattern.
5. How to Prevent Breakage on Curly Hair
The trick: Brush from the bottom like you know you should.
No, this isn’t exactly a secret, but I’m willing to bet you never actually follow the rules, so, hey, I’m repeating it again. And again. Don’t start brushing your hair from your roots or even from the middle of your hair, or you’re basically begging for breakage and split ends.
Each time you start brushing from your roots, you push tiny knots lower and lower until you create a big ol’ snarled mess. Instead, brush from the ends, gradually and gently moving upward. Your curls will thank you.
6. How to Deep-Condition Curly Hair
The trick: Apply your conditioner to dry hair, not wet.
It sounds insane, but the key to keeping your curls really, really moisturized is to use your deep conditioner on dry hair to help maximize its potency. “You don’t want your conditioner to compete with water for space in your hair cuticle,” says Mona Gohara, MD, dermatologist at Yale University.
Basically, if your strands are already saturated with water, they won’t be able to absorb as much conditioner. So before stepping into the shower, rake giant blobs of deep conditioner through your hair, twist and clip it up, slide on a shower cap, and wait 20 mins. Then, hop in the shower, wash your body, do your shaving (if you’re into that), and let the steam from the shower help the conditioner penetrate your strands. Finish by washing your hair as usual.
7. How to Wash Curly Hair Without Stripping It
The trick: Make your own cleansing conditioner.
An annoying thing about curly-hair products: They’re often way too heavy for anyone with fine curls. But on the flip side, most “regular” shampoos are often too drying. So instead of playing a game of risk, try making your own cleansing conditioner that will gently cleanse your scalp while moisturizing your curls.
Just mix a squeeze of sulfate-free shampoo with a few squeezes of your favorite conditioner in the palm of your hand, then massage it into your roots before rinsing. Make sure to still use a conditioner on your ends for max moisture.
8. How to Take Care of Really Dry Curly Hair
The trick: Skip the shampoo and co-wash instead.
If you have extra-dry curls (or if you have type 4 hair), skip the shampoo completely and try co-washing—aka washing your hair with only conditioner or a specific co-wash formula. Co-wash your curls once a week or as often as needed to keep your hair moisturized without drying it out.
9. How to Keep Curls Clumped and Defined
The trick: Comb your curls when they’re sopping wet.
Instead of combing your hair after you’ve dried it and applied all your products, do your whole curl routine on sopping-wet hair while you’re still in the shower. Why? Because you want to encourage your curls to clump together and dry in their natural pattern, which can’t happen if you comb through them when they’re partially dry and already starting to clump.
10. How to Prevent Frizz on Curly Hair
The trick: Plop your curls with a T-shirt.
If you’ve never plopped your curls, I feel like you’ve never experienced really, really, really good hair. Because plopping—aka a technique that uses a T-shirt to dry your curls in a self-contained mound on top of your head to help them stay springy and defined—is the key to smooth, defined, frizz-free curls, while your regular terry-cloth towel is the enemy (its nubby, rough texture causes frizz, while the twisting motion ruins your curl pattern). Convinced? Check out this tutorial on plopping and give it a try.
11. How to Wear Curly Hair Overnight
The trick: Pineapple your curls.
If you’ve got natural curls, you’ve probably heard of—and even tried—pineappling. But if not, hey, this is your life-changing day. Pineappling works on any curl type, from 3a to 4c, and is an easy way to preserve your curls while you sleep so they don’t get pulled out or fuzzed up overnight. And thankfully, it’s easy. Before bed, just flip your head over, gather your curls on the top of your head, and tie them once (or twice, max) with a scrunchie, letting your hair spill forward.
12. How to Get Defined Curls
The trick: Cocktail your own curl cream.
If you can’t find a curl cream that works for your curl type, try making your own using a leave-in and a curl gel. Mix a squeeze of your favorite leave-in conditioner (for hydration) with a squeeze of lightweight gel (for definition), then rake it through your damp, plopped hair, drying it as usual.
13. How to Deep-Condition Curly Hair
The trick: Slather your curls with coconut oil.
Not exactly groundbreaking, but if you’ve never actually tried putting some coconut oil on your curls…welp, here we are with your new hair trick. Before showering, scoop and rake a palmful of coconut oil through your dry (yup, dry) hair until it’s fully saturated, then twist and clip it into a bun for 30 to 45 minutes.
To make it even more moisturizing, diffuse your clipped-up hair on low heat for a few minutes to help the oil penetrate your strands better (or microwave a heating cap and slip it over your oil-saturated hair until it gets cold). Wash and condition your hair as usual, then live your life.
Important note: Coconut oil is heavy. And that’s a good thing—if you have coarse, thick hair or high-porosity hair. But if you have fine curls or low-porosity, you might find a coconut-oil mask is too heavy for your hair (it’ll leave behind a bit of residue even after you shower), so play around with this trick on a day where you’re not, you know, walking the red carpet.
14. How to Style Second-Day Curls
The trick: Make your own curl-refreshing spray.
If second-day hair seems relegated only to beauty vloggers and fairy tales, please meet your new not-at-all-secret weapon: a DIY curl refresher. Although you can cocktail a ton of moisturizing and defining ingredients and play around with the recipe, start with the most basic mix of one part warm water and one part leave-in conditioner. Shake it all up in a spray bottle and mist it over your dry hair until it’s almost damp, then style as usual. If your curls end up drying too fluffy, add a squeeze of gel in with your concoction, re-shake, and re-mist.
15. How to Prevent Frizzy Hair While You Sleep
The trick: Sleep on a silk pillowcase.
Hey, nothing wrong with frizz—it’s a natural part of curly life. But when that overnight frizz leads to tangles and breakage in the morning, we’ve got a problem. If sleeping in a silk/satin bonnet isn’t your thing, try swapping your cotton pillowcase for a satin or silk pillowcase instead. It sounds ~extra~, but your curls can get stuck and knotted on the rougher surface of a cotton case yet will slip and slide over silk/satin. The result: smoother, shinier, less tangled and frizzed-out hair in the morning.