I Woke Up Like This: My Curly Hair Care Routine

I get a lot of questions and comments about my hair, mostly from strangers but enough are from friends (hi, Yana!), family, and acquaintances that I realized I should write a blog post about it that I can link them to so I don’t feel like a broken record when I say the same things over and over again. I will start by saying that my hair mostly grows out of my head the way that you see it. (Hence the title of this post, “I woke up like this.”) Key word there, though, is mostly. While I had embraced my natural curl pattern years ago, I was still plagued with frizz, flatness, and dryness when it came to my hair. I had a lot of issues with breakage and split ends. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I switched up my routine and the products I was using and saw a huge, dare I say drastic improvement in the health, growth, and overall condition of my hair. So while I may “wake up like this” on a daily basis, there’s actually a lot of thought and care that goes into my hair and is the reason I’m able to just roll out of bed and go most days.

What I DON’T Do

The main aspects of my haircare these days lies in the things I do not do to it:

  1. I do not use sulfate shampoos. I find them to be overly drying to my already dry hair. I also, therefore, do not use silicone conditioners, since silicones are not water-soluble (except for a special few) and require a harsh sulfate to rinse out.
  2. I very rarely use heat styling tools or hair dryers. Since my hair is naturally curly, I don’t have to curl it. I straighten my hair maybe once a year, if at all. And I hardly ever, if at all, use a hair dryer. When I do use a hair dryer, I do so on a low heat setting and I utilize a diffuser attachment. I also NEVER heat style without a heat protectant.
  3. I do not brush my hair. Seriously, never. I only own one hairbrush, and I use it for brushing out wigs for when I LARP. I do detangle it in the shower with a wide tooth comb when it’s soaked with conditioner, but otherwise nope! I also don’t tease my hair, never ever.
  4. I don’t dry my hair with towels. The fibers on towels catch on individual hairs and pull at them, disrupting the curl pattern and causing frizz. Instead I use old t-shirts to dry my hair with after a shower, and use a scrunching, NOT rubbing, motion to do so.
  5. I’ve never colored my hair with permanent hair dye. I colored my hair once with semi-permanent dye, but it was only the ends to make them purple and pink and it had faded out after a couple months. Even when I did that, I told my hair dresser not to use bleach at all and I was lucky that my hair is light enough to take the colors without the use of it.
  6. I’ve never chemically straightened my hair. I did do a section perm once, to try to get the top layer, or “canopy,” of my hair to curl like the rest of my hair, but it only worked temporarily and I never repeated the process.

A Hair SelfieDiscovering the “Curly Girl” Method

In December 2013 I had my first Deva Cut, which was the catalyst in my hair revelation. I loved the cut so much that I started researching the methodology behind it. I purchased Curly Girl: the Handbook and read it cover-to-cover. (I have the ebook edition which also includes some videos.) I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone with wavy or curly hair. It will change your life, I swear.

In April 2014 I completely stopped using shampoo with sulfates. Sulfates commonly found in shampoos are harsh surfactants, and are actually the same ones used in things like dish washing soap. They’re meant to dissolve and dislodge all the oil in your hair, which they do very well… Too well, actually. They completely strip your hair of all the natural oils your scalp produces to nourish the follicles. And if your hair is curly, like mine, it is highly likely that it’s already prone to dryness. That is because it takes much longer for the natural oils to travel down the curly-shaped follicles to the ends of the hair before you wash them away. This is especially pronounced if you have long hair like I do.

So I started the Curly Girl Method and got rid of all the sulfates and silicones in my hair products. In fact, I got rid of shampoo almost completely and started washing my hair with conditioner, which is called co-washing. I keep a sulfate-free shampoo handy for when my hair feels extra greasy or like it has a lot of buildup from other products, but I honestly use it very rarely. Co-washing has made the biggest difference in the health and condition of my hair, which while still prone to dryness is a hell of a lot less dry than it used to be!

My Wash-Day Routine & Products I Use

My CoWash and ConditionerI only co-wash my hair 1–2x a week, sometimes 3 but definitely not more than that. I’ve been using Suave Naturals Conditioner for co-washing because it’s cheap, silicone-free, easily attainable, and smells delicious. My favorite scent is Tropical Coconut, but they have others to choose from. I also have used and enjoyed DevaCurl’s No Poo, which has a nice refreshing feeling from the peppermint oil in it. I fill my palm with the conditioner, rub my hands together, and then massage it into my scalp with the pads of my fingers—not nails—to loosen dirt and oil. I mix in some water as well and really scrub to loosen the dirt and oil. At this point I am ignoring the length of my hair and just concentrating on the scalp. The massaging action required here actually helps promote hair growth, too, because it’s stimulating the follicles.

After a thorough scrubbing I rinse the co-washing conditioner out completely and with it the loosened dirt and oil. My next step is to condition. I’ve been using the Generic Value Products Conditioning Balm that you can get from Sally’s Beauty Supply and sometimes on Amazon. It’s a third of the price of it’s original counterpart, the Matrix Biolage Conditioning Balm, which I bought and used once. The generic version actually has a thicker formula with much better slip that I prefer. I also have used DevaCurl One Condition in the past and really liked that, too. I take a handful of conditioner and, with my head flipped upside-down, spread it evenly throughout my hair with my fingers. I then use a wide tooth comb to gently detangle my hair, starting at the ends and working my way upwards. After my hair is detangled, I add some more conditioner to the ends and twist my hair up into a bun for the remaining duration of my shower.

At the end of my shower I change the temperature of the water so that it’s cool (not cold) and flip my head upside-down again. I gather water with my cupped palms and squeeze it in an upwards motion into my hair, scrunching/squishing the conditioner gently out of my hair with my fingers so that I’m starting to form the curl pattern. I do this 2-3 times, and then I exit the shower. This is called the squish-to-condish method, though at the moment I don’t add conditioner during the process like some people do because I add leave-in later and also because my hair is thin, it tends to get weighed down with too much conditioner left in.

My Styling ProductsAfter the shower, keeping my head upside-down, I scrunch out excess water with my palms and then add a leave-in conditioner. I’m currently using As I Am Leave-In Conditioner though I was previously using Kinky Curly Knot Today Leave-In Conditioner and had been using that since I started the Curly Girl Method. I put a quarter-to-half-dollar size in my palm and smooth it over my hair, again scrunching upwards to release excess water and to distribute the product evenly. After the leave-in I add a small amount of organ oil to my palm and smooth that over just the ends of my hair. I’m currently using the Physicians Formula Argan Oil, but you can find and use any brand. Just make sure it’s 100% argan oil, and not mixed with any silicones or other types of oils that might weigh the hair down.

Then I add my styling product. I’m currently using Curls Goddess Curls Botanical Gelee but have previously used DevaCurl’s Light Defining Gel and their B’Leave-In Curl Boost & Volumizer. I like all three products, the latter is the lightest hold. I take a small palmful of product and rub it between my hands, then smooth it over my hair just like I did with the leave-in conditioner. Again, I scrunch upwards to release excess water and encourage the curl pattern. At this point I may separate some larger curl clumps and scrunch some more, but sometimes I don’t bother.

After that, I dry my hair with an old t-shirt with the same upwards scrunching motion. I let my hair’s part form naturally, which is why it’s never precisely straight. I then plop my hair for 15–20 minutes, or however long it takes to do the rest of my getting-ready routine (doing skincare, getting dressed, applying my makeup, etc.). Then, after all that is done, I let it down, shake out the curls a little bit and I leave my hair alone to air dry. I try to refrain from touching it at all until it is dry. Sometimes I will add some curl clips in at the roots to add volume to the top of my hair, but I usually don’t need it, as plopping helps plenty with volume.

At night I don’t currently do anything special with my hair besides position it above my head on the pillow. Since I don’t move a whole lot while I’m sleeping—seriously, I’ve been told I sleep “like a corpse”—it more-or-less stays in place and doesn’t get too rumpled. However I do still want to invest in a silk sleep cap in the future, more on that later.

Day Two ProductsIn the morning, I mostly roll out of bed and go. If my hair is looking frizzy or dry, I’ll spritz it with DevaCurl’s Set It Free Leave-In Conditioner Spray and scrunch it with some water to refresh the curls. I keep a travel-sized bottle of the conditioner spray in my purse, too, for refreshing curls on-the-go! I might also add some argan oil to the ends, depending on how dry they feel. I do this very sparingly because I don’t like having oily ends. I will also use a dry shampoo if my hair is looking greasy at the roots or if it’s lacking volume (dry shampoo is amazing for volume!). I’m currently using Bumble&Bumble’s Pret-a-Powder which came as a recommendation from my friend Sara. I lift my hair up in sections and dust the powder at the roots, then after the powder has been distributed across my scalp I use my fingers to shake the hair at the scalp, lifting from underneath, to distribute the powder, help it absorb any excess oils, and build volume.

Things I’d Like to Try

There’s a few things I’d like to try and possibly add to my routine to help facilitate the conditioning of my hair, boost it’s color and shine, and help prevent frizz and loss of moisture.

  1. Pre-Poo’ing with Coconut Oil: I’ve seen a lot of people swear by this to help condition their hair before they wash it (hence “pre-poo,” or “pre-shampoo”). It involves slathering the hair with coconut oil and leaving it in for at least 10–20 minutes before getting into the shower to wash it. Some people do this the night before and sleep with the oil in their hair. I’ve only tried this once so far, and keep meaning to do it more often!
  2. Deep Conditioning with a Heat Wrap: I have this microwavable hair wrap/cap from Hair Therapy Wrap that I’ve heard good things about, I just haven’t used it yet. Mostly because I’m still hunting for a good deep-conditioning mask that doesn’t have silicones in it. The sample I have from Ouidad has silicones, sadly. 🙁
  3. Color-Depositing Shampoo/Conditioner: Yes, my hair is naturally red and no, I don’t think I’ll ever permanently dye it another color but I do want to try ways to enhance the color that I do have. I’ve used shampoos with henna in them back in high school and I remember liking them a lot at the time. I’ve recently discovered a color-depositing shampoo that’s sulfate free called Tressa Color Maintenance Watercolors Shampoo in Liquid Copper and a color-depositing conditioner without silicones called Davines Alchemic Conditioner in Copper so I’ve ordered both off of Amazon to try. Both of these products are semi-permanent and will wash out after several washes if I don’t continue using them, so I’m not worried about them altering my color permanently. When I run out of my Conditioning Balm I’ll replace it with the Davines Alchemic Conditioner, and I’m going to try washing my hair with the Tressa Watercolors Shampoo once every two weeks to start. We’ll see how well these enhance my natural red! My goal is to have my hair look like it does when it’s shining in the sun all the time.
  4. Sleep in a Satin Cap: I keep meaning to purchase a satin sleeping cap to help prevent frizz and loss of moisture at night, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I should get on that.

This seems like a lot…

…and that’s because it is. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, there’s actually a lot of care and thought that goes into rolling out of bed and having my hair already looking fabulous. 😉

So, how do you care for your hair? Have you done any research on the processes/methods I’ve mentioned above? Is your hair straight, wavy, or curly? Do you ever wear it with your natural pattern? Why or why not? Do share!

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