Spirals out of control?

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My hair is curly.

Not “it gets kind of wavy when I let it dry naturally” curly. It’s, like, rotini-pasta-noodle curly. Eileen Quinn playing Annie curly. Madam Medusa, snakes-for-hair kind of curly. You get the idea.

So when I notice a ton of split ends – generally a good year after my last trim – I freak out a little bit more than your average straight-haired girl. If you’ve got hair like mine, you know why. All too often, you go to a hair stylist who claims to know how to cut curls, ask for the bare minimum to be trimmed, and walk away looking like all your hair’s been chopped off.

Recently, I went to a salon where that didn’t happen because they cut my curls dry, allowing them to gauge the natural spring and flow of my hair. It sounds like  a great experience, and it was, except I was basically scolded for having damaged hair and told that straightening it once in a while (guilty) is as bad as an ex-smoker who occasionally has one cigarette. Ouch.

The stylist thrust a book into my hands to read while I was under the dryer (er, diffuser? I think that’s against one of the rules?) where I read all the commandments and dos and don’ts of how to “handle” curly hair. And I’m breaking it down for you now because most of them actually made quite a bit of sense.

1. No alcohol

Don’t worry, don’t worry. You’re still allowed to wine it up on the weekends. This is about no alcohol in your hair. May seem weird, but go check all your hair products and I’m betting the first several ingredients to most if not all of them is (drum roll) alcohol. In some form.

The problem with alcohol in your hair products, and thus your hair, is that it’s drying, and curly hair needs more moisture than any other hair type. Drying leads to breakage and an overall lackluster appearance. Generally, the more plant-based ingredients, the better.

Recently, I found that Trader Joe’s sells their own brand of citrus shampoo and conditioner (no alcohol in the ingredients at all) for a whopping $2.50 per bottle. It smells good, feels good, and costs nothing. Sold.

I still spritz on some anti-humidity hairspray and say a little prayer when I step out into those disgusting New York summer days, but other than that, my Trader Joe’s conditioner is all I need.

2. No washing

Not excessively, anyway. Like using products with alcohol and harsh chemicals, washing your hair too frequently can strip the follicles of their natural and conditioner-laiden oils, once again leading to dryness and breakage and stunted growth. If you work out a lot like I (try to) do, don’t be grossed out at the thought of not sudsing up your scalp every day. You can still act like you’re washing your hair: massage your scalp with plain ol’ water or some conditioner, even. It does the job.

3. No towels

Unless they’re microfiber. Even if you think you’re in the clear because you only squeeze your hair out with a regular bath towel, you’re still introducing a frizz monster to your head.

Instead, ring your wet hair out in the shower as much as possible, and then coat your strands in the alcohol-free conditioner of your choosing. Leave the conditioner in (no rinsing!) and scrunch out as much of the water with your fingers before using either the aforementioned microfiber towel or (for us cheap gals) an old T-shirt to scrunch out the rest of the excess water. You can carefully pat a little bit more conditioner over your now-shaped curls for extra frizz defense and maybe mist your halo with a little hairspray.

Do NOT touch your styled hair until it is totally dry – either on its own accord or via a diffuser. If you touch your hair while it’s trying to dry, you’re just going to create frizz, and the whole point of our operation here is to avoid the fuzzies.

So, when your hair’s finally dry (it probably looks crunchy at this point), re-scrunch it with your dry hands to soften and loosen the curls up.

4. No ponytail holders

This one sucks. I’m just going to go ahead and say that I’m not a fan of clips. There’s nothing I love more than smothering and strangling my hair back into a little bun when it’s pissing me off or I’m going for a run. But ponytails – metal clasp or not – are the enemy. They’re probably the biggest culprit for unintentional hair breakage. The better option is to twist your hair back and clip it – bobby pins, alligator clips, pencils, headbands or whatever else you can find to tame the mane.

Since practicing these techniques for a couple of weeks now, I at least feel like my hair’s in better condition than it was when I could care less about what I was doing to it. I’m going to try and keep this up in hopes of some day growing a long, unruly coif a la Keri Russell, pre-chop and pre-straightening.

If you’re looking for more details on this natural approach to curly hair, definitely check out Curly Girl: The Handbook. Despite the cheesy name, there are a ton of amazing tips and DIY shampoo and conditioning mask recipes in there. Author Lorraine Massey even developed an entire cutting technique for curls, the Deva Cut. To find a Deva-certified stylist or just get tips on searching for a curl guru, visit mydevacurl.com.

Originally published on the former Sweetlemonmag.com.

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