Styling curly hair—and writing about styling curly hair—is a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is easy: It's already curly! Volume, bend, hold...all that stuff comes easy to curly hair. No need to kill yourself over how to get texture from falling out—you know, like this. Curly hair can take direction better than just about anything. Maybe it takes a minute to actually coax it into the right direction—but once it's there, it's good to go.
But curly hair comes with baggage, too. Sure, it can hold style like nobody's business, but it's delicate in its own way. There's the obvious things, like the fact that curls tend to be on the dryer side and are prone to breakage. And then there are the less obvious things, like the fact that brushes are the enemy. If you have curly hair and intend to wear your natural texture, throw away your brushes. Seriously, just toss them out. Don't even trade it in for a wide-tooth comb. Wide-tooth combs are useless and brushes will only ruin your bounce.
But the real issue, when it comes to writing at least, is that everyone with curls has unique curls. (Again, this is only a problem for writers looking to work with broad generalizations and rules—we'd never do that, would we?) But the easy way to solve for that is just to cast two beautiful girls, instead of one, in a story about how to coax curls into being their best selves. So today, we're working with the wonderful Xiara (3C curls), Claudia (3A curls), and Neil Grupp, a hair stylist who knows curls (we met him here) to talk the best products for easy, manageable styling across the board. Because styling curly hair revolves around four real phases: wet, natural and dry, pulled back without much thought, and pulled back with a little more thought. Here's what product and technique you should use throughout each phase:
Not really a style, just a starting point. And the perfect time to figure out your never-be-without-it type of product. For Claudia, with finer curls, it's mousse. "We want to use a product that gives it grip and hold," Neil says. "Mousse is great—it gives the hair some bite." Neil used Orlando Pita Play The Great Inflate Air Whipped Styling Foam, but we've had good luck with the Ouai Mousse and the Bumble and bumble Mousse too.
Xiara's working with kinkier, coarser hair, so the product needs some time to really soak in. If this is you, make sure to apply a very moisturizing cream when your hair is close to soaking wet. Neil used Aquage Curl Defining Cream, which "feels like a leave-in conditioner but with a bit more of a hold." This will control the curl and nix the frizz in one scrunch. Other similar products include: Virtue Polish Unfrizz Cream and Kevin Murphy Leave-In Repair.
Clauda and Xiara wear Ulla Johnson dresses.
Using the Dyson Dryer. Which is the only blowdryer worth your time and hard-earned cash if you've struggled with using tools to dry and style your hair. It cuts down on time in a very serious way. (It used to take ITG's Senior Editor Emily Ferber an hour to blow dry her curly, coarse hair. With the Dyson, it takes 20 minutes.) Of course, recommendations on dryers that are not $400 are very much welcome in the comments.
But back to the looks, to blow dry natural curls you're going to want a low-heat, low-fan setting along with a proper diffuser attachment. As you're diffusing, there are some hand motions that help the process along. "I don’t know if you want to say this but, ‘Money, money, money’" Neil says, twisting the hair between his forefinger and thumb. "By doing this to the hair cuticle, you can dry the whole thing." Fully dry is important. If it's not dry all the way, it's going to continue to grow and change shape past what you may have intended to be the style.
Pulled Back With Zero Effort
The other great thing about curly hair is that buns are easy, always romantic, and all you really need is an elastic or some pins. On Claudia, Neil gathered her hair back into a chignon, but in the middle-back of her head. To keep it from feeling too athletic, he pulled some strands out in the front for some Dilone-esque curls to frame the face. He also pulled one side really tight to her head (using a bit of Aquage Finishing Spray), which gave it a bit of an undercut look. Very slick.
On Xiara, the best way to showcase her texture was a simple ponytail with lots of volume in the back. To hydrate the curls while wet, Neil used Orlando Pita Play Liquid Crown Multi-Oil Concentrate (this helps smooth the strands and hold the shape). To get the right fluff to the pony, he sprayed it down and scrunched with Orlando Pita Play Flash Light Shine Boosting Spray. Christophe Robin's Instant Volumizing Mist With Rosewater is another, very pleasant smelling alternative.
Pulled Back With Slightly More Effort
OK, if you want to spend a soupçon more time on your hair (and why not? Diffusing and scrunching is so low-impact you might feel motivated to go harder...), Neil got a little fancy for some inspo. Claudia got a loose chignon, this time properly at the nape of the neck, with texture all around, utilizing the Aquage Thickening Spraygel for an almost-wet look. The feeling? Soft but definitely polished. Meanwhile, Xiara got two braids roped around each other and detailed with the appropriately named Aquage Detailing Creme. Proper braiding makes hair happy and healthy, and stays put, which is key. Because if there's one thing girls with curly hair know, it's that natural hair rarely stays where you put it for long. Sometimes it's nice to be a little hands off.