The return of the ‘Curly Girl’ How to make the most of your twisty tresses
Straight hair has become the uniform of 21st century beauty. Jennifer Aniston made her name with it. Gwyneth Paltrow won’t be seen in public without it. Julia Roberts hasn’t made a movie with waves for years and now it seems that every woman of every race is busy erasing, relaxing, blow drying and processing her kink.
But it’s not for everyone. On very young girls it looks conformist and conservative. On women over 30 with long chins or angular features it looks aging. And on African American and Latin women it evokes an era when cookie-cutter hairdos and wigs ala The Supremes were the norm. Curly hair and wavy locks have been relegated to special occasions. But why not wear them everyday?
Lorraine Massey, the twisty-tressed author of Curly Girl: The Handbook, argues that curly hair is not only sexy, it’s also way healthier than blowtorching your head every morning before work or applying savage chemicals to get poker-straight hair. Wearing your hair curly means no longer having to fight the elements, apply heated rollers or pull at a stubborn cowlick minutes before a big meeting in an attempt to look chic.
Curly hair opens up fashion possibilities too. It looks romantic, it looks relaxed and it frames and softens the face like an angelic halo. To return to your inner Botticelli angel takes three steps: The first is to identify the type of curl you have. The second is to know how to have it cut properly. The third is a daily care regime that gives you goddess bounce instead of metal-head mop or freaky frizz.
No one, according to the new curl liberationists, has bad hair, just hair with special needs. Curly hair is more porous than straight and absorbs the harmful detergents in shampoo like a sponge. The more dehydrated and heat damaged the hair cuticle, the duller (and frizzier) your hair looks. One of the best things for curly hair, according to Massey, is to stop using shampoo and to wash instead with a small amount of conditioner just once a week, with warm water rinses in between. Curls love moisture and spring back to their natural form when not loading down with product.
"Occasional chemical treatments such a dye and highlights are less harmful than daily abuse," according to Massey. "One week at the monastery, one week in Vegas," she says, laughing, "Curly and wavy hair care is all a matter of balance."
For curly girls, less product is more, says Massey, who runs the SoHo salon, Devachan. Less detergent, less heavy chemicals and less shampoo actually applied in the shower. Just half a teaspoon worked into the roots and scalp is enough — hair itself never needs to be foamed up. EVER.
With those basic radical reversals you can go fast-forward with your curls. And join the ranks of the curly pinup girls: Nicole Kidman, former “ER” players Gloria Reuben and Julianna Margulies, Keri Russell of “Felicity” fame, Sarah Jessica Parker and Julia Roberts.
The curl index
Here’s how to care for your kind of curls.
1. Corkscrew curls are tightly wound ringlets that have a tendency to stick straight up, get frizzy and feel extra-dry. They need a lot of moisture and half a teaspoon of conditioner only for each weekly wash. Air-dry upside down by patting with a towel. No squeezing please!
2. Botticelli curls come in different sizes and are easily weighed down. They need less conditioner than corkscrew curls but can be dried the same way. When pressed for time, use a diffuser (a big nozzle that disperses hot air) on a low setting.
3. Wavy curls are loose and full and sometimes lie down and play dead. Natural waves go frizzy in the rain or humidity and sometimes make the hair go flat on the crown. This breed of curl loves to be washed and dried like Botticelli curls and given extra help at the crown with gel, pin curls and regular spritzing and scrunching throughout the day.
4. Afro curls can be tight and kinky or loose and curled depending on the tightness of the hair spiral. The curly revolution for black hair has been the return of the Afro and natural styles. But whether you wear extensions or a crew cut ala Erykah Badu the most important hair care tip for African American hair is hydration. Winter is hard on Afro curly girls. Weekly oil treatments for the scalp and resisting the urge to apply heat keeps hair supple and unfrizzed. The trick with corn rows and other tightly-braided curly dos is to tend to the scalp, making sure that hair is not strained to the breaking point and that the roots are well conditioned with every rinse. Conditioner instead of shampoo is recommended.