Want to know how to start caring for your naturally curly hair? You’ve come to the right place.
I get a lot of messages from curly hair newbies asking, “but where do I start?” so I’ve put together a guide that breaks down the entire process.
If you’ve landed on this post, I’m going to assume you’ve either:
- Just realised you have curly or wavy hair and want to know where to start
- Been heat styling your curls for years and want to start embracing them
- Have a curly kid and are struggling to maintain their hair
Or, perhaps you’ve been embracing your curls for a while, but they’re not playing ball recently.
Whatever stage you’re at, this guide will outline the basics of caring for curly hair and will cover:
- Identifying your hair type
- Products you’ll need
- Tools to consider
- Creating a curly hair routine
- Getting rid of damage
- Finding a curly hair community
- Keeping track of your curly hair journey
Feel free to bookmark this page so you can refer back to it in future.
Identifying your hair type
Before you buy any hair products, I’d recommend figuring out your hair type. This will save you a lot of time and money when choosing products and implementing a styling routine.
When I say hair type, I don’t mean the curl typing system (2a, 3b, 4c etc.). I don’t really follow this system because your curl pattern doesn’t necessarily determine what hair products you should use. Plus, we all have a variety of curl patterns on our heads, so it’s unlikely for someone to have purely 3b curls, for example. My hair has a mix of 2b waves to 3b curls.
However, knowing your curl type may help you find inspiration online when it comes to getting a hair cut, for example.
What I do mean when I say hair type is:
Hair thickness/texture: Fine, medium, coarse
The thickness of your individual hair strands
Hair porosity: Low, medium, high
Your hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture
Hair density: Low, medium, high
How much hair you have on your head
Scalp oiliness: Dry, moderate, oily
How naturally oily or dry your scalp is
Don’t worry too much about your hair porosity at the beginning of your journey. I didn’t know my hair porosity for a long while, and I was still able to figure out what my curls like.
Just knowing your hair texture will massively help when it comes to finding the right products and determining how much product to use.
For example, if your hair is fine, heavy products that contain ingredients like butters (e.g. shea butter) will likely weigh your curls down or make them feel a bit greasy, and you’ll likely need more protein in your routine.
Learn more about figuring out your hair type in my beginner’s guide to curly hair YouTube video:
Curly hair products
Curly hair is naturally drier than straight hair, so products help add moisture and lock it in. They can also help enhance curl definition and add hold (which helps curls last between wash days).
To begin with, I’d suggest keeping it simple and only purchasing a few curly hair products:
- Cleanser (a product that cleans your hair and scalp, e.g. shampoo, low-poo)
- Conditioner (helps soften and detangle curls)
- Leave-in or curl cream* (helps soften curls and keep them hydrated)
- Gel (helps seal curls to lock moisture in, enhance definition and add hold)
*Curl creams add moisture and can help define curls, while leave-ins just add moisture
You may also choose to purchase:
- A deep conditioner (if your hair is very dry or damaged)
- A hairspray (if your hair needs extra hold)
You don’t have to go for high-end hair products. Just buy what you can afford. Curly hair doesn’t have to be expensive.
There are various ‘curly hair methods’, and I’m not going to tell you to follow a specific method. But keep in mind that if you’re using silicones, you need to use a strong enough cleanser to remove them and avoid buildup. And, if you’re strictly co-washing, you’ll need to clarify regularly to keep your scalp healthy and free from buildup.
Tools and accessories to consider
- Hairdryer/diffuser attachment: Helps gently dry curls, enhancing definition and volume
- Silk pillowcase: Keeps curls protected overnight
- Detangling brush or wide-tooth comb: Can make detangling easier
- Curl towel or cotton t-shirt: Gentler than a regular terry towel
- Spray bottle: Helps with refreshing and styling curls
- Curly hair journal: To help you keep track of your progress
Creating a curly hair routine
Our curly hair routines will each look slightly different because we all have different hair types, lifestyles, and personal preferences. And, what works for one person may not work for another. When figuring out your curly hair routine, be sure to focus on your hair and its unique needs.
How often should you wash your hair?
How often you wash your hair will depend on your scalp needs and your lifestyle. If you have a naturally oily scalp or work out several times a week, you’ll need to wash your hair more often than someone who doesn’t.
I used to wash my hair every 4-7 days, but now that I work out more often, I wash it on average every three days.
There really is no right or wrong, but you must pay attention to your scalp. If your scalp is telling you it needs washing (e.g. itchy or greasy), wash it.
Putting together a routine
- Style: Cream or leave in first, then gel for hold.
- Dry your hair
- Deep condition (perhaps once a week if your hair is dry and less often/never if it’s not so dry – for reference, I never deep condition because my hair doesn’t need it)
Getting rid of damage
If you’ve been heat styling for years or had a chemical treatment on your hair, simply looking after your curls can’t repair heat damage or split ends. Unfortunately, damage will eventually need to be cut off.
While some people choose to get all the damage cut off at once, you don’t have to. You could get gradual trims.
Using a bond building treatment can also help strengthen and restore the bonds that make up your hair’s structure. If you plan to continue heat styling or colouring your hair, consider using a bond building treatment after you do so. One that I really like is Curlsmith’s Bond Curl Rehab Salve (use code: HANZ10 for 10% off).
Finding a curl community
One of the greatest things to come out of social media is the little communities that form. I found a fabulous curl community on Instagram when I began embracing my curls, and soon after, I created my own curly hair account to track my wash days. Having some online curlfriends can be especially helpful if you don’t have any curly-haired friends in real life.
Places to look at include:
- Facebook groups (can be strict but there are some nice ones)
- Tik Tok
- Forums (e.g.) Reddit, Naturally Curly
Try not to get caught in the comparison trap, though. It’s easy to lust over other people’s curls online and end up feeling bad about yourself. But the truth is, there are so many variables and reasons why your curls may look different to theirs:
- They’re at a different stage in their journey
- They have a different hair type
- They live in a different climate
- Their hair looks different in real life (everyone fluffs their hair up to make it more voluminous on Instagram, and lighting plays a big part in masking frizz in pictures)
Instead, compare your hair to your own and remember that big changes won’t happen overnight. It’s a curly journey. Keep track of your wash days, take pictures and monitor your progress (more on that below).
Keeping track of your curly hair journey
When you first start embracing your curly or wavy hair, the abundance of information can be very overwhelming. As mentioned above, paying attention to your hair’s needs and not comparing it to other people’s is the best way to achieve consistent results.
Something you can do to help you keep track of your curly hair journey, and all the new techniques and products you try, is keep a journal. I created a curly hair journal to help you do just that!
- Record your wash days, refresh days and in-between days
- Keep track of your favourite products and curly hair progress
- Add monthly progress pics and track achievements
- Note down your hair type, problem areas and goals
I hope you found this beginner’s guide to curly hair helpful, and that it wasn’t too overwhelming!
Try to keep your routine simple to start with – stick to the same few products and experiment with techniques rather than lots of new products.
Don’t forget to write things down so you’ve got something to refer back to – and remember, it will take time!
You’ve got this!