Curl Crap

IMG_4050It was inevitable that I would write about hair care for this blog, given that it’s such a huge (volumetrically and metaphorically) part of my life. Any of you who have met me in person know that my hair is…well, Shirley Temple-esque. You also know that I crack jokes about it and complain during particularly humid weather. But, truth be told, I love my hair. It’s kind of my calling card and I would be very sad if it ever changed.

But great hair comes with great responsibility, as Uncle Ben would say if he had curls. Products for curly hair are a niche market in the beauty industry, mostly because having curly hair isn’t always in keeping with the mainstream ideal of beauty, and also because it’s so tedious to care for.

I remember the first time I felt my hair being marketed to; it was a commercial (back when I was young and naive and still paid attention to commercials) for John Frieda Frizz-Ease serum. I remember seeing it and getting unreasonably excited. I was probably 13 years old and my hair, at the time, was pretty frizzy and unmanageable. I probably pressured my mom into buying it for me. I tried it, and when a dime-sized amount didn’t turn my locks into shiny, luscious mermaid hair, I piled it on in layers and just begged the gods for it to work. Of course this didn’t happen, because Frizz-Ease is filled with silicones that make your hair shiny, but inevitably prevent it from absorbing moisture and can only be removed with harsh surfactants.

This brings me to my next point,  or the “aha!” moment. After the Frizz-Ease failure, I started surfing the internet, looking for information about how to tame my hair. One of the fruits of my furious Google searching was discovering the website, where I joined their web forum, called “Curltalk.” The forums are filled with hundreds of curly-haired people sharing their experiences and product recommendations, and it is a priceless resource, though overwhelming at first. The major tenet of the website is a theory founded by Lorraine Massey, which is that curly hair shouldn’t be shampooed. The other half of the equation is that curly-haired folks shouldn’t use silicones (like dimethicone and cyclopentasiloxane) because of the moisture absorption issue and need for drying shampoos. This is called the Curly Girl (CG) Method, and it changed my life.

Essentially, most shampoos cleanse by using very potent detergents which strip dirt and oil from the scalp. These detergents create the rich foam that people associate with shampoos and the clean feeling they impart, and the most common ones (sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates) are very cheap. And somehow, within the last 50 years, people started to think they needed to wash their hair every day in order to feel clean. This is actually very bad, because by continually stripping your scalp of its natural oils creates a situation where your scalp produces more oil in order to compensate. And if your scalp is producing too much oil, you’re going to wash it more often. It’s a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break.

I’ve always had dry hair (curly hair is more dry by nature because of the shape of the hair follicles) so my scalp was never super oily. But my hair was frizzy and dry, and after spending hours researching this method, I decided to give up my shampoo.

It wasn’t easy. The CG Method can be done in several ways. Some people use a less moisturizing and more watery conditioner in place of a shampoo (by using it to scrub the scalp and then rinsing it out) and follow that with a heavier leave-in conditioner and a cream or gel-based styling aid. Some others switch from a harsh shampoo to a gentler one that is sulfate-free and gradually decrease their usage to once or twice a week. Some people even eschew products altogether and just use water and friction to clean their scalps. I decided to try the first option.

There’s always a period of adjustment while your scalp’s oil production normalizes. Mine didn’t take very long to adjust because, again, my hair is generally dry. I don’t quite remember which products I used in the beginning, because it was so long ago, but they probably weren’t very environmentally friendly. For years, I shampooed very rarely, and my hair got healthier and easier to manage. It looked healthy even after being dyed with permanent hair color, which is very drying. Hair stylists always told me that my hair looked great, and my scalp never smelled bad.

I was using Beauty Without Cruelty’s conditioner to wash with for a while, but they recently reformulated and their conditioners now contain silicones! I was really angry about that one. I switched to Trader Joe’s Nourish for a while after that, but it contains parabens (hormone-disrupting preservatives) and I really don’t want to use them on my body.

Oddly enough, I’m actually using shampoo right now. I found one by a brand called Acure, and it’s so incredibly gentle that I can use it every other day without drying my scalp too much. I’d prefer to go without shampoo because I do feel that my scalp is more oily now on days that I don’t wash, but I haven’t found a good cleansing conditioner again. I’m also a bit of a “product junkie” (I didn’t come up with this term) so I’m always trying new things. Currently, this is my styling regimen:

1. Wash (every other day) with Acure Argan shampoo
2. Condition (every other day) with Acure Argan conditioner (leave in for a few minutes and then rinse out)
3. Scrunch a bit more Acure conditioner into soaking wet hair once out of the shower
4. Scrunch in Alaffia Beautiful Curls Curl Activating Cream (this stuff ROCKS)
5. Style by twirling the finicky and weird-looking bits around my fingers (especially my bangs) and scrunching a lot
6. Air-dry

I do steps 3-6 on the days that I don’t shampoo, as well. This routine has worked very well for the winter, but we’ll see how it holds up in the summer humidity. I also have these general rules:

1. Only comb my hair, and only when it’s wet

2. Only use products with safe and beneficial ingredients (no synthetic chemicals or synthetic preservatives, no silicones, no sulfates, no artificial fragrance, etc)

3. Get a good haircut (My stylist is awesome! She cuts my hair while it’s dry, takes care and time while cutting it, lets me bring my own products, and is overall just a lovely person. I can’t recommend her highly enough. She also cuts my mom’s hair, and hers is short and straight. Well, okay, she was my mom’s stylist first.)

Having curly hair is tough. There are so many types, and the same products and routines don’t work universally (as with anything). But I’ve tried a million things, and I would be happy to help anyone who has hair management questions. I’d also like to hear from you all about your own hair regimens. And again, I’m always exploring and discovering new ingredients, so I’ll update if I change anything about my routine.

I’ll end this post by throwing in some cheesy advice: love yourself. Whether your hair is curly, or straight, or wavy, or you’re bald, or you wear a different wig every day–just embrace what you’ve got and do whatever makes you happy. I’m not trying to sound like a Dove advert, here, but everyone is unique and beautiful in some way. And somewhere, someone probably thinks you’re beautiful and wants to have lots of sex and babies with you (if that’s what you want). It’s also good to remember that you have a brain and a personality, and those things are even more important than looks.

So, go you. You’re welcome.



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