Real Women Share Their Curly-Hair Love Stories (and Holy-Grail Products)
If you have curly hair, you are likely cautious of hot tools, are prepared for the all-too-real frizz, and try to avoid humidity at all costs. While we find natural curls to be absolutely stunning, we know that general curl care can be a bit daunting. Hence we created a series called Girls With Curls in which we ask top models and influencers for their best-kept curly-hair secrets.
I've spent my entire life as a curly-headed woman, and I've become familiar with the oft discouraging jargon associated with the texture. Words like banish, tame, and fight were written on every product I picked up at the pharmacy, desperate to figure out how to handle my hair. For years, I straightened it, gelled it, pulled it back—the works. I went through every possible phase of denying my natural texture. Now, as a beauty writer with several curly-hair success stories under my belt and a newfound respect for my hair, I have an outlet to try and change the conversation.
I reached out to nine real women whom I've admired both up close and from afar (meaning I've stalked them on Instagram, naturally). They each have their own personal relationships with their curls and hero haircare products, and they laid it all out below. The one thing they all have in common, though, is that special empowering feeling that comes with learning to love your natural texture. Keep scrolling to find your new curly-haired heroes.
"Two years ago, I made a life-changing decision: to chop my hair from its long-standing hip length to a shoulder bob. My long, thick, wavy locks had been a huge part of my physical identity for my whole life, and yet most of that time was spent stressing rather than cherishing it. Growing up, my hair was either in braids or a bun—I never learned a thing about haircare. I complained about my heavy hair being too hot, didn't own a dryer, and was constantly frustrated with the frizz.
"I didn't expect my big haircut to fix all these problems—in fact, I was warned that short hair would be a nightmare with curls. But it ended up spurring a hair renaissance. As soon as I saw that my curls could bounce instead of weigh me down, I started exploring the world of haircare for the first time at age 20. Turns out hydration is super important for curls (duh!). I eventually found my perfect shampoo-and-conditioner combo, which is Ogx's Nourishing Coconut Milk ($6). After showering, I usually use Turkish towels for a quick pat-dry to prevent frizziness, and if I blow-dry (I finally learned how to use one), I use my hands to scrunch up my natural curls. Sometimes my roommate even lets me use her Unite Expanda Dust Volumizing Powder ($19) for extra volume on top. Having a good haircut, with nice layers, is another pro tip I learned relatively late in my development. Someday I'll have long hair again, and when that time comes, I'll actually know what to do with my hair."
"People have always been slightly obsessed with my curls, but it took me years to get comfortable. I embrace them now, but I still go for a blowout every now and then to switch up my look. It's like my sleek alter ego!
"Conditioner and leave-in conditioner are my very best friends. I only use shampoo once a month or so when I really need a good cleansing. I try to use a mask twice a month. Right now I'm using Kérastase Maskeratine ($25) for frizz control. I also love Shea Moisture—it's budget friendly. Their Curl Enhancing Smoothie ($7) is great for a wash-and-go.
"As far as cut goes, I've only had layers for about a year and a half. When I went to a stylist who specialized in curly cuts, it was life-changing. I got this rock 'n' roll–inspired cut that really changed the game for me. For color, I need to keep highlights in my hair so it doesn't look like one big blob. Having a variety of hues really adds so much definition and shows the intricacies of each curl."
"My hair depends on my mood, the amount of time I have to get ready, and the occasion. Naturally, my hair is in between wavy and curly—it's thin but heavy because of my background, which is Thai and Scottish. I love messy waves—definitely influenced by the beach culture I grew up in. Normally, I'll wash my hair at night to sleep on it and throw on some bobby pins, and I'm out the door. I'll do S-waves with my straightener if my hair starts to get a little straight.
"I love lifting powder; I use it at the top, back roots for a little bump à la '60s vixen. I get my hair done maybe twice a year. I just got it lightened to a copper which I love! My mom always cut my hair growing up, so I'm no stranger to trimming my ends or bangs. I love Moroccanoil Treatment ($15) if my hair starts to get dry on the ends. If I want to go all-out curly, I do traditional pin curls and brush it lightly through with a round brush. I love Organix, Bumble and Bumble, and whatever natural products I can get. I use Lulu Organics Hair Powder ($30) when I don't wash my hair. (I wash only twice a week.)"
"I've written about it at length for Marie Claire, but growing up, the most harmful words I ever heard were, 'You look so pretty with your hair straight.' The first time was in middle school when I finally got the pro blowout I'd been begging my mom for, and from there, I decided no one would ever see my natural curls. I'd obsessively straighten my hair, and it looked terrible and damaged. It didn't help that I was the only one in my family (well, besides my dad) [who] had curly hair. I didn't know how to manage it, so I just rejected it. It wasn't until I became a beauty editor that I started embracing and appreciating my natural texture. Hairstylists on set would encourage me, giving me these game-changing styling tips that really helped me understand the anatomy of curls. So over the past few years, I've really found my groove.
"Back in the fall, I spent a morning with Lupita Nyong'o's hairstylist, Vernon François, who has his own line of products for textured and curly hair. He washed my hair with his Co-Wash Shampoo ($30) and Curl Conditioner ($33), and since then, it's all I've used. They're both rich, smooth, and nourishing, yet leave my hair feeling softer, stronger, and bouncier. They also smell heavenly.
"While Vernon taught me the power of diffusing my curls—next-level volume at the roots—I don't always have time to do that. Typically, I add just product and let it air-dry. Lately, my new styling obsession is foam. I spread it all over the front and back of my hands, so it distributes evenly, then apply it to my entire head. The definition and curl retention it yields is unbelievable. DevaCurl's Frizz-Free Volumizing Foam ($26) is my go-to."
"My relationship with my curls has definitely been a long and winding road. I have a lot of hair, so it's not easy to run out and go in the morning or find the right products or curl maintenance regimen. But overall, I wouldn't trade them for the world. Also, they are fun to head-bang with.
"I am fairly lazy when it comes to managing my curls, but I generally finger-comb and run a glob of Pantene Pro-V's Curl Perfection Conditioner ($5) through it when I wash my hair. My hair will stay soaked for ages, but I let my hair air-dry when I can, as I find towel-drying makes it frizzy. If I want chiller, more defined curls, I French braid my hair at night and let it out in the morning. This also keeps my hair from getting too tangled throughout the day."
"I'm that girl who says to my hairdresser, 'I'll take any cut that lets me roll out of bed and look amazing.' It's impossible for me to dedicate anything more than five minutes to my hair. That's why I give all credit to my gal Ami at Commune Salon in Williamsburg. She's amazing and does this magical Japanese style of cutting layers underneath my hair.
"I'd have to say that chopping my hair short was my way of falling in love with the wave in my hair. When my hair was long, I would fight the curl, meaning that most of the time my hair just looked frizzy and sloppy. With a short cut, I've taken a lot of the weight off, and I just love how it has transformed my look. It feels playful and sexy. I love the natural waves that come out when I'm city-living, but then if I take a trip to the beach, I get these rad ringlets that remind me so much of my mama's hair.
"In terms of products, I love R+Co Moon Shine Shampoo ($24) and Conditioner ($25). I love the Caudalíe Divine Oil ($49) and Bumble and Bumble Bb. Curl (Style) Defining Creme ($31). Ouai's Wave Spray ($26) is rad when I want to feel casual and beachy and ignore the heaps of snow all over NYC."
"Once upon a time, I fell in love with my straight iron. Four years later, I ditched that bad boy and started embracing my natural hair. I must say, it's an empowering feeling knowing the stigma against curly hair is slowly diminishing, and I feel absolutely incredible knowing women alongside me aren't afraid to display their natural beauty.
"My daily hair routine is very simple. After my morning shower, I wrap my hair in a microfiber towel. The towel is super soft, so it shapes my curls into a soft, wavier texture when it dries. Then, I apply three pumps of SheaMoisture's Coconut & Hibiscus Frizz-Free Curl Mousse ($10) to the midsection of my hair (to give it volume) and my ends (to keep the waves locked in and reduce frizz). Last, depending on the season, I diffuse my hair to decrease drying time as I'm rushing to class or going for a run."
"My hair started growing out curly really suddenly when I hit puberty, so I had no idea how to deal with it. I ended up straightening it a lot. It wasn't until I discovered DevaCurl that I actually started wanting to leave my hair curly. The Styling Cream ($26) in particular is a game changer. It reduces frizz and makes my curls look shinier and more piece-y. I also use the Low-Poo Shampoo ($22) and Ultra Creamy Daily Conditioner ($20). The whole line rules. I notice a huge difference when I'm not using it. I'm always on the hunt for new products, though. (I've been known to approach random strangers on the street with great curls and ask them what products they use.)
"For color, I go to Cara Craig at Suite Caroline in New York for full highlights about twice a year. She makes my hair look nice and 'sparkly.' I think I want to go even blonder next time I see her. I've been screenshotting pictures of Frederikke Sofie like crazy. I get my hair cut by Terra Ramone who used to work at Mudhoney Hair Salon in New York but now works for herself and does home visits. As a bonus, she happens to give the best blowouts I've ever gotten—very effortless, '70s rocker glam and not at all fussy, Barbie-doll mermaid."
"My relationship with my loose curls (or are they tight waves?) was such a battle for most of my life—I thought I had no other option but to straighten my hair (and then, often, curl it) in order for it to look okay. If I left it as-is, I was left with just a shapeless poof with a couple of defined ringlets hiding amid the frizz. Then I went no-poo for 18 months in my early 20s and swore off all heat tools. This changed everything: My hair had a chance to repair and become healthy again, and I soon realized that the way I was washing it had been as unhelpful as the way I was styling it.
"I've been back on shampoo for a few years, but I still exclusively use natural products on my hair and only wash once a week to prevent it from drying out. My hair is SO thick—the kind of thick that requires nine-hour appointments at the salon whenever I color it—that it just drinks up moisture. After shampooing and conditioning with Rahua products (so good, and the palo santo scent is my idea of heaven) and towel-drying with a microfiber towel, I usually squirt a mixture of Verb's Curl Cream ($14) and La Tierra Sagrada's Jojoba Oil ($42) into my hands and coat my entire mane. One trick I've learned that has been a total game changer is to never 'scrunch' my curls, which actually messes with the natural bend of the strands—instead, you take the ends of small sections and kind of shake and jiggle the lock of hair so it falls into its natural spiral. My hair will often be damp the entire day after I've showered in the morning (again, THICK), but once it drinks up all the moisture, I wake up the next day to defined waves.
"I've gotten to a point where if there's a little frizz or lack of definition, I just embrace the natural feel of it; it just kind of fits my vibe. I do take care to pay attention to dryness throughout the week (especially here in desert-climate L.A.) since my hair is bleached and I'm trying to grow it out (and I've experienced horrific color damage in the past)."
Want more curly-hair secrets? This is how to elevate your curls, according to a top model.