There's no denying the mesmerizing beauty of Bermuda-born model Aliana King. There's her glowy complexion, her super-long legs, her playful personal style, and—oh yeah—those curls. They're the kind of curls that induce instant envy—the kind that turn heads and elicit constant compliments from beauty editors, fellow models, and civilians alike. But like so many women of color, King wasn't always made to see her natural texture as beautiful or desirable when she was growing up.
"My appearance always made me feel left out," King tells us. "I was always teased for being 'too white,' and I was left out of conversations because [my classmates thought] I didn't understand the struggle. My curls were too loose for my friends at school, but my friends with straight hair looked at me weird when my hair didn't just dry perfectly after going swimming. They didn't understand when I had to wear my hair in a silk cap at sleepovers."
For years, King straightened her hair in an effort to fit in with her white friends and classmates. "I used to hate my hair," she tells us. "I had a best friend with straight hair, and I always wished mine looked like hers. Plus, my mom only knew how to do braids; she didn't use the right products, so it was always dry and frizzy."
But eventually King began to realize that her curls were an essential part of her—something that made her, well, her. "I didn't realize that the uniqueness of my hair was special and needed to be celebrated until recently," she shares. "[Ultimately] going through all of that helped me feel stronger and more confident."
Once she sparked that realization, there was still work to be done. "My hair was so long but so damaged," King explains. "It looked bad no matter what I did, so I cut it and hated it even more. It took about four different haircuts back to back before I got a cut I liked, and then it took months for me to stop wishing I never cut it. Now I look at it as the best decision I've ever made regarding my hair."
One of the most important components when it came to embracing her curls? Zeroing in on products that worked for her specific hair type, she says. "After cutting my hair, the curl pattern changed, and it was trial and error to find the right products and process," says King. "I've watched so many YouTube videos and had so many bad hair days. But every time I did something that worked, I just kept doing it and then fixing the things that didn't work. It's a long process, but it's worth it."
If you're wondering exactly what she uses to maintain those picturesque, heavenly curls, don't worry—I asked. King was all too happy to share her entire curly hair routine with me; keep on reading for the 411.
King tells me she washes her hair once a week—sometimes more if she has photo shoots booked. "The less you wash your curls, the healthier they'll be," she says, echoing the opinion of most of the stylists we've chatted with over the years. "I love Ouidad Nourishing and Cleansing Oil as my shampoo. It cleans my scalp and gets rid of product buildup without stripping the hair of its natural oils."
"Next, I use Tresemmé conditioner and detangle my hair with a wet brush, and then I put my hair in two braids and/or twists before leaving the shower."
And then it's time to get to styling her curls. "I find hair products work best on wet hair, so after leaving the shower, I don't dry my hair," says King. "I split it into sections from bottom to top and rake my Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie from root to tip. I've used this product for about two years now. It consistently gives me amazing results.
"I get nervous when trying new products because I never know how my hair will react to them. It's easier to maintain my hair when I stick to the same routine. Also, with this product, I don't need anything else. The one product works perfectly on its own." (An affinity for multitasking products? She's clearly a girl after our own hearts.)
Sometimes King air-dries her hair, which can take a full day. Or she'll use DevaCurl's diffuser. "I use this on high power but low heat, which takes about three hours," she says. "Once completely dry, I separate my curls and then pick out my roots."
If there's one thing you should take away from King's story, it's this: Trust the process, and stick with it. "It's so hard to love and accept your curls at first; it's such a long journey," King says. "You can't just wake up one day and have perfect curls. While taking care of your hair and learning how to handle it, you're going to feel like giving up; I understand that because I've been there."
The light at the end of the tunnel? "When you get to where you want to be, the journey is so worth it! Just continue to look at inspiration and use it for motivation. Being able to love and accept yourself completely natural is one of the best feelings in the world."