There's a reason my long, thick hair is just starting to recover after years of abuse with hot tools and product overload alike: Because for far too long, I thought that the "tame it into submission" approach was the only way.
For much of my formative years, I spent hours straightening or curling my hair every morning and trying countless anti-frizz creams and serums, only to have a decent hair day about 20% of the time. It wasn't until I went cold turkey with everything—including shampoo—that I finally discovered my mane's full potential. Suddenly, I had defined waves that I didn't recognize as my own. And frizz? What frizz?
While I've since rotated some selected products back into my routine, it remains quite minimal—but that isn't the only reason my natural waves behave on most days. Part of my hair epiphany was understanding that it's all in the wash and dry—the air-dry, to be specific—and perfecting that technique is key to a low-maintenance routine, even for the thickest, unruliest locks.
Of course, while I've learned by experience, I'm no pro—which is why we also called on some of our favorite expert stylists for their own tips on skipping the blow-dryer while sidestepping pesky frizz and poufiness in the process. Below, find everything you need to know about how to air-dry thick hair perfectly every time.
Frizz happens when dry, oil-stripped strands are exposed to moisture in the air. Shampoo tends to exacerbate this, which is why it might be a good idea to go without it altogether. (At the very least, cut your usage to once or twice a week, tops.) "The number one product to avoid is shampoo," says Remy Moore of New York City's Hairstory. "It's far too harsh on hair, and not necessary."
"I sometimes will just rinse my hair and apply conditioner to the ends," adds Kylee Heath, who works with Ashley Benson, Sofia Vergara, and Elizabeth Banks. If switching just to conditioner seems too intimidating for the time being, try a cleansing conditioner or cream like Hairstory's New Wash—it gently removes oil and grime while still leaving locks extremely hydrated.
After cleansing and massaging the scalp, add more cleansing cream or conditioner to the bottom half of your hair, making sure to evenly coat it all (be generous with the product!). Scrunch it in, leave it in for five minutes, and gently rinse it out.
"If you brush your hair when it's starting to dry, almost dry, or all the way dry, you'll experience unwanted frizz," says Heath. Curly-haired gals who really need to detangle should do so with a wide-tooth comb while they're in the shower, she says. (Just be sure to do it while your conditioner is setting, in order to avoid breakage.)
Toweling is often the downfall of great hair. "My best advice is to not towel-dry the hair too much, because that generates frizz and poufiness," says Marco Santini, owner of Davines Ion Studio in New York City.
Instead of rushing to sop up excess moisture, take a gentler approach. "It's not about roughing your hair up to get the moisture out quickly," says Moore. "In fact, it's the opposite. Make sure you get as much of the moisture out with your towel as possible, but not too aggressively."
Swapping in a microfiber towel for your old terry one is a start since the tiny fabric particles are far gentler on the hair cuticle than cotton is. (And skip the T-shirt—that's a myth.) Use it to dab and very gently squeeze your locks until you're no longer dripping.
Even if it's just with coconut oil, nourishing your hair with something is key for avoiding frizz and getting definition. Work a leave-in conditioner or styling cream into damp hair as you scrunch. And don't be stingy—you want to make sure all your hair is evenly coated.
"People with thicker hair tend to focus on applying product to just the top of the head or the areas they can see," says Moore. "The only thing to keep in mind is even and ample distribution of product throughout the entirety of their hair."
That being said, touching your hair too much can also lead to frizz, so after working that product in, hands off. "You don't want to play with your hair too much," advises Heath. "But for some textures, a great trick is to twist multiple sections after applying the product when the hair is damp and letting them dry; then lightly running your hands through your hair and adding a thicker styling cream."
Proponents of the Curly Girl Method will know exactly what we're talking about. In order to get really defined-looking waves, you need to give your wet locks a little push in the right direction.
"Your hair will dry in the shape that you leave it in," says Moore. "The more attention you pay to twisting your curls and placing shape in your hair, the better your outcome will be." This means scrunching excess water out of your locks (rather than overdoing it with a towel), in addition to twisting your locks into spirals after working product into your hair.
Moore also suggests using clips at the roots to make sure they stay lifted. And if you're planning on sleeping on damp hair, consider gathering your hair into a pineapple ponytail.
This is the area that's most prone to dryness and breakage—which then gives way to lack of definition and frizz. Applying just a bit of hydrating serum to damp hair will help you evade this.
Heath likes to use a sea salt spray in conjunction with leave-in conditioner for a steady balance of hydration and texture. It also comes in handy when hair is dry, to tame and define any flyaways or unruly sections.
With so much hair, an extra dose of hydration never hurts—and it's necessary during this time of year, when we tend to rotate between bitter, wintry air and dry indoor heating.
9. Test-drive different products until you find your all-star lineup
You probably know by now that hair isn't just thick or thin—everybody's locks are totally different, and a product that does wonders for someone else might be a total dud for you. Take this excuse to stock up on samples and have fun experimenting. (And definitely try all the items listed here, since they're some of the most loved formulas out there.)
That being said, you also need to factor in technique. "Don't try one thing and give up if you don't like it," says Heath. "If your hair feels too heavy, then next time, use less. Try applying a light amount starting at roots and then using more on ends. If your roots feel greasy, then next time just apply from midshaft through ends."
Got thick hair? Check out some of our favorite short haircuts for thick tresses.
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.