If you have thick hair that’s prone to frizz, you’ve likely relied on the "tame it into submission" approach in the past and subjected your strands to many years of damage from hot tools and buildup from product overload—and understandably so. Two tried and true ways to fight frizz—which is caused by an open hair cuticle allowing moisture from the air inside the hair shaft—are sealing the cuticle with a blast of heat from a blow-dryer or other hot tool, and finishing your style with a multitude of serums. But despite all the hours spent straightening or curling your strands every morning and trying countless anti-frizz creams and oils, your thick hair probably only held the style a small fraction of time before reverting back to its natural state. Sound familiar?
If you’re tired of fighting against your hair and want to find a way to embrace your natural texture, give the hot tools and products a rest. Not only is it possible to style thicker hair sans heat, it’ll actually look better and feel healthier in the end. To achieve frizz-free, defined natural waves, understand that it's all in the wash and dry—the air-dry, to be specific.
Perfecting the wash-and-dry technique is key to a low-maintenance routine for thicker locks. So, we called on some of our favorite expert stylists for their 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 single time.
Skip the Shampoo
Frizz happens when dry, oil-stripped strands are exposed to moisture in the air. Shampoo tends to exacerbate this because it strips hair of its natural oils, 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, a hairstylist who works with Ashley Benson, Sofia Vergara, and Elizabeth Banks. If switching just to conditioner seems too intimidating, try a cleansing conditioner for the time being or a cream like Hairstory's New Wash, which 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!). Wash it out as you normally would.
Comb Your Hair in the Shower—and Don't Brush It After
"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.)
Rethink Your Towel Technique
Toweling is often the downfall of great hair and one sure-fire way to raise the cuticle, which will result in frizz and tangles. "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.
Use a Leave-In Product
Even if it's just with coconut oil (which some people love), 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."
Do the Twist
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), and then 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. For this technique, pile your curls on top of your head and use a large clip or scrunchie to secure them loosely. Not only will this pineapple trick preserve your curls while you sleep, but it'll also give great lift at the roots.
Mind the Ends
The oldest part of your hair is at the ends, which is why the tips are the most prone to dryness and breakage. And when your hair strands split, that gives way to lack of definition and frizz, not to mention the further breakage you'll experience if it's left untreated. Schedule regular hair trims, and in the interim use a serum or hair oil to temporarily mend the split ends.
Apply just a bit of hydrating serum to damp hair will help you evade this.
Create Defined Waves With Surf Spray
Sea salt sprays, while great for giving hair beachy waves, have a reputation for leaving hair parched and straw-like. And they can do that, so they definitely shouldn't be overused. However, Heath says when used in conjunction with leave-in conditioner, you get the perfect balance of hydration and texture. And when used on dry hair, it works to tame and define any flyaways or unruly sections.
If your hair has a curl to it, it likely needs a little extra help in the moisture department. Because the oils from the scalp may have a harder time traveling down the hair shaft on curls than on straighter hair, moisturize it a little with a deep-conditioning mask once a week. Whether you're spending a lot of time outdoors in the summer or rotating between bitter, wintry air and dry indoor heating, your hair will want all the extra hydration it can get.
Test-Drive Different Products
You probably know by now that hair isn't just thick or thin—everybody's strands are totally different, and a product that does wonders for someone else might be a total dud for you. This can be based on hair density, shaft size, or even just how greasy your scalp gets. 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."