How to Care for Mixed Race Hair—From Someone Who's Been Doing It For 40 Years

woman with curly hair


While some multiracial people have evenly textured waves or curls that require nothing more than a scrunch and air dry, many of us are left searching for how to work with the amalgamation of identities sprouting from our heads—i.e. texture that may be at once curly, wavy, and frizzy in various areas. Unsure how to work with our hair natural, we straighten with irons that rely on dry weather to keep their results, or turn to protective styles and extensions. 

Shana Alexander once said, "Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices,” and it's true. Just like your skin tone, your hair may defy definition. Let’s learn how to embrace that.

Turning 40 inspired me to embrace my natural hair and its varied textures. Since then, I’ve used everything from curl serums to placement extensions, and have tried out products ranging from sticky protein treatments to messy DIY hot oil combos. Through this trial and error, I've learned a lot I couldn't find online, as most platforms only discuss how to care for hair that is one single specific texture. Here are some tips for cheating the appearance of having more consistently-textured hair.

01 of 07

Know Your Type(s)

Just as you need to know what you want in a mate in order to find a good one, you’re best served on your hairstyling quest by knowing what hair texture you have. Patterns are broken down into numbers 1 to 4, and letters A to C. The numbers denote curl shape and the letters curl size. This guide details the different patterns of curls. Through typing I learned I have 2B, 2C, 3A, 3B, and 3C hair. While that’s unusual, it tracks; I have everything from loose waves to tight spirals atop my head. 

02 of 07

Use a Protein Treatment

If your hair is unprocessed, skip this—you’re good to get styling! However, if you are a fan of color, you’ll want to make the effort to restore your hair’s health as much as possible first. Bleaching can strip hair of its curl, and products like Olaplex are generally touted as the best solution for restoring hair’s previous lushness. Personally, I’ve had the best luck with a less popular option.

Protein treatments aren't for the faint of heart, as it's important the treatment sits on and firms up. But, the results are mind-blowing. Aphogee reduces my frizz factor, but more importantly, makes my hair bouncy and curly after bleaching—which stretches the cuticle (messing with my curl pattern). And, it’s affordable. A bottle will provide one treatment for long hair or four treatments for short, and the effects last one to two months.

03 of 07

Decide on a Plan

Once you learn your texture type(s), decide which you want to emphasize. Do you want to downplay your tight curls and try for a looser, waved appearance? Or are you interested in seeing just how spiral-y your hair can be? Knowing your goal will inform what products you work with, and how to dry your hair. Taliah Waajid, who has a line of natural hair care, recommends focusing on the curl pattern that is the most dominant, and making sure to choose products "that provide maximum moisture, because all curls need moisture."

04 of 07

For Waves...

If you're going for waves, try mousse. The 80s hair product most of us either forgot about or haven't ever used is a go-to for achieving a loosely waved look. Apply, then dry with a diffuser on low, lifting up at your roots. Where you have tighter curls, gently use the diffuser prongs to pull and stretch. Once your hair is dry, finger comb thoroughly and set with hairspray.

05 of 07

For Amplifying Curls...

If you want to play up the parts of your hair with tighter, more spiral-y curls, you’ll want a curl definer. Choose one that specifically notes your curl pattern on the label. Apply it on wet hair, and for the areas that are less curly, enhance each curl by twisting small pieces around your finger then scrunching. There are a lot of multi-step curl “program” products, but I find a curl definer to be the most important one. My favorite is a natural, inexpensive curl definer by Taliah Waajid. To keep your curls bouncy for days, add a drop of gel to the curl definer before working it in. Then, air dry or use a diffuser on low. Either way, avoid touching your curls until they're completely dry. 

06 of 07

Use Water

The element you learned to fear while flat ironing is your curls’ BFF. On days you don’t wash your hair, dampen it and reset your curls to bring them back to life. I’ve found that with sufficient product on my wash day, I don’t need to add extra in days following.

07 of 07

Fake It

Placement extensions are a saving grace for showcasing the curl pattern you want noticed. You can use one or many, adding volume, color, and/or thickness to the parts of your hair you like the most. They’re sold in synthetic and natural, making them viable for any budget.

With these tricks, hair with multiple personalities has a singular look: perfectly, uniquely, yours.

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