Curl Care Series Part 3: So how am I actually supposed to style my hair?

First and foremost I have to warn you that the answer may not be straightforward. What comes below will be a great starting point and may work just fine for you, but if you see someone with a similar texture hair and wave/curl pattern to your own and you love how it looks, ask them what they do for styling!

Now that we’ve covered that part, let’s get into how are we styling all these glorious curls and getting the most out of them? I think some of the best general advice I came across came mostly from the Curlfriends group:

  • Take care of your emotional and nutritional health. Your hair is also fed by what goes into your body.
  • Choose one hair goal at a time and work towards it
  • Properly formulated lower ph conditioner does the job of closing down the cuticle over the water, sealing in moisture.
  • Figure out what balance of moisture and protein that you need; your happiest hair is going to come from having the right balance
  • You’re going to have to experiment to find the things that your specific hair likes and doesn’t like. Use the ingredient list to decide what you’re buying rather than marketing promises
  • Don’t over-manipulate your hair, particularly when it’s dry. If you can avoid having to refresh and restyle, the better your hair will usually feel.

In shower styling:

Depending on the amount of moisture your hair needs you may actually end up better off trying to add your styling products before you even get out of the shower. The downside to this is that you’re probably going to use a lot more product at once, but the upside is that you can probably get away with minimal refreshing during the in between days.

There’s a few reasons that this method may work for you. First of all, it cuts down on mess because anything extra just goes down the drain. It also uses the products to trap the water in your hair so you’re not drying out before you even have a chance to style. For a more controlled experience and/or to minimize waste, bring a bowl into the shower or wherever you’re trying to style.

  • Start with shampooing/cleansing if you need to. When it’s time to condition, squish to condish. The short version is that by applying the conditioner in an upward motion, you’re more likely to drive the additional moisture/protein benefits of the conditioner into your hair strand. You can also take this time to brush or comb out major tangles and then scrunch it back up.
  • When it comes time to rinse you’ve got a few options based on time/comfort level/etc. You can:
  • Rinse everything thoroughly and hope for the best
  • Rinse just your roots under the shower head, leaning forward so your hair is upside down if you want/are able to
  • Lean forward over your bowl and use a cup with some clean water to rinse out just your roots. Utilize the conditioner filled water at the bottom of the bowl to continue squishing the product back up into your curls while rinsing the conditioner from your scalp
  • It’s important to pay attention to the products you’re using and what your hair needs are for that day. Leaving in a heavy product will add more buildup than is necessary and will weigh your hair down if you don’t actually need that much of it.
  • Here is where you would add in your gel and/or other products. There are a lot of effective combinations of products but in general the following statements hold across most of them:
  • The more water there is in your hair the more it will dilute the product you’re putting into it. That gives you the chance to use that to your advantage when it comes to the products you’re using. It may sound counterintuitive to apply products to soaking wet hair, but remember that your curls need moisture and that’s what water is. By trapping in some of that water with product, you’re helping to nourish your hair.
  • You may have to reapply and/or layer the products you’re using once some of the excess water has naturally been evaporated, or if you plop with something absorbent once you get out of the shower.


One of the most popular terms I came across while educating myself on curly hair and styling is plopping. It’s called plopping because in essence, you’re plopping your hair on the top of your head to let it dry and enhance your curls. How do you do this?

  • Set aside a soft cotton t-shirt or a microfiber towel and wash your hair like you normally would
  • Apply the products you normally would to your wet hair and use a little more than you usually would since the towel or t-shirt will also absorb some of the product
  • Lay out your shirt or towel on a flat surface, leaving the sleeves of the shirt at the bottom if that’s what you’re using
  • Stand in front of it and flip your head forward so that all your hair is in the center of the towel and at the top of your head, bending at the waist depending on your counter height
  • Grab the shirt or towel that’s behind your head and flip it over your hair onto your neck
  • Grab the sleeves of the shirt or the bottom of the towel, and fold it over your forehead towards the back, and tie the cloth together over the backside of the fabric

Once your hair is secured you can do one of the following, depending on your time and energy:

  • Leave your hair plopped for 10-20 minutes and let your hair air-dry or blowdry with a diffuser
  • Leave it until it’s totally dry or diffuse it with your cloth in place
  • Leave it overnight so you wake up with dry hair

Diffusing vs air-drying:

The decision to diffuse or let hair air dry is usually based on comfort level and time available. There’s no right or wrong answer, but I do feel like it’s important to know how to do both if you’re able to. Most of the “tips” for air drying come from product application and not touching it afterwards if you can help it.

Diffusing, on the other hand, has a lot of options and may feel overwhelming if you’ve never done it before. There’s more than one “right” answer here too, so play around to figure out what works best for you.

  • For the most volume, I recommend flipping your head over if you’re able to. This allows your roots to dry standing up which makes them less likely to flatten out during the day.
  • There are a lot of “universal” diffuser attachments available on the market, but if you’re not sure where to start there’s a few “at home” attachments you can use as well.
  • Believe it or not, a sock. Sock diffusers are also widely available but you can get similar results with one of your own (clean) socks at home. The downside that I’ve run into is that I have a hard time keeping the sock attached to the end of the dryer so I ended up holding it with my hand.
  • A colander can also be used effectively if you don’t have a diffuser attachment for your dryer. It also has the extra benefit of keeping your hair together and less “messed with” from the airflow of the blow dryer.

Ok it’s dry, now what?

In general, the best way to maintain the most definition of your waves or curls is to leave them be. If you feel like they need an extra boost of product, I usually recommend applying by scrunching the product in sparingly (remembering that the more dry your hair is the more concentrated the effect of anything you put on it), and then letting it finish drying. If you have a crunchy feel, or cast, to your curls, I suggest scrunching the crunch out. That will break up the extreme hold while also generally leaving the shape of everything intact.

Refresh days:

This is such a personalized part that it’s difficult to really give one solid piece of advice. Where I usually suggest starting out is one of the following:

  • If you’re someone who needs to shower first thing every morning, try scrunching water from your hands into your hair, or doing a full soak down and add conditioner back in.
  • You can try getting your hair wet in a sink or with an attachment from the shower.
  • You can try a spray bottle of water, possibly with some detangler or conditioner mixed in, or just straight spray detangler.
  • Sleeping with your hair in a loose French braid can help to prevent knots, and sleeping on something silk or satin (or with a similar sheen) can help prevent excess frizz.

Great resources you should definitely be looking into:

I will never know everything about hair in general, nor will I ever pretend to. There’s also a lot about hair that isn’t my place to be educating about much further than “you need to be knowledgeable and mindful and learn from someone who’s lived or is living what you’re trying to learn.” It’s still things I need to be knowledgeable about, but isn’t my place to be teaching. Here are some of the places I found online that have a lot of really great information and is where I would recommend starting your more intensive knowledge journey.

Curlfriends has been my main source of information on my own journey to educate myself more on curly hair. I cannot emphasize enough how informative that group has been, and it is a safe space for everyone.

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