On its best days, my hair is pretty close to Carrie Bradshaw’s infamous curls—loose, coiled, and just thick enough to hold their curl pattern for hours on end. The rest of the time? It’s a battle.
That’s the blessing / curse continuum of every curly girl, where a series of set factors (namely genetics, cut, and color) crash into variables like weather, water quality, and of course, hair products. Sure, every day is a gift—but it’s also one more chance for my naturally curly hair to flatten, poof, or simply snap at the ends.
The good news: Thanks to deeper definitions of modern beauty, curly hair is having its best era since Renaissance Italy.
The bad news: There’s a lot of terrible advice specifically aimed at curly hair. Like dating tips from conservative aunts, the guidance means well, and it does come from a place of knowledge. The thing is, that knowledge expired in 1985—well before major advances in products, styling tools, and salon education took curls to the next level.
As a beauty expert in my 30’s, I’ve had decades—seriously, like 5th grade and up—to explore my curls. I’ve tried every possible style and product, and seen how the best hair artists in the world craft curly hair in salons and at photo shoots. And I’m here to make sure your ash blonde or dark brown hair is always worthy of an Instagram moment.
Let’s banish some of these harmful naturally curly hair care myths for good, and get one step closer to keeping our heads in the curly game…
MYTH: CURLY GIRLS SHOULD NEVER USE SHAMPOO
I clung to this myth for years, believing shampoo would parch my precious curls and render them lifeless and fuzzy, like Brillo pads attached to my head. Instead I turned to “curl cleansers” that promised the same balancing properties as shampoo but without the damage. Sure, I followed the rules and used only “cleansers” instead of soap… but I also wrecked my scalp. It turned terribly itchy, precluded my hair from growing to its thickest and fullest potential, and even led to breakouts along my forehead. It was a total fail, but it led to this lesson:
FACT: DO NOT CANCEL SHAMPOO. JUST CANCEL SULFATES.
Sulfates are chemicals that clear dirt and grease away from the scalp. The issue is that they can also strip the natural oils that help protect and soften curly hair, which can lead to breakage, frizz, and dullness. Luckily, there are tons of gorgeous shampoos that are sulfate free, including celeb-approved favorites from Redken, Biolage, Kérastase, Shu Uemura, and more. For best results, remember to lather the shampoo into your scalp with circular massage motions. You can even use a special wet brush (my favorite is the Tangle Teezer Wet Detangler) to gently comb shampoo across your scalp and help clear any remaining product debris.
MYTH: DRYING YOUR HAIR WITH A TOWEL CREATES FRIZZ. DO IT WITH A T-SHIRT INSTEAD.
Please ignore this wacky nonsense. The reality is, if you have curly hair, you know it takes longer to dry. Absorbing water with a t-shirt still leaves you dripping wet post-shower, and your hair will be far too slick to style or hold the correct amount of product. That ups the frizz factor even more. Also: where are we supposed to get all these extra t-shirts?
FACT: DO AS THE SALONS DO. (USE A TOWEL. PLEASE.)
Sure, if you scrub your hair across beach towel like it’s a sponge at a carwash, you’re going to get frizz. But… uh… nobody actually dries their hair like that. Instead, think back to what happens after you’re rinsed at a salon sink: Hair is twisted firmly from roots to ends in one towel, held lengthwise. It’s then patted—again, firmly—while in the towel to sop up excess moisture. The result is clean, damp, textured hair that’s ready to be styled, with or without product. Easy!
MYTH: YOU CAN ONLY BRUSH CURLY HAIR IN THE SHOWER, WITH CONDITIONER IN IT. ONCE YOU’VE RINSED, YOU CAN’T BRUSH IT AGAIN AT ALL.
Because it’ll frizz… or break… or perhaps turn into a genie who grants Jafar three wishes and helps him destroy the world…? Who knows.
FACT: FOR SLEEKER OR LONGER CURLS, BRUSH DAMP HAIR DOWNWARDS.
Everyone wants their hair to have body, but sometimes with certain curl patterns, it goes from Hollywood to Dollywood very fast. If you love high hair, by all means, enjoy. If instead you’re aiming for a beachier style—the kind of long, curly hair that cascades straight down from the scalp like a bohemian princess—go ahead and brush damp hair in a steep downward motion with a wide-toothed brush, then apply a setting product to hold the curls in place.
MYTH: CURL CREAMS ALWAYS GET YOU THE BEST CURLS
I mean… maybe? But for my hair pattern—the coarse, corkscrew, tighter-at-the-scalp kind of curls—I’ve found curl creams can add too much grease and not enough protection or control, ensuring my boing factor will be well above average before my hair is dry. Alternately, if I want a lot of definition, I find that curly-specific gels are often too aggressive, making my ringlets crunchy and so plastiscine that I wonder if Mattel is going to recruit me for the Barbie Dreamhouse. Hard pass.
FACT: SMOOTHING CREAMS, HAIR PASTES, AND EVEN STRAIGHTENING CREAMS ARE GREAT FOR LOOSE CURLS
I swear by smoothing lotions to help keep my curls glossy and touchable, while also adding a bit of weight for the longer, looser style I prefer. Likewise, I find a bit of styling paste seals my ends and keeps them twisted just right. (Plus, I can steal a swipe from my boyfriend if I’m not at home.) I’ve even been known to work it into my wet hair for increased hold without the plastic-y finish I get from most gels.
MYTH: YOUR CURLS SHOULD ALWAYS BE BIG AND BOUNCY!
FACT: YOUR CURLS SHOULD BE WHATEVER YOU LOVE.
Can your hair make ringlets the shape of rotini pasta? Cool. Can it add an extra inch to your height if you let it boing up? Amazing. If you want a different kind of hairstyle—more Felicity, less Orphan Annie—are you obligated to “embrace your curls” and do it anyway? Absolutely not. Your hair is your choice, and nobody gets to decide your look but you. If you’re frustrated with your curls, it’s okay—but there are professional stylists everywhere who can help. Maybe it’s time to find one you really trust and get the look you’ve always wanted… one that even works with (gasp) shampoo and a towel.
Need help styling your curls or getting the right cut? Use our salon locator to book an appointment with a stylist near you.