Frizz (from the French friser: to curl) has become a dirty word in the hair world. Fight it; ease it; calm it – battalions of bottles are deployed to erase it. But, it should be said that hair going against the grain and not falling in line is a natural phenomenon that although vilified in our current era has been celebrated in others as a halo effect. Look at photos of silent screen star Mary Pickford or pre-Raphaelite paintings of feathery masses of ringlets. Remember 1980s perms and crimps? Fabulously frizzed!
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if you behold a head of unmanageable floss, well, this article is for you.
Frizz or fuzziness appears naturally when one of two things happen. First, new hairs that haven’t caught up with older, longer ones (the average lifespan is about six years) can protrude from the prevailing texture but can be easily smoothed down with a number of products. The second isn’t quite as simple, and is all about the cuticle.
The cuticle is the outer layer of each hair strand that looks like a shingled roof, or snakeskin scales. When hair is smooth, those shingles lie flat – a challenge with the twists and turns of curls. But many things you do without thinking cause those shingles to lift, allowing water to escape – and to enter. When water leaves, hair is dehydrated. When water is forced in, or hair is over-exposed to a humid environment, it penetrates the hair shaft and is absorbed by the cortex, causing the proteins there to swell, and the shaft to twist and bend irregularly. So, how do you keep those cuticles smooth and closed?
1. Start with washing.
Choose a shampoo with the mildest detergent possible – or without detergent at all. Look for a cleanser with glycerin high up in the ingredient list (ingredients nearer the top are higher in percentage), since it helps to hydrate hair from the inside out and creates a protective coating. Hairstory New Wash cleanses with oils rather than detergent and lists glycerin fifth on the list. And be gentle; never bunch up your hair or scrub roughly.
2. Blot, don’t rub.
When drying your curls, blot and press water from hair rather than roughing it up with a towel to help keep cuticles calm. Try Aquis microfiber towels and turbans instead of terrycloth.
Use a moisturizer on your hair – just as you do your skin – to prevent the cuticle from opening up and letting water in or out (we recommend Hairstory Hair Balm, also high in glycerin as the second ingredient). Natural oils are key here as they are absorbed more easily than synthetics like silicone. While hair is still wet, apply creme from midshaft to ends, avoiding roots to preserve lift. Then, wrap your curls around your fingers to shape them, and let them air dry. You can also use a diffuser on low speed, high heat (aim it down-shaft toward the tips to avoid lifting the cuticle).
4. Cool it.
Avoid flat irons and curling irons, and limit heat sources to a blow dryer with a diffuser. Too much hot air focused directly on your strands dehydrates it, and if it’s very wet basically boils it. Let your hair air-dry 90 percent of the way, and then use a dryer on it for the last 10 percent. Spin a round brush through your hair as you blow dry to help direct cuticles to lay flat.
5. Sleep in silk.
No matter how high your thread count, your cotton pillowcase may be dehydrating your hair, as well as latching onto hair fibers and pulling it apart. Try silk instead, or sleep with hair in a bun cocooned in a silk scarf (occasionally steeped in Hair Balm as a moisture treatment). Yes, you might look like Lucy bedding down with Desi, but it’s a small, retro-inspired price to pay.
6. Don't brush.
The most effective fix might be the simplest one: Avoid brushing hair after it dries. Brushing not only disrupts your hair's cuticle, but it can also stretch it, make it prone to breakage, and create static.
Relaxers and straighteners can make hair brittle and fragile. Think of changing texture occasionally with styling products, not permanently with chemicals. Color? Talk with your colorist about minimizing bleaching.
8. Get a haircut.
Split ends are obvious frizz culprits. Fraying not only allows moisture loss; it simply looks fuzzy. Your hairdresser might be missing you.
In summary: As in most things, moderation is key, and in this case what you don’t do may be more important than what you do. So if you’re on the losing end of fighting frizz, turn up the moisture, turn down the heat, don’t go against the grain, and by all means keep those critical cuticles calm.