Caring for coily hair, the tightest of curly hair types, is a challenge, no doubt. It refuses to do everything you ask it to and the time, work, and heat it often takes can often be traumatic. Yet an estimated 65 percent of the U.S. population has curly, coily or wavy hair, and those demands are finally being heard by the hair industry. There has never been a better time to be curly.
What is coily hair?
Coily hair includes compact spirals and corkscrews, ringlets of the smallest diameter, and naturally kinky hair in a zig-zagged or pleated pattern. From the perspective of hair types, coily includes:
Type 4A: hair strands form S-shape coils that are super-small, dense, and springy.
Type 4B:Densely packed strands have a “Z” shape with sharp angles.
Type 4C: Strands are similar in texture to 4B but with tighter and more fragile coils.
You may have taken a hair type quiz or done all the research to try to identify your type of hair, which is not always easy when curly heads often contain more than one type. For instance, you could have coarse hair that needs to be cared for differently than smooth, silkier curls.
However, according to editorial and salon stylist Jennifer Covington-Bowers whose roster includes many curly and coily haired clients, some curly hair salons have begun to move away from the curly numbering system. “It’s best to focus on what your needs are,” she advises. “Not everyone with the same texture wants the same thing. The key is determining what your curls need. Most curls need moisture, and that is how you get definition, and with healthy cuticles, shine. What do you need?”
Determine what your coils need
As you navigate how to take care of curly hair, determine exactly what your hair type needs. “Curls this curly are dry and especially vulnerable to breakage. Each and every spiral is a potential stress point because the hair cuticles (the scaly sheath for each hair strand) struggle to hug such tight curves while staying flat and well-oiled. As a result, coily hair demand number one is usually hydration. Moisturize the hair, but not so heavily that I can’t hydrate.”
Some curly hair salons have begun to move away from the curly numbering system. It’s best to focus on what your needs are – not everyone with the same texture wants the same thing.
Translation: Hydration and moisture are words often used interchangeably, but there’s a critical difference: Hair needs water – hydration – and it needs lipids, or fats – moisture (hair likes the oil that your scalp secretes best).
Achieving Moisture and Hydration
The trick is getting the two to work harmoniously so your curls can be gloriously defined. “Moisture is essential before you twist or braid,” says Covington-Bowers. That is why your number one hair care product – other than a no-lather cleanser – should be a water-based, leave-in conditioner that you use on damp hair after washing it. The damp hair part is important, as New York-based hairdresser Jason Devastation explains: “Think of putting a dry sponge on a wet surface. The water doesn’t absorb much beyond the surface of the sponge. But if the sponge is damp, it sucks the water right up.”
Whether your curls consist of silver gray hair, or thick, luscious strands of dark hair, moisture is critical for your haircare routine. This technique, of using a hair product containing good fats and essential oils on damp hair, is how you retain some of the water your hair absorbs in the shower. It is also how you keep the hair cuticles supple and maintain the boundary between the inner strand and the outer world. We happen to have a fantastic hair care product that fits the bill perfectly: It’s called Hair Balm.
However, stay away from silicones, and avoid heavy oily, greasy, butter products – and never use them directly on your hair. They can be present in a commercial moisturizer, or you can mix them in yourself, “but you shouldn't be aware of their presence on your hair or skin,” Devastation says. Raw oil or butter can seal out water completely, and can’t be removed easily without over-cleansing.
Shampoo is now Taboo
Forget about foam; say ‘so long’ to suds. Bubbles are not your friend; bubbles are, in fact, the troubling sign of detergent. But this doesn’t mean you won’t clean your hair, it means getting clean without getting dried-out! Using an oil-based cleanser is much like what you may already be using to wash our face. Oil attracts oil, and it’s the gentlest way to melt away excess sebum and impurities without drying your hair out in the process. Additionally, if you’re wondering how to take care of long hair, try one of these gentle hair products to avoid split ends. We can’t recommend New Wash Rich highly enough.
Cutting Coily Hair
A well-trained hairstylist should be able to cut any hair type, including coily hair. Hairstory director Wes Sharpton’s number one rule is, “No blunt lines” to avoid a choppy-looking cut. “A softer, diffused line is more naturally suited to natural curls,” he says, and since curls generally stretch and lengthen when wet – you can pinch and pull them down from chin to collarbone or breast to belly – he recommends cutting hair dry “to give a better read of where the length will actually rest.”
Curl specialist Evan Joseph agrees, and has written: “If you’re going to wear your hair curly, it should be cut how you wear it. It’s impossible to harmonize all the different curl patterns when they are stretched, straightened, wet, or made to be anything but their natural selves.”
Joseph has also published an extensive list of requirements for curly people before they arrive at the salon to both make stylists’ lives simpler and the service much more satisfying, including:
- Cleanse, condition, and style your hair and present your best curls.
- Arrive with dry hair so that time can be spent on cutting and shaping, not drying.
- Avoid arriving with a ponytail, bun, twist out, roller-set, perm-rod set, curl-former, or any hairstyle that stretches or changes your hair’s natural curl pattern.
- Avoid arriving with hair brushed, picked, or combed – basically, anything that disturbs your natural curl pattern.
- Avoid arriving with products in your hair that are excessively sticky or greasy (shea butter or coconut oil) that may block water from being absorbed and gum up shears.
Styling Coily Hair
Because a coily hair type can be difficult to care for, we asked several curl experts for their styling tips.
Mona Baltazar, famous for “The Mona Cut,” shared this:
- Frizz isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so embrace it! It’s actually part of the texture.
- You don’t necessarily need oils except on tips or as a deep conditioner.
- Always look for products that moisturize.
- Use your fingers to detangle before you pick up a comb. And when you do comb, always work from the bottom up.
- Always air dry hair, even if you plan to use a blow-dryer or diffuser to minimize heat exposure and frizz.
- Try using a silk pillowcase when you sleep to prevent friction and frizz.
- Scrunch! Hang your upside head down. Scrunch and hold for a bit to get the root standing up and create some volume and enhance your hair texture.
Evan Joseph’s styling philosophy for curl styling is “your hair is a fabric, and doesn’t react the way living things do. He recommends using products that move freely “in and out of the fabric of your hair.” In addition:
- Put a drop on your hand and wet it. If it doesn’t dissolve easily in water, it’s a no-go.
- Try cleaning it from your skin without detergents. If it doesn’t rinse easily, it can’t be removed from your hair easily.
Covington-Bowers offers some additional insights. “To avoid weighing down finer hair, keep your application light – on the top layers at least – to keep it springy.” To make your curls longer and less compact, “stretch damp hair out with one hand while using a diffuser with the other,” suggests JCB. Or, hang upside down to make use of your hair’s own weight. It’s a good way to get volume, and if you’re craving more (fine types take note) you can always add a little Lift at the root beforehand.