“Is your hair real?”, the woman asked as she touched my curls in admiration. I did not know this woman. She was a complete stranger, yet there she was, touching my hair while I was volunteering for the Toronto International Film Festival.
I wasn’t sure if I should have been flattered that this woman deemed my hair so spectacular that she felt the need to touch a stranger’s hair, or if I should have been annoyed that a stranger touched my clean curls with their stranger hands.
Most people respect the concept of personal space and don’t go to such extremes to express their compliments, but it seems my long curly hair has become my signature physical trait that everyone notices and compliments.
For that, I thank you all. I truly appreciate every positive comment because it means that my long journey of nursing my hair back to health has finally been worth it. After years of putting my poor hair through chemical dyes, shitty products, damaging straighteners, and bad hairstylists, every compliment is met with a sigh of relief and gratitude.
Since I’ve had so many people ask me what my secret is to making my hair so curly / bouncy / red / long / healthy: as requested, I am sharing my current hair care routine.
By all means though, my hair is far from perfect. I certainly have bad hair days and I still turn into a puff ball of frizz on humid days. The Instagram-worthy hair photos I post on social media are obviously when I’m having a good hair day. My hair is twisted in messy bun 80% of the time, so when I have fresh luscious curls or mermaid waves, you best believe I would document it!
If you dig through my earlier blog posts, you’ll find that I already posted a “Tips & Tricks for Curly Hair”. Surprisingly, not too much has changed in my routine, with the exception of some product changes and one signature treatment that I owe all this attention to.
Read on below for an updated version!
I dye my hair with henna
My blog is no stranger to my praise for henna. Whether it’s the LUSH Caca Rouge or Indian henna, henna is my signature “secret” to maintaining healthy hair and a unique colour. Lately I’ve been using this Red Raj henna from Henna Sooq and it’s been wonderful. Another great one that I like is Jamila henna.
I use this plant-based dye for a variety of purposes: to cover my greys by making my natural auburn hair a lot more red, and to add shine to my hair. This is all achieved 100% naturally and it’s also incredibly budget-friendly.
*Henna might react differently on chemically dyed hair. If you have chemically dyed hair but you want to switch to natural henna hair dye, do some online research or talk to a trusted and knowledgable hair stylist.
I wash my hair once a week
I don’t wash my hair every day because I don’t need to. And you probably don’t either. For someone with curly hair, washing with shampoo every day would strip away the hair’s natural oils and making it more dry and more frizzy.
Washing my hair only once a week (sometimes twice a week in the summer) over the past seven years has proven to be a huge benefit in maintaining healthy hair.* It sounds counter-intuitive, but you kind of have to “train” your hair to get used to its natural oils instead of depending on heavy products, and in time your hair will cooperate. Less is truly more in this scenario.
The benefits of this washing habit won’t reap overnight, you might have to live with gross hair for a bit until your hair oils balance out, but I promise you it is so worth it when it does.
*I can’t say that this method works for everyone. Some people naturally have an oily scalp, produce more sweat, have very fine hair, or they work out / play sports and they’d have to wash their hair more often. But if you have thick, dry, curly hair, I guarantee you cutting back on washing will help.
I use shampoo with zero or minimal sulfates
You know that satisfying feeling of soapy bubbles that lather on your scalp when you shampoo your hair? That’s caused by sulfates, and sadly, that’s the ingredient found in most shampoos that dry out your hair.
I can’t claim that all the products I use are 100% clean and green, but I try. Lately the shampoos that have worked greatly for my dry and curly hair is the DevaCurl No-Poo Conditioning Cleanser. This shampoo produces zero lather (which takes a while to get used to) and the grape seed, peppermint and rosemary in it keeps my hair soft and frizz-free. The LUSH Rehab Shampoo is another great shampoo if I want to switch it up. I only lather a loonie-size dollop of shampoo on my entire scalp. Read: I never apply shampoo on the ends of my hair, just my scalp.
I use silicone-free conditioner
I’m obsessed with this One Condition Decadence Ultra Moisturizing Milk Conditioner by DevaCurl. Firstly, it smells amazing. Secondly, a little goes a long way with this one and it works wonders on my hair. The olive fruit oil, hops and quinoa in this conditioner makes my hair incredibly soft, but my hair still feels light and bouncy since there are no heavy silicones and parabens to weigh it down or make it greasy, like your average conditioners.
I smooth out about 3-4 pumps of this conditioner on the ends of my hair only, starting from my ear, down to the ends. I let the conditioner sit in my hair for about 5 minutes before rinsing off and revealing silky hair that smells enchanting. Important note: never apply conditioner directly on the scalp because that’s not that part of your hair that needs conditioner. Focus on the ends, because that is the driest part.
I rinse my hair with cold water
Just like in my original post, I always finish off my final rinse with very cold water. It’s worth the 10 seconds of frigid discomfort. The cold water basically eliminates frizz and feels refreshing on the scalp.
I pat my hair dry with a cotton T-shirt
Never rub your curly hair in a towel! That will make your hair frizzy. Instead, grab a cotton T-shirt and pat gently. I pat my hair, focusing on the ends mostly, to absorb excess water to prepare it for the next step below.
I use styling product on wet hair
Back in my rookie years, I used to let my hair air dry a bit before applying a curling mousse, and you know what happened? My hair still came out frizzy because the curl had already dried, i.e. frizzed up.
So the best advice I could give to styling curly hair: apply your styling product on wet hair.
The second best advice: apply a liberal amount of your curl cream. No need to drench your hair with it, but not putting enough will defeat its purpose. For reference, for my long hair, I apply about 5-6 pumps of curl cream, and then I scrunch it all up in my hair until it makes a squishy wet sound. I know that sounds funny, but that’s how you know you have enough product. If it doesn’t make a squishy sound, add more!
I have used a number of decent curling creams in the past (notably AG Hair Cosmetic Recoil Curl Activator) but lately I have been digging this Love Ur Self All-In-One Curly. It has great ingredients, doesn’t feel heavy, and the curl power lasts all week. With this product, I get bouncy spiral curls for the first half of the week, and by the end of the week my hair winds down to flowy waves, and my hair never feels greasy.
Side note: I ran out of the original sized bottle so I had to photograph the mini-travel size bottle.
I use a diffuser to dry my hair
I wish I could just “wash and go”, but any curly head knows that doesn’t apply to us, especially if you have long curly hair. Even though it’s a well-known fact that reducing the use of heat styling helps keep your hair healthy, I still need some help in the drying department because there’s no way I’m prancing around with long wet hair and getting my shoulders and back soaked.
Luckily, diffusers distribute heat a little more sparingly (i.e. it’s not direct heat on your hair the way a blowdryer, straightener or curling wand does) so it’s not as damaging. I also don’t diffuse my hair every day, just once a week after I wash. I diffuse until my hair is about 80% dry, I give a brief cold air blast (most hairdryers have that feature) and then I finish off with the final step below.
I use a leave-in treatment to set my curls
This LUSH R&B Hair Moisturizer is a Holy Grail product for me. Just like my original post, I’ve been using this for years and I can’t live without it. It’s the perfect finishing touch to use after I’m done diffusing my hair. Very little goes a very long way with this one. I rub no more than a quarter-size amount between my hands, and scrunch it up in my hair to set it to bouncy soft curls that smell like a luxurious garden of midnight jasmine.
I use coconut oil as a deep conditioning hair mask
I admit, I’m lazy when it comes to maintaining a once-a-month ritual of hair oil treatments, but when I do take the time to give my hair some extra love, coconut oil does the job as a moisturizing hair mask. I’ll slather it on my ends, comb it out through my entire hair, give myself a little scalp massage, twist my hair up in a bun and let it absorb the coconut oil all day or overnight by wearing a disposable hair cap and placing a towel on my pillowcase. If I’m pressed with time, I’ll leave it in for 20 minutes before washing it off to reveal nourished and soft hair.
I trim my hair twice a year
One of the benefits of having long hair is how low maintenance it is (do you see a pattern here? I’m lazy AF). Having long hair means you don’t have to style it every day, or get a cut every six weeks. You just let it grow and flow, and if you need to mask unruly or unwashed hair, you can easily twist it up in a bun, sleek it up in a high ponytail or whip up a nice braid.
That being said, even long hair needs a shape refresher and dry ends need to be snipped away. Luckily, I found an amazing hair stylist at Salon Tocci a few years ago, and I trust her entirely with my hair. It took me a while to find that trust after going through a number of failed hair cuts over the years. Since I’ve found this gem, I go to her every 4 to 6 months for a healthy upkeep.
There you have it, my friends! My real secret to healthy hair is embracing simple up-keeping, a low-maintenance routine, as natural as possible products, and sticking to a method that works best to achieve what I’ve always wanted: mermaid worthy hair.