Convincing Your Sort-Of-Wavy Hair To Curl Starts In The Shower

10 steps to try while you're waiting for UPS to deliver the steam curlers you ordered after seeing Annie use them.
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Publish date:
April 18, 2013
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How-To, blowdrying, gel, conditioner, diffuser, curly, straight, wavy

My hairstylist in college told me once that my natural hair color is "dishwater blonde." I'll never forget that phrasing, which, unfortunately, pretty accurately describes the dull, unflattering hue where blonde and brown intersect.

"You can either go darker or lighter, but don't leave it as is," he said on our first color consult. I know, obviously it was in his best interest that I keep coloring it, but if you saw the way my natural color completely washes out my complexion, you'd agree that it's in my best interest, too.

He also commented on my texture--how it falls just between wavy and straight, another thing that needs nudging in one direction or the other.

If I let my hair air dry, which I do on many weekdays as I have neither the energy nor the motivation to do much more for my day job, it gets a little wavy and hangs limply. I'm constantly flipping the part back and forth in an attempt at volume. My coworkers probably think it's a tic.

Straightening it has become relatively easy and quick for me, now that I've discovered the right formula of products and tools for my hair: blow-dry with a paddle brush and argan oil; straighten with ceramic iron; finish with smoothing serum on ends.

But I can also go curly, too, which requires a bit more time, patience and finesse. You need to encourage curl and volume while avoiding frizz--and it all starts in the shower.

  • Use a medium-bodied conditioner to make sure curls are hydrated but not weighed down. Right now I'm into Organix Hydrating TeaTree Mint Conditioner. Flip your head over and finger-comb through tresses to get rid of any knots.
  • Finish your shower as normal but, before turning water off, flip hair over once more and drench in the stream of water, creating a smooth sheet out of your hair. This gives you a blank slate from which to start forming your curls.
  • Keeping your head flipped, turn off water. Run your fingers gently through your hair from scalp to ends (in front and back of head) once to start separating out the curls.
  • Still flipped over, begin creating lateral sections in your hair, starting at the nape of the neck. With fingers of both hands spread, lift a section from underneath, away from your head and shake gently through your fingers. Do this in three or four sections from nape to forehead. The point is to coax out and separate curls with minimal handling.
  • Use a paper towel or thin T-shirt to gently squeeze extra water out of hair, not going over any section more than once. Don't rub, just blot.
  • Rub a generous dollop of curl-encouraging gel or lotion--I like Samy Get Curls Curl Reactivating Lotion--between hands and start applying to hair: Cup several strands of curls at a time in your palm, gently lifting from root to scalp and squeezing to enforce the curl shape and distribute the product. Do this all over your head.
  • Now you can flip.

    Phew! That's the most annoying part. Put on a robe or place a towel over your shoulders to absorb excess water, as hair will still be dripping. Allow to air dry in this position--depending on your style, all locks should be swept back from your face--for 15 minutes or so.

  • Gently shake hair to arrange into your normal part/style and let air dry further. You want it to still be damp but not dripping when you start to blow-dry.
  • Flip your head over again. Using a diffuser and your blow-dryer on low, dry your hair. Place the diffuser under the ends of the curls and lift upward toward your scalp, encouraging the curl formation. Keep the heat moving; the front can get too much heat. Don't forget to dry your crown and the back. You don't want hair to be completely dry when you're done; aim for 85% dry. If you can separate the blow-drying time into two shorter sessions, with a pause of air-drying in between, this keeps frizz at a minimum.
  • Flip over and finish with a light-hold hairspray. And keep your hands off! The more you touch your curls, the more they'll frizz.

I know this seems like a lot of steps, but it's not as complicated as it seems. And of course, please note that my hair is medium-length, thick and layered, so your results will depend on your hair length, type and style.

Let me know if this works for you or if you have better curl-encouraging tips!