As a mix between type 3B curls and type 4A coils, my hair can range from spirally and bouncy to dry and shapeless depending on my product assortment, heat usage, hairstyle, weather, and overall health of my hair. Sometimes, even the over-wearing of a protective style can send my curls into a hair hiatus, lasting anywhere from a week to months until I can correct my natural hair routine.
“Curls that don’t curl up no matter what you do, excessive shedding, breakage, hair that is limp or feels like overcooked spaghetti when wet, are all signs of a damaged curl pattern,” says April Kayganich, texture specialist and salon owner of The Curl Whisperer. If it’s taken a lot longer to style your curls, or you have increased flyaways and frizz, this can also be the tell-tale sign of curl pattern damage.
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The good part: there are plenty of expert tips and tricks to restore a curl pattern, and they’re not at all difficult to add into your existing hair care routine. Whether you enjoy changing up your hair (and possibly cause some damage along the way) or are just new to caring for your texture, reviving curls to be full of life, bouncy, and hydrated can be achieved. Ahead, discover the top insights on how to restore curl pattern and prevent damage from top hairstylists and salon owners.
What Does A Natural Curl Pattern Require?
A healthy and natural curl pattern requires good hydration, adequate moisture, and protection from heat via targeted serums. “For curls to have the ultimate pop, they need moisture,” Kayganich says. “When curls lose moisture, they lose their shape (wave, spiral, or coil.)”
Hair obtains moisture through water, either actual water or water-formulated products. Part of making sure your hair is able to receive the right amount of moisture, Kayganich recommends understanding your hair’s porosity, or its ability to absorb and retain water (read: moisture). “If you have higher porosity, you’ll want to make sure you do a protein treatment one to two times a month,” she adds. This hair type is more porous, as the name suggests, and therefore can’t hang onto moisture as easily. To tell whether you have high, low, or normal porosity hair, take a spare strand and place it in a glass of water — if it sinks immediately, you have high porosity hair and you’ll require more products to keep your curls moisturized.
Protein treatments will strengthen and moisturize each hair follicle, restoring structure to those shapeless curls. According to Dereq Clark, North America Ambassador of Wella Professionals, protein treatments, “create stronger hair strands and help curls stay healthy and bouncy.”
Low porosity hair has a harder time absorbing water, but once it does it will hold onto it well. If your hair falls into this category, avoid excess amounts of protein and use warm water to open up the cuticle when you shower or bathe — that will allow the water to enter (and hydrate) the hair shaft.
What Causes a Curl Pattern to Become Damaged?
Heat damage, chemical damage, wearing a weave, braids, or protective styles for too long, and not getting haircuts are the top indicators that you might have a damaged curl pattern, according to Kayganich.
Excessive sun exposure can also damage your curl pattern. UV rays can affect the cuticle and cortex of the hair, leading to dry, brittle, and dull hair. Just as you would with your skin, it’s important to protect and cover your hair from the sun with protective products. After all, the scalp is skin.
And although long hair is gorgeous, it could also be the root cause of a poor curl pattern. Longer hair tends to be heavier and has a tendency of dragging curls down, creating a stretched texture. The best way to combat stretched curls is to cut layers into long hair so curls can stand (or rather, gain back elasticity) instead of hanging limp.
Avoid Heat At All Costs
When attempting to correct a curl pattern or prevent it from becoming damaged in the first place, Kayganich recommends avoiding heat by air drying the hair, and even skipping the diffuser to see improvement in your curls. “When too much heat or the wrong type of heat is consistently applied to your natural curls, curls will become dry, brittle, and loose,” says Oliver Adams, Wella Colorcharm’s top artist, “If your curl pattern has ‘changed’ from heat, it’s not just changed, it’s damaged.”
Translation: lay low from all flat ironing, curl irons, and chemical processes (relaxers, Brazilian blowouts, highlights, and permanent color). You don’t necessarily have to abandon these things forever, but when you’re trying to get your curls back on track, cutting them out can make a big difference.
“[Excessive heat] will change the hair’s pH and affect the integrity of the hair strand,” Kayganich says, “If you already have damaged hair before chemically processing your hair, you will be more prone to breakage and cause even more damage to your curls.”
In addition to salon protein treatments, Clark recommends restoring the pH of your hair with, “apple cider vinegar to get rid of any environmental metals that may be living in the hair.” Try a rinse (mixed with plenty of water) in the shower once a month to help revive lackluster curls.
Style Hair In The Shower
Simply put: “If you don’t style your hair in the shower, start,” says Kayganich. Curly hair needs lots of water before applying styling products to lock in moisture. By starting the styling process in the shower, you will ensure your hair attracts plenty of water and keep your curls frizz-free and bouncy.
Adams encourages clients to avoid stripping hair of its natural oils with too much shampooing. “The natural oils that your scalp produces are necessary to keep moisture in the hair balanced and healthy, particularly if your hair is porous,” he says.
Begin by using an appropriate conditioner for your hair type and gently detangle with fingers or a wide tooth comb. As a rule of thumb, Clark suggests rinsing hair with cold water after shampoo and conditioner. “[Cold water] will help close down the cuticle to ensure moisture is retained in the hair,” he says. After hair is cleaned, apply styling products in sections by adding in more water than product. If you aren’t able to style hair in the shower, you can easily add in more water with an aerosol spray bottle or mister.
When In Doubt, Moisturize
By definition, curly hair is drier on average than other textures, which is why it constantly needs moisture to restore its hydration balance. Dry hair can cause frizz and will ultimately affect the curl definition. To heal dry hair, incorporate hydrating masks and deep conditioners into your hair routine to ensure moisture retention and elasticity in the hair. Clark encourages his clients to have a good daily moisturizing cream on hand for soft hold, definition and bounce.
There is however, a fine line between moisturizing and over-moisturizing. “The key is to not over moisturize your hair,” Adams says, “That will cause build up and a change in the natural curl pattern.” Over-moisturized hair, also known as hygral fatigue, can happen when too much product is applied to the hair allowing it to swell when wet, and then shrink when dry — creating breakage. Try using a deep conditioning treatment once a week and a leave-in conditioner that is suitable for your curl type and thickness on wash days.
Your Curls Aren't Gone Forever
Sometimes, lifeless curls just need to be refreshed with a little steam. “The steam softens the hair allowing it to bend and change shape,” says Adams. “This is a great way to refresh and reshape curls flattened by a good night’s sleep, moisture deprivation, or a ponytail.”
However, if you’ve taken a break from heat, have properly hydrated your hair, and still notice damage to your curl pattern, it might be time to cut off the damaged sections and make room for new growth. “When you suffer extreme heat damage or extreme chemical damage, the bonds within the hair are irreparable which means you will have to cut off all of the damage,” Kayganich tells TZR.
If you still have a few limp, lifeless sections, or aren’t willing to cut off too much length, the amount of time it will take to repair the curls depends on the type of damage. “It could be anywhere from a month to years. Just make sure you’re consistent with your routine and be patient with yourself,” Kayganich adds.
While correcting your curl pattern, try not to style hair in updos, tight buns, or ponytails — the key here is to let the hair breathe and not add tension (via a restrictive style) to the hair itself. “Allow the hair to just be free with minimal manipulation to try and restore curls without any harm from heating tools and excessive manipulation,” Clark says.
Ready to achieve a healthy curly pattern? Check out a few expert-approved products below to get you started.
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