Curls often get a bad rep as being too high maintenance. They twist and spiral on their own, in any direction they want; they have different porosities, making it difficult to stick to one product; they react differently based on environmental stressors. They can be even more of a challenge with the wrong products and routine knowledge. That’s why it’s important to know what ingredients to avoid for curly hair and which are beneficial. “Curly hair requires styling products with moisturizing and protective ingredients in order to maintain a smooth and bouncy finish,” says Shab Reslan, trichologist and hair expert.
According to Amy Stollmeyer, DESIGNME co-founder and lead hairstylist, curly hair will need different types of care depending on: curl pattern, hair texture (fine, medium, or coarse), hair density, climate, and care routine. “A regimen of deep cleansing, moisture and hydration, protein, leave-in treatment, definers, and elasticity boosters are all a general plus for waves, curls, and coils,” she shares. Of course the endless amount of options all claiming to defrizz, define curls, add moisture, and retain shine doesn’t make curl maintenance any easier. So what products actually work?
The trick is to style your natural texture with specific curly hair products to keep your hair nourished and curls defined — making it extremely essential to have a general understanding of the best and worst ingredients for curly hair. Ahead, TZR spoke to top celebrity hairstylists and trichologists to find out what ingredients work best for curls and why. Plus, they shared a plethora of curl puddings, custards, gels, and creams that incorporate all the good ingredients that you can add to your hair routine today.
Ingredients To Avoid For Curly Hair
Known to strip hair of natural oils, sulfates are an absolutely no-no for curls. If used, it could lead to dryness, breakage, and scalp irritation. “The main ingredient to avoid are surfactants [like] sulfates that don’t allow the hair to breath,” Gibson tells TZR. To make things easier for you, when looking at the ingredient label in a beauty aisle, sulfates typically end in “-ate,” with ammonium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate as the most common ones.
Michelle O’Connor, Ulta Beauty pro team member and celebrity hair stylist, claims parabens that are used as a preservative can cause irritation and allergic contact dermatitis for some people. “Curly hair is fragile and parabens can cause potential threat to the scalp by causing inflammation,” she says. Look instead for products labeled paraben-free.
All the experts agree that too much protein is the number one way to damage curly hair. This involves over applying or leaving in hair masks, treatments, or protein bond builders for extended periods beyond what is recommended. “Protein overload can slowly coat and damage hair, making it appear dull and even lose its shape,” says Reslan, which is hugely detrimental to curls.
Lastly, avoiding drying alcohols like propanol is highly recommended for curls. “They can irritate the scalp and dry it out while making the curly hair more brittle,” Reavey tells TZR. “Healthy hair starts at the scalp so make sure you avoid anything that irritates it or dries it out.”
Ingredients To Embrace For Curly Hair
Formulated with vitamin E, shea butter helps seal moisture into the hair and works as an anti-inflammatory to help with itchy scalp and overall dryness. It is a rich ingredient, however, and is ideal for tighter curls rather than looser curls and waves.
The experts recommend jojoba oil to balance scalp oil production, nourish a dry scalp, and seal moisture into the hair shaft. A pre-shampoo scalp massage is a great way to soothe irritation and promote hair growth.
Aloe vera has been popular for centuries for its healing and soothing properties. “When used in hair care products, it offers natural conditioning, and at the same time, stimulates blood flow to the scalp,” says celebrity hair stylist, Ted Gibson.
A true hydrating hero of skin care, hyaluronic acid also works well with curly hair prone to frizziness. “Frizzy hair is caused by a lack of moisture and weakened cuticle,” Reslan tells TZR. “Hyaluronic acid can help hair increase water absorption and provide protection throughout the day.”
The spiral structure of curly hair means light refracts less than it does in straight hair — equating to less shine. With the use of argan oil, it will help seal in moisture, reduce flyaways, and calm down any frizz so your curls look extra glossy.
As a humectant, glycerin binds with the water in the air, drawing it into your hair and retaining it for additional moisture. As a result, you get frizz-free, shiny curls.
Coconut oil is an anti-inflammatory nut oil that works to moisturize and smooth the hair follicle to improve the condition of the scalp. It can penetrate the hair fiber and attach to protein structures to prevent the hair from swelling with too much water. Mix it in with your conditioner for a homemade hair mask, use it on damp hair as a styling hero, or use a pump or two of serum on dry hair for super glossy shine.
Castor oil helps to accelerate blood circulation to the scalp, protects hair follicles, nourishes, and adds shine, says Helen Reavey, hair stylist and founder of Act+Acre. This is another great option for a soothing head massage before you shower.
According to Reslan, phytantriol is, “a type of safe alcohol that acts as a humectant by decreasing the loss of moisture in the hair, and can repair and protect hair from damage.” Many products, from shampoos and conditioners to stylers, utilize it to help keep the hair moisturized.
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