How I Learned to Love (Ok, Like) My Natural Waves
I’ve straightened my naturally-wavy hair for most of my adult life. When we lived in New York, I blew it dry almost every time I washed it (or, better yet, I went to a salon and had it professionally done). In my headshot, my hair is straight. When I got married, my hair was twisted into an updo—after I blew it straight. For job interviews, school interviews, television interviews...whenever I had an important event, my hair was always, always straight.
When I did wear it wavy, I thought of my natural texture as sweatpants hair, something I primarily wore on the weekends, vacation, maternity leave, or on rainy/high-humidity days when wielding a blow-dryer was futile. Thus, I didn’t work hard to perfect it; I'd scrunch in some kind of salt spray, and that was that.
In Ann Arbor, however, where I mostly work from home, blow-drying seems like too much effort on days when my primary companion is Rocco, our Miniature Schnauzer. So, I wear it wavy now. A lot. I may work out first thing, quickly shower, and let it airdry while I bang out a writing assignment at my desk.
Scaling back on the heat styling has had some upsides. It’s helped my hair grow stronger and fuller, especially around my face where the constant heat-styling created what my longtime stylist Nunzio calls chemical bangs (a.k.a. chronic breakage). Being wash and go also makes getting ready for the day more efficient.
The hard part: Going au naturel in midlife has been like learning to do my hair…all over again. While sweatpants-level styling was fine when I went wavy on the occasional weekend, for everyday, it doesn't suffice. So, for the past year, I've experimented with shampoos, conditioners, stylers for wet wavy hair, stylers for dry wavy hair, and even stylers for second-day wavy hair. And one thing I've learned: While blow-drying is pretty consistent business, coaxing beachy, frizz-free waves from natural texture is a rollercoaster ride. Wavy hair is wayyyyyyy more temperamental and subject to the whims of the weather. Some days, I achieve almost Gisele-esque waves. Other days, I feel like Gilda Radner. I think, however, I've finally arrived at an arsenal of products, plus some tricks and tools that (mostly) minimize my frizz, define my waves without leaving them crunchy, and that make my fine hair bouncy but not puffy. Looking like a mushroom-head is a legit concern when one goes wavy.
Now, I can't include everything I've learned in this one post because I’d blow past the 1000-word max I’m told no blogger should surpass. So, I'm breaking my findings into a series of posts—beginning with what I believe is the foundation of fighting frizz (my textured hair's biggest enemy).
Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.
When you blow-dry your hair, directing hot air from root to end helps seal your hair’s outer layer, known as its cuticle. (Need a mental picture? Cuticles are like shingles on a roof; blow-drying them downward makes each shingle lie flat.) Closing that outer layer makes your hair shinier, smoother, and less apt to frizz because a sealed cuticle acts like a shut door, minimizing the amount of water your hair can absorb from the air. And it’s that water absorption that causes strands to swell.
However, to style waves or curls, we typically air-dry, so there’s no hot air closing our cuticles. (Even if you use a diffusor, the air is typically directed upward, ends to roots.) Couple this with the fact that wavy/curly hair has a more “open” cuticle, naturally (thanks to all those bends), and/or you color your hair (chemical processing roughs up the cuticle layer), and you have a recipe for water absorption (ahem, frizz) whenever it's humid.
The solution? For me, it’s been to fill my strands with so much conditioning moisture, there’s little room to absorb any extra water from the air. This means conditioning every time I shampoo, deep conditioning weekly, using a leave-in conditioner, and trying to limit shampooing to four to five times a week. (Even the gentlest shampoo strips some moisture from the hair.) I’ve also finally come around to conditioning cleansers; my hair really is less apt to fuzz out when I clean with one of those, rather than a traditional shampoo. Note: I’m not a fan of cleansing conditioners when I wear my hair straight because they tend to leave my locks limp.
Now, you may ask why stuffing your hair with moisture doesn't cause the same strand-swelling (read: frizz) you get when your hair sucks up water in the air? I've no idea; I just know this tactic works. You may also be asking why all the moisture doesn't leave my locks limp? Because I'm using moisture, not heavy oils and silicone. It's like a glass of water versus a milkshake. One lightly refreshes, while the other can weigh you down.
Here are some of my favorite moisturizers/frizz-preventors:
Shampoos DevaCurl No Poo Zero Lather Original Cleansing Conditioner is the best cleansing conditioner I’ve tried. It’s neither too heavy nor too light; for me, it really is just right. But be warned: This sulfate-free cleanser does not lather. At all. So, if you’re accustomed to rich, foamy suds, it may take you a few washes to acclimate. No Poo also works best when followed by a lightweight conditioner like DevaCurl One Condition Original Conditioner. One caveat: While I really do like the way this cleanser leaves my hair (soft, shiny, sans frizz) when I wear it wavy, if I use it for more than three consecutive washes, my roots start to feel a bit greasy. I think it’s because the DevaCurl removes less natural scalp oil than a traditional shampoo, and, because I have a naturally oily scalp, this is problematic for me. So, I alternate DevaCurl every two shampoos with another, traditional shampoo like Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo, followed by its companion No Frizz Conditioner to ensure I’m regularly removing that buildup. Other shampoos I like to use on rotation with the DevaCurl: Kerastase Nutritive Bain Satin 2 Shampoo; Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt; and Oribe Bright Blonde Shampoo.
Deep conditioners I try to use at least one of these, once a week: Kerastase Nutritive Masquintense Fine; Redken Blonde Idol Mask; Leonor Greyl Masque Fleurs de Jasmine; or L’Oreal Elvive Total Repair 5 Damage-Erasing Balm.
Leave-In Conditioner My favorite formula (Elixir 11) is currently sold exclusively at Gerald’s Salon in Plymouth, Michigan, but not online…yet. As soon as it is (I’m told it’s imminent), I’ll add the link. In the meantime, other leave-ins I like: ColorWow Coconut Cocktail; Living Proof Restore Leave-In Conditioner; and Ouai Leave-In Conditioner.
Check back for more of the wavy/curly hair tips I've gleaned after months of trial and error (So. Much. Error.). And if you have a tip or a favorite conditioning product to share, please do so in the Comments, below.