What is it: A haircut and styling session just for curly-haired girls at Ouidad in N.Y.C.
Who tried it: Alex Apatoff, Style News Editor
Why I did it: Because I’m coming on 28 years of managing the unmanageable mane, and I figured it was finally time for the pros to take a look
Level of Difficulty: Incredibly painless to actually sit in the chair and have the super-professional (and super fun) Jessica Scott work her magic. Investing in the kinda pricey products and learning the patience to get these perfect curls at home? That might be a little tougher.
I didn’t even know I had curly hair until I was about 13. My mom and sister both have beautiful hair that air dries straight and thick, and I’d always try to brush it out to look like theirs, ending up with a snarly rats’ nest. Then a kind stylist intervened and taught me the words “long layers” and “mousse,” which led to a crispy full head of ringlets for all of high school. In college my hair relaxed a bit, leading to the semi-shapeless waves I’ve worn for the past 10 years or so.
But though I feel like I know more about curl maintenance (thanks to my job) than the average girl, I still often feel like my hair texture is overlooked in beauty magazines and YouTube tutorials. I wanted to go somewhere that was all about my incredibly high-maintenance hair and to learn about how to coax it back into curls. And I was glad I did, since I found out that almost everything I do to my hair, I’m doing wrong. It was all Jessica could do to keep from laughing out loud, but we got through my new do together. (Her cardinal dos and don’ts are at the bottom of the post!)
Courtesy Alex Apatoff(3)
Above left is my hair after four months without cutting it and two days of not washing it: Triangular and shelf-y, as most curly girls can attest. I was ready for an expert to give me a cut that would last, and would highlight my natural texture that had gone by the wayside. The first thing Jessica did was evaluate my dry curl texture and ask tons of questions about maintenance: How often did I straighten it? How often did I wear it up? Would I ever change the part? This was to make sure she would give me a cut that would work no matter how I wore my hair. I told her I wanted to keep the length but add definition, which she made a note of.
Above center, you see my hair immediately after the cut and blowout, plus my stunned reaction to the fact that Jessica could coax those long-gone curls out of my hair. And above right is my hair after walking 15 minutes in disgusting sideways rain. No frizz, no flatness. I got compliments on it all day. I thought I knew everything there was to know about curly hair, but I was learning so much from Jessica, I filled five pages with notes to make sure I didn’t miss a step. Below, I’ll share my Jedi wisdom with you.
Courtesy Alex Apatoff
The wash: The first step is to wash hair with a sulfate-free shampoo (if you’re going to go drugstore, Jessica likes Garnier), which you apply by flipping your head over under lukewarm water and work from the bottom of the scalp. Rinse with cool water.
Then apply a hydrating conditioner to your hair by making a ponytail with your hands, then applying any extra to your scalp. Work through with a wide tooth comb. (With very tight curls, section your hair in the shower and work product through by section.) Need to deep condition? Add it on top of the regular conditioner, then put your hair in a shower cap in a steamy shower and let the heat work on the product. Rinse with cool water, then squeeze out all the extra.
Post-shower: Comb through your product. You shouldn’t need a lot — she used about a quarter-size amount of Whipped Curls and a dime-size amount of the Climate Control gel (again, it was pouring) on me. Tilt your head to the side, then, with the damp part of your just-used towel, squeeze gently as you lift the curls, then release the towel as you drop them down. The towel removes excess water and excess product, which is key. Hair should be damp but not dripping.
The style: Part your hair from ear to ear, then section it into five sections: Four quadrants on the sides and back, and then the top section. Pin them out of your way, then working one section at a time, rake your fingers through the section, shake the pieces between your fingers back and forth (above) and smooth them out. She did this about five or six times in each section.
Courtesy Alex Apatoff
The dry: I’ve always flipped my head over and blasted my hair with heat. Wrong. “Flipping the hair disrupts the curl and gives it volume,” Jessica told me. Instead, slowly “air dry” with a bowl diffuser on medium heat and pressure. Start at the top of your scalp and slowly “bake” the curl as you move down the hair. After doing that for four minutes on each side, you can start to gently lift the curl from below for five counts before releasing it. Once the style is set, you can go outside, but in the terrible rain, she recommending getting my hair totally dry so no moisture would get into the hair follicle.
The maintenance: I also love a major hair tie to get my hair out of my face whenever I’m awake, and I sleep on my curls. Wrong again. Jessica says pinning your hair up in sections (like the photo above) before you go to sleep will extend the curls for two to three days (I tried it last night and my curls were glorious this morning). For the gym, she recommends pins or a scrunchie to avoid curl indents and breakage. Need a refresh? Spritz with volumizing spray and run your hands gently over it to smooth away frizz.
Courtesy Alex Apatoff
I asked for a roundup of what Jessica would use on my hair (above — find them all here), but she was already one step ahead of me: She wrote out a very detailed prescription for every step, including products and advice, for me to take home. I also got her cardinal don’ts for curly hair.
Curly hair “don’ts”:
*Don’t brush or comb through dry curly hair
*Don’t go to sleep with wet hair
*Don’t go to sleep with your hair down, you’ll get friction and frizzy knots
Curly hair “dos”:
*Skip shampooing as much as two or three days, but condition to your heart’s content
*Try any haircut — with the right personality and a stylist that knows what she’s doing, Jessica says any girl can try anything once (though she accurately told me I’d regret it if I ever got bangs)
*Be gentle with your hair: Keep hands out of it, dry on low heat and use non-stripping products to allow moisture to build
The verdict: I’m still floored that my curls resurfaced after years of having long, non-defined waves. And the process was so easy that I’m sure I could do it myself. I’m definitely adding a comb to my shower and never sleeping with wet hair again, though I’m going to have to road-test that pinned updo on my husband before bedtime. All in all, I plan to stick to a Ouidad-trained salon from now on — it was so nice to finally be with “my people” after years of sitting on the straight-hair sidelines!