How Do Shampoos And Conditioners For Curly Hair Work

How do shampoos and conditioners for curly hair work

If you don’t have them, you want them. If you do have them, you’re often battling them into submission with various products and tools. They’re coveted, they’re beautiful, and they’re downright difficult: curls. They’re great–if you know what you’re doing. While you may have been born with curls, you might still struggle to tame them into the curls you want. You know the ones. Bouncy, defined, perfect ringlets that look like the commercials. How do you achieve them? You know there are products specifically formulated for curls, but how do shampoos and conditioners for curly hair work? Products make miraculous claims, but which are trustworthy?

How do shampoos and conditioners for curly hair work? Curly hair is more susceptible to dryness and frizz because its cuticle layer is often raised due to the coiling shape of the hair. A raised cuticle layer increases dryness and frizz so shampoos and conditioners formulated for curls promote hydration to combat dryness along with gentle ingredients to decrease the stripping of natural oils.

So what makes shampoos and conditioners for curly hair work?

First of all, we need to clear up some misconceptions. Advertising has a way of promoting curly misconceptions leading to disappointment. Curly hair shampoos and conditioners do not create curls where there are none. They simply enhance the ones you already have; therefore, if you have straight or wavy hair and expect curls to manipulate, you should get a perm. These products can set your hair up for better styling of DIY curls, but they definitely won’t make curls happen.

Curly shampoos and conditioners are formulated to combat issues for already curly hair. These issues include frizz and dryness due to the structure of a curly hair strand. The coiled nature promotes the cuticle layers to be more raised which results in frizzy, tangled, and messy curls.

To prevent these issues, curly shampoos and conditioner use gentle cleansers and additional moisturizers (more on these ingredients later) to help the cuticle layer lie flat in order to produce more defined, shiny, and smooth curls. Often these products are formulated without sulfates or parabans which can strip the hair of natural oils and leave it dry and frizzy. The two most common sulfates include sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfate.

How do you apply shampoo and conditioner to curly hair?

Let’s talk shampooing. The first rule is get your hair completely soaked before applying shampoo. Water helps activate the shampoo and set the stage for a good cleansing throughout all the hair. The next most important rule is to be gentle. lathering all of your hair and working it on top of your head is a no-no with any hair type, especially curly hair. In fact, to prevent stripping too much oil which can encourage dryness, you really only need to massage the shampoo gently on the scalp and then rinse completely.

You also may want to think about shampooing less often. Because curls are more susceptible to dryness, they need the natural oils which help the cuticle layer lie flat. More on limiting and ditching the “poo” later.

After properly shampooing, you need to reach for curly hair conditioner. Because you don’t want to weigh down your curls on top of the head or add excess oil to the scalp area, you should condition from the mid-length of your hair to the tips. You can also detangle while conditioning by using either your fingers or a wide tooth comb depending on your curls. Looser curls may just require fingers while tightly coiled curls need a bit more help with a wide tooth comb.

While you should always read the directions on the label of any shampoo or conditioner, most experts recommend leaving conditioner on for at least 3-5 minutes for best effectiveness. In fact, if you want curls with a little more length, some even suggest not washing out the conditioner completely–leaving a little on will not only add definition, but also weight which will elongate the curls. Just be careful not to leave too much on or you could feel a little greasy. You should also steer clear of conditioner on the scalp.

So what is this Curly Girl Method and how does it apply to shampoo and conditioner?

If you’re unfamiliar, the “Curly Girl Method” basically nixes both traditional shampoos and any habits that could damage your curly tresses. These habits include heated tools, combs/brushes, harsh chemicals, and traditional shampooing.

It might be hard to say goodbye to shampoo, but don’t worry, you will still cleanse your hair; however, using this method will allow you to have more bouncy, sleek, and defined curls. Your curl type will depend on your shampoo regime, but you should ditch regular shampoos containing harsh ingredients like alcohol, sulfates, parabans, and even fragrance–all of which lead to damage.

If you have loose or wavy curls, shampoo once a week, but still use water and conditioner in between. After conditioning, rinse your hair, but don’t be afraid if not all of the conditioner is completely rinsed out.

If you have traditional curls or coily hair, you might want to say bye bye to shampoo. The method is called “co-washing” and basically you wash with conditioner. Furthermore, you may intentionally leave some conditioner in to further moisturize and define your ringlets. For very curly hair, some experts even encourage occasional heated conditioning treatments. Just apply the conditioner, heat for fifteen minutes or so, and then rinse.

What are the best shampoos and conditioners for curls?

There are thousands of products boasting great results for curls, but remember the golden rule: you often get what you pay for. Good shampoo and conditioner can get expensive, but don’t just trust the name or the claims. With a little bit of ingredient knowledge, you can search for shampoos and conditioners that will produce quality results for your own budget. Here are some of the best ingredients to look for in curly shampoo and conditioner:

Shea butter

Shea butter is a natural emollient that seals hair with moisture. It not only provides deep moisture, but it prevents moisture loss as well. It also helps the scalp fight itchiness and dryness and doesn’t weigh hair down making shea butter a popular ingredient.


Glycerin is a humectant which is commonly found in products like lotion. It’s known for its ability to draw in environmental moisture and keep it locked in. As it coats the hair in a protective layer, it also encourages definition in curls.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil boasts health benefits when used both internally and externally, but it’s also great for curls. As another emollient, it does well to keep moisture in the hair and also build strength and shine. It can also prevent porous hair from swelling and creating frizz.

Jojoba oil

Jojoba oil is another natural humectant that is perfect for damaged ends. It also boasts balancing properties for the scalp. For over-producers of sebum, jojoba oil can actually balance oil production while also moisturizing and encouraging natural shine and definition.

Castor oil

Unlike other oils, castor oil contains anti-fungal properties to help encourage a clean and healthy scalp. It’s also a humectant that draws moisture from the air to decrease dryness. This powerful oil can even increase blood circulation to the scalp while also cleansing and promoting shine.

Maybe you’ve been battling your curls for years. You glance in the mirror with a frown at your mop of frizz and tangles, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Before bringing out the big guns which may include harsh chemicals, rigorous washing, and hot styling tools, remember they might not be effective in this war. Instead of reigning terror on your curls, it may be more beneficial to go gentle on them with a few of these tips and tricks. Moisture is key, and nixing a little shampoo might just help those curls look a little more bouncy, defined, and shiny–you know, like the commercials.

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