Mastering Curly Hair Products for Optimal Definition

Mastering Curly Hair Products for Optimal Definition
tips for managing curly hair​

I remember a childhood mishap when, at the tender age of seven, I poured a glass of water over my head during a fancy dinner in a quest to tame my sudden frizzy hair transformation from fine and straight to wild and coarse.

The journey of those with curly, wavy, or untamed hair is often a winding one.

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That's why I cherished my meeting with Emily Katz, a hairstylist with 13 years of experience and the owner of Chicago's Goldust Studios.

She took the time to understand my hair's history, my relationship with it, and my goals before giving me a haircut tailored to me. Additionally, she provided valuable insights on how to style curly hair, which has been a game-changer for me.

Allow me to share what I've learned: the four essential rules of curly hair styling, along with a step-by-step post-wash process.

The 4 Essential Guidelines for Using Curly Hair Styling Products

Determine Your Hair Goals:

According to Katz, marketing can be deceiving. Many products promise to be life-changing, but it's crucial to match them with your hair goals. Look at a picture of your dream hair and pinpoint what you love about it—whether it's volume, definition, airiness, or a perfectly tousled look.

That Instagram ad for a leave-in product might seem tempting, but if it's designed for definition when you're aiming for volume, it's not the right fit.

Embrace Gel for Definition

Katz reassures us that modern gels are nothing like the stiff, crunchy ones from the '90s. Gels offer the most definition and come in varying hold strengths. To avoid a crunchy feel, shake your hair at the roots right after applying the gel.

Foams or Creams for a Softer Look

Foams are excellent for achieving volume on day one while still providing hold, and creams add softness to your style.

Katz even suggests mixing products, such as starting with foam and finishing with gel or combining cream and gel for a soft finish with definition. It all depends on your specific hair goals.

Apply Products to Sopping-Wet Hair

If you've been applying products to partially dried hair, you might be missing a crucial step. Katz prefers applying products to soaking-wet hair because it helps lock in moisture and encourages your hair to dry in the desired shape.

Think of the flappers from the Roaring '20s who used this technique to achieve long-lasting hairstyles. After your hair dries, you can use your fingers to break up the curls if needed.

Curly Hair Styling Guide in 10 Steps

If you're ready to put these rules into action, here's Katz's step-by-step guide for styling your curly hair after washing:

  1. Gently massage your roots with your fingertips before washing.
  2. Wash, condition, and detangle your hair. Use shampoo if there's buildup, or try co-washing if not.
  3. After the shower, while your hair is still very wet, set your part or style your bangs.
  4. Apply your chosen styling products to your very wet hair.
  5. Lightly scrunch the product throughout your hair (3-4 times), distributing it from the ends to the roots.
  6. Repeat the scrunching motion with a microfiber towel to remove any excess moisture.
  7. Flip your head upside down and shake it "yes" and "no" to create lift at the roots.
  8. Stand up, continue light towel scrunching, and tilt your head in different directions.
  9. Wait 15 to 30 minutes to allow the products to set, then air dry or use a diffuser to dry your curls.
  10. Once your hair is fully dry, shake out your curls at the roots for the desired look.

Here are some top tips for managing and styling curly hair:

Know Your Hair Type: Understand your specific curl pattern (e.g., loose waves, tight coils) and hair porosity (how well it absorbs and retains moisture). This knowledge will help you choose the right products and techniques.

Hydration is Key: Curly hair tends to be dry, so keeping it well-hydrated is essential. Use a sulfate-free, hydrating shampoo and a deep conditioner regularly to lock in moisture.

Avoid Heat Styling: Minimize the use of heat styling tools like flat irons and curling irons, as they can damage your curls. Embrace your natural texture whenever possible.

Use a Wide-Tooth Comb or Fingers: Detangle your hair gently with a wide-tooth comb or your fingers when it's wet and coated with conditioner to prevent breakage.

Plop or Microfiber Towel Dry

After washing your hair, gently squeeze excess water out with a microfiber towel or a cotton T-shirt. Avoid rough towel drying, as it can cause frizz.

Apply Products to Wet Hair

For best results, apply your styling products (gel, mousse, or cream) to soaking-wet hair. This helps lock in moisture and define your curls.

Scrunch, Don't Rub

When applying products, scrunch your hair upward toward your scalp to enhance curl definition. Avoid rubbing, as it can disrupt the curls.

Consider the Curly Girl Method

Research the Curly Girl Method, which involves using sulfate-free products and avoiding silicones and harsh chemicals to maintain healthy curls.

Regular Trims

Schedule regular trims to get rid of split ends and maintain the shape of your curls.

Protect Your Curls at Night

Sleep on a satin or silk pillowcase to reduce friction and prevent frizz. You can also use a silk or satin bonnet or scarf to protect your curls while you sleep.

Refresh Your Curls: On non-wash days, revive your curls by spritzing them with a mixture of water and conditioner, then scrunching to redefine.


Curly hair can be unpredictable, so don't be afraid to experiment with different products and techniques to find what works best for your curls.

Avoid Over-Brushing

Avoid brushing your hair when it's dry, as it can cause frizz. If you need to detangle, do it in the shower with conditioner.

Stay Patient

Embracing and caring for your curls can take time and trial and error. Be patient and celebrate your unique curls.

Remember that what works for one person's curly hair may not work for another, so it's essential to customize your curly hair care routine based on your hair's unique characteristics and your personal preferences.