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4 Essential Tips for How to Style Wavy and Curly Hair

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Here are a few things you may not know about curly and wavy hair: Up to 65 percent of American women have it, according to L'Oréal research. It is a dominant gene. It derives its structure from the shape of your follicles (the rounder the follicle, the straighter the hair; the flatter the follicle, the more hair will curl). It tends to be naturally drier and weaker than straight hair since ripples cause tiny tears in the outer cuticle, which let moisture escape. And if your hair is kinky and chemically processed (say, with a relaxer), you've got the most fragile hair of all. (Here are more habits that could be distressing your strands.) Oh, and there's one more thing you might not know about curly and wavy hair: how to handle it. So we've put together a simple four-step regimen to take you from wet to all set in minutes, so you can finally master how to style your way or curly hair.

Step One: Cleanse

"Good curls start with your shampoo," says stylist Ouidad, creator of Ouidad products for curly hair. "Pick shampoos labeled mild, gentle, or 'low-poo' or cleansing conditioners, which contain fewer harsh lathering agents and more moisturizers than traditional formulas," she says. Try KMS MoistRepair Cleansing Conditioner ($24; ulta.com). Those with very tight curls may need to shampoo only once a week, while those with wavier textures are better off cleansing two or three times a week. (Read up on how to break the shampoo cycle.) Then apply conditioner two to three inches away from the scalp, so you don't weigh down your texture. Try Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Defrizzing Conditioner ($24; ouidad.com) with strengthening wheat amino acids.

Step Two: Prep

Pick emollient oil-, gel-, and cream-based products such as Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Quinoa Frizz Control Gel ($20; sephora.com) and John Masters Organics Green Tea & Calendula Leave-In Conditioning Mist ($32; feelunique.com), and "rake and shake" them through damp hair using your fingers, Ouidad says. If you hold your fingers closer together when raking, the ensuing curls will be tighter.

Step Three: Style

While Ouidad recommends air-drying whenever possible to preserve the moisture and integrity of curly hair, she says that a diffuser is an option when time is of the essence. (It is of utmost importance to use a heat-protectant spray if your hair is chemically processed.) To diffuse your hair gently, "lay it across the top of the diffuser, and blow from the underside of the hair," Ouidad says. (Related: Why Do Hairstylists Insist On Straightening My Curly Hair?)

Step Four: Treat

Every two weeks, use a deep treatment to "feed" your hair, Ouidad says. This fortifies the internal structure of your strands, which yields healthier-looking curls. Try Inoar Divine Curls Mask ($31, inoarprofessional.com) with hydrating coconut oil and shea butter.

Retrain Your Mane

It's easy to make your hair go against the grain when you're craving change.

How to make curly hair straight: On day one, prep damp hair with a pea-size drop of styling cream, such as PhytoSpecific Curl Legend Curl Sculpting Cream- Gel ($28; ulta.com). Blow hair dry in sections, working with a large, round natural-bristle brush, says Sharon Medina, an educator for the hair-care company Inoar. On day two, add a bit of oil, like ColorProof TruCurl Anti-Frizz Oil ($25; colorproof.com) to your hair to seal the cuticle, then restyle with the dryer. On day three, simply use a flat iron. “It seals the cuticle and boosts shine,” Medina says.

How to make straight hair curly: Distribute an oil-, gel-, or cream-based product through damp hair, then fashion sections into pin curls (for tighter curls, wrap hair around one finger, then secure with a clip; for looser waves, wrap hair around three fingers before pinning). Let pin curls air-dry, or heat them with a diffuser. Remove clips, then set with finishing spray. (Here's another way to curl hair without heat.)

Do I really need a special kind of haircut for curly hair?

Quite possibly. The biggest clue that you have a good curly haircut is that it “sits well whether you wear it curly or straight,” says Ouidad, who explains that curls must be sliced from the inside out (then around the perimeter) so that they stack neatly atop one another. If your curls take a long time to tame at home, consider seeing a curl specialist or at least finding the stylist at your regular salon who has the most experience with textured hair.

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