Curly Hair Routine for Thinning Hair Over 40

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curly hair routine thin over 40 limp

I've been sharing more about my journey to reclaiming my curly hair from childhood on Instagram and wanted to jot down my current curly hair routine.  Last May, I began transitioning to curly hair.  I was born with curly hair but over the years the curl disappeared.  Since turning 40, my hair has become harder to manage and has begun thinning.  My stylist suggested coaxing out my natural curl to make styling easier and give an appearance of fuller hair.  To read more about my curly hair journey you can read my post where I shared the curly hair community intimidated the hell out of me.  But several months into this transition, this is my current curly hair routine for my thinning hair:

My Everyday Curly Hair Routine

bob dylan hair
An accurate representation of my hair when I woke up this morning.
  • I fully wet my hair almost every single morning.  Most mornings I take a shower after going to the gym and wet my hair completely.  The days I don't go to the gym, I use a spray bottle and wet down my hair.  While I use a silk pillowcase, I still get major bedhead that cannot be tamed with a few spritzes of product and I'm trying to not use hot tools whenever possible.  Wetting my hair is the only way to get control over the curls/frizz/Bob Dylan ‘do I wake with most mornings.
  • I only shampoo 1-2 times a week.  When I do shampoo, I use like a nickel-sized amount of Ouidad Climate Control Defrizzing Shampoo, add a bit of water to it and focus on my scalp not my hair.  I scrub pretty hard since I don't shampoo often, really try to get the scalp clean and scrub off dead skin.  My stylist told me scalp massages to the point of pink skin can help with hair growth and I also find that if I do a serious scalp massage with the shampoo my hair seems to get greasy less often.  
  • I condition more often.  I always condition after shampooing, and when I shampoo I usually use that shower as a time to do a deeper conditioning.  My everyday conditioner is Ouidad Curl Recovery Whipped Curls.  It's in a can like mousse and comes out in a custard-like consistency. I'll take a blob about the size of a cherry tomato and massage it into my hair on non-shampoo days.  I flip my head over so the shower is hitting my nape not my crown, work the conditioner into my strands (and occasionally into my scalp if I feel super sweaty from the gym), and use my hands to sort of collect water and press it into my curls.  This way, the shower isn't beating down on my hair and knocking out the curls.  I'll sort of squish my hair in the water until most but not all the conditioner is out.  Once a week, I switch up my conditioner to something a bit heavier.  I vary between Ouidad Climate Control Defrizzing Conditioner, Ouidad Moisture Lock Leave-in Conditioner, and Ouidad Hydrating Mask.  On weekends when I don't hit the gym in the morning, I don't condition, I just spray my hair wet.
  • While wet, I coat my hair with gel.  I don't dry my hair, while it's still dripping into the tub, I take 6-8 pumps of Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel, which I keep on the side of the tub like a bottle of shampoo, and add it to my hair. I flip my head over and do “prayer hands” and smooth it onto strands; I find when I rake my curls they get too small like Kenny G and I like bigger clumps of curls.  I will twirl sections around my fingers, doing a twirl of hair right in the middle of my forehead since my bangs like to part. I then take an old soft t-shirt and use it to create a turban of sorts and stand upright.  I don't keep this t-shirt turban on for more than a few minutes; enough to keep my hair from dripping all over my but still my hair is wet and coated with gel.
    • I have been playing with other products; I recently got the Ouidad Climate Control Styling Cream and have played with applying that before the gel and in place of gel on non-wash days. Sometimes it makes my hair look soft and shiny and fab, other times it seems to ruin the curls.  It has only been a week so I can't give a good review yet, I haven't mastered my technique.
  • I airdry whenever humanly possible. In the winter, it takes forever for my hair to dry and it's not cozy and comfy.  However, every single hairdryer and diffuser I've used makes my hair fuller and my curls smaller/more Kenny G than I prefer. I have the kind you sit under, I have the DevaCurl diffuser and like three other ones that either came with dryers or can be bought separately. I've watched the YouTube video tutorials, I've read the instructions on curly hair message boards and Facebook groups. I will use a hairdryer if necessary, but at the length my hair is right now, it just changes the final effect of my hair and I don't love it.  I've learned to shower as early as possible each day so my hair is ready and if need be, using a dryer with diffuser for the last bit so I'm not wet leaving the house.
  • When dry, I fluff and rub.  When my hair is dry, it looks gross.  It is flat greasy-looking snakes of curls all over my head and it is not cute.  I put the pads of my fingers against my scalp and rub back and forth very quickly all over my head.  This breaks the “cast” of gel around each curl and lifts them from the scalp, giving volume and making the hair look as though there's no product in it.  The gel “cast” flies off like dust and floats in the air around me which is weird but also satisfying. On the ends of each curl, I usually rub the hair to break up the gel and give a softer, more natural effect. I can do this without looking at my hair, it's often done at stoplights when en route to an event or meeting. I'll “fluff and rub” throughout the day if my hair starts to look flat, being careful as my hair is prone to getting frizzy at the crown. 
transitioning to curly hair over 40
A recent photo of my hair at 7pm that was styled around 10am.

And that's my normal everyday routine.  No additional product, nothing really complex.  I think the hardest part is having wet hair for two hours.  I've noticed that as my hair has gotten longer the hairdryer makes less of an impact on my curls so I hope as I grow out my hair I won't be growing the length of having wet curls stuck to my forehead waiting for them to dry. 

Curly hair isn't consistent, so below are things I do when it needs to be switched up or is acting wonky:

Special Treatments and Processes for Curly Hair

woman smiling at camera with her hand in her dark curly hair
How my hair looked after the first time I used MooGoo Protein Shot
  • When curls feel mushy, look limp and stringy: This means hair is in need of protein. I didn't get to this point until recently. I was thinking it was due to winter and my curls didn't like the cold, dry air.  I decided to try protein to see how it would do and bought MooGoo Protein Shot on Amazon.  For my next shampooing, instead of my normal conditioner, I used Protein Shot.  I did it like a deep conditioner and kept it in my hair while I washed, shaved, etc.  I then rinsed it out like I do my other conditioner (head flipped over, squishing water into the curls) until most but not all rinsed out.  Added gel like usual.  When my hair dried it had better clumping, less frizz, and seemed to look and feel thicker.  The next day, Instead of using just conditioner in the shower, I added a pea-size amount of Protein Shot to my strands and left it in.  That was enough protein and I don't think I'll need more for a while.  Protein Shot isn't a big tube and it wigged me out at first paying $17 for that size; but considering how little is needed for each time its used, this tube will last for months.
  • When curls feel product-y, look dull, sort of fried: This is usually from product build-up, which can happen when you're not shampooing often, coating hair with gel on top of gel, and using lots of conditioners and moisture.  This is when I clarify, which I do every six weeks or so.  There are plenty of clarifying products on the market; I use one of the shampoos they offer in hotel bathrooms.  Usually, those shampoos are essentially basil lemongrass mandarin-scented dish soap.  I use a very small amount, focus on the scalp, and let it run through the rest of my hair and then follow up with Ouidad's Moisture Lock and leave it in, focusing only on my hair and staying a good inch away from my scalp.  Cheap shampoo as a clarifyer has done me well so far in this curly hair journey.
  • When some curls won't behave no matter what: I whip out the curling iron.  I bought a 1/2″ barrel curling iron from Hot Tools and it can whip that curl or two (or six, especially before my period) that won't play nice and have them look natural.  I like Hot Tools, I did a paid campaign with them a couple of years ago and have loved how the tools have held up and treated my hair so now they're my go-to for not exorbitantly priced hair tools that perform like more expensive brands.
  • When I know I'll be out and about for a long day and want my hair to look great and stay great: This is the only time I use any product on top of gel.  I use Ouidad Texture Spray which will hold my curls in place without feeling or looking stiff.  It reminds me of Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray but doesn't weight down my curls like that product does. However, I also carry a bottle of Ouidad Restore and Revive to update curls because the spray can eventually make my hair look dull and curls sort of fuse together and I'd prefer slightly limp soft and natural-looking hair to full and slightly crunchy, dull hair. 
fine limp curls how to style them
Most days this is what my hair looks like – not a ton of volume, not perfect ringlets, but most of the hair is smooth and defined and looks healthy and natural.

What I Never Do With my Curly Hair

  • Brush it.  I haven't used a brush or comb since May 2019. I don't even use a wet brush on wet hair to detangle or spread conditioner.  My hair is thin and the curl can come out easily, any tugging kills the curls.  I will finger-comb when wet but that's about it!
  • Straighten it.  I got a blow-out in January after getting my roots done, but that was the first time my hair had been straightened in any way for months.  Each time it's straightened, the curls get confused and there's some time for the hair to remember again how to curl just so.
  • Dry it with a towel.  Towels will rough up the cuticle causing frizz and curls to break apart.  There are great tools out there for curly hair – microfiber towels and such.  I just use old, soft t-shirts.
  • Yank it into a ponytail/topknot. My hair is just at the length where I can do that again, but pulling on the curls really pulls them out with my hair texture.  I will put it into a loose ponytail under a ball cap for the gym, but revive the hair in the shower soon after.  Even that I don't do every day because it will cause the front of my hair to not keep curl.

I rarely stress about my hair anymore.  Slightly frizzy and limp curly hair somehow looks more purposeful and cool than slightly frizzy and limp wavy hair, which is what I have dealt with for most of my adult life. Really bad hair days are rare, and when they happen I hide them under a hat.  I now own six berets with one a knit and one raffia (similar to this one but I got mine last year at Nordstrom for a fraction of the price) so they work past fall and winter!

curly hair over 40
My hair now loves a rainy day, this photo was taken on a cold and very wet day, hair hadn't been shampooed in three days, that morning just wetted and more gel applied.

Tools and Gadgets I Use for my Curly Hair:

Curly hair has its own issues, products, and gadgets.  Hardly anything I used for my hair a year ago I still use now.  Also, as my hair grows and I get to know my curls better, things I felt were great in the beginning are no longer so great.  If you're in this process, you may experience similar.  Consider donating that which didn't work for you to Project Beauty Share.  Project Beauty Share provides personal hygiene, cosmetics, and beauty products to non-profit organizations that serve women and families overcoming abuse, addiction, homelessness, and poverty to help restore hope and dignity in their lives.  While you will have to pay for shipping, this is a good way to have these items stay out of landfills and benefit others.  I take a USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate box and keep it in the corner of my home office and when I have anything that doesn't work for me, I use Scotch tape to tape it closed and add it to the box.  When the box is full, I use old newspapers and packing supplies from deliveries to fill in the space to reduce banging around and send the box out. Click here to learn more about Project Beauty Share

And with that, some of the tools and gadgets I use for my curly hair:

  • Hair clips.  While my hair is wet, I will use these hair clips to lift parts of my hair to lift it from the scalp while it dries.  This gives volume and lift without additional product.  This is also a great tool if you have a cowlick or that one curl that won't go in the right direction; add a clip while wet to help coax it to dry differently. 
  • Silke hair wrap.  My sister got a Silke hair wrap for me as a Christmas gift before I even went curly.  Neither she nor I had any idea how much I'd use it now.  I keep it for travel; the silk fabric prevents frizz and the turban keeps my curls in place so I am less likely to wake up looking like Bob Dylan. 
  • Silk pillowcase.  A traditional cotton pillowcase can rough up hair while you sleep and create frizziness and reduce curl.  Not only will a silk pillowcase preserve your curls but it's also kinder to your skin! This is the one that I have, I got black so it doesn't show stains from face creams etc.  It has washed beautifully multiple times. Read more where I share the benefits of a silk pillowcase.
  • Diffuser.  I am not linking to a specific diffuser because I have yet to find one that blows my mind with its awesomeness.  If you have one you adore do share in the comments.  However, one, even a mediocre one, is a necessity to get your hair dry without turning it into a frizzy and/or limp mess.

And that's my current curly hair routine!  I will always share updates more quickly on Instagram Stories; follow me there or check out my Curly Hair highlights – when you click on my profile, there are several circles above the feed photos; all Stories related to my hair will be saved at the circle titled, “Curly Hair.”

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  1. This is a great article. It’s taken me 2+ years to figure out a routine that works for my silver wavy hair and every once in awhile I have to tweak it, especially when the seasons change. I have found the best way to refresh my easily weighed down curls is to lightly spritz with water, add a refresh spray and diffuse. To break up the cast, I use a silky scarf to scrunch it out – this works amazingly well.

  2. Yes, yes, and yes to all those washing/drying tips. My hair is more wavy than curly, but I’ve also gotten great results from the following:
    * Combing through the damp hair, then sort of imitating a metal head banger by whiplashing my head up and down a few times, which reintroduces air into the hair and gives body. Then let dry.
    * A great tip from my hairdresser: Before conditioning in the shower, squeeze as much water out of the hair as possible. Then, massage in conditions, and then comb your hair to ensure that the conditioner coats every hair. Then rinse thoroughly. Your hair will look wonderful.

    I think it’s weird that since the 90s, women have not been allowed to have curly hair on TV or in the movies. It seems to me just yet another iteration of the same old message exhorting women and girls to tame, constrain, and always be dissatisfied with your natural looks.

  3. I’m glad to see someone with curly hair talk practically about what they do at the gym – since a key tenant of curly hair is not washing it too often, I was at a loss over what to do.

    I can’t go to the gym right now (yayyy Coronavirus!) but when I was, I was exhausting myself going through my entire hair routine EVERY time I showered. I usually use the CG friendly method to wash my hair no more than twice a week, so this was overkill for my hair.

    Similarly, I tried not washing my hair afterwards but that just grossed me out – girl’s gotta sweat! Dry shampoo is supposed to be a temporary fix but the weird tacky mixture it would leave in my hair could only be removed with a clarifying shampoo – imagine going from clarifying every 4-6 weeks (like you do) to every week! I’m glad to learn I’m not the only one who wets her hair on gym day without washing it with shampoo – sounds gross but I still do my scalp massage & instead refresh my hair with a ‘comeback curl next day spray’. Does what it says on the tin, lol.

    You mentioned not being able to find a good hairdryer with a diffuser – this really took trial & error for me too, but it looks like we have similar hair types & styles so I thought I’d share the two that I use (I’ve got a curly shag with a curly fringe too, but mine’s past my shoulders- the fine strands spiral into ringlets at the ends now but you may find that a longer length affects your curls differently):

    My all-round winner is the Panasonic EH-NE72 N Ionity hair dryer – Allie, you may find this useful for the gym, since it actually folds up &, even with the diffuser head attached, isn’t too bulky or heavy for travel. It even has a ‘cold shot’ button that stays down once you press it (no trying to fiddle with pressing the button with one hand & scrunching or raking with the other at the same time). I have yet to find fault with it since I’ve used it for months without issue, it only came to £30-40. Comes in either gold or pink.

    The other hairdryer I have is the Remington PROluxe Dryer AC9140 , which is good if you have time & patience to spend on your hair (e.g. when going out) but I find it very heavy to use everyday (unless you consider it your arm workout for the day, lol).

    Hope one of those works for you!

  4. I don’t have curls but I am struggling with frizz from air-drying so I’m going to try your t-shirt method! Thank you for sharing all this content.

  5. I love your hair!! I just started embracing my natural curl about 6 months ago – and your posts have been so helpful! I think about how much time and money I have spent on my hair over the years and I only wish I knew earlier how to work with my hair in it’s natural state. You look great and thank you for sharing your routine 🙂

  6. Did you know I just posted about my issues with my curly hair and am going to a new hair stylist today (we moved to AZ 6 months ago and it’ll be the first time with someone new….eeeek)
    My hair must be MUCH thinner than yours because it dries fast. And it sounds like you are having such luck with the process. I only hope I get to this point soon. Which is exactly why my hat collection has grown so much…haha.

  7. I am in my mid sixties and until 4 years ago only had slight wave to my hair. Now it’s curly with the exception of the top which is mostly straight. Very challenging and I am happy to hear from someone else who is new to this crazy curly life. Loved all the info in your article!

  8. Look at you rocking those curls! I wish my curly, thick long hair would dry in 2 hours though. My products may vary a little but my routine is quite similar to yours. A good Hot Tools curling iron comes in handy on occasion and good conditioner is worth every penny. Everyone has to find what works best for their own curls. Curly girls rule!

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