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When I was born, I had curly hair. As my hair grew and spent its early years in braids and pigtails, that fact was forgotten. My mom would trim my hair; sometimes I had bangs that always split down the middle and flipped up at the sides when it was humid, sometimes I didn’t. The night before Easter and any special occasion my sister and I would have our hair rolled into foam curlers. My hair always kept those sausage curls better than my sister. At the beach, my hair would get really full with waves and some curls.
I didn’t think much about my hair texture until 7th grade. Armed with an issue of Teen Magazine with Tiffani-Amber Thiessen on the front rocking bangs and a long layered hairstyle, I entered a hair salon for the first time and had a professional cut my hair. She gave me that exact hairstyle, but neither of us took into consideration that Tiffani-Amber had stick straight hair and I did not.
In 9th grade, I wanted to channel some of the fierceness of Marie Fredriksson from the band Roxette and went to a salon to get a short spiky ‘do. My hair curled up with the lack of hair weight. That week I walked to People’s Drug and bought a box of Nice‘n Easy Blue Black. I dyed it in my parents’ bathroom, getting dye on the curtains, the grout between the pink tile, the bathmat. My mom saw the dye stains before she saw me and my dye-stained neck, ears, and forehead. But the black did the trick, it straightened my hair and I had a pretty fierce ‘do for a 14-year-old and again had curly-hair amnesia.
I’ve had wavy to curly styles through the years since, but I always used tools and products to achieve it. I've tried dozens of gels, mousses, and sprays. I was a L'Oreal Studio Line devotee for much of my middle and high school years, well documented in my high school senior portrait.
For much of my adult life, the way I achieved curls was by rough drying my hair that has some product in it, then hitting every strand with a curling iron (sometimes a 1”, sometimes a mix of barrel sizes to make it look more “natural” per an interview I read with Debra Messing’s hairstylist on the set of the original Will & Grace) and holding everything in place with hairspray or texturizing spray. It was a pain in the ass, but it held up for a day or two and fared much better than the times I pretended to have straight hair with a flat iron. Much of my life was spent with a messy topknot or ponytail, with or without clips and Bobby pins to hold back the extra unruly parts.
As I’ve gotten older, my hair has thinned and therefore become limp. I tried bangs, layers, ear-length hair, shoulder blade-length hair, and everything took a lot of effort to look mediocre. I spoke to my hairstylist. He suggested I embrace my natural curl and coax it out with cuts and products. I currently had a wavy textured shag with bangs; he did a snip here and there and left conditioner in my hair and it bounced up into tiny little ringlets. We looked at photos of women with shoulder-length curly hair with bangs, I said that’s the direction I wanted to go in.
I followed my stylist's direction of leaving in some of my conditioner as product and allowing my hair to air-dry. The curls were really thin and close to my head, making me look older and balder. As an influencer and website owner, I know there are influencers and websites dedicated to every niche on the planet; I went in search of those who focus on curly hair, specializing in thin curly tresses.
The Curly Hair Community Intimidated the Hell Out of Me
The curly hair community is a passionate bunch. Most spent the first part of their life cursing their hair. They had war stories of short haircuts gone very wrong before Picture Day or their Bat Mitzvah or Homecoming. Flashbacks of their parents yanking brushes and combs through their unruly hair while cried in pain. Flat irons, so many flat irons and chemical treatments. They became adults and like me, had curly hair amnesia. But through understanding The Curly Girl Method, AKA CGM, and knowing what methods and ingredients to avoid, they transformed their hair into healthy, glossy ringlets. I did some reading, I started following curly hair accounts on Instagram, and I bought The Book.
When I ran out of the shampoo and conditioner I'd be using for years, I headed to Target to buy some CGM-approved products and start The Process. I didn’t like the results, I shared my thoughts on Instagram Stories. I received literally hundreds of DMs about this topic. One DM would suggest one product, the next one would tell me to never use that product. I received so much conflicting advice, and a lot of people criticizing me for my lack of knowledge and how damaging that could be with the size of my platform. It wasn’t as though I was anti-vaxx, I was just sharing that I didn’t like a CGM-approved gel. Any time I made any mention of my hair, I received ten times as many DMs all with their advice of what worked for them and criticism that I wasn’t adhering to their previous advice or the CGM. It was hard to be thankful because it was so overwhelming and there was no consistency for product, process, or method. It was also overwhelming to receive so much criticism for my hair. No one cared when I was frying off my ends with a flat iron or making my hair look as natural as a wig with bad at-home dye jobs. Hell, I didn’t even get as much pushback from sharing my political views as I did with my curly hair products and methods!
I started following more Instagrammers that were suggested to me in hopes to find some with my hair texture that could suggest new methods for getting the kind of curls I desired. These accounts shared videos every day of their styling method, regular hauls of products, discussions of how long before a washing. They’d receive thousands of comments discussing the intricacies of the CGM or whatever method that influencer had embraced or invented. I joined Facebook groups for curly hair; they were intense. People would discuss the merits of one gel versus another for days on end and freak out over having to travel or work out or have an event that would interfere with their hair routine and schedule. Newbies were raked over the coals for asking newbie questions and daring to use non-CGM approved products. Having curly hair wasn’t a fact like having wrinkles or dry skin, it was a lifestyle. And for some, it seemed as though it was also a religion.
The Curly Hair Community went from being a resource to intimidating the hell out of me. The 64-page handbooks on Reddit, the 20-step processes, the plopping and prayer hands and scrunch the crunch, the balancing of hair with special conditioning treatments or cooking rice to rinse my hair in the leftover water. The detoxes, the Church of one gel or another, the constant purchasing of new products and gadgets to achieve hair nirvana and how you would be torn to shreds if you dared to use something not blessed by the Community. I just wanted to break up with my curling iron, not join a new house of worship.
For every five people who have commented, emailed, and DMed me advice for or criticism of my curly hair, there has been one person asking for my advice and suggestions on how to embrace curly hair. And I’ve been terrified to share my story for fear of the Curly Hair Community. Those of you who are such passionate curly hair evangelists have intimidated me so much I have put off my curly hair experience until now.
Sharing My Curly Hair Journey
I’ve been coaxing out my curl for over six months and still don’t have a perfect method that I love, but I am glad I decided to go curly. I am not an expert, I am not trying to be an expert here or any time in the future. I use products that not even my stylist approves of. Some days, like the day I am writing this and of course, have nowhere to go, my hair looks amazing. I have nicely-shaped shiny curls that aren’t frizzy but don’t look plastic. Other days, I look like Roseanne Rosannadanna and other days I look like someone’s grandmother with tiny wispy curls attempting to cover an exposed scalp. Anyway, my curly hair journey thus far:
First Step into Curly Hair Life: New Wash by Hairstory
I was drawn in by these cool women on Instagram with beautifully textured hair. Wavy, curly, it looked natural and relaxed and how I wanted to be. I wanted hair that looked as though I opened the car windows, had quickie sex, or just whipped off my helmet while straddling a Vespa. It seemed such hair could happen with one $40 bottle of New Wash. On top of it, the brand Hairstory had great ethics.
I searched the Internet and at the time, I could only find two non-Hairstory sponsored reviews for New Wash – one by Cool Mom Picks that was void of any photos or useful details, and one at Women’s Health that gave what seemed like a negative review, but I felt was user error and also by a woman with hair of a texture and style drastically different from mine. It ended up selling me on buying a bottle.
I watched the videos, I totally was down with massaging the hell out of my scalp (even bought a shower massager… think strong hands do a better job IMO) and rinsing like crazy. My husband tried it and hated it, but after two washes I could feel the difference in the shower on how New Wash did remove oils and product but not in a typical foamy squeaky-clean manner nor in a conditioner manner. The texture was more like body lotion, and I truly felt like I was changing my hair with each wash. It didn’t strip out my hair dye, and after about five washes I didn’t seem to need any hair products to get my modified shag with bangs to look textured and cool. However, using New Wash didn’t turn me into a Curly Girl, just a wavy girl who some days had Cool Girl hair and some days had sorta greasy looking wavy/curly hair.
I also stopped brushing and combing my hair and began drying it with an old t-shirt. Dozens DMed me about “plopping” and I saw the videos, but it seemed hella complicated (and goofy looking) especially for my relatively short hair. I just did a turban with my head going through the t-shirt neck, and twirling it with my head upside down so my hair would be on the top of my head and I could tuck the ends of the shirt into the back for a neat and secure head covering. This worked for me; no frizz, curls stayed clumped, had a bit of volume. However, when I finished my bottle of New Wash, I decided to try something else.
Second Step Into Curly Hair Life: Kristen Ess Cleansing Conditioner
I went to Target to get some CGM-approved products and forgot my list of said products. So I wandered the aisles reading labels and just seeing what looked appealing. I saw Kristen Ess Cleansing Conditioner mentioned somewhere recently… was it a Facebook group for curly hair? A curly hair influencer on Instagram? A post on a Reddit board? I liked the look of the line, I liked that the product was cruelty-free and sulfate-free. I bought a tube.
I went on a two-week family road trip and took the tube with me. It seemed way easier than two bottles of products, and I felt after my weeks with New Wash my hair had become accustomed to being washed less often and not needing product. I still brought along my curling iron and Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray in case things were looking too rough and I had to go back to my old styling ways.
Kristen Ess did me well. My hair didn’t clump as nicely as with Hairstory’s New Wash, but it seemed to curl up more and I had more volume without grease. It had more frizz and was more susceptible to the weather, but it wasn't bad. However, I felt I could do better.
Third Step into Curly Hair Life: A Ouidad Routine
I befriended this amazing woman who worked for a clothing brand I regularly collaborated with. She saw on Instagram that I was embracing my natural curl and let me know she now worked with Ouidad (pronounced wee-dad) and would I like to try their products? I let her know my hair needs and a week later, a box arrived from Ouidad. In it was:
- Advanced Climate Control Defrizzing Shampoo
- Curl Recovery Whipped Curls Daily Conditioner & Styling Primer
- Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel
- Advanced Climate Control Detangling Heat Spray (I've only used this when I've dryer dried my hair)
- Advanced Climate Control Restore + Revive Bi-Phase
- Mongongo Oil Multi-Use Curl Treatment (I know many swear by this but I think my hair is too fine for it and the smell isn't my jam)
I began using it the next day. I started with the shampoo, but only using a little bit. By this time it had been over three months since I had used a traditional shampoo. I then used the conditioner and rinsed it out completely. Added the gel to t-shirt turban-dried hair and let it air dry. Wow… not shabby! No crunchy or heavy curls, no frizz. I raved on Instagram and found that many people do not believe in using Ouidad and told me how the brand is not truly CGM-friendly and may damage my hair. I was finally experiencing the kind of curls I desired and on a consistent basis, I didn't see why I had to change especially since I used CGM-approved products and had negative results. I began playing with the products from Ouidad to perfect my routine.
- Day 1: Use a bit of shampoo, a dollop the size of a garbanzo bean or big blueberry. Focus on the edges of the hair (forehead, nape, etc.) and then move up to get the crown. Rinse, then put a cherry tomato-sized blob of the conditioner (which is in a mousse container but comes out thick like cake frosting) in my hair, raking it through swith my fingers, scrunching and pressing to be sure it gets into all my hair. If some gets on my scalp no biggie, but I focus on the strands. Rinse out 95%, while still sopping wet add the gel, enough to cover most of my palm (the gel is watery so I can’t compare it to a vegetable or legume) and then pile it into a t-shirt turban while I get ready. Once dressed, I remove the turban, spiral a few pieces around my fingers and rearrange my hair so my bangs are where they need to be and most of my hair is pushed towards my face. I then don’t touch it until it’s 100% dry. Once completely dry, I scrunch to get rid of any crunchiness.
- Day 2: Either I wet it in the shower or wet it with a spray bottle of plain water. I then spray it with the Restore + Revive and add maybe a quarter-sized bit of the gel if my hair doesn't feel too product-y, t-shirt turban it if it’s really sopping and I’m not wearing a bathrobe or else just rearrange it and let it dry, then scrunch to get out the crunch.
- Day 3: I wet completely in my shower and do a cleaning with the conditioner. I rinse it out 95%, add a palm’s worth of gel, turban, then rearrange.
- Day 4: Same as Day 2
- Day 5: Same as Day 3
- Day 6: Back to Day 1.
I go to the gym every weekday morning and I am a sweaty person who sweats a LOT from her head. I’ve tried letting it airdry, I’ve tried just using the Restore + Revive spray on it dry, it doesn’t work. My hair needs to get at least damp to dilute the sweat to turn it into anything decent and it doesn't clump nicely unless it gets sopping wet.
Fourth Step in Curly Hair Life: Winter is Coming
I ran out of the conditioner in mid-October, right when my hair started acting a little different thanks to the colder temps and dryer indoor heated air. I made a purchase at Ouidad and got:
- More of the Curl Recovery Whipped Curls Daily Conditioner & Styling Primer
- VitalCurl+ Soft Defining Mousse
- VitalCurl+ Tress Effects Styling Gel
I was looking for something that would maybe hold my curls longer than the humidity gel without weighing them down like the CGM gels I had tried in the summer. Ouidad had a gift with purchase and deal on travel sizes so I also got minis of:
- Advanced Climate Control Defrizzing Conditioner
- Ultra-Nourishing Cleansing Oil Shampoo
- Ultra-Nourishing Intense Hydrating Mask
- Moisture Lock Leave-In Conditioner
- Revive & Shine
I decided to “detox” my hair with a travel size sulfate-laden shampoo from a hotel and try some of the new products. The Tress Effects Styling Gel seemed to hold my hair together better and not get fizzy or limp, though the Humidity Gel still made my hair feel softer and bouncier. The mousse made my hair look very '80s with lots of volume but no real defined curls. I tried both together, I tried the mousse with the lighter-weight Heat & Humidity Gel, I just didn't like it. The Climate Control Defrizzing Conditioner didn't hold a candle to the Whipped Curls. The Cleansing Oil Shampoo made my hair feel heavy, as did the Leave-In Conditioner. I like the Hydrating Mask and have used it twice; it's a nice treatment once every few weeks. The Revive & Shine is great for non-wash days when hair may look a bit dull or has experienced too much dry shampoo.
I also bought some clips off Amazon to hold bits of my hair up off my scalp while air-drying to give it more volume. They work… when I remember to use them! I put some in my toiletries bag so at least I remember to use them when on travel.
I tried diffusing. I bought the Deva Curl diffuser, and tried the one that came with my Hot Tools dryer. Both would give me way more volume, but even if I didn’t touch my hair and go on the lowest settings my curls would be thinner and when I’d scrunch out the crunch it would just look sad.
My winter solution is to leave a bit more of my conditioner in my hair after my shower, and on my non-wash days spray some Restore + Revive Bi-Phase into my wet hair after adding the gel. Add the clips if I remember and let air dry. This is doable since I work from home, but I need to find a solution when I have less time as I can’t leave the house. I did buy one of these dryers a while ago, but I never use it because it’s so big and awkward I need to pack it up and find a place to set it up.
My Curly Hair Future
I have spent the majority of my life treating my hair like crap. Dying it, bleaching it, highlighting it, lowlighting it. I’ve gotten crazy haircuts, and even given myself some of my craziest cuts. I’ve ironed it, both with flat irons and with my clothing iron (thank you Tracy Turnblad for the inspiration). I’ve curled it with foam rollers, hot rollers, curling irons. I’ve hard curled it, teased it, braided it, even tried to dread it. And I’m over it.
I am almost 45 years old, and I am comfortable with my age and that I look my age. I do love going to the salon to get cuts and color; it’s an enjoying ritual for me and I love balancing it with relatively easy-care for the weeks in between visits. I don’t love the process of styling hair. I want hair that will age with me. It will embrace the changing texture as more grays come in, and will be more forgiving if the time comes when I want those grays to be seen. Hair that can let me roll down the windows, get splashed, and glam up last minute for an event. Hair that will let me dance all night, get sweaty, get silly. Hair that only needs a few minutes to go from bedhead to presentable. Hair that is less Real Housewife, more Aging Badass Rockstar.
And because I am almost 45 and have fewer f*cks to give, I will no longer feel intimidated by the Curly Hair Community. They’re trying to be a resource, and they are a wealth of knowledge, overwhelming as it may be. They are there for those who are looking to get a degree in CGM, those who have deep-seated hair resentment and are looking to be cleansed by the rice water and find a community of like-minded souls who are seeking hair salvation. I respect them, I thank them for their hard work, but I just can’t convert. My hair may look like Kip Winger some days, but the freedom I have achieved is worth it.
Where to Donate Opened Beauty Products
If you're like me and you've tried a lot of products that just didn't work and don't have any friends or family who would want to finish that bottle of gel or conditioner, consider Project Beauty Share. Project Beauty Share collects personal hygiene, cosmetics and beauty products and distributes them through non-profit organizations that serve women and families overcoming abuse, addiction, homelessness, and poverty. Click this link to learn what products Project Beauty Share accepts. What I do is grab a Priority Mail box from the post office and leave it open in my office. When I try products that don't work, I place them in the box. Once the box is full, I stuff it with old magazines and newspapers to keep everything from banging around, tape it up and mail it out. Project Beauty Share doesn't offer free postage and I don't get a tax receipt, but I find the minimal shipping fee worth it to have these otherwise good products get into the hands of those who will benefit from them.
Glad I came upon this post! Thank you! My take is that CGM is best (if not only) suited for thick/coarse curly hair, especially high density. If you see Lorraine Massey’s hair, it’s obvious. And it is not difficult to explain why it doesn’t work at all on fine curly hair, especially if it’s lower density. These folks who make CGM a religion for all curly hair honestly don’t have good hair knowledge or logical reasoning skills.
I’m pushing 40 and my hair texture and cut resembles yours closely. I love how your curl doesn’t stretch out much at the root. I bet your cut is the main reason for this, so I’m examining your pics to see where I can improve mine.
Also just want to express gratitude for your knowledge and content! Especially how you simplify and minimal-ize. 🙂
Hi Alison, just came across your site…with your long, curly, gorgeous brown hair, pretty brown eyes and your cute freckles, you are really quite stunning! Sandy
I agree! and also feel the curly girl community craziness. it makes it really hard and unpleasant to just get some useful information on how to manage and care for curl/wavy hair the SIMPLE way…
I’m 47 and going on my 3rd year of a semi CGM routine. I was so over whelmed by all the info starting out just like you said. It was crazy trying to get the right info for my hair. But I stuck with it and just tried to stick with the basics. I follow the map method which I payed for the online course This last year and helped me a lot. I also found 3 people who cut out the crap and did a simple style and it has worked for me. I stopped following all the other girls I had been watching. It was just information overload. I’m still trying to find a good stylist who gets me without having to pay a couple hundred dollars every 8 weeks. I still like to color my hair but I don’t hate my grays so I figure in a couple of years by the time I turn 50 I’ll just let them grow in. But it’s fun for me still so I’m good with getting it colored. I’m glad your sticking with it. Your hair looks great and I’m sure you’ll help others who started out like we did.
I have been reading your blog for forever, and coming out of lurking to say: your curls are beautiful, and good for you for using the “curly boards” as a reference and then moving on. I have curly hair also, and have been wearing it curly for the last 25 (ish?) years (I know my hair well, it’s my “thing”) and those reddit boards and instagram accounts with their typically divisive and “all or nothing” attitudes are s a total turn off. I break all kinds of the “rules” with my hair – highlights! sulfites! alcohol! and I do not at all care because my hair is exactly what I want it to be (not perfectly defined coils, volume and texture and a little wild).
All this to say: have fun with it and enjoy the process of finding what works best for you and your life! it’s just hair, after all!
Crystal Ryan says
I’m 62. Discovered CGM while wondering through Barnes&Noble and coming across the newly released 2nd edition of Curly Girl The Handbook by Lorraine Massey. It was 2010 or 2011. (I think the 1st edition came out in 2001.). Her book changed my life! The battle with my hair ended; Lorraine Massey’s words inspired me to embrace my curls. I now wear them proudly as my accessory!
A lot has changed since 2010/2011. Social Media exploded. Along with the good, came the bad and the ugly. Back in the day, the Curly Girl Community was a purely positive, supportive resource. I have watched it evolve.
I agree. There is a growing snarkiness within the Curly Girl Community. These persons would do themselves well by watching a past video of the soft spoken Lorraine Massey talking about care for curly hair. They need to watch the game-changer who got the ball rolling and see what an authentic, positive, supportive resource sounds like.
Claire May says
I also have short fine curly hair. At 40 I gave up dying it, cut it from shoulder blade length to just below my ear and started the curly girl method. After the ugly growing out period and CGM learning phase, 2 years on, I think I have finally got it sorted. It was definitely worth making the change as I now really like my curls. Good luck!
Alison Gary says
Going curly, growing out a bad haircut and going gray…all at the same time seemed pretty crazy at 56 but I survived! The CGM intimidated me too. I read the book and found 1 helpful thing, a stylist in my area. His salon has been key in getting me through the entire transition. He keeps it simple, great cuts and good products. My hair is all curl in back and straight next to my face, go figure! Through good and bad hair days, I’m still happy that I made the change. You look great!
Alison Gary says
Thanks Janice, and you’re a badass to do all three at once but isn’t it freeing?
Fellow curly here. A large chunk of African Americans have tightly coiled curls, including me. When I started treating my hair as curly, as opposed to needing to be tamed, it flourished. That being said, YES, the curly haired community is a mountain to climb and there are fifty eleven opinions on every product. What I’ve learned is that with curly hair, some days are great hair days, some are good, some are meh, some are awful. But in paying attention – straight haired people go through this, too. Very few people hit it out of the park every single day hair wise.
I think embracing that is one of the keys to curly – or other – hair happiness and it sounds like you’ve landed there! Here’s to coils.
Alison Gary says
Cheers, fellow curly woman!
OMG! The stuff we go through just to be pretty! Loved hearing your story! I’m gray and never once dyed my hair. If people don’t like what they see, they can just turn away. Haha. Very freeing.
Alison Gary says
Kris C. says
This post is the best! Love your honesty – you speak to the heart! I live in hot humid south Florida with curly fine hair, so you can imagine my daily hair challenges. And every day it turns out different. At 56, I’ve come to peace with the curls and waves, but still cursing and fighting that dastardly frizz. Usually the more products I use and the more I try to control it, the worse it looks. Today, one side is fabulous with beautifully shaped curls, but the left side is just wavy and limp. Sigh.
p.s. I thought the girl in the pink shirt was your daughter. Such a cute spitting image!!
Alison Gary says
She really is a mini me! And I’m the same with the more product, the worse it looks!
I stopped coloring my hair about your age. I now get more compliments than I did before and I know it’s because I have. Good cut and shinny, healthy gray hair. Talk about liberating to wash and let it dry on its own every few nights then o my a few minutes in the am to know it looks good all day. Your hair is way cooler than mine already. Can’t wait to see it!
Alison Gary says
My hair is still that little bit of gray where it just looks thin and dull but still brown. I look forward to it coming in more, then I think I’ll stop coloring!
My hair has a genetic quirk, color-wise. My Mom had it, my Grandma had it. “It” is an approximately 1/4 ” of white hair on either side of my face. The balance of my hair is dark. I think I kinda like it.
I really appreciate and can totally relate to this post. I have fine, curly hair that is not nearly as thick as it once was. I have had long hair that I straightened all through high school, super short hair right after I graduated and everything in between ! My hair curls the best in summer humidity so this time of year as the cold, dry air sets in I find that I try a concoction of different products to try and achieve curls. I am 43 years old and I have decided to embrace my curls (and my gray hairs too ), I think that I look better with them than to try to straighten my hair so I am still trying to figure out what works.
Thanks so much!
Alison Gary says
My pleasure and good luck with your curly journey! Let me know if you find any great products or methods for your fine curly hair!
Thanks for the Beauty Share info. I’ve given away so many products to friends and family I’m embarrassed to do it anymore lest they thing all my money is invested in shampoo. And I think your hair looks great, always.
Alison Gary says
Thank you Tracie!
Linda B says
Awesome post. I literally read most of it while I was waiting to get my curly hair cut. I shoes it to my stylist and she was psyched—and going to follow your blog now too. She actually introduced me to Ouidad earlier this year and I love it.
I never did experience the icky dynamic with the curly hair folks, but I think it’s because I am older than you and don’t go on social media much and certainly was never part of any online forum about curls. Glad I never found that! And I am really glad you have found your own path with your hair now.
Months back I started noticing the change in your hairstyle on the blog. Totally love it!!!!!!
Alison Gary says
Oh gosh that is perfect timing, Linda! And thank you!
Sierra Delta says
So you’ve been romping around in my head again with the timing on this post! I had JUST figured out how to deal with my curls last summer when something odd began to happen. My curls gradually and erratically stopped curling, which was puzzling. My hairdresser had been giving me a Ouidad cut, which cost about 40% more than a standard cut, but my hair had stopped responding the way either one of us expected. Apparently my hair, in a particularly annoying burst of autonomy, has decided to be straight-ish. According to my hair goddess, one’s hair changes every seven years or so, and mine has decided to celebrate the onset of my 70s by being what my juice-cans-and-clothing-iron hair wanted to be in my 20s. Go figure. Maybe I’ll be the 80-year-old shocking the children with my inappropriate language as I have to figure out how to deal with my curls all over again in my next decade.
Alison Gary says
Oh goodness, how frustrating! But now that you mention it, I’ve experienced something similar over the years. It’s just that I’ve had life events like stress, illness, and childbirth to explain it. And your story totally made me giggle, you child shocker! 🙂
LOL! Juice cans, and ironing my hair…. ha! Yes, I remember it well! There are worse things than always being a potty-mouth.
My hair went from stick straight to wavy when I was in my 30s. It started with a permanent ponytail bend at the back and over a few years turned into the mostly decent mix of curls and waves that I have now at 52. For about 10 years I pretended I still had straight hair. Then I started having lots of problems with frizz and I figured it was time to learn how to work with the curls. I still haven’t gotten the hang of it, but I’m getting there. And I made myself some plopping turbans out of my husband’s old tee shirts.
Good post. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the cut/style that’s great for me. I have (now) curly prone hair under my ears while the top is straight, yet wiry and frizzy at the same time. I am definitely not a wash-and-go girl but can be a wash, let me sleep on it and it’s less frizzy in the morning kind of girl. ha!
And I’ve got to say, Kip Winger – hot – that smile always did it for me.
Alison Gary says
He had the worst hair but the BEST smile!!
What a fun post! Glad you were able resist the Dark Side of the CGM. My hair has a slight wave that can be coaxed into something curl-esque, but i think otherwise is similar in texture to yours. I love your curls.
It was so helpful for you to share the part about age-related thinning, including the picture. I’m also mid-40s and on a medication for pain that thins my hair drastically (as well as slows growth) and i’ve been having a really hard time with it. But i also know this particular medication affects neurotransmitters which interacts with hormone balance, and i wonder if the thinning is actually a sign that something is getting into a more “normal” state if that makes sense, rather than just being another horrible side effect.
Alison Gary says
That’s an interesting perspective. I did notice my thinning corresponded to me going off hormonal birth control and getting a copper IUD. Maybe it IS a normalization.
Kathy F. says
As a retired hairdresser, I will say this: EVERY PERSON’S HAIR IS AS INDIVIDUAL AS THEIR FINGERPRINTS. In all my years of working with hair, both men and women, I have never, ever had two heads of hair that were the same. EVER. Kudos to you for finding what works for YOU. I know the journey was long and often frustrating, but you have followed the path you needed to follow in order to have fabulous hair; and you DO have fabulous hair! Love the curls!
Alison Gary says
Thank you Kathy!
Alison S says
This was fascinating! I read the whole thing through! Even though I cannot relate, I definitely have much more sympathy and understanding for you (and my curly haired friends)! What a challenge.
Like Fiona above, I have stick straight hair with a few notable cowlicks and a low neckline. I always envied my friends who had curly/wavy hair. When I was younger, I permed to get the curl/waves – but it was always more work than I wanted to do to get them the way I wanted them. I always assumed that is was because it was a perm – that ‘native curly haired gals’ wouldn’t have the same issue. Now in my late 40s I am (finally) happy with my hair. I like that it is straight and the greys have become silver and mingle nicely with my dirty blonde. I have found a cut that I like and have a minimal hair routine. No coloring, no hair dryer, and minimal product. I think that alone has saved me hundreds of dollars alone!
I am definitely at the stage in my life where I have fewer f*cks to give – so while I could do a lot more it’s just not worth it to me anymore. Good luck and thanks for sharing!
Alison S says
PS thanks for the Project Beauty Share info. I can use that to send the ‘gift bag’ extras I occasionally receive from Clinique and such.
Alison Gary says
Yes, it’s great for those GWPs!
Alison Gary says
Hair totally is a “grass is greener” type of thing. When my hair was straighter, I dreamed of curls. When it would frizz and curl up, I was jealous of those with naturally thick hair! I am so glad you are happy with your hair, it makes such a difference on our outlook and how we start each day!
I love your hair curly – it looks fabulous. I, like you, have wavy to curly fine hair so dry weather in winter always makes it flop – no matter what I do. In my late 40s I am trying this winter to accept that it just isn’t going to be as cute as it is in the humid summer.
It is a curly jungle out there in social media land – you have to just do you! I find Ouidad works well for us fine curlies, after years of using Devacurl (And no I don’t work for Ouidad nor am I affiliated with them.). Welcome to the curly club!
Alison Gary says
Thank you Candice!
jodie filogomo says
Girl, you are singing my song. Some days I’m good with my curls, and other days…. But I’ve given in more than nought. I applaud you for keeping after it.
Heck, we just moved to AZ, and I’m thinking of going to a DevaCurl specialist for my next cut. I’m hoping that having the right haircut will help too??
Alison Gary says
My stylist is a Deva Cut stylist and it really has helped. He was the first to really “get” my hair texture and encourage me to embrace and coax out my curl. I recommend it!
“Cleansed by the rice water,” ha!
Your hair texture reminds me of mine, except I’m definitely wavy and you look wavy/curly. It is a struggle to find products that work for hair that is easily weighed down but needs definition.
I dipped my toe into the curly hair community just enough to get an idea of what the hell to do with my hair. I use SLS at least every other day to get rid of buildup (gasp!), lots of moisture with silicone-free conditioners, and a hard hold gel. And now I am done with the curly hair community.
Alison Gary says
LOL it is a good community to visit but not a place for most to live.
Karla Cool says
My hair is kinda like yours, except I stopped coloring years ago.
After trying many products, for the last few years I’ve been washing with Trader Joe’s cheapest conditioner and finishing off with aloe Vera gel.
For the first time, I love my hair and get many compliments..
Alison Gary says
I so wanted aloe vera gel to work for me, I may try it again now that my hair is curling better.
Loved reading your curly hair story and have forwarded it to some curly-haired friends. Do you know how many perms I had in the ’80s to get my hair to look like yours! Glad you’ve figured out a method! ROCK ON!!
Alison Gary says
In 10th grade, I had such curly hair amnesia I gave my self one of those “two week perms.” It lasted for MONTHS!
Same, girl. Same. Thanks for writing this, all of it. I, too, have abused my hair, hated on my hair, and pretended it would/could be something other than what it is. I’ve sought out the CGM community and found it to be overwhelming, contradictory, and harsh. I truly appreciate you sharing your process and experience.
Alison Gary says
My pleasure, Sherrie. It’s been great to write this and connect with those who have had similar experiences!
I am 59 with fine, curly/wavy hair, dark brown with a litttle bit of gray, currently just below shoulder length. I last had it professionally cut in 2017 and since then I’ve been trimming it myself. I have never regularlly heat styled or colored it because it gets damaged so easily and then it’s frizzy for what seems like forever. My experience with the curly hair community was kind of like yours, only I started with it in its early years online (20 years ago?). My conclusion, fwiw, is you have to pay attention to ingredients and how they affect you. For example, silicones make my hair temporarily smooth, but cause the ends to dry out and frizz and it takes forever to fix that. Natural oils (coconut, jojoba, rose, whatever) are ok for the ends but my scalp is too oily to use all over, plus the smoothing effect doesn’t last. Washing it too often makes it frizzy, not washing often enough means it’s sad, greasy and limp. My solution has been to find products without silicones that aren’t dependent on “natural” ingredients. For me that means Living Proof no frizz (grayish brown containers) and damage repair (grayish purple containers) products, specifically the no frizz hair oil and leave in conditioner and damage repair mask and instant repair leave-in. Once a week I wash my hair with with Davines Love Smoothing Shampoo (I can never figure out if Davines has silicones or not but their products seem to work on me so I’ve given up worrying) or Dry Bar Southern Belle Volume shampoo and conditioner. It depends on the weather and how sweaty I’ve been. Sometimes I use an apple cider vinegar/sea salt scrub (that’s mostly in the summer though). I focus on getting my scalp clean and conditioning the ends, mostly. On the weekends I rinse it thoroughly and use Olaplex no. 3. Otherwise, I rinse my hair in the shower every other day, mist it wet and comb it out on the alternate days, use R+Co Badlands dry shampoo styler if my roots are looking greasy. Basically, my hair is different every day so I have different techniques to deal with whatever issue appears in my mirror. A lot of it is intuitive–I know myself and I know my hair and I try to be reasonable in my expectations. But it has definitely been a journey! For me the key takeaways have been 1. Get a good cut 2. Understand which ingredients work for you 3. Don’t sweat the technique, just try stuff that works for your lifestyle 4. Be prepared to defend your choices if you get involved in the online hair community!
Alison Gary says
Thank you so much for this!
Thank you for this info. I recently changed my hairstyle after years of wearing it one way. I knew I had wavy hair, but much to my surprise, there was a lot of curl. I’ve been making it work but I’ve been at a loss as to what to do to make it work better. I think your product info is going to be helpful.
Alison Gary says
I hope it is, and if not come back here because there are some amazing people in these comments who are a wealth of non-judgmental knowledge!
This is the best blog post! (Although, I am certain I have said this about other posts of yours.) I really resonate with your curly hair journey. And I am at a similar place now. As I age, I have embraced my curls, but the CGM community is/was intimidating. I have learned some tricks and gained some knowledge from the groups, but at the end of the day, I am a rebel at heart and my curly hair is my own to figure out. I am now trying to embrace how much thinner it has gotten in my mid 40’s. I used to have such thick hair, so it is tricky working with it now. Thanks for being a refreshing voice, fellow curly girl! 🙂
Alison Gary says
Thank you so much fellow curly-haired Allison! 🙂
Annette Kuusinen says
This makes me so relieved that I discovered the CGM by the book before Social Media. I find that I never follow Curly accounts for very long on Insta. They just don’t keep my attention. I’ve worn my hair curly since before my teens were born. For Halloween I straightened it to be Mortica Addams. My straight hair freaked my teens out. LOL
One of the best gifts of your forties, is the lack of f*cks to give. 🙂
Alison Gary says
OH gosh that’s funny that your hair freaked them out! And yes to such a valuable gift of fewer f*cks!
I embraced my curls years ago. The 80s, well they were easy for me. However my thick, long curls have become a bit more refined with age. But I agree the curly haired community is intimidating, even for those with curly hair. The gray hair community… Even worse. Find what works for you and forget the rest. I use Drug store products because quite honestly I just can’t justify the expense of the Ouidad products. But if they work for you, use them.
I’ve run out of f*[<s when it comes to my nearly white natural hair color as well. I’ve transitioned from red to blonde. Now I’m transitioning to platinum. When my son graduates in May, no more hair color for me. I will rock my white, curly hair and dare anyone to call me old. Well-aged, maybe, but never old. I’ll be ChroniclyKurly always.
Alison Gary says
I, too, have naturally curly hair. I grew up in the 60s and 70s when straight hair was the only kind of hair. I ironed it, set it on huge (think Hawaiian Punch) juice cans and spent many uncomfortable nights trying to sleep in roller with my curly, cowlick bangs taped down to my forehead. I even used a drugstore straightener on it, turning it into ugly, flat frizz if you can imagine that.
In my 20s and 30s, I spent many hours with a brush, blow dry and used a can a week of AquaNet hairspray to keep everything in place. In addition, I was coloring my hair as I had started to go grey at 20.
When I hit 40, I started to whisper to myself that ‘wavy hair is ok’ and found a stylist who made my hair-thick at the time-look professional (the constant message was and STILL IS that ‘curly hair looks unprofessional) but attractively wavy. I still had mostly ‘eh’ hair days rather than good ones. I was still getting my greying ash blonde hair high and low lighted, too. I wanted to go completely grey but was living with a much younger partner and every time I would allow the roots to come out about an inch, looking in the mirror and imagining a full head of silver made me wince.
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and my hair started thinning drastically in my 50s. I started wearing it at chin length (a length I find unflattering to my wide jawline) and diffusing it to give it more oopmh and illusion of volume. Still had very few fantastic hair days. Or even just okay ones.
At 60, I decided to stop coloring my hair and I found a curly hair stylist who cut curly hair dry. I was astounded at just how CURLY my hair really was! As the colored hair grew out and I let the silver take over, people would stop me on public transit or in the street to compliment my hair cut and color. All well and good but I still had yet to find a product line that I liked and that made my hair really easy to work with. I’d been to a DevaCurl salon, had over $250 worth of their products pushed on me and found they made my scalp itch horribly and made my hair look and feel like plastic.
Now, nearly 70, I get a Deva cut on dry hair once every 3 months and use the InnerSense line exclusively on my hair. I wear it shoulder length in a loose shag style with bangs. The only DevaCurl products I still use are the hairspray (only on windy days) and once a month, I clarify with their BuildupBuster. Out of 30 days in a month, I can say I love my curls at least 28 of those days. I have found that like your skin, your hair is different every day, depending on what you’ve been eating, the weather, how you’re sleeping, how many products you’ve been using and so on. Curly hair is NEVER the same from one day to the next and what works for one curly head will not necessarily be the Holy Grail for another. I also learned that I cannot just ‘get up and go.’ For me, with curly hair, it needs to be wetted and scrunched every day, even if I don’t use any products in it and just leave it to air dry. My most successful styling technique is to scrunch the excess water out with a t-shirt, arrange the hair the way I want it to fall, air dry to about 50-60%, then finish with a diffuser. Since I work from home, being able to just let it be product free and to air dry is a blessing. Nevertheless, if I just wake up and leave it ‘as is,’ no wetting or styling, I look like a madwoman. Yes, my hair has gotten thinner and if I let it grow past shoulder length, it looks sad, pathetic and I can see my scalp. I’ve taken biotin, Viviscal and lots of B complex, but I am fighting age and a failing thyroid so there are no miracles.
Do I LOVE my curls? No. I have, however, made peace with them and feel that they are part of what makes me uniquely who I am. I have a good stylist, love the product line I use and have let go of the struggle for ‘perfect’ hair every day. Like perfection in any aspect of life, I’ve learned it’s mostly an illusion and rather than berate myself for not achieving that state, I let myself be in the moment-be it with hair, weight, clothing, mood or energy level. I only wish it had not taken 70 years to get here.
Your hair is lovely, Alison. Enjoy it.
Yes! This! We’ve all been told curly/wavy hair is unprofessional looking our whole lives. I permed for years, (ah, the 80s), blow dried it straight for more years, until a good hair stylist showed me how to finally tried to embrace my waves. That worked for a long time, but recently, post-menopause, I have struggled with thinning and protein sensitivity and I don’t even know what else. I do have some bleach highlights in my hair, but not a ton (no gray, but my natural color is sort of blah so I like to add some blonde). My hair, like yours, is definitely different Every. Single. Day. Like you, I have to wet it and restyle it every day and, since I air dry, it’s a daily surprise how it will look once I’m at work. SIGH! I’m in search of an excellent hair cutter! I’m trying a new stylist tomorrow, and will keep trying until I find one that can deal with my crazy hair. I appreciate your positive outlook!
Ellen, for me, having my curls cut dry has made all the difference. If you have a lousy haircut, no amount of product, no matter what brand, can disguise that. Using a diffuser ( regular one, not the green, hand shaped monstrosity that DevaCurl makes) is also a key thing for me. What I do-when my hair is halfway dried, first I diffuse while I am standing upright, then when the hair is 95% dry, flipping over and using the diffuser on the roots. After that, I shake my head around briskly and if I want more fullness, just put both hands under the canopy of my hair and fluff gently.
I hope your new stylist ‘gets’ you and your hair tomorrow! : ) COURAGE!
Thank you, Cee! I think you’re right about the cut being key. I’m going to a salon that specializes in curly hair and does Deva cuts. I’m not sure I have enough hair for the full Deva thing, but we’ll see how it goes!
I am 56 and finally love my curly hair. The proper haircut and styling techniques have helped more than any particular products. My niece has thin curly hair. I have thick curly hair. It has thinned in the front a bit. Things that make curly haired life simpler for me: satin pillow case. Sleeping in a buff or Medusa clipping (either way lets me get two to three days with minimal refreshing). Rezos haircut. Best haircut ever. I go every three months (I am growing my hair out). Innersense I create volume and or I create hold. I get less defined curls with just the volume product and those perfect frizz free ones when I use both products together. My niece likes the I create hold gel by itself. Neither cause me build up, scalp irritation or flaking. I use a t-shirt or flour sack dish cloth for absorbing excess water after my shower. I air dry or used a hood dryer my husband got for me at Sally’s. I prefer to air dry if I have time. Happy curls Allie. I am glad you didn’t let the curly hair community put you off. I think their is so much passion because most of us have suffered through decades of bad hair days, bad hair cuts, and the weird anti curly hair comments we get from family, friends, and strangers. I am in the no more fucks to give camp. It is my hair. I love it wild and grey and however it wants to be. I am not here to decorate the world for anybody else.
Sierra Delta says
“I am not here to decorate the world for anybody else.” Would you mind if I steal that to use as my personal motto, Margot?
Not at all. I didn’t originate it. It is an expression used frequently in a long hair community that I belong to.
Fiona Potts says
Thanks for sharing. I never knew it could be such a minefield! I have a lot of sympathy for you and anyone else with curly hair – I have dead straight hair and have spent loads of money over the years putting curls in – by perming!!!! We’re none of us truly satisfied with what we’ve got, are we?
I am now 57 and have had short hair for the majority of my life – except for a few periods where I grew it, then got frustrated and permed it, then cut it again! The best haircut of my life has been for the last 14 years, scruffy and spikey. I’m lucky that it was mousy-blond and has gone white/ash blond as I’ve embraced the greys/whites, and most think I’ve had it dyed this way!!!
Anyway, thanks for sharing your trials and tribulations. I have much more sypathy for a friend of mine than I did… 😉
Alison Gary says
The grass is always greener, right? We always desire or find easier what we don’t have. But all hair types can be a drag, it’s best to just embrace what we’ve received naturally!
Tracie Bowman says
Oh Allison, I laughed out loud in a coffee shop reading about your curly hair and the products you’ve used in the past. Over my 55 years my hair has been permed, straightened, colored, bleached and cut. After going through chemo I embraced the hats and only wore a wig twice. For many years I colored my hair, but as my hair came back post cancer it’s been curly and gray. It’s also super soft unlike the past 20 years when it was coarse and wiry. I’ve been going to a stylist who really understands curly hair and curls for 20 years. I use Hm&C stuff, it’s like a pomade.
I just wish my forehead hair was thicker and longer, oh well I am happy to have hair again. Best of luck with your crowning glory!
I had my first Ouidad haircut at the flagship salon in NYC about 12 years ago. I haven’t looked back, and I’m lucky there are Ouidad certified stylists in my area. I’ve only used Ouidad Products since that first haircut, after trying various other salon products for curly hair. I wash my hair twice a week, deep condition once a week, rinse out product and condition only on the other days. I have very thick hair. On weekends I might just spray my hair with water, section with clips, and add a bit more gel to refresh. Curly hair needs moisture, so conditioning and using leave-in conditioner (Moisture Lock!) is key for my hair. I use the Heat and Humidity gel. Honestly, my experience is that a good haircut combined with the condition/gel when very wet/don’t touch until dry method gives the best results. While I love Ouidad and have no intention of ever switching, I think I could achieve the same results with other products. No idea why the gel works so well with sopping wet hair, But it does!
Alison Gary says
Right? It’s far less effective on damp hair! So weird but whatever, I love the results! Thank you for sharing your story!
This is so timely for me, Allie! I have wavy/curly, fine, thinning hair that is super temperamental. I have been equally intimidated by the Curly Girl people and overwhelmed by the variety of products out there. Similar to you, certain highly recommended products just fail me. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars trying out different things and I don’t seem to have it figured out. Winter is especially challenging to my hair texture – it looks best on humid, misty days and horrible on dry, cold, windy ones. I really appreciate the product advice you shared here!
The cut is especially frustrating – my various hairstylists in recent years have not managed to cut my hair well at all. None have consistently given me the “aging rock chick” cut of my dreams because they mostly seem enamored of the Real Housewives look and find my fine, short-ish hair uninteresting, I guess. I finally decided to spend the money and I am trying *your* stylist, Billy, tomorrow! I hope he’ll have the insight to give me a great haircut, at last! Wish me luck!!
I have very thick, coarse curly hair. Had a Ouidad haircut 20 years ago at the NYC salon and it was amazing. Then went to Japanese straightening and am now transitioning back. My stylist is Ouidad trained. It is true the right haircut is key. The T shirt method is working well. Ouidad products do not work well for me. Last night I tried Moroccan Oil’s Curl cream on sopping wet hair, t shirt turban then slept on a satin pillow case to air dry. I have the best curls in my 54 years. No crunch, no grease. Firm hold. Your article is incredibly timely. Do t give up trying. Good thing about the curly girl community is companies will continue to create new products to meet our needs – finally.
Ann Marie says
I can totally relate to this. I have very thick curly hair that frizzes easily. Growing up, no one knew how to cut my hair properly and my mom was always trying to straighten it and tame it. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I started going curly in the summer because I couldn’t’ stand straightening my hair with a blow dryer when it was 90 degrees out and my hair was going to frizz up anyway. I didn’t love my curly hair but it was a temporary summer solution.
Now in my late 30s I actually prefer curly hair and wear it curly spring to fall. But winter is a challenge so I go back to straight hair for the winter. My hair only looks good if it air dries (takes forever to dry with a blow dryer and even with a diffuser it frizzes) and I can’t go outside in freezing temperatures with wet hair. It also is hard to wear a winter hat with curly hair. So my compromise for now is to straighten during the week (only wash and blow dry on Sundays and Wednesdays) and let it go curly on weekends when I have more time to let it air dry.
While the curly hair community may be intimidating, I am glad it is out there because until recent years, there were no resources or products for curly haired women. If you didn’t have straight hair, you were out of luck. I am glad there are plenty of options now.
And by the way, the right cut makes alllll the difference in the world.
Hi Ann Marie!
Alison Gary says
Totally agree about the cut; my stylist is DevaCut certified and he just “gets” it and I’m amazed how a little snip here and there can make such a major difference!