Okay, here's how it is. My hair is driving me nuts. I've been straightening it with my GHD's every other day since the birth of my second daughter almost ten years ago. Up until then, I'd washed and blowdried my long straight hair every other day and brushed it every day, always grumbling about the frizz and the kinks in it. Never once did I acknowledge, or in fact even realise, that I actually have very wavy hair naturally.
Ironically, many years ago, when I was a young student living in Belfast, I was once asked by a hairdresser if I knew I had curly hair. I can still remember sitting in her chair thinking she must be a bit loopy if she thought my obviously poker straight hair was curly and in fact I sniggered about it to friends and family for many years afterwards! The tide only turned when, in looking at photos of me during my first pregnancy, did I realise that my hair was actually quite wavy! Oh the shame of all that tittering!
Anyway, besides the fact that I now know I have wavy hair, in recent years, with the dreaded onslaught of silvers (to make my changing colours sound more fetching than greys!) becoming ever more noticeable, I am tiring of my crowning glory. Every time I went to get it coloured I'd spend the next couple of days itching. When I realised after one particularly bad episode after which my scalp began to blister and weep, that I might be having a more severe reaction, I went into panic mode.
I mentioned it to my hairdresser at the time and she suggested trying oil-based, ammonia-free colours. Feeling happy that there was an alternative option, I went ahead and tried the oil based colours. (I even blogged about my experience with INOA on this blog). They worked well for a while but then the dreaded itch returned and I started some online research which, needless to say, alarmed the life out of me. It turns out that it probably wasn't the ammonia annoying my scalp but probably the ppd, ie the colour pigment, which is present in larger quantities in the darker colours I'd been using.
So, I went lighter. I didn't particularly want to as I always loved my natural colour but, given my reaction, I felt I had no choice. I decided to get some highlights. However, the last couple of times I've been for my highlights I noticed the base colour was also causing some itching. It seemed even the ppd in the lower concentrations was also upsetting my very sensitive scalp. Back to the internet and I've decided to highlight only and let the silvers blend in. Last month was my first try at this and so far so good and no itching at all since no colour is touching my scalp. Sigh.
On the downside though, highlights plus regular straightening are killing my once sleek and shiny mane!
Over the last few weeks I was again online trying to find out how to help my poor hair deal with this onslaught of bleach and extreme heat when somehow I stumbled on to the Curly Girl method.
For those of you who haven't yet heard of it, it basically urges us to go back to more natural methods of washing, conditioning, drying and styling. Take out most silicones, sulfates, alcohol and so on and replace with more natural/ organic compounds, allow hair to dry naturally or with as little heat as possible, only finger comb or use a wide comb when hair is covered in conditioner and replace terry towelling with microfibre and you get the drift, sort of!
It's huge in the States but not so well known in the UK, but anyway I decided to give it a shot. Early on I decided I couldn't go down the no shampoo route (known as no poo in Curly Girl lingo), nor would I embark on condition only cleaning (CO as it's known) but instead I'd modify it to suit my personality and lifestyle. I want quick and easy and find all the rules a bit confusing and scientific to be honest.
Well, before doing anything else, I started by looking at all the cleaning, conditioning and defrizzing products I'd been using regularly. Practically every single one of them contained harsh sulfates, silicones and alcohol plus other stuff not recommended in Curly Girl circles. In fact, my teenage daughter had been having a lot of trouble with product residue in her hair and this had also not only encouraged but truly inspired me to try to go more natural.
Firstly, I went out and bought a clarifying shampoo whch you just use once before embarking on the method. I found a Toni and Guy deep cleaning shampoo which did the trick. The point of clarifying shampoos is that you use them very seldom but they remove all product build up meaning you can begin to get used to life without the extras! Because they are harsh on the hair, you can't use them often.
I then bought a sulfate free shampoo, one made by Organix. This actually was surprisingly difficult in the UK as there doesn't seem to be a lot of it about. However, a trip to Boots sorted that out for me. I also discovered Boots stock a range of shampoos, conditioners and so on under the brand name Naked. I bought one of their conditioners plus a leave in conditioner by the same brand and headed off home. Now, I must admit it took more than one trip to the shops before I got the all of above products. In between I ended up buying some stuff I though was "cone" (ie silicone") free only to later discover it wasn't. However, I'm finally using products which seem to be safe or at least much gentler on my hair.
After my first attempt, during which I washed and conditioned but didn't use the suggested type of towel, my hair looked pretty good after letting it dry without heat. In fact, when my husband came in from work he remarked that he "loved" it. Wow.
Here's some photos:
Curly Girl Day 1 Front
A first attempt at going all Curly Girl!
Now, for this result, I did comb after the shower which you aren't supposed to do but I hadn't realised that yet! I also had sprayed a so-called vitamin repair spray all over and finger combed it through but which I then realised had loads of cones in it so won't be using again. I didn't use a microfibre towel which is recommended as ordinary towels are too rough apparently. I also didn't plop but just left it to dry unplopped. (Plopping is a special way of dropping your hair into a microfibre towel or t-shirt and rolling it up leaving it until dry or until there is good curl formation.)
Anyway, as you can tell, there's a lot of stuff I did and didn't do. Life is just too short and busy for me to do everything as advised but what surprised me was the natural waves I ended up with despite little effort on my part... And this was just my very first attempt! I was honestly shocked. I knew I had a kink, but proper wavy hair was a revelation to me!
Conditioner Only Washing (CO Washing)
Conditioner Only Results (CO Washing)
Well, encouraged by the success of my first attempt, the following day I tried just washing with conditioner (co-washing). I didn't feel entirely comfortable doing this but again, got good results.
By the third hairwash, given that I had sprayed the vitamin cone laden solution all over my head on day one, I decided to give a first wash with my clarifying shampoo again - even though it's very harsh - followed by a sulfate free shampoo (Organix brand). I then conditioned with Organix conditioner but was annoyed to see some baddies on the list so made a mental note to buy the Boots Naked stuff for my next wash.
Again, I got good results and the waves were beginning to ringlet slightly although my hair still felt very dry and brittle particularly at the front. The following day I just splashed some water on it and left it but didn't look much different.
Anyway, rather than go on and on about it too much, you can see that it took me a while to get the hang of things. However, despite this things are improving.
Curly Girl Day 5 Front
Curly Girl Day 5 Back
This morning I washed with the Organix coconut shampoo, conditioned with Naked conditioner for dry/normal hair, rinsed under cool water and wrapped in a microfibre towel until less drippy. I then placed a good dollop of Naked leave in conditioner in my hand, rubbed it into my palms and finger-combed it through my hair concentrating on the ends and the dry bits at the front. I left it to dry naturally and tried not to touch it at all.
My hair is fairly long, as you can see, and it's also deceptively thick - hairdressers always get a surprise when they start to work on it - so it takes a long time to dry completely, roughly 3 to 4 hours. However, again today the waves are slightly more defined and my hair does not feel dried out at all. It feels soft and happy!
My head also feels like a weight has quite literally been lifted off it, ie my hair feels all clean and light!
Now, I know it takes about 6 weeks for the full effects to show when doing it the biblical way (in other words, if you follow the Curly Girl Method recommended by the hairdresser who wrote the book, Lorraine Massey), but, I'm more than happy already.
My children and hubby think it looks fantastic, though my mum thinks I've gone a bit mad. She prefers the sleek straightened look.
How about me? I love, love, love it. I'll follow up with my results over the next few weeks but to me at the moment, my hair feels like it's coming back to life. It's relaxing and curling up into a lovely comfortable position!
Last night, at a school event for my daughter, I looked around and saw lots of poor badly treated hair, hair exactly like mine had been until last week. I could identify silicone everywhere I looked and could instantly tell who was straightening, combing, brushing and generally torturing their locks. I felt like shouting out the good news. You can have tame, tumbling tresses without all the hard work if only you knew the secret.
Not strictly Curly Girl, but just gentle washing, conditioning, air-drying and finger combing when dry!
Why don't you give it a try and let me know how you find it? Or, if you're already a Curly Girl devotee, tell me your thoughts and how strictly you follow the regime...
Curly Girl the Handbook
is available now in many bookshops and online.