Curly hair has long been the coveted hair type when it comes to age-old sayings and myths. Why else would our mothers have bribed us to eat our crusts?!
As it turns out, nothing we eat will determine if our hair will turn curly – but it is very interesting to delve into what makes some people’s hair curly, and others not.
Curly hair is determined at conception. As it’s a dominant gene, if one of your parents has the gene, you’re more than likely going to have curly hair, too. What makes the hair curl is the shape of the follicle, and the way the proteins form when it grows.
But many people will also experience drastic hair texture changes during their lifetime, where their hair will change from straight to curly, or curly to straight and quite suddenly too.
This can be quite a frustrating experience, especially because taming curly hair is quite a different beast than straighter hair textures, so it can take some time to get used to the new ways you need to understand to have healthy, curly hair.
Curly hair types are naturally much drier in texture, so the common bugbears of curly-haired people are things like frizz, humidity, dry and flyaways.
The Biology of Curly Hair
As I mentioned before, Curly hair is considered a ‘dominant gene, and the gene for straight hair is ‘recessive’.
This means that if even only one parent gives you the curly hair gene, your hair is going to be curly. But it is interesting to know that you can have both parents who have straight hair and they could have a child with curly hair – and this is because there are many different genes for curly hair, and some of them may be recessive.
When it comes to the way the hair grows, and how that influences the texture of the curl, it comes down to the shape of the actual hair follicle.
The follicle shape of curly hair is actually oval, whereas with straight hair types, it’s round.
This means that as the building blocks of hair (keratin) stack on top of each other in the process of growing a strand of hair, one side gets more keratin than the other – which results in the strand curling back in and around on itself.
When I was going through my treatment for my brain tumour, I had 6 weeks of intense radiation therapy to my scalp.
The right side of my hair had the most treatment sessions to treat the tumour on that side of my head, and a small patch on the other side was also affected from where the rays of radiation exited out the other side of my head.
I lost all of my hair during the treatment, and when my hair started to grow back again, the areas most affected by the radiation started growing back curly!
I was initially told that my hair loss would most likely be permanent due to the follicles being damaged from the intense amount of radiation they received.
My understanding is that the radiation was so strong that it actually changed the shape of the follicles in the areas of treatment.
Previously, my hair was straight, so the follicles in the treated areas changed from round to oval, resulting in me having two distinct hair types on my head!
Why Hair Texture Changes Over Time
It is more common than you might expect for someone to experience sudden changes to their hair type during their lives, and there are a few causes for this.
Hormones and hair texture
Hormones are the main culprit responsible for such drastic hair texture changes.
During puberty, menopause and pregnancy, many people will find their will go from straight to curly or vice versa over a period of months.
It's also interesting to note that even long periods of stress can be enough to change the texture of your hair.
The changes in amounts of cortisol can cause an imbalance of hormones in your body, which can then lead to your hair changing its form.
When we travel or move to places with a higher humidity environment, the changes to moisture levels in the air can have an impact on our hair texture.
This is because hair is always in a state of osmosis – which means it is always trying to balance its moisture content with what is in the air at the time.
When we move or travel in places that have a more tropical weather pattern, our hair will soak up the moisture in the environment, and this can create a curl in the hair and make curly hair types even curlier!
When I was hairdressing, it was quite common only to see my clients every few months – and I remember having a client return to me with curly hair, when the last time I'd seen her, her hair was straight!
When I asked her about the change in her hair texture, she explained some thyroid issues that she’d been experiencing, which had caused a sudden change to her hair as a side effect.
This was my first experience with seeing how health issues can play a role in changing someone's hair texture, but it wasn’t my last!
On a smaller scale, when my clients would complain about their grey hairs growing curly (and then confess that they would pull out the unwanted hairs because they disliked the sight of them), I would always explain that by pulling the hair out, they were causing damage to the follicle, which caused the hair to grow curly.
How to Treat Curly Hair
Learning how to properly look after your curly hair is important to ensure the health and appearance of the curls.
If you applied the same techniques for straighter strands onto curls, you would most likely find yourself battling with a frizzy, knotty mess.
Generally, you can stretch out your wash cycle with curly hair to 1-2 times a week.
You may find it beneficial to adapt your washing routine to rinsing and conditioning alone for one of your wash days, and this is because the naturally drier texture of curls can absorb more of the natural oils that are produced by your scalp.
Essentially, your hair won't feel as ‘dirty’ as often as straight hair might.
The ends of your hair will tend to feel drier, though, so skipping the shampoo every now and then in favour of conditioning will help to hydrate your curls and allow them to form into a nicer shape when they are styled.
This is because moisture and hydration boosts the elasticity of your curl, which allows it to spring into its shape without frizzing.
Just note that it's very important to be gentle with your curly hair when washing or wetting it.
Be gentle on your strands by avoiding using your fingernails to scrub your hair – fingertips are a much gentler option that won't rough up your hair as much, or cause unnecessary frizz later.
In the shower, I recommend using a wide-tooth comb like the comb I designed for the Robe range. It has purposely wide-spaced teeth, which will ensure no tension on the hair when removing knots and tangles.
Combing your conditioner through your hair in the shower allows even distribution of the product from root to end, encouraging your natural curl formation to spring up into shape.
Using poor-quality combs and brushes can pull and stretch the strands of hair, resulting in weakening or even breakage – and then the arch-nemesis of curls: frizz.
I also recommend always following with a hydrating product after wetting or washing to seal the moisture into the hair.
The Robe leave-in treatment is extremely lightweight, so it won't weigh curls down, and the hydrolysed silk proteins boost the elasticity of the curls by keeping moisture molecules inside the hair shaft.
Adding a product like our leave-in will also ensure you don’t experience ‘shrinkage’ to your curls. This occurs when the hair shortens drastically upon drying due to moisture evaporating out of the hair.
When sleeping, I recommend using a soft scrunchie or claw clip to secure your curls on top of your head (pineapple style!). This ensures you won't wake up in a tangled mess in the morning, and that you’re not breaking or damaging your hair if you roll over during the night.
Products to Avoid
There are many harmful ingredients that you’ll want to avoid when choosing your hair care when it comes to curly textures.
Common ingredients like Sodium Laurel Sulphate, alcohols and silicones should be avoided if your goal is to have healthy, shiny curls.
Sulphates are very drying on the hair and can also irritate the scalp, which is why when I was developing Robe, I was adamant to avoid it at all costs.
We chose to use a lathering ingredient that is derived from coconuts, so it is not only natural and better for the scalp, it won't strip away natural oils like SLS does. It leaves the hair feeling soft and hydrated but also cleans incredibly effectively.
Silicones are the ingredients that smooth the hair and are cheap options for brands that want to give their customers instant ‘healthier’ hair –but are only coating the strands in a superficial way.
This coating actually builds up on the hair, preventing it from absorbing the essential oils that it needs to maintain health and hydration.
These products that contain silicone may feel like they're helping the hair initially, but in the end, are very harmful to all hair types.
I recommend using a clarifying shampoo on your hair if you’ve used products containing those ingredients, then opting for products that are sulphate and silicone-free.
Introducing Clean + Finish
Knowing from my experience as a hairdresser for many years (and servicing clients of all hair types and textures!) I had a very different approach to recommending products to clients with curly hair.
So when it came to developing the Robe range, I was able to apply that knowledge and experience to making a product that would help to maintain the health and quality of curly hair.
Understanding that Curly hair doesn’t need to be cleansed as often (and that over-washing can lead to frizz and fluffiness) I developed a unique 3-in-1 formula that cleanses, treats and texturises the hair in one step.
Its non-lathering formula means that the hair is nourished deeply from root to tip but feels clean without any signs of frizz or dryness to the hair afterwards.
The in-built texturisers deposit small amounts of rice starch into the strands, that add volume and encourage the natural wave or curl to form while the hair dries, without the need to add any other curl-enhancing product.
From my experience, I found that most of my curly-haired clients would dread hair wash day, because it would take a day or two for the frizz and fluffiness of the clean hair to settle back down into a manageable form.
With this in mind, I balanced out the rice texturisers with macadamia seed oil, to ensure the hair would dry optimally on day 1, but with the results they would normally have to wait to get on day 2!
The Clean + Finish is a great product for anyone with dry hair, but exceptional for use on curly and wavy hair types because of the unique texturising formula.
Success Stories & Reviews
Since launching our Clean + Finish in July, we have had too many positive reviews and reports on people loving the results they find from switching to a more conditioning, sulphate-free product:
If you’re someone who’s recently experienced a change in their hair texture, or who has never been properly educated on the reason we need to approach how we treat and look after curly hair, I hope this article has helped and given you some insight to the ‘How’ and the ‘Why it is so different to straighter hair textures!
If you have curly or wavy hair, and feel like you’ve tried every product under the sun and still haven't found ‘The One’, I encourage you to think outside the box and try a sample of our Clean + Finish.
We have sachets available now on the website, to allow you to trial the truly unique formula for yourself. You won't be disappointed!
And if nothing else, you’ve shaved time off your hair routine by using a product that does 3 steps in 1!