After years of of bad blow dries, crispy mousse and frizzy ends, Hannah Banks-Walker explains how a hair epiphany changed everything for the better.
My nearest city was 25 minutes away on the bus. At 15, I may as well have been en route to New York, such was the glamour and excitement I associated with escaping my small town – even just for a Saturday afternoon.
This fervent anticipation was also due to the fact that I was on my way to an extremely fancy (read: expensive) new hairdresser’s – which shall remain nameless – as part of a birthday present from my parents. Clutched in my sweaty (from the excitement, naturally) adolescent palm was a photograph of the seminal noughties artist – and Pied Piper to teenager girls the world over – Avril Lavigne. I hoped that I would walk into the hairdresser’s with my naturally fine, curly – sometimes frizzy – hair and emerge with the poker straight ‘do of an achingly cool sk8r girl. In my defense, it was 2005.
Thus began a decade of what I now know was a complete disaster for my hair. For it’s only now that I’ve even started to realise how to actually look after it – how to make its natural state look defined, hopefully quite good and not frizzy all the time – without resorting to The Avril, as absolutely nobody is calling it.
The curly hair epiphany
About a year ago, I suddenly had something of an epiphany: for years, people had cut my hair in the same way, chopping off the dead ends to make way for hopeful new strands before drying and coiffuring it until I resembled a bargain basement version of Kate Middleton (pre-wedding). I always hated it, rushing home to wash it all over again before letting it dry naturally.
But I just assumed that the human condition is programmed to resent change in any form – particularly when it comes to hair – so I continued to repeat this process every few months. The aforementioned epiphany occurred when, for the first time ever, a hairdresser dried my hair with a diffuser, allowing me to leave the salon with fresh, bouncy curls that were far superior to anything I’d managed to achieve at home.
I felt more like myself, and vaguely ashamed of how subservient my feelings had become to my hair. But then, to paraphrase Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag, hair really is everything.
I started to actively pursue more information about curly hair. This is obviously quite difficult, as there is a multitude of different types of curls, from fine waves right through to afro hair, and so there is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach that is going to work.
Speaking to the curly hair experts
As hair maestro (and the man responsible for one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had) Luke Hersheson says: “I would be wary of anyone giving advice for curly hair routines. What I find is that everyone has their own mix of products that works for them so I think it’s really about finding your thing that really works for you. Every curly hair has its own pattern.”
While there are products that can – and do – work for different curls, Hersheson is adamant that it begins and ends with a great haircut. “Invest in a hair cut. A really, really good hair cut. Because curly hair can really come to life or be totally lost on the back of a really good shape. The cut can go such a long way – if you don’t have that as the foundation, no product is going to help.”
During the past couple of years, curls have experienced something of a renaissance, which has led to a number of salons and stylists offering bespoke services for curly hair of all types. This has been useful, not necessarily because I’ve had any particularly innovative new treatments but simply because it means that more hairdressers are becoming aware of the different needs of curls.
Larry King, for one, offers two services aimed specifically at curly hair, both of which are focussed on the cut and the drying process. “It’s surprising how few people know how to deal with their curls,” says King. “Hair training courses often don’t teach curly hair cuts or teach stylists about curls so definitely do your research and find someone good at cutting curls. Never let the hairdresser razor cut or use the thinning scissors as it’ll just add frizz – and ask them to cut it wet to dry so they can see the cut taking shape and remember to account for shrinkage.”
Hersheson agrees that the way in which hairdressing is taught isn’t necessarily conducive to dealing with curls: “British hairdressing is historically taught from a post-Vidal Sassoon generation where 90% of hair cuts are about geometry and symmetry and precision. Sadly, and I shouldn’t say this but I’m going to say it - the bulk of hairdressing hasn’t moved on hugely. The more progressive brands cut hair in a much more freehand way with more feeling about it. And actually, that lends itself brilliant to looser haircuts or curly hair – things that don’t all lie in a perfect position. So I suppose my advice is seek out people with the confidence and experience you need. I always think that people who pick up hair and chop it without holding a comb are the people that will be great at cutting – it’s very visual, rather than labouring over something that is very graphic and precise.”
The routine that works
Unfortunately, a lot of curly hair care is, by nature, trial and error. I personally find that a lot of curly products don’t work for me because my hair is so fine, so is weighed down very easily. If you do have thicker curls or afro hair, however, you’re going to want a much denser product that will actually give results. “The one thing that really does deliver is serum,” says Hersheson. “For fine hair, you only need half a drop to take away frizz. And you definitely want to avoid things like mousses, which will just make your hair crunchy and crispy. But with thicker curls, those products can be brilliant.”
Ultimately, all curly hair is different, so it really is about finding what works for you. What is clear, however, is that there are certain tips and tricks that you can try, regardless of what kind of curl you have. Invest in a great haircut, first and foremost, and also learn how to dry your hair properly. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s something I’ve only just discovered can have a huge impact on the way curls form. “Drying it on a low heat for a slower dry will give you a more defined curl,” advises Hersheson. “If you touch it too much and blast it with the hairdryer you’ll just take out all the curl.” Similarly, King suggests you take your time: “Drying it slowly will make it last for days – and it’ll get better and better.”
While I may have thankfully left the Lavigne days behind me, I haven’t quite become an expert at dealing with my own hair. Obviously, in my own imagination, I have the curls of a Nineties Julia Roberts. In reality, I have fine, wispy hair that some days looks curlier than others, is prone to frizz and sometimes goes so flat on the top it looks like I’ve stuck it down with sellotape. Which, incidentally, is something my own mother actually did in the 70s following an ill-advised perm – but that’s another story.
Five curly hair products to try
John Frieda Frizz Ease Dream Curls Curl Defining Créme, £6.99
While I remain a product cynic, I have to admit that this is by far the best thing I’ve tried on my hair. I only use a pea-sized amount on wet hair, which I then scrunch and leave to dry naturally. My curls are more defined, without being crispy. It also works on all sorts of curls – Rochelle Humes is the face of the Dream Curls collection and she told me that she really does use the Curl Creme every day.
Boucleme Curl Conditioner, £17
I’ve used most of the products in the Curls Redefined range and, while they’re all good, this really brought my hair back to life. I hadn’t realised the importance of hydration for curly hair – the thicker or coarser your curls, the more moisture they need – and this really delivers on that front without weighing hair down.
Larry King A Social Life For Your Hair, £23
I use this on days when my hair turns to frizz. I found it added more definition to curls and gave it a lovely, glossy finish.
Aquis Hair Turban, £30
This makes a huge difference to the way curly hair dries. I’ve found that it both reduces frizz and ensures my curls are defined and bouncy, which has made my morning routine infinitely easier and less of a faff.
Sisley Precious Hair Care Oil, £75
I find that the ends of my hair can go so dry, they end up looking frazzled and damaged really quickly. I started using a tiny amount of this oil on wet ends before drying my hair with a diffuser and it made a world of difference. It’s expensive, but I would say it’s definitely worth it.
Main image: Unsplash