We’re always fascinated to learn about what people do to their hair, and just how much time they put into it. Our junior beauty writer Ava Welsing-Kitcher explains every single thing she does to her curly hair in a week, without holding back any of the details.
Anyone with textured hair knows how much time, effort, and conditioner goes into its upkeep. As more and more of us are increasingly embracing our natural curls and coils, our hair routines are expanding in ways we hadn’t anticipated, including regular use of words like “plopping” and “slippage”.
After years of straightening, weaves, and dodgy dye jobs, my curly hair routine has gone through countless remodels and updates depending on what I’m trying to achieve and whether external forces like humidity and bleach have forced me to pay extra attention to my strands. Since becoming a beauty journalist, the floodgates have fully opened when it comes to products; I get to test brands I’d never be able to afford on my own, and can properly evaluate what’s worth the money in comparison to the high street brands I always used to rely on.
My hair routine from start to finish is incredibly detailed and could have been a book, if I’m honest - and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s been 10 years in the making since I first discovered natural hair tutorials on YouTube, and researching the hair routines of girls with hair like mine is still a regular Sunday night pastime. I’m constantly learning new tricks, some of which turn out to be groundbreaking. I know it’s just hair, but it’s never really
Carry on scrolling for my start-to-finish process, which I’ve learned to really look forward to and indulge in. Despite the fact that its takes forever.
Pre-washing curly hair
My hair used to be too dry and damaged to just jump into the shower and start lathering up. Even though I used sulphate-free shampoo, the lengths of my hair still couldn’t handle it without some kind of protective barrier from the suds. Now, my hair’s strengthened so much that I can go right in without a pre-treatment, but I still like to go back to my old method when my hair’s feeling dry or post-colouring.
I’ll either sleep with an oil treatment or hair butter, then wash my roots only the next day and let the shampoo water wash the oil away. If I don’t have a full night to let the oil soak in, then I’ll wet my hair in the shower and coat it with conditioner before shampooing.
I used to sleep in hair masks overnight, but I started experiencing a thing called hygral fatigue. It happens when hair is over-moisturised as a result of being wet and smothered in conditioning products for too long, with the cuticle swelling up too much to the point where it weakens over time.
My hair felt mushy and limp, but it bounced back once I stopped overnight masking and started using more protein treatments (which add strength and structure to the hair). Oils work best to protect the hair and condition the scalp, but most are too heavy for me to use as a styling product so I use them as armour against shampoo instead.
Best pre-shampoo treatments for curly hair
Floral and Curl Hair Flower Garden Hair Butter
With a blend of shea, almond and coconut oils, plus antioxidant hibiscus and camellia extracts for aiding hair growth, this rose-scented butter is a treat for strands and scalp alike.
I like to very lightly spritz my hair with a leave-in, then seal it all in with a generous 50p dollop of this butter before going to sleep.
Righteous Roots RX Hair Oil
I’ve gone into more detail about how great this scalp oil is for hair growth in another article, but I’ve started using a little bit all over my hair before bed a day or two before shampooing as well.
Just a 20p-sized amount on your strands and a few tiny squirts on my scalp is enough to lightly coat – not soak – everything, plus I don’t need to protect my pillow. As well as my scalp, I massage my actual hair as well to really work it in – and I think it really likes it.
Washing curly hair
Are you exhausted yet? That was just the prelude! Onto the real action. I’ll wash with one of the below shampoos once a week, and use a co-wash midway through the week. I grab my Briogeo scalp massager and really work the shampoo/co-wash in, using gentle circle motions. The feeling of this cannot be delegated to mere words, so please just go and buy one, whatever your hair type.
I rinse it all out (with slightly-warmer-than-lukewarm water) then apply lots of conditioner, detangle with my Magic Star Comb (it’s seamless so doesn’t snag hair) and tie my hair in a loose bun using a plastic clip so as not to pull my hair through a hairband while its at its weakest when wet.
I’ll go about my business washing my body and face while my hair marinates a little bit. Fun fact: conditioners are very different to hair masks in structure, with the former coating the hair and adding shine, and the latter penetrating the hair cortex thanks to its smaller molecule size. So, I don’t really sweat it if my conditioner doesn’t stay on for ages – it’s a two-minute man and that makes my life easier.
I’ve religiously rinsed my conditioner out with cold water for years, but I attended a Cult Beauty hair event last year in which hair experts Anabel Kingsley and Kevin Murphy said that it doesn’t nothing for closing the cuticle and eliminating frizz – only an acidic product that matches the pH of hair can do that. I switched to lukewarm water and have barely noticed a difference, and I don’t exactly miss having ice cold water cascade down my back and bum.
If I’ve used a co-wash, I won’t follow up with a mask – but if I’ve shampooed, I need to give my hair some extra love. I’m somewhat of a hair mask obsessive (I have about 12 that take up an entire bathroom shelf) and I rotate between them depending on what my hair needs. I’ll keep it in for ten minutes to a an hour depending on how much time I have, with a shower cap to make it a bit steamy up in there.
Also, its worth noting here that I try and avoid silicones as much as possible – while they coat the hair and give it temporary shine, they can build up and cause dullness and breakage, and can only be removed with sulphate shampoos which are harsh on the hair. Almost everything in this article is silicone-free, and if I do slip up I make sure to follow with an apple cider vinegar rinse, massaging about a cup of it into my scalp and strands to slough away build-up and let me hair bounce freely.
Best shampoos for curly hair
Equi Botanics Baobab Moisturising Sulfate-free Cleanser
Right. Everything by Equi Botanics is nothing short of a total hair holy grail. It’s so hard to pick one product, but their shampoo stands out amongst others for nourishing my scalp and lengths with aloe vera and almond oil, while foaming up nicely and leaving a delicious lavender and peppermint scent.
Big Hair Clean SLS Free Shampoo
Everything I said about Equi Botanics applies to Big Hair, too. I love the mask and leave-in, but this shampoo is my go-to for cleansing and giving off the most delicious botanical orange scent that brightens my day.
I also really love anything from Maui Moisture when it comes to shampooing – they’re really affordable, available in Boots, and use aloe vera instead of water for serious hydration.
Best co-washes for curly hair
Anita Grant Curl Cleansing Co-Wash Conditioner
The dark glass bottle makes me feel like I’m using something extra special on my hair, and the formula is light and creamy enough to nourish without weighing my hair down.
I give this more of a thorough massage into my scalp to make sure the rosemary and mint are stimulating my follicles.
If you want a bigger bottle (you need heftier dollops of co-wash than you’d use for shampoo), then Briogeo have a great one that never seems to run out.
Probably the most famous cleansing conditioner around, New Wash promises to wean you off foamy sulphate shampoos forever. I do love how clean (not stripped) my hair feels afterwards, but you need quite a few pumps to get there and it’s pricier than other ones that do almost as good of a job.
It works really well on all hair types, though, unlike a lot of other co-washes which were created with black hair in mind and can weigh straight or fine hair down.
Best conditioners for curly hair
Holy Curls Conditioner
This strikes the perfect balance between lightweight moisture and heavy-duty conditioning. A 50p-sized dollop for each half of the hair is perfect, and it does its job in just minutes, allowing me to comb through my curls with enough slip.
Briogeo Be Gentle Be Kind Matcha + Apple Superfood Conditioner
This smells like artisanal cloudy apple juice with a dash of lemon and ginger. It wraps around my hair like a hug, and imparts such a great shine which is probably thanks to the fruit acids flattening my cuticle down. I’ve always wanted to be one of those girls who emit a waft of their shampoo when they flick their hair about, and this scent comes out to play when I use my afro pick about five times a day, which is better in my eyes.
Best hair masks for curly hair
Dizziak Deep Conditioner
If I could only use one hair mask for the rest of my life, it would be this one. I’ve pretty much waxed poetic on another article entirely dedicated to it, thanks to it bringing my damaged hair back from the brink a few times.
I like to let my hair feast on this for most of a day, making it the backbone of my Sunday routine. And it works for all hair types, people! Get it! Get it, now!
Davines Love Curl Conditioner
I’ve only just realised now that it’s actually a conditioner, but I’ve been getting amazing hair by using it as a mask, so let’s whack it in this section. The tub is so cute, it smells like bergamot, and injects proteins and healthy fats into my strands as well as vitamin E and almond extract.
Olaplex No 3 Hair Perfector
Everybody who dyes or heats their hair up needs this in their arsenal. It’s a tiny bottle for its price, but you only need one to reap the benefits.
After thorough research on YouTube, I’ve learned that the best way to use it is once a week after a dye job, and then whenever hair loses its bounce after that. It repairs broken bonds in the hair and you can feel and see the results instantly.
Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen and Restore Treatment Masque
This is such a hero for any kind of processed hair. While it doesn’t make hair gleam right away, it works silently to repair and restore with castor oil and keratin. Sometimes I massage it into my scalp to test its hair growth claims but not often enough to see any results.
Wow, 1,904 words in already. I hope you’re still with me. I bring all my styling products into the shower. Why? When your hair’s curly and fine like mine, applying everything to sopping wet hair helps lock in moisture and also dilutes the products, so you don’t get crispy, greasy curls.
I flip my head upside down, shake it around a bit to let the curls reform, then re-wet with water. I use a 10p squeeze of leave-in conditioner, add a splash of water, mix it up between my palms and use my hands to smooth it down my hair like I’m praying. I don’t rake my fingers through the curls, as this breaks them up too much and they dry in a strange shape because my hair is quite fine (I’ve seen amazing results on thicker hair by doing this, just not mine). I do exactly the same routine with a 5p coin-sized amount of gel, and then re-wet my hands and scrunch the product in properly. If I hear a squelching noise, I know I’m doing it right.
Then I carefully wrap (not twist) my hair in a Willow and Mane towel and let it dry for a few minutes to absorb excess product and water – any longer, and my ends dry out. If I want tighter curls, I’ll flip my head to either side and scrunch upwards with the towel.
Doing this all upside down hurts my back slightly, but it gives me the best volume and causes the curls to form from my scalp, rather than having straight roots and curly ends. It sounds like a fair trade to me! When I take the towel off, the bottom layer of my hair goes into a weird shape from being stretched out so I gently comb it out with my fingers and twirl them around my finger to reform the curls.
I let it air dry almost always, mainly because diffusing is takes such effort (she says, after detailing a hair routine longer than the Odyssey). My hair doesn’t like being diffused straight away, so I let it dry for twenty minutes before draping my hair section by section across the diffuser. I don’t like diffusing in the typical way (pushing the hair up to the scalp) as it makes my ends look frayed. I flip my hair all around and never leave the diffuser on any section for more than maybe fifteen seconds.
When it’s almost dry, I take the diffuser off, switch the air from warm to cold and from full blast to medium, then blitz the dryer all over my roots to amp up the volume. I stretch the bottom layers out a bit to add some length, although it reverts back to its normal state within the hour. This makes me look like a lion and I love it – the bigger and fluffier the hair, the better. Thanks to all my masking and styling products, I still get killer definition. I should really diffuse more as it gives me my dream hair, but I’m worried about damage and I really can’t be bothered most days. I use the Dyson hairdryer and diffuser – it’s my dream hairdryer with the best attachments for smoothing flyways or stretching out with a comb pick.
I sleep with a Silke hair turban, then dampen my hair in the morning with a mix of water and a squeeze of leave-in shaken together in a spray bottle. I let it dry on the way to work or quickly blitz with the dryer.
Best styling products for curly hair
Khali Min Clean Cream
Female-founded and hailing from Egypt and the UK, this brand takes minimal formulations seriously. Silicone-free and free from artificial fragrance, this leave-in uses rosehip and broccoli seed oils, murumuru and aloe vera to add nourishment with a lightweight finish. It’s impossible to use too much of this, even on my fine curls.
Bouclème Curl Defining Gel
My hair’s left shiny, bouncy and defined without being weighed down at all whenever I use this on its own, and the cream works wonders as well.
Herbivore Sea Mist Texturising Coconut Salt Spray
Most salt sprays dry my hair out, but this one has aloe and coconut water to reverse that. Just a few spritzes on damp hair yields the most beautiful and bountiful curls when dry, and it contains the same amount of Pacific sea salt that’s in the actual Pacific sea.
Imagine your curls after a beach day, but more nourished and with a divine coconut, vanilla and lime scent. I’m obsessed with this.
I’ve always dyed my hair myself using Bleach London kits, but since placing my hair in the hands of carefully selected pros, I don’t see myself going back to DIY unless I’m in a pinch. I visited the amazing Zoe Irwin, creative director of the London John Frieda salons a couple of years ago to correct my DIY job and learned so much. She understands textured hair so incredibly well, and lovingly paints it with such attention to detail with a really keen eye for placement and tone. Rather than try to ice warmer colours out of ethnic hair like many other colourists do, she maintains the integrity of the hair post-bleach and brings out wonderful hues. I’ve since visited Alisha Dobson at Bleach London who’s given my curls such beautiful beachy dimension by hand painting tiny sections of each curl rather than bigger sections, as is the case for balayaging straight hair.
When I colour my own hair, I paint the bleach on curl by curl and then follow up with a deep blue toning mask from Davines for an hour. This got my hair to a lovely honey shade over two years of biannual bleaching, but as my hair got lighter, I got white streaks where the blue worked a little too well. The answer to that is using a softer shade of pale lavender or purple, even mixing the Davines with another hair mask. I still cut my own hair, trimming the ends curl by curl to keep the shape and not lose too much length.
Although I’m not trained at all (unless you count the University of YouTube), I sometimes do curly hair cuts and dye jobs from home and they’ve all been really successful. I’m really happy to be able to put everything I’ve learned to good use on other people, transforming the way they see their hair through a colour shift or a revamped routine.
Despite getting creaky fingers and nervously watching the word count of this climb higher and higher, I really hope this helps anyone with their hair routines in some way. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
Main image: Ava Welsing-Kitcher