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Playing to Type
Good hair? Bad hair? There's no such thing—it's all great hair. Getting to know your strands is key to keeping your mane at its healthy best. So whether you wear your hair curly and are trying to fight frizz, or are transitioning from relaxed and rediscovering your natural texture, here's how to identify your curls and coils.
CURLY DEFINING IT
Think bouncy medium ringlets and tight corkscrew spirals. The looser curl pattern is not as prone to breakage as kinkier, tighter coils. Individual strands usually have a raised cuticle (microscopic outer layer of the hair shaft). Why does that matter? The "open" cuticle causes moisture loss, making hydration crucial. "Whether your hair is fine, medium or thick, the way it looks [flat, frizzy, dry] and how it feels [crunchy, rough, slick] will dictate what it needs," says Anthony Dickey, founder and creative director of Hair Rules products and salon.
CARING FOR IT
Curls can lack consistent shape throughout the head, so a curl cream or refresher that helps define shape is essential. Curls are very temperamental—apply too much styling product and you weigh down your tresses; too little can draw and kink them. Heat styling should be gentle to fight frizz, says Dickey: "Set blow-dryers and diffusers on cool."
Because your hair is pliable, you have many style choices. Stretch out your curls with a wide-tooth comb and make them wavy, or play up volume by using your fingers to fluff them.
FOR CURLY HAIR
"Traditional shampoos leave hair brittle," says Dickey, who recommends no-suds cleansers for dry and coarse hair.
Hair Rules Daily Cleansing Cream Moisturizing No Suds Shampoo ($33, hairrules.com).
KeraCare Natural Textures Defining Custard for Curls and Coils ($15, avlon.com).
Miss Jessie's Crème de la Crème Conditioner ($16, missjessies.com).
WHAT'S YOUR TEXTURE?
Your hair texture will be fine, medium or coarse, depending on the diameter of the strand. Pluck out a strand and use the cheat sheet below, found in The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care (Saja Publishing) by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy. (If your hair is relaxed, you'll need two inches of new growth to test.)
Your hair is...
FINE if strands are translucent when held up to the light and are hard to see against a contrasting background.
MEDIUM if you can see a bit of color and light going through the sample. When rolled between fingers, it feels like cotton thread.
COARSE if strands are easily spotted when held up against a white background and it feels wiry when rolled between your fingers.
KINKY DEFINING IT
If your hair pattern zigzags and your interlocking strands coil directly from the scalp, then you have kinky hair. The pattern can cause your hair length to shrink from wet to dry by as much as 75 percent. Soft like cotton, or wiry and extremely dry, your strands are densely packed, with little to no movement. Tightly coiled hair appears resilient, but that's not the case at all: This texture "is very fragile and prone to breaking because it tangles and tends to knot," explains Veronique Morrison, director of education at Mizani.
CARING FOR IT
"Very coily hair tends to look like a twisted ribbon. It's elliptical in shape, so every time it twists and turns it loses moisture," says Morrison. Because of this, it's difficult for the oils that the scalp secretes to reach your ends. As a result, your hair is naturally drier. Your recommended hair-care objective, then, is to keep hair from tangling and to prevent dryness. " You can't overcondition with this texture," says Dickey, who suggests cowashing hair (using a conditioner instead of a shampoo) in the shower. If your hair is supertight, he advises cowashing it twice a day. (We know it may sound like a lot, but give it a try.)
Because your hair is fragile, try protective styles like braids, cornrows, flat twists and temporary weaves.
FOR KINKY HAIR
Always refresh and moisturize your hair lavishly with a hydrating reviving spray.
Mizani True Textures Curl Balance Moisturizing Sulfate-Free Shampoo ($12, sleekhair.com).
SoftSheen-Carson Roots of Nature Remedies Mango Oil & Cupuacu ButterCurl Reviving Spray ($5.50, drugstores.com).
As I Am Naturally DoubleButter Cream Rich Daily Moisturizer ($16, asiamnaturally.com).