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Cutting and Styling Tips for Curly Hair

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Feel overwhelmed every time a big head of curly hair sits down in your chair? Well you're not alone. Cutting curls seems to incite fear in many a talented stylist, but fear no more as we break down the top tips in cutting and styling for curly hair. 

1. Put Down the Shampoo!

Woman having hair rinsed
PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The biggest mistake I see people make when cutting for curly hair is beginning the service with a nice rough shampoo. Nothing frizzes or fluffs up curls more than a good sudsing. Using conditioner like shampoo will do the trick and you won't have to worry about roughing up that sensitive cuticle. Explain to them that dirt and oil will adhere to the conditioner and rinse out leaving you feeling clean but without the glassy feeling that shampoo can leave behind.

In general, I tell all of my curly haired clients to not use shampoo more than once a week. They'll see a huge difference in their curls once they start laying off the stuff.

2. Layers are a Curls Best Friend

A lot of curly haired clients come to me with barely any layers at all. They've either been botched in the past or they're afraid that if you remove too much weight, then their hair will be big and puffy. On the contrary, if you don't remove enough weight, then you will be left with the dreaded triangle head.

Curly hair needs layers to move. I usually cut vertical layers on my clients and then go back in, cutting individual curls to break it up and give the hair some movement. This technique breaks up the layering so the hair doesn't have any strong or hard lines in it.

3. Don't Shred Those Ends!

Nothing destroys curly hair more than too much texturizing. I've had many a curly haired client be completely traumatized by a cut-happy stylist that couldn't put down the thinning shears.

Curly hair needs weight removed from it's bulk, but the weight should never be removed from the ends. Curly hair needs the ends to be heavy so the curl can take shape. When you over-texturize curly hair, you disturb the curl pattern and end up with frizz.

4. Mind the Length

When cutting for curly hair, always remember that the length will shrink up more than expected. Unfortunately curly haired clients tend to go longer in-between cuts which means their ends usually need more off than they're willing to part with. Explain exactly how much length you will be removing and always air on the side of less is more. Some of my clients gain as much as 5 inches in length when their hair is wet and it can be easy to get carried away if you're not careful.

5. Rewet Before you Style

We already know that curly hair frizzes up when the curl pattern is disturbed, so why would you style curly hair after it has been cut and combed without reshaping the curl pattern first??

The easiest way to reshape the curl is by rewetting the hair. I usually take my clients back to the shampoo bowl, or if they have fine hair, I'll just spray them down at the chair after we're done cutting and before we start styling. Once you've wet them down, put down that comb! We'll be using our fingers from here on out.

6. Choosing the Right Products for Curly Hair

Products companies target curly haired people by playing on the fact that they're desperate to find something that works. They know we'll try anything if it promises to banish frizz, but often times you just end up with too many products.

The only two products I use on myself (I have huge curly hair) and my clients are conditioner and gel. You don't need anything else!

7. Properly Applying the Product

Now that we've figured out what products to use, we have to learn how to use them. You know how curly hair looks great wet and then dries into a frizzy mess? Well, the water is what's weighing the hair down and gluing it together - When the hair dries, the water evaporates and you lose that adhesive, causing the hair to separate and frizz.

By leaving a regular conditioner in the hair, the water can evaporate but the conditioner doesn't, leaving you with perfectly defined and fizz-free curls.

If your client is worried that their hair will feel greasy, explain to them that conditioner goes inside the cuticle and doesn't stay on top of it, so they shouldn't feel it in their hair.

That being said, if your client has very fine hair, it would be a good idea to substitute regular conditioner for a leave-in.

8. Don't Touch!

Now that you've applied conditioner with your fingers and scrunched in the gel, you can either air-dry (which usually gives the best results) or dry with a diffuser. The secret to drying curly hair without frizz is to keep your hands off of it until the hair is completely dry. That means no scooping the hair up into the diffuser or scrunching it with your hands!

Once the hair is at least 80% dry, you can go in and shake out the hair to release the curl and give it some volume.

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