Friday, April 6, 2012

Could your straight hair be wavy?

I had wanted wavy hair for years. All my life, really. I had straight hair (I thought), and I really wanted slightly (ever so slightly) wavy hair, the kind of hair I saw in (don't take this the wrong way) Victoria's Secret ads. I could sometimes get it to happen if I slept on braids, but usually that made it too tight. I would also try perms — I tried salon perms, and home perms, to no avail. I kept trying to convince the stylists I wanted looser curls, and it would always end up so kinky.

(Wait. Victoria's Secret models? Looser? Kinky? What kind of post is this? I shudder to think what Google searches will land people here.)

My pictorial hair history:

Me at Mikko's age: Had you ever wondered where my boys got their cheeks from? Wonder no longer.
Hair brushed straight, though you can see it's doing the flip up on one side and the flip under on the other.

Third grade. After a traumatic haircut at 4 years old (soon after the previous picture was taken), I refused to let scissors near my hair for years to come. The length weighed things down as well.

Senior picture, still straight.

Early in our marriage, with my standard bob that I had to blow dry smooth every morning.

With one of my many attempts to get loose waves from a perm. Can I say that all I can stare at in this pre-breastfeeding picture is my (relative lack of) boobs? Oh, the days when I could buy a blazer that buttoned!

2005. Another year, another perm attempt.

After that last home perm several years ago, using the biggest non-perm curlers I could find, the wave pattern was still too tight for my goals. I thought, Well, at least I can figure out how best to care for it while it's curly and style it to look decent. So I sheepishly checked the book Curly Girl: The Handbook, by Lorraine Massey, out of the library, sure someone would stop me, considering I was fake curly, with my perm and all.

One major theme of the book is that curly hair is prone to dryness and damage and it needs to be treated gently. I knew that applied to permed hair, so I decided to go with the recommendations. Massey recommends cutting out any shampoos with harsh ingredients like sulfates, and any conditioners and styling products with silicones that coat the hair shaft, blocking moisture and necessitating harsh shampoos to strip them off to start the damaging process all over again. I got rid of my shampoo and started using just conditioner, as she recommended, both to wash and to condition. I kept daydreaming, Wouldn't it be funny if, when my perm grows out, it turns out my hair was wavy all along, but I just wasn't treating it well enough to have known that?

Well: It was!

Color me surprised. It took me awhile to figure out that my perm had in fact grown out, because my hair just … kept … being wavy.

Like so. (I am not the one on the right.)

Now, I can't promise your hair is secretly curlier, but here were some clues that mine was ripe for the transformation:
  • It frizzed when it was humid, some strands forming tight little ringlets around my face.
  • When I tried confining it into a blow-dried bob, one side would always want to flip up and one would want to flip under. A lot of people with secretly wavy hair think they have just unruly straight hair.
  • I had a kid with curly hair. Since hair texture is genetic, simple explanations of the gene most responsible for curl inheritance state that the only way to have a curly-haired (CC) or wavy-haired (Cs) child is for the parents to have either wavy (Cs) or curly (CC) hair themselves, since straight (ss) for both parents would yield only a straight-haired child.

Granted, some hair transformations can come about because of age, texture changes (Mikko's is getting straighter as it changes over from baby hair and gets ever thicker), and hormonal changes, like adolescence or pregnancy. However, mine changed over toward wavy at no particular milestone, and I've been able to prove that it wouldn't be wavy if I didn't keep coaxing it out. It's like Stealth Hair.

So I joyously embraced my newly discovered waves and worked with the texture. My hair's much happier now that it can just be itself, and my haircare is a lot easier, too.

I am the one on the right. The lovely Anktangle Amy is on the left.

Here's my haircare routine, adapted from my own experimentation and from Curly Girl, the site and CurlTalk forums, and tips at JessiCurl, a product line I found through these other resources. (Stay tuned for a giveaway — they agreed to one! Whee!)

If you have straight hair and have wondered if it could be wavy, or you have wavy hair and wonder if it could be curly, here I am to tell you: Maybe! You could give the following techniques a try and see what you uncover!


  • I wash my hair every 3-4 days.

    Don't freak out on me; I will whip out my Dirty Hippie card if I need to. I find that now I don't strip the oils from my hair with harsh shampoos that it doesn't get greasy again as quickly. I mean, some of that is my age as well, but I still have acne, so I know the greasies are still a possibility with me.

  • I usually wash my hair only with a gentle conditioner.

    This, in curly-girl terms, is called conditioner washing, or co-washing. It's a no-shampoo or low-'poo routine, but it's still using a haircare product, whereas in the green world, no-'poo is usually synonymous with using baking soda and apple cider vinegar in place of conventional products. (I experimented recently with that, and with using just water, so I will bring you those stories at another time!)

    How to co-wash:

    1. Get your hair and scalp wet.
    2. Squirt some conditioner into your palm. I've mostly been using Giovanni 50:50 Balanced Hydrating-Calming Conditioner. You'll have to experiment with the amount you need. I usually need about the size of a quarter to start with.
    3. Rub it around to coat your fingertips with it, then transfer the conditioner to your scalp, trying to get under your hair to really rub it into your skin with the pads of your fingers.
    4. Use the pads of your fingers for friction to loosen up any grime and dead skin (yum! ha ha). If you're feeling dirty at this point (if your hair was especially greasy, or you exercised hard or gardened or went swimming in chlorine the day before or something), you can do a rinse before the next step. If not, you can just let the conditioner sit on your scalp. I find it works better that way to give it time to loosen things up before the final rinsing. Conditioner's like shampoo in that it cuts grease and cleans hair, but it's gentler, so it takes a bit longer to work.
    5. Squirt some more conditioner into your palm, a quantity like a couple quarters or even more, depending on your hair's length, thickness, and dryness. Gently smooth it through the length of your hair. If your scalp gets greasy too quickly with this regimen, you might want to (a) rinse the conditioner off your scalp without letting it sit and (b) apply lots of conditioner from the mid-shaft of your hair to the ends only. For myself, I apply conditioner to all my hair, roots to tips, and I have no problems with it being weighed down. This might also depend on what conditioner you use. At any rate, this is the moisturizing part, so be sure to really coat all the strands you want with the conditioner. Goop it on. More is better.
    6. Cover your hair with an oh-so-stylish shower cap (come on, you know you've always wanted to rock one of those things! <--if I can persuade you to click on just one link, it's gotta be this one), and continue with your other shower ablutions (washing your body, shaving, whatever). The steaminess under the cap will help your hair lock in the conditioning.

    7. When your shower's nearly over, remove the cap, and comb through your silky-soft locks with a wide-tooth comb. I do mean wide-tooth. I don't mean a regular comb that you turn to the kinda-wide-tooth end. I mean one of the dippy looking combs with the huge spaces between the teeth. Get one of those, and just keep it in your shower. If you're prone to an itchy scalp, make sure you drag those teeth nice and firmly over your scalp to get up any loose skin. You likely won't have any tangles after bathing your hair in conditioner for so long, but now's the time to make sure. If your hair is wavy or curly, this is also when dead hairs are apt to (finally) fall out, so just collect them and stick 'em to the wall of the shower for disposal after you get out. (Well, that's what I do, anyway. Saves on unclogging the drain later!)

    8. Now rinse. You don't need to rinse out absolutely every smidgen of conditioner, particularly from the ends of your hair. You can let some remain for leave-in moisture and frizz control. However, if your hair's been looking limp or greasy, try rinsing more rather than less. (I just want to say one little thing about frizz: It's gotten an undeservedly universal bad rap, but I'm not anti-frizz in general; I think some people can really rock a haloed look. I find my hair tends to frizz unevenly, which bothers me but might not bother you.)

    9. Occasionally, I do a deep conditioning. I used to make sure I did it once a week; now I'm lazier about it and do one if I've recently swum in chlorine or colored my hair or just feel like it. If you're hair needs the extra moisture, then make room for this. You can use a stronger conditioner (like something with shea butter or lots of coconut oil), put oil on directly (coconut, olive, jojoba, or avocado are good bets), or leave your conditioner on for longer, even overnight — or combine the suggestions! (To rinse oil out of your hair, you'll likely need a little shampoo to cut the grease.) I usually put some heavier conditioner in and then take a longer shower than usual, such as if I'm shaving my legs pre-swimsuit season. (It's like spring cleaning! Did I mention the Dirty Hippie part?)

    I feel like that took a lot longer to write about than to do. It really is easy, and it cuts down on the products you need.
  • I occasionally use a mild shampoo.

    Some wavies find they need to shampoo, or low-'poo, every time they wash their hair, or every other time, or more regularly is what I'm saying. Low-'poo means using a shampoo without sulfates and other harsh ingredients, something mild that will cleanse without stripping. If my hair's been feeling limp, my scalp's feeling itchy, I've been using too many styling products lately, or I've been swimming in chlorine, I'll usually do a quick scalp wash with shampoo. I don't bother washing my hair with the shampoo unless I really feel I need to. I just let any suds flow from my scalp down the strands and call it good.


  • I comb my hair with a wide tooth comb, while it is wet and saturated with conditioner.

    I reiterate this here, just to point out that I do not comb it at other times, unless I don't care if it stays wavy looking. You want wave or curl? Ditch the brushing and combing, except when you're in the shower, unless you're planning to rewet your hair after the brushing or combing.
  • I apply gel when it is soaking wet.

    Immediately after stepping out of the shower, I squeeze a dime-size amount of product into my hand, rub it between my palms, and then smooth it over and through my strands, scrunching it into its wave formation as I go. You'll need to experiment with the amount of product you use; I find too much makes me look greasy too quickly. Some people will need to run it over and under the hair but not finger comb it; I find I can finger comb without disrupting the wave pattern too much as long as it's still soaking wet when I do it.


  • I scrunch it with a microfiber towel.

    I get the drips out by gently scrunch scrunch scrunching the waves up toward my head with a microfiber detailing towel that I found in the auto section of Target. It's soft and the right size, and it wicks the moisture away without adding frizz. Score.

    Terry cloth towels and rubbing your hair? Big no-nos when you're trying to persuade curls to form.

    I tilt my head toward the side I'm scrunching to let it hang naturally as I'm gently scrunching out the extra moisture. There's a good video showing the technique on Jessicurl's YouTube channel.

    Some people like "plunking" their hair into a towel or t-shirt and letting it dry, or mostly dry, while up on their heads. I think that technique might work better for beringleted curlies, because I find my hair dries kind of unevenly curled and bedheady when I try that. But you can give it a shot!
  • Then, I usually let it air dry.

    I stick a couple long alligator clips or big barrettes to boost volume at the roots — one straight back in the front, and one straight forward at the back, as if creating my own mini faux-hawk. It's a good look. I try to remember to take it out before I leave the house. Or, at least, before seeing anybody I know. If my hair still looks wet or crunchy after it's dried, I scrunch it to break up the gel and loosen the waves.
  • If I want more definition (or to be normal and go outside with non-wet hair), I blow dry with a diffuser.

    I use the Pixiecurl method for diffusing hair: I cup the portion of hair I'm working on into the diffuser and scrunch the whole thing up to my scalp, then turn the hair dryer on hot. Once my scalp begins feeling too warm, I switch it to cold. Once that cools things down, I switch back to hot, and back to cold again, and so on, until (a) it's dry or (b) I get bored. I always end the routine on cold, though, to set it. I then turn the air off and carefully pull the dryer away. I repeat the process with the second clump of hair, and so on, until (a) my whole head is dry or (b) I'm really, really bored. I find that if I've started the drying process, my hair will take over and become the rest of the way dry on its own with a minimum of fuss or frizz. This is not the case if I'm trying to dry my hair straight, but drying my hair wavy is much more forgiving (of boredom).
  • I leave it alone while it's drying.

    If you touch or play with your hair as it's drying, it disrupts the curl pattern. Leave it alone. Seriously. Don't touch.


  • For second-day hair, if I want waves, I finger comb, wet, gel, and scrunch.

    If I brush or comb it for real, I have to get it pretty wet to restore some wave, so I try to leave it alone if possible. I have an old hairspray squirt bottle that I've filled with Lorraine Massey's recipe of purified water and a few drops of lavender essential oil that I use to refresh the wave and calm frizz. I also use a light spray gel if needed to add a little control without crunchiness. I then scrunch the hair up from the ends toward my scalp and let it air dry. If I've gotten it really wet, I put the root clips back in as it dries.
  • If I want straighter hair, I brush.

    If I want my hair to be straighter that day, or if it doesn't matter (such as when I'm pulling my hair back or up), there's an easy way to get there: brushing with a natural bristle brush. The natural bristles help distribute oil, so I use this method if I'm missing a shower I actually do need! If you have curlier hair, brushing will likely not straighten it as much as poof it. So beware.


  • Hair coloring can affect my hair but is usually all right.

    I haven't had many problems with typical hair coloring, whether conventional or natural (such as body-art-grade henna). Most conventional hair dye systems end on a deep conditioner, and henna is very conditioning as well, which can temporarily dampen waves, but I've found my hair bounces back from it within a few days. Other people's experiences may differ, of course, so consider how your hair reacts in general. Any chemical processing you do to hair (not quality henna, but other haircolor, relaxing, or perms) will make hair more porous. Since curly hair tends to be moisture-needy already, you will want to make sure you pamper your hair even more if you're a regular user of chemical processes. (The curlier your hair, the dryer it's likely to be naturally, particularly on the ends, since the oil has to move down your scalp and then loop-de-loop down each ringlet. With straight hair, and less wavy hair, the oil can distribute more easily, which is why wavy hair can sometimes be weighed down by products intended for very curly hair.)

    The only time I've negatively affected my curl pattern with haircolor was when I bleached it repeatedly in an experiment to see if I could turn my hair blond and then light brown. (Since my hair's dark brown, I had to bleach it first before I could make it the light brown I was going for, or else it would have lightened just to red.) I knew I was playing with fire when I was doing this, and I was willing at the time to cut my hair if it turned out really badly. There was a heart-stopping moment where my hair felt like stretchy taffy after an additional bleaching, and I thought it was all over, but it recovered enough to stay on my head until I cut it off a few months down the road. The wave pattern did become sort of frenetic, though — almost wavier, if anything, but kind of kinky and a lot frizzier, and irregular. So I'm pointing out here that you can affect your wave pattern through chemical processes, but you either need to have really sensitive hair already, or you need to do some high-damage processes to it. If that worries you, treat it nicely and leave it mostly alone.
Just for your entertainment, here I am having fun as a blonde:
Granted that this last shot is bedhead, but you can see how the wave pattern and texture are roughened by the chemical damage.
  • Treating my hair gently brings out the wave.

    So, yes, all the methods above are involved in this, but in addition I try to limit blow drying and hot iron or curling iron use, I keep coloring to a minimum, and for heaven's sake, I've stopped perming it. I also have experimented with sleeping on silk or satin, and with loosely braiding long hair at night, and it works wonders for keeping tangles and frizz at bay while I sleep. If your hair doesn't braid, you could also try a loose topknot bun in a srunchy. You can buy silk pillowcases or satin polyester pillowcases (only one is needed per head, or two if you want to switch off while one's being laundered). If you don't like the look of one shiny pillow on your bed, you can also buy satin sleep caps (find them cheaply at a drugstore or hair supply store). I have a couple of those, too. I have to admit, a cap's not exactly a sensual mood enhancer, but it works well for making you look good in the morning, at least! It also works well for protecting a set, such as if you're wanting to sleep in rag curls or braids put into damp hair, to enhance your curls in a low-damage way.
  • I stay away from certain ingredients.

    Some additives are death to curly hair: silicones (anything in the ingredients list ending in -cone), sulfates, parabens, mineral oil.
Just as proof that all this babying really does work to bring out the wave pattern, here's what my hair looked like after a professional stylist used conventional shampoo, conditioner, and styling products and tried to scrunch a wave:

See? Me, not so wavy, using conventional haircare methods. You gotta be super nice to coax a curl.

The funny ending to this story is that I found out the lightly wavy hair I so desperately wanted? Was on my head all along! Maybe I somehow intuited that it was my natural hair, and it just took twenty-some years to get to it.

If you're interested in pursuing your hair's natural texture, I highly recommend reading the book Curly Girl and giving the above techniques a try. You really have nothing to lose by treating your hair more gently.

And if you're wondering how to care for kids' hair, particularly the curly-headed cuties among your offspring, stay tuned for my Carnival of Natural Parenting article on Tuesday, where I talk about just that!

I really do believe that every hair type is beautiful, from the sleekest straight to the quirkiest curl. I love seeing the diversity of hair among the people I know, and I love it when people can embrace the beauty of what has been given to them. Here's hoping you enjoy your own natural hair, whatever it might be!

Products I like for wavy hair:

Resources for wavy hair:

What's your hair type, and how do you care for it? Has it ever changed on you or taken you by surprise?

Disclosure: I'm going to do a Jessicurl giveaway, but I contacted them because I already love their products and philosophy. This post is all my own creation and just because I love nattering about hair. See my full disclosure policy here.


Unknown said...

That woman is a freaking genius. She saved my hair! SERIOUSLY! I only use the Deva Curl products now, and my hair has never been happier. I do have to "wash" it every day (with water) but even if I blow dry it for a few days/weeks in a row (winter), my hair stylist is always shocked at how healthy it is. I haven't had split ends in YEARS. One of my goals for after this baby is born and things settle down is to locate some of the oils she recommends and make my own shampoo and conditioner.

Unknown said...

I, too, have wavy/curly hair in hiding. Someday (when I get a haircut) it'll be apparent, and I'll use that same photo of us to show what shampoo and length/weight does to MY hair. ;)

Looking forward to taking another stab at co-washing with these tips in mind and products in hand, and I'm excited for the giveaway!

Inder-ific said...

I feel like my hair got a lot wavier during my pregnancy with Joe and has stayed that way since. My friend who cuts my hair says that it has really been changed by childbearing - it's thicker, coarser, and wavier than it used to be. So weird!

I don't wash my hair very often (I shampoo twice a week) but I admit I am not the least bit interested in "no-poo" at this point in time. Maybe one day. I do use conditioner on Joe more than shampoo, to detangle his curls. But there's no doubt about where his curls came from - his dad. And dad washes his super curly hair like once a month or something (when I tell him it smells funny, basically). So I'm familiar with the curly hair routine, but my hair is clearly not as dry as that.

Katie said...

I'm a 2b or c.. leaning more towards c after pregnancies. I currently sport a pair of very fetching curls at the nape of my neck, gracing my everyday bun. Completely natural.

Jennifer said...

Very excited for the curly kids post. The wee lass has beautiful curls in the back and I'm so afraid to mess them up!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Elizabeth Fiorentino: I totally want to try the Deva Curl products; I've heard great things. Do you recommend anything in particular?

Lauren Wayne said...

@Amy Reiswig: Hee hee, yea! I was thinking/wondering about your hair, too, when I posted the photo. :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Inder-ific: Isn't it odd what hormones can do? My mom's has changed and gotten wavier with menopause as well. (She's undecided whether she thinks that's a good thing!) That's so cool that his dad washes once a month. It sounds kind of like how you'd treat dreads, and I guess that's similar.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Katie: Pretty! Oh, I love curls. :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Jennifer: Yea! I'm glad it will help. :)

Tree Peters said...

This was intersting and entertaining. I didn't expect that. I dont' even know why I kept reading all those details of how to's at hte end, but I did.
I loved seeing all your photos. those are great. The cheeks!!!!
The first, most recent photo of you is SO good!!!! You look beautiful.
Enjoy your waves!

Julia Mangan said...

So excited about your kids curls post! I have stick straight hair and my husband has beautiful curly hair. My daughter has wavy hair that I have no clue how to take care of. It just always looks kind of crazy and like she just got out of bed most of the time. I would love to know the right way to care for it.

dunafortuna said...

Hi there and thanks for a great and interesting post! Did I understand it correctly that you initially apply the conditioner to your dry scalp/hair?
Also I was wondering if you tap dry or squeeze out your hair before letting it air dry.
Thanks a lot and all the best!!

Lauren Wayne said...

@dunafortuna: Sorry, I didn't write that clearly. No, my hair's wet at that point. I'll update the post to reflect that.

See the part about the microfiber towel for drying — that's what I do before letting it air dry. I basically scrunch it as dry as I can before leaving it to dry the rest of the way.

Unknown said...

This article encouraged me to find out if my hair would maybe have secret waves. After washing my hair conditioner only for the first time and scrunching it afterwards, it turned out that I was able to achieve pretty dramatic waves. Which i have always wanted. Thank you so much for writing this and pushing me to try new things!

Sandra said...

Thank god I found this!!! The things you describe and the photos you post are literally a copy of my situation! I always thought that curly hair in the shower was normal, and that my straight hair did weird almost-waves and was frizzy and dry because I wasnt taking proper care of it (so some days I had more defined waves that I just thought was a bad straight hair day). This makes so much sense and I´m gonna start taking care of my hair right now, wavy/curly hair, fear me!

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