Waves, curls, and kinky coils that haven't been altered with any kind of chemical processing all fall under the category of natural hair.  Here's how to wash, brush, style, and care for these types of textures.

By Melanie Rud

All hair textures are certainly not created equal, especially natural, ethnic hair. At the risk of stating the obvious, there are several notable differences between ethnic hair and Caucasian hair.

"Not only is natural, textured hair different because it’s coarser and thicker, but it also doesn’t fall downward like Caucasian hair. It grows up,” says Suave celebrity stylist Ursula Stephen. Ethnic women tend to have less sebaceous (oil) glands on their scalp, meaning their hair is naturally drier to begin with too. Case in point: This hair type needs an entirely unique set of products and hair care protocols.

Image courtesy of Getty.

How to Wash It

First and foremost, choosing the right shampoo is super important. Avoid any formulas labeled as clarifying, which will be too harsh and stripping. Your best bet? A conditioning shampoo (or even a cleansing conditioner), which contains hydrating ingredients—your natural hair’s BFF. It’s also important to choose a sudser free of sulfates; those detergents can be too drying for your already dry hair, points out Stephen. Two that fit the bill: Suave Professionals for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Shampoo, $4.99 and Shea Moisture Coconut Custard Make It Last Wash N’ Go Shampoo, $11.99.

How you use the product you've chosen is also important. Don’t pile all you hair on top of your head and go to town lathering up like they do in shampoo commercials. Instead, work it downward through your scalp and hair, says Stephen, which will help minimize the likelihood of ending up with tangles and snarls. (More on that in a minute.) Postshampoo, always, always use a conditioner. The more hydrating the better, so look for one labeled moisturizing, hydrating, or detangling, Stephen says. Our pick: Pantene Gold Series Moisture Boost Conditioner, $5.99.

How to Brush It

The drier, coarser texture of natural hair makes it more prone to tangling, which is why Stephen advises brushing it out with a wide-tooth comb before you get in the shower. One to try: Kristin Ess Wide Tooth Detangling Hair Comb, $8. (Stephen adds that it’s also easier to comb through natural hair if it’s not totally dry, so mist it with a bit of water in a  spray bottle.) Postshower, load up on a heavy dose of a leave-in conditioner, like Jane Carter Solutions Curls to Go Un-Tangle Me Weightless Leave-In, $7.99, and brush again. “Wet hair will be better able to absorb the product, while combing it through will help distribute it more evenly,” Stephen explains.

How to Style It

Repeat after us: Though shall not use hot tools. “Any time you use heat to try and rework your curls and texture, it changes the curl pattern altogether,” Stephen says. The one exception? Blow-drying using a diffuser. Wet curls will shrink up, so using a diffuser delivers an indirect heat that lets you speed the drying process and stretch them out without being too intense, Stephen says.

Instead of using hot tools to achieve your desired style, play with product. Channel your inner mixologist, and don’t be afraid to mix and match types of product to figure out what works best for your hair and the look you’re going for, adds Stephen, who notes that ultimately it comes down to experimentation and a little bit of good old-fashioned trial and error.

“Natural hair and curly hair is all so different, so you really just need to find what works for you,” she says. If you’re looking for some general guidelines, curl-defining creams are great for twist and braid-outs, helping to add definition and smooth the hair. Chose serums for wash-and-go looks and gels for smoothness and hold with sleeker styles, such as pulled-back ponytails.

A few to try: Cantu Coconut Curling Cream, $4.79Ouidad Shine Glaze Serum, $20; and  Carol’s Daughter Pracaxi, Nectar Style Control Gel, $10.99. If you feel like your hair needs a little extra boost midday—or if you’re stretching a style and not washing the next day—Stephen recommends applying product. Her pick? The Suave Professionals for Natural Hair Cream Detangler Spray, $4.99, which she says is ideal for rewetting and reactivating your curl pattern.


Comments (1)

November 12, 2019
I have worn my hair natural for at least 10 years. My hair is actually FINE, not coarse, but very dense. When people assume that everyone with my type of hair have "coarse" hair there is a tendency to be rough with it and mistreat it. Any tips for how to take care of natural hair need to include the fact that some of us may experience breakage because of having fine hair, not because our hair is damaged in some way. Every bend in my super fine coils is a potential breaking point, so I am very careful to try to not over-manipulate my strands.