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Curly Hair: The Science

Why does curly hair coil? Learn here, plus how to make the most of your curly hair spirals.

The Science of Your Hair Type

Caring for curly hair can be tricky, but the results are worth the effort. After all, what’s more gorgeous than a head of healthy, bouncy curls? (Think Taylor Swift or AnnaLynne McCord of “90210”).

Curly hair characteristics: This hair type can run the gamut from big, loose curls to ones so tightly coiled they look like miniature springs. Curly hair is particularly complex because each individual fiber has its own curl pattern. Like most hair types, curly hair can be fine, medium-textured or thick and coarse.

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The Science of Curly Hair

The nitty gritty: Scientists don’t know why different hair types develop, but the shape of the hair follicle matters (yours is curly), as does the way hair proteins (keratin) are clustered in the hair shaft. All hair—no matter what hair type you are—twists as it grows. The number of twists affects how curly your locks are: the more twists, the more curls.

Curly hair challenges: Curls are prone to frizz, according to Ouidad, a hairstylist who specializes in curls and owns the eponymous salon in New York City. One survey found that a whopping 94 percent of curly-haired women pointed the finger at frizz as their number one hair issue. What’s more, 32 percent of all women with curly hair refused to head outside at some point in their lives for fear of the weather triggering a frizz fest.

Curls’ coils also make it harder for your hair’s natural oils to coat and moisturize each strand, resulting in parched, thirsty hair. Dryness makes hair susceptible to damage since it reduces the number of hydrogen bonds in your hair (which give your strands flexibility).

Challenge accepted: Keeping your mane well conditioned is extra important for curly-haired gals. To smooth and soften frizzy curls, use a deep conditioning treatment twice a month. “If you spend a lot of time outside or styling your hair with heat, then you should consider using a deep conditioning treatment weekly or biweekly to maintain healthy-looking curls,” says Ouidad. If your curls are dry, try shampooing less frequently—such as only twice a week—since shampoo can be very drying.

Curly-haired gals should be extra gentle with their hair. Just say no to vigorously towel drying your hair or tightly wrapping a towel around your head to absorb the water. “Curly hair should be drip-dried, but for the sake of a busy schedule, very gently dab ends with a towel making sure not to separate the curls,” says celebrity hair stylist Kristan Serafino. “If the curls are touched aggressively—or even worse, combed through—it will cause the natural curl to separate causing the hair to frizz.”

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