In January, I wrote a post about my menopausal hair. I had lived through a heck of a time when it seemed like overnight my hair went from smooth, sleek, and straight to frizzy, dry, and breakable. At the time of my post, I felt like I had finally started to figure things out, and I did, to a degree, but my hair never fully returned to the straight, easy-care, wash-and-wear straight bob I once knew how to easily manage.
For one, I started to notice that in addition to the extra work it took to tame the dry frizziness that my hair had become when I dried it straight, the hair around my face would start to bend in a really unsightly way. The ends around the sides and back started to develop an outward flip that made me look like an unattractive That Girl. The slightest drizzle would kill any bit of smoothness I would manage to work out with a hair dryer and if I let my hair air dry, it continued to look like a frizzy triangle. Basically, I was still completely out of control of my own hair.
As the humid summer wore on, my interest in blow-drying my hair lessened. One day, I decided to twist my hair in pieces as it dried. To my surprise, I noticed that my hair took the curl when I twisted it, and more surprisingly, these curls didn’t let go. It didn’t look particularly good but the wave was there. I dared to wonder if maybe my hair wasn’t straight any longer. But that just couldn’t be, I thought.
There was no way on the planet I could possibly have wavy hair. When I was super little, if we were going somewhere special, my mom would painstakingly try to put curls in my hair with a curling iron. An early memory of mine was counting the seconds with my mom as she held the curling iron to my long, very straight locks. By the time we got to the car to go wherever we were going, the waves had already worked themselves out and my hair was straight again. My hair has always been flat, limp, and determined to be straight hair no matter what was thrown at it. I got a perm in the 80’s and within a week it had fallen out despite following all the aftercare 80’s perm rules.
As I continued to research the possibility that my hair might be wavy and not straight, I fell down a very deep, very overwhelming rabbit hole. All of a sudden, this world of waves and curls appeared to me. I was like Harry Potter pushing his luggage cart into the column at the 9 3/4 platform. I was a stranger in a strange land as I watched videos of women scrunching, plopping, and who would dip their heads into bowls of water. I had no idea that women were still using gel on their hair. “Gel!?!? Didn’t that go out with the 80’s? Who the heck uses gel? Why are women wrapping their heads in t-shirts? What does SOTC mean? What’s wrong with a terry cloth towel? What is happening?” I thought to myself as I became more and more overwhelmed.
Yet, I was still not convinced my hair was actually wavy. I felt like a fraud as I plopped my hair into a t-shirt— a common strategy among curly-haired people to get better scrunched hair— like the curly-haired ladies on YouTube instructed me to do. In the back of my mind, I was completely sure I would take my hair out of the t-shirt and there wouldn’t be a curl to be seen, or if there was, the curl would fall out once dry, as it always does. I assumed I would feel like a complete dummy and go back to trying to save my straight hair.
Well, cut to a shocked me who, after removing the t-shirt from my freshly washed hair saw waves, and, even more surprising, that stayed after my hair dried. They weren’t massive waves and they didn’t look particularly good because, at that point, I really had no idea what I was doing. After 49 years of straight hair, well 48 really and then one year of living with a frizzy disaster otherwise known as hair, I had a stranger living on my head, and, I had no idea what to do next.
I posted a photo to my Facebook Group of the results of my plopping and this was my first taste of what I now understand to be a very tight sorority of wavy and curly-haired women. The comments started flooding in with tips, thoughts, and confirmation that, yes, I wasn’t seeing things, what was living on top of my head was in fact waves, likely caused by menopause because, as I learned, it’s not uncommon for hair to change at this point in life. My husband’s cousin, a fellow wavy girl, called me that night specifically to chat hair, and just about every Zoom meeting I had with a curly-haired client started with curl talk. I also sought out information from anyone with wavy or curly hair. If I met you and you had waves, I was definitely going to ask you about them. I even texted my 15-year-old niece who has the most amazing mane of curls to tell me anything she possibly could.
Each and every one of them gave me solicited and unsolicited tips, advice, and product recommendations as if I were receiving some sort of curly hair welcome basket from each one of them. For the record, behavior like this does not happen in the straight hair world, and for good reason, wavy and curly hair is freaking hard. When women with wavy or curly hair give advice, it always seems to be wrapped with a tinge of sympathy because it’s like they know, that adjusting to curl is not going to be easy.
FIGURING OUT MY NEW WAVES
I’ve never been much of a product person because I never needed any. I used to call my straight bob my hair’s set point, and suddenly, Amazon was dropping off packages almost daily with new products to test out. I bought gel, well multiple gels, for the first time since 1987, I needed to learn what curl cream was, I bought a diffuser, specific brushes, and microfiber towels, and learned that when you have wavy or curly hair you actually want your hair to get crunchy from the gel you use. It’s called a gel cast. Like, what the what?
As I tried different products and strategies the results were mixed and it took me a few months to distill all the information I gleaned to figure out what was right for me. While I consider myself a baby-fresh wavy-hair person who has no business telling anyone with wavy or curly hair what to do, I am sharing what works for me because, a. as I have learned, curly hair people share what they know, and b. I am positive there is a menopausal woman with a frizzy triangle of fine hair on her head trying to figure out what the heck happened. If you have hair like mine, I see you, I get you. So here is where my whole wavy hair journey has taken me.
Currently, I wash and condition my hair with R+Co’s Atlantis (shampoo here, conditioner here) which are both heavy and creamy products, a far cry from my days of buying shampoo specifically for oily hair. Back when my waves first showed up during the humid summer, my hairstylist wasn’t completely sure they’d stick around once the weather got dryer and cooler, so she gave me the Atlantis products. Once these bottles are done, I will likely switch to R+Co’s Cassette shampoo and conditioner for wavy/curly hair now that it’s been established that my hair isn’t going back straight. I love R+Co’s products for my hair. Being only able to speak for R+Co’s Atlantis at the moment, if you have dry hair that needs a lot of moisture, I love both the shampoo and conditioner. I’ll get back to you with my thoughts about Cassette.
During my journey, I also learned about co-washing which stands for conditioner-only washing and means to use only conditioner to wash your hair. Most conditioners contain trace amounts of detergents called cationic surfactants, like cetrimonium and behentrimonium chloride. Mixed with water, these cationic surfactants pick up tiny amounts of dirt, leaving unshampooed hair feeling clean, but not too clean. You can read more about it here.
Even though my hair turned wavy, I still have finer hair and my scalp does get oily after a few days, so instead of alternating my regular washes with conditioner or doing a co-wash, I purchased R+Co’s Analog, which is a cleansing foam conditioner. It leaves my hair feeling clean but not stripped and really, really soft. I wash my hair twice a week and one day I do a full wash and condition with Atlantis and the other I use Analog.
CURL CREAM & GEL
What I learned through this journey is that if you are going to get hair advice for waves or curls, you need to ask someone whose hair is closest to your own. It seems like duh-easy advice but this was where the tide changed for me. Up until that point, I was using gels that were too heavy, I found mousse sticky, and It was an instructor at my SLT class with hair similar to mine (known as 2a and 2b hair) who recommended these products.
Both the Bumble & Bumble Curl Light Defining Cream and Curlsmith Fragrance Free Shine Jelly are very lightweight which is exactly what my fine hair needed. The gel isn’t sticky but it does form a cast (I’ll explain that more in a minute), and I can continue to touch my hair without it frizzing after I’ve scrunched the gel out (for the record, that is what SOTC stands for, scrunch out the crunch). After showering, I first rake through the curl-defining cream, use prayer hands, and scrunch, and then do the same with the gel.
So, it’s not just about the product, it’s the process that really matters and there are many different processes for maximizing waves and curls, which, of course, I tried all of them to figure out what worked best for me.
It was only recently that the word scrunching became part of my vocabulary. Now, it’s a staple. Scrunching is apparently a critical part of waves and curls. When I am in the shower, I scrunch in my conditioner before I comb it through, and scrunching is a big part of the process when applying a product. It’s a method where you cup and scrunch your hair upward to help shape your curls. When the hair is wet, there is a sound like you are squeezing a sponge. You want this noise, apparently.
This seems to be the point where the road splits in terms of what works for different types of wavy and curly hair. Some people go right to the plop or micro-plop, which I will get to next, and others take a different approach. I tried to go right to the plop stage and had disastrous, unruly results.
A beloved tool in the wavy hair community is the Denman brush, an inexpensive brush that I hadn’t seen anyone use in years. While it can be used as an actual brush, wavy and curly-haired women have taken to turning it upside down and using it as a curling tool.
The technique of using a Denman brush varies among women, some turn the brush upside down like I do, and some hold it the other way. If you search YouTube Videos about this, you’ll find a bunch of different techniques. What I do is clip all my hair up on top and then slowly take sections down and curl smaller sections using a Denman brush or by coiling the sections with my own fingers. After completing each section, I use a microfiber towel to scrunch or microplop my hair.
I use the Perfect Haircare Microfiber Towel which is a microfiber towel. While there are different approaches and techniques for wavy and curly hair, there is one thing everyone agrees on, never use a terry cloth towel on curls. Terry cloth dehydrates the hair and causes frizz. The nap of the terry further contributes to frizz by separating hair strands and agitating the hair. In lieu of a microfiber towel, many curlies use a t-shirt that is over-drying on the hair, is soft, and doesn’t catch the hair or cause breakage. At the start, I used a t-shirt and eventually graduated to the Perfect Haircare Towel.
The coolest part of the towel is the loop that allows you to create the perfect turban that will stay in place should you decide to do a full plop of your hair.
TO PLOP, MICROPLOP, OR NOT PLOP AT ALL
So, plopping, as I came to learn is done by…well, I’ll spare you the explanation. Watch this video.
I tried the plop, but I didn’t like it. It made my waves all disoriented and unruly. Instead, I tried micro-plopping which worked much better. It’s done like this
After each section that I curl with a Denman brush or twist with my fingers, I microplop to enhance the waves. Next, I either let my hair air dry or use a diffuser. Usually, I diffuse when I’m pressed for time. I’m not brand loyal to any type of a diffuser and I totally want to save my money for a Dyson hairdryer, but for now, I found the Drybar Bounce Diffuser fit perfectly on my current hair dryer and works just fine.
YouTube will prove there are a ton of ways to dry your hair using a diffuser. Some do something called pixie diffusing which is where you turn the hair dryer on and off each time you work on a new section of hair. I tried pixie diffusing, but I found it way too laborious. I diffuse more like this.
SOTC: SCRUNCH THE CRUNCH
In all of this, what seemed the most unbelievable to me was that getting crunchy hair from using gel is considered a good thing. I am a kid of the 80s, I know what crunchy gel hair looks like and it seemed impossible to me that going for crunchy curls was the goal. What I didn’t know at the time was that crunchy gel curls, otherwise known as a gel cast, is just step one of the process. The next step is to scrunch out the crunchiness formed by the gel that will give you soft, bouncy waves. The first time I tried it, I didn’t think it would work, but now I find it to be a critical step.
Not surprisingly, there are several ways women do this. Some use a bit of oil in their hands as they work out the cast through scrunching. Some use a T-shirt, some use silk, and others use a microfiber towel. There is the clapping hands method, my preference, and so on. There really isn’t one right way, just the way that works best for you. The most important thing to avoid when scrunching out the cast is frizz.
THE FINAL STEP, A KERATIN TREATMENT
Having fine hair, I am prone to frizz no matter how gentle I am with my hair and no matter what anti-frizz products I use. Once my hair went wavy, frizz was something that became impossible because what I needed to do to enhance my waves also contributed to frizz. Technically, there was nothing wrong with my hair, it wasn’t dry, it didn’t need more moisture, it was just the fine, texture of my hair that made it look frizzy and in need of nourishment. My hairstylist’s solution was that I get a keratin treatment wound up being a total Godsend.
Not knowing much about keratin treatments besides hearing that they can totally straighten your hair, I had concerns. I had come so far with my waves and actually started liking them, so to now lose them made me like a defeatist. I was assured that with the Cezzane keratin treatment, my waves would not disappear, and best of all, not only was it formaldehyde-free, I wouldn’t have to wait 72 hours before I washed my hair. According to the Wall Sreet Journal, Cezanne’s Keratin Smoothing treatment is touted as a “time-saving, professional service that uses a combination of keratin, glycolic acid and sericin (a natural protein produced by silkworms) to smooth strands and boost shine without combating natural texture.” With this keratin treatment, I no longer needed to use a leave-in conditioner on my hair.
MY HAIR NOW
This is the most recent photo of my hair now. It’s frizz-free with nourished ends and waves that bounce. Best of all, as the days go on, the waves loosen but I don’t lose body or a slight wave. While this journey of embracing my waves has been overwhelming and confusing, in the end, I actually like having wavy hair now. Despite there being a process to having wavy hair, now that I’ve found my groove, I actually find my hair much easier to do than when it was straight. I just wash, apply product, twist, and scrunch. It really doesn’t get much easier than that. None of this would be possible without the helpful guidance I received from the curly and wavy-haired women who shepherded me along the way.
WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS?
There are so many different types of waves and curls, and so many different types of products and tools that work, none that are right or wrong. What are your tips and product recommendations? I’d love to hear them in the comments.