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How To Get Defined Curls: A Step-by-Step Guide

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Photo showing well defined curls.

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Ask any curly-haired person what they wish to achieve most with their hair; the universal response is usually one thing: defined curls.

Getting defined curls is no easy feat, though — it takes patience, product choice, and knowledge of the right techniques. As Oprah would say, “You can do this!” – and yes, you can create defined curls at home by following this step-by-step guide.

12 Awesome Curling Techniques To Get Defined Curls

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1. Start with Clean Hair

The number one rule for creating long-lasting natural curls is to start with clean hair. It is the foundation of all defined curls.

After you shampoo, sometimes product build-up can remain in your hair and stop styling products from working their magic. This is because the residuals are blocking moisture from penetrating the strands, making it difficult for curls to clump together.

To avoid this, you can use a clarifying shampoo once or twice a month to clear away any build-up and keep your curls defined.

On days you are not clarifying your hair, use a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner specifically formulated for curly hair. This will help keep your hair hydrated and make it easier to style.

It also helps prep your strands for products you’ll be using that day. Your favorite shampoo and conditioner combination should do the trick!

2. Moisturize Your Curls

Hydration and moisture are absolutely necessary to create that perfect definition of natural curls. When your curls become too dry, they can easily turn into frizz. To combat this, it’s essential to use a moisturizing product to nourish your hair. Enter deep conditioners.

Instantly revitalize your curls with a deep conditioning treatment. Deep conditioners are designed to penetrate the hair shaft and give your curls the extra TLC they need. It will also help keep your defined curls moisturized for longer periods.

After rinsing out the deep conditioner, try using cold water to help “close” the cuticles and lock in moisture.

3. Leave-in Conditioners and Other Styling Products Should Be Put on Wet Hair

When styling defined curls, the order of product application is extremely important. The key is to layer products from lightest to heaviest.

Depending on your preference, leave-in conditioners and other styling products should be put on damp (or wet) hair.

Applying leave-ins, curl creams, and mousses to damp (or wet) hair seals in moisture and helps shape curls into unified clumps.

Top it off with gels for a longer hold throughout the day. Once your hair is fully dried, you can also add a light touch of hairspray or oil to help tame any flyaways or frizz.

4. Sectioning Your Hair

Sectioning your hair is key to defined curls, as it ensures each strand is defined and defined from one another. Each time I style my curls, this is the process I go through.

Taking a few extra seconds to separate your hair into smaller sections can make a difference in the defined curls you want to achieve.

Parting your hair into sections gives you more control and makes it easier to style each one individually, so you can ensure each curl has a defined shape and pattern.

  1. Start by splitting your hair into two parts on either side of the head. Then, create additional sections at the top and back of the head.
  2. Once you have those six sections, apply whatever product you’re using directly to each section one at a time. This allows you to ensure that all areas are evenly covered and no spots are missed.
  3. This will give you a better overall curl definition, but it’s also more efficient since there’s no need to go back and reapply products where necessary.
  4. Additionally, sectioning off your hair helps you to see better how well the products work or if they need any touch-ups or adjustments for them to look perfect.

By taking an extra 20 to 25 seconds to section off your hair before applying products, you’ll end up with more defined curls every time!

5. Shingling Method

Shingling is an incredibly meticulous hair styling technique that creates defined, beautiful curls. This method might take some extra time and effort, but the results are worth it!

This particular method is especially beneficial for curly hair that is tightly packed together and goes through a lot of shrinkage, such as type 3 hair and type 4 hair.

Creating definition in your curls demands focus and precision. As opposed to just rubbing, raking, or smoothing products on top of your curly hair, shingling necessitates separating, stretching, and gently smoothing the products onto every curl for maximum effect.

Here is a step-by-step visual guide to the shingling technique:

Video credit: Shawntas Way

6. Finger Coil Method

If you are transitioning from damaged hair, the finger coil method is a great way to make sure defined curls stick. When I first started my healthy hair journey, this was one of the methods I used to help define my wonky curls.

The method is simple and effective – all you need is a little bit of moisturizing leave-in conditioner, curl cream, or gel.

  1. On clean hair, start by separating your hair into small sections, then apply the product of your choice to each section.
  2. Once it is fully saturated, start by twisting each section from the root to the end with your index finger and thumb. You can also use a gel or hairspray to ensure that each curl holds its defined shape.
  3. After fully twisting each section, let it air dry until the defined curls are complete.

With just your fingers, a bit of product, and some tenacity, you can create bouncy finger coils that resemble tight spirals.

Here is a visual guide to the finger coil method:

Video credit: Jewellianna Palencia

7. Bantu Knot

Heatless and effortless, Bantu knot-outs create beautifully defined curls in natural hair.

All hair lengths can be styled this way – simply section out the coils to a size suitable for your length; smaller sections for shorter tresses, bigger ones if you have longer strands.

Follow these simple steps to create stunning Bantu Knot-out curls:

  1. Start with small sections of your hair and begin to twist them against each other like you would a screw.
  2. Ensure the ends are tucked securely at the base close to your scalp and secure with pins if necessary.
  3. Now leave it to set overnight before unraveling for beautiful, voluminous curls in the morning.

Here is a visual tutorial on how to achieve defined curls with the Bantu knot method:

Video credit: Naturally Curla

8. Twist or Braid Outs

For the most straightforward and quickest paths to achieving definition on your natural hair, look no further than twists and “braid outs”—the perfect option for getting beautiful texture quickly!

Give your hair a voluminous makeover by applying some curling custard, mousse, or gel, then twist and braid each section. When the sections are dry, release them to reveal beautiful curls that you can tease for even more fullness.

Here is a step-by-step visual on how to do a twist-out/braid-out mix:

Video credit: Mini Marley

9. Detangle Each Section

Curls come with tangles! It’s an inevitable part of having curly hair.

Spending a bit more time carefully detangling your hair will lead to smoother, better-defined strands and create a great foundation for your product application. You can thank us later for the extra effort!

Take extra special care when brushing your curly hair.

  1. Wet it first with a spray bottle.
  2. Then, apply a leave-in conditioner or detangler to ensure your brush or wide-tooth comb glides through easily.
  3. Slowly and gently start from the ends of your hair and work your way up toward the scalp. Don’t rush or be too rough, as this could lead to breakage and damage.
  4. You can move on to the next step once all tangles are gone and curls are defined.

10. Choose the Right Styling Products

For an optimal look, search for a product that gives you curl definition while providing your hair with hydration and moisture.

We prefer products designed specifically for curly hair that help clump our curls together and create defined curls, spirals, coils, or waves. It’s also important for us to choose a product that fights frizz effectively.

To achieve the best results, gently rake the leave-in conditioner, curl cream, or other styling product through your curls and then scrunch upwards. 

The amount of product used depends on the specific type of curls you have, but it’s best to start with a smaller amount and add more as needed to get defined curls.

11. Avoid Touching Dry Curls

Once you’ve gone through the process of styling and drying your curls, it is important to avoid touching them. Doing so can cause the product layers that give your curls definition and shape to rub off and make them frizzy.

Inadvertently running your fingers through your curls throughout the day can also mess up the defined curl pattern you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Therefore, keeping your hands away from your dry curls once styled is best. Doing so will help preserve your work in taming and defining your curls.

Allowing the products to work their magic without interference will ensure maximum results every time.

Note: Use a diffuser or let your hair air dry, but don’t touch those curls.

12. Protect Your Curls While You’re Sleeping

You must protect your hair before bed to preserve your natural hair shine and curls overnight.

Pineapple, or creating a small bun on top of your head, is one of the best ways to do this – it helps keep the curl shape while reducing frizz.

Secure the bun with a satin bonnet, and make sure to sleep on a satin pillowcase to avoid excessive friction and moisture loss.

You must take out the bun or pineapple in the morning and fluff your defined curls. If your hair has somehow flattened out, check out my blog, ‘How To Refresh Curls In The Morning: 4 Easy Ways!’

Taking these simple steps nightly will help keep your curls hydrated, bouncy, and healthy!

Understanding Your Curl Type

Recognizing Curl Patterns:
The journey to defined curls starts with identifying your curl type. Curls vary from wavy (Type 2 hair) to curly (Type 3 hair) and coily (Type 4 hair). Knowing your specific type is crucial for creating a personalized care routine to achieve well-defined curls.

The Challenge of Curly Hair

Hydration: The Key to Definition:
Curly hair often struggles with dryness more than straight hair, as the natural oils from the scalp find it hard to travel down the spirals. This lack of moisture is the primary barrier to achieving defined curls. Therefore, ensuring your curls are well-hydrated is essential to maintaining their definition.

Achieving Defined Curls

CurlyGirl Method: A Revolution in Curly Hair Care:
One effective approach to defined curls is the CurlyGirl Method, derived from Lorraine Massey’s “Curly Girl: The Handbook.” This method advocates for gentle care, emphasizing the use of cleansing conditioner (co-washing), limiting heat styling, and avoiding harsh treatments like brushing. Key prohibitions include avoiding silicones and mineral oils and drying alcohols.

If the CurlyGirl Method doesn’t suit your preference, other ways to nurture defined curls exist. The key is experimenting with different regimens and products to find what works best for your specific hair type, ensuring your curls maintain their natural shape and pattern.

Characteristics of Defined Curls:
You’ll know you’ve achieved defined curls when they are bouncy, have a clear shape and pattern, are smooth with minimal frizz or tangles, and the curls are distinct and separated rather than stringy.

Avoiding Damage:
Curl definition can be compromised by actions such as brushing, aggressive blow-drying, bleaching, dyeing, or excessive styling. Such practices can disrupt the natural curl pattern and hinder the hair’s ability to clump together, thus losing definition.

Achieving well-defined curls doesn’t have to be complicated – with the right steps and products, you can make it an easy and enjoyable part of your hair routine.

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