January 23, 2023
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If you’re one of the many people out there with curly hair, chances are you could use a little help understanding your locks.
Undefined curls are a common issue among those with curly hair, and can be frustrating to deal with. Luckily, science is on your side!
Though it may not seem like rocket science, understanding how moisture, heat, and humidity (as well as other factors) interact with your curls will help you unlock the definition potential of your hair.
By understanding the root cause of your undefined curls, you can adopt strategies to keep them defined.
This blog is crafted to cast light on the underlying factors of undefined curls and how to tackle them. Learn the science behind getting defined curls and how to use it to your advantage! Step out of the marketing ploy of hair products and into the world of hair science.
Let’s explore why our hairs are in a constant state of flux, and can often be fickle and unpredictable!
Learning how curly hair behaves is the key to creating and maintaining perfect curls. Through scientific discovery, it is now known that curly hair has a distinct makeup from straight hair. It differs in structure, morphology, and mechanical properties.
As such, the demands for cleansing, conditioning, and styling are all significantly different to properly care for this unique type of hair on a daily basis.
Shopping for the right product is always an important aspect of haircare, especially when it comes to “curl definition” without sacrificing their natural look.
We as consumers are continually on a quest to achieve well-defined curls that can last all day. As such, we seek products that will hold our curls in place while still giving them bouncy and voluminous locks! Hence why achieving this goal remains a challenge.
Let’s maximize our curls and eliminate those pesky, undefined curls with science-backed strategies!
The causes of undefined curls are varied and complex, but we’ve outlined the most common culprits:
Hair absorbs water from its surroundings which induces an increase in its diameter by swelling.
Thankfully, this swelling is reversible but can be affected by fluctuations in humidity levels.
When there’s high humidity in your environment – say goodbye to defined curls and hello to unruly locks that refuse to hold a style!
Aside from temperature, humidity (moisture levels) also have an impact on the effectiveness of curly hair products. Oftentimes, these curl-defining styling products usually contain polymers that create a fine film on the hair surface.
This film is responsible for “fixing or holding” hair in a definite curl shape. However, at high humidity levels, water dissolves the polymeric film and hair loses its curl definition.
To protect hair from fluctuating humidity levels, a water-resistant coating is essential. This will help reduce water absorption and any swelling that may occur.
The market now offers an array of modernized polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) polymers, which boast enhanced water resistance and protective properties.
Unlike the past generations, these new-generation polymers don’t leave behind any flakes or stickiness whatsoever. Natural oils can also offer such coating due to their hydrophobic nature.
However, be mindful when using them as their overuse may cause hair to feel weighed down and greasy.
Each hair type is unique and requires specific styling techniques to bring out its full potential. Curls are determined by the density and thickness of each strand.
Hair strands with a thicker texture are often more challenging to hold onto (or last) a style, due in part to the additional volume they possess. This is an intrinsic characteristic among hairs of various ethnic backgrounds.
In comparison to Asian hair, some European strands tend to have a more discernible wave pattern and are much easier to style into curls and respond well to curly hair products.
Conversely, Asian hair tends to be stick-straight which necessitates the use of permanent chemical treatments to develop a curly hair pattern.
Before selecting a product, you should be familiar with your hair type. It is clear that hair type plays a pivotal role in the characteristics of a product – from its structure and active ingredients to its texture.
For optimal results, curly hair needs to use lightly formulated products that will not weigh down your curls.
Additionally, products with a generous amount of oil could result in weighed-down and unmanageable hair that is hard to style. Opt for a lighter soft textured formulation that is non-greasy. A great lightweight oil that I’ve fallen in love with is the FEKKAI Super Strength+ Everstrong Oil.
This oil is weightless! The ingredients are plant-based, helping to keep hair’s moisture level while shielding it from free radical destruction and breakage. It also fortifies elasticity for improved strength and resilience.
Crafted with a triple-action system of bonding, repair and protection, this product is clinically engineered to restore broken Disulfide, Hydrogen, and Ionic Bonds – restoring keratin bonds from within.
You can gain substantial insight into a product’s ingredients by sampling it. Before you commit to an oil purchase, take a moment to rub a sample between your palms. This will give you the chance to evaluate its texture and composition before applying it directly to your hair.
Product build-up is a problem. From the shampoos and conditioners we use on a daily basis, to our styling products weekly, removing the build up of product ingredients from our hair can be difficult. That’s because these compounds form tiny deposits that cling tightly to the hair shaft due to their high affinity for protein sites.
Polymers are particularly known for their deposition. The repeated applications of such products can enlarge these deposits in size and weight.
To achieve your desired look, you must first eliminate any build-up of product on your hair. Without doing so, applying new curl-defining products won’t yield the results you’re aiming for due to the product residue.
For optimal results, use a sulfate-free shampoo to eliminate product deposits. We advise using a sulfate-free formulation that does not contain heavy conditioning polymers, such as polyquaternium 7 and 10.
Mild surfactants, such as s decyl glucoside, lauryl glucoside, or isethionate are preferred for this action.
Calcium and magnesium ions make the water hard. These metal ions are abundantly present in pool, beach water, and even tap.
Over time and with continued exposure to hard water, these ions will bind to the amino acid sites of each hair fiber, forming a build-up that prevents uniform coverage when styling products are applied.
This not only changes the surface properties of one’s hair but also makes it difficult to achieve desired curly hairstyle results.
To achieve the most effective cleansing, consider a formulation that contains chelants such as EDTA or EDDS. Both of these options boast an impressive ability to bind with calcium and magnesium ions for robust cleaning power.
Shampooing hair with these chelants ensures your locks will stay clean and healthy by preventing the build-up of metal ion crystallization on the surface.
Try an acidic shampoo and conditioner. Acidic pH ensures these metal ions get dissolved in water easily and are rinsed off during washing.
Citric acid has been added to haircare products for years, not only as a way of adjusting the pH balance but also as a method of binding and removing heavy metals from hair. This ensures that your locks remain healthy and free from toxins.
When wet, the hair’s behavior alters drastically due to its excessive water content. Water molecules seep into the strands of hair when washed and subsequently alter the hydrogen bond within each strand’s protein structure.
Increased levels of water also alter the way styling products interact, bond and layer onto hair.
Though it is a common practice for some curly heads to use blow drying and flat ironing as styling methods, doing so when the hair is still very wet could be hazardous to its health. High temperatures applied on overly damp locks can produce damaging consequences.
Sudden exposure to high temperatures (350 – 450 C) generates a significant volume of steam inside the hair shaft which may lead to cracks along the hair shaft damaging the hair severely. This damage significantly impedes producing the desired curl definition and look.
Upon finishing your wash routine, use a microfiber towel to lightly dry your hair. Avoid any harsh rubbing or tugging as this could cause breakage and damage to the strand structure of the hair.
Furthermore, resist brushing or combing when wet; such actions would be detrimental and should not be done to protect hair from harm.
Always be gentle with wet hair as hair is more vulnerable to breakage when it is wet.
Flat ironing or blow drying your hair should only be carried out once your hair is relatively dry and the excess water has been removed.
Unsightly dandruff is a common dermatological issue, in which the scalp produces scales or flakes. In severe cases, these irritating flakes may accumulate to such an extent that they are visible on your clothing and shoulders.
Red, irritated and inflamed patches on the scalp often accumulate a heavy build-up of dandruff which can prevent you from obtaining your ideal curl pattern.
Combat your dandruff problem by using an anti-fungal product, like ZPT. This will not only help to eliminate the existing issue but also improve the health of your scalp and hair quality in general.
Don’t forget the golden rule: a healthy scalp is essential for having healthy hair!
Regular treatment can fix the problem in approximately 3-4 weeks.
Curly hair requires a customized formulation and regimen to maintain a beautiful, healthy, and bouncy curl pattern.
Achieving the beautiful, luscious curly hair of our dreams can be greatly inhibited by factors such as high humidity. To keep your curls looking effortless and gorgeous, an anti-humidity coating that is water-resistant may just do the trick!
Unwanted deposits of metallic ions and lingering residue from prior products can all work together to reduce curl retention. To remedy the issue, anti-residue shampoos are a must! These will help wash away any build-up to return your curls back to their bouncy, vibrant state.
Finally, undefined curls can be caused by the presence of dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp. The use of an anti-fungal product, like ZPT, is necessary to combat the issue and restore your scalp’s health.
With the right tools and a bit of care, we can all achieve beautiful, well-defined curls!
Use these tips and tricks to keep your curls looking their best!
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- renee, Stylist Liaison
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Inspiring hair tutor, grateful for what she offers the Curly Community in authenticity, passion, and knowledge.
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“I was so excited to embrace my curls and take better care of them. As I started to dive in, I immediately became overwhelmed with the information.”
I read books and tried doing things because "that's what I'm supposed to do," but it didn't always work and I didn't understand why. I'm so grateful for Verna and her blog. Her info. actually helped me understand more of the science of why some methods helped and what products or ingredients to use and why. Anyone that compliments my hair and wants to start a curly journey, I tell them to start here. My hair is so much healthier and I'm so happy with it.
- stephanie, Curly hair enthusiast
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