How to Care for Coily Hair, According to a Stylist

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Whether you’re just beginning your natural hair journey or you’re ready to change up your wash routine, there’s always an opportunity to reevaluate how you’re taking care of your coils. When it comes to this curl type, it’s essential to pay close attention to how you’re washing, styling and protecting your strands. We reached out to Geneva Fowler, natural hair expert and lead braid stylist at BEAUTYBEEZ, a beauty bar in Los Angeles, to teach us how to care for coily hair.

First, what is coily hair?

We can’t explain coily hair without breaking down the identifying “codes” that are often used within the curly hair community. Coily gals fall into the 4A to 4C category, whereas curls are 3A-3C and waves are 2A-2C. To get even more specific, 4A hair types have S-shaped, small spirals, while 4B and 4C hair have Z-shaped or zigzag patterns with sharper angles. 4C also tends to be the most fragile and tighter of the group.

How are coils different from curls or waves? Well, for starters, they stand apart from the 3s and 2s of the world because they are the tightest curl type. Their corkscrew pattern makes it difficult for moisture to penetrate through, which makes coily hair more prone to breakage and dryness than curly and wavy locks.

How to Care for Coily Hair

Even though coily hair is considered the most fragile and moisture depleted of the bunch, that doesn’t mean there’s no way of managing it. It just means coils need the extra care and attention it deserves. Here, we broke down five ways to care for coily hair, so you can rock your locks with confidence.

1. Find a Wash Routine

To achieve soft, healthy hair you need to find and implement the right wash routine for you. “Coils naturally have a very dry, spongy texture, and can be either coarse and wiry or soft and fine,” explains Fowler. Some generally good practices for all coils:

  • Add a pre-poo method to the mix. “It’s really important to pre-poo your hair with either a deep conditioner, an oil or a pre-wash to help your washing routine run smoothly,” she says. Combine hair oil and conditioner together, leave it on for 20 to 30 minutes and rinse before moving on to the rest of your wash routine. Not only does this help soften hair (making it easier to detangle later) but it also strengthens and nourishes it.
  • Use shampoos and conditioners with hydrating formulas. Look for ingredients like aloe, glycerin and honey, and avoid any products with sulfates, silicones and mineral oils. These commonly used components can encourage breakage, prevent hair growth and lead to even more dryness. Fowler also points out that some alcohols like ethanol, propyl, propanol, and isopropyl can harmful to coils.
  • Try co-washing instead. For some, shampoo may not be the answer. Use a co-wash as a gentler alternative to cleaning the scalp without stripping away natural oils.
  • Do a deep condition at least twice a month. A deep conditioner is a great way to restore dry strands. There are plenty of DIY conditioners you can make straight from your kitchen or you can buy one at your nearest drugstore. Either way, look for ingredients like coconut oil, honey and cocoa butter to get started. Apply the deep conditioner after shampoo (or co-wash), leave it for 30 minutes to an hour and rinse.

As for how often you should wash your hair, that’s entirely up to you. The average person may opt for one to two times a week. However, it usually comes down to how much sweat, dust or product buildup you accumulate that’ll indicate when it’s time to cleanse.

2. Build a Styling Regimen

A solid wash routine is a must, but a styling regimen can make or break your healthy coils. As we keep emphasizing (because it’s very important), moisture is essential. “A moisturizing product is a key part of retaining your hair’s moisture between wash days,” shares Fowler.

Before styling, always make sure your hair is damp. Better yet, invest in a spray bottle so you can spritz your coils in-between products—or whenever your hair starts to feel slightly dry. Wet hair traps moisture better and is easier to detangle (which helps prevent breakage and split ends).

Next, is finding a step-by-step guide to achieve the style you’re going for. Enter the LOC/LOG method (which stands for “leave-in conditioner, oil and cream” or gel). This technique seals moisture in longer and gives you softer, more defined coils.

  • Leave-in conditioner is the first step after washing your hair. Similar to your go-to shampoo and conditioner, your leave-in should be heavy in moisture. While applying leave-in conditioner, Fowler suggests detangling using your fingers or a wide-toothed comb. And remember to always start from the bottom and slowly work your way up to prevent more tangles and snags.
  • Hair oil repairs and protects your strands. “Sealing in the moisture by using hair oils reduces the rate of moisture depletion, reduces frizz, and prevents dryness,” she adds. Use oils like grapeseed, jojoba and argan oil on your ends or mix a few drops in with your styling cream or butter before applying.
  • Cream (or butter) is the thing that brings it all together. It helps with breakage and builds elasticity (because shrinkage is so real). Find ingredients rich in fatty acids like shea butter, cocoa butter or murumuru butter. However, you don’t want something too heavy or greasy on your strands. It’s best to start out with a small amount and see how your coils react before adding more.
  • Gel is an alternative to styling cream or butter if you want a stronger hold on your coils. While cream can be great for twisting, gel is great for scrunching the ends for a more defined look.

Once you follow the LOC/LOG method, consider air-drying your coils. See, hot tools can weaken hair bonds and do more damage than good. (But if you’re set on using heat, try a diffuser on the lowest and coolest setting.)

3. Consider protective styles

A protective style is simple. It protects your hair and promotes healthy hair growth. It also looks super chic and stylish all year round. From twists to braids, the possibilities are endless. Book a hair appointment or follow a YouTube tutorial to try a style at home. “One common misconception is that you don’t need to wash your hair if it’s in a protective style, like a weave or braids. While a weave or braids are a great option to help manage your hair, you still want to wash it at least once a week in order to prevent bacterial build-up and dry our your scalp,” Fowler adds.

4. Invest in a Night Routine

“Tossing and turning your head while you’re sleeping can put stress on your hair and lead to breakage,” explains Fowler. If you want to board the no-frizz train, you have to change up your night routine. The stylist recommends silk or satin everything—from your pillowcases down to a bonnet. And if wrapping your hair every night seems like too much of a hassle, consider a hairstyle that’s made for a good night’s rest.

5. Maintain Trims

If you want to say goodbye to split ends and hello to hair growth, regular trims are super helpful—especially as the weather changes. “Winter weather can cause coily hair to look dehydrated and dull. The cold weather can dry out your ends, so getting a trim at least once during the winter season helps keep them strong and healthy,” she says.

Some parting advice…

There’s always going to be trial and error when adopting a new routine. Don’t be discouraged if the new shampoo doesn’t work out or the protective style you’re rocking falls flat. It’s all about being patient and taking a closer look at what’s working for you (and what needs to be skipped the next time around). When in doubt, you can also reach out to a professional who specializes in natural hair to get more tips on how to best care of your coils.

Oh, and if you ever need some coily hair inspo, check out celebs like Lupita Nyong’o, Issa Rae, Viola Davis or Danai Guriria who are always rocking their beautiful texture. We can only imagine it was just as much a journey for them as it is for you now, so keep your head up, coily gal. You got this.

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Chelsea Candelario

Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...
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