I Went to a Curly Hair Salon for the First Time and Here’s What I Learned

I love talking about natural hair—curls, coils, you name it. If I’m not writing about it, I’m sharing product recommendations (that no one asked for) to everyone. But, after spending the last five years on my curly hair journey, I still felt like something was missing. I wasn’t super confident about how my curls looked and I knew the solution to this problem but kept putting it off…until now.

So, what’s my big hair secret? I have never been to a curly hair salon. (Hold the gasps.) For some odd reason, I always made an excuse like “Oh well, I’m waiting for my color to fade out,” or “Oh, I just got a trim at a regular hair salon. I’ll wait another six months,” or “There are so many places to choose from, how do I know which one to go to?”

While everyone was using the lockdown as an opportunity for a drastic change (like getting bangs or dying their hair blue), I was too much of a chicken to get a proper haircut for my curls. But once 2021 rolled around, I made the decision to get out of my comfort zone and consult with a curly hair professional. In an effort to switch up my look and actually understand my curls, I finally booked an appointment. Here’s how it went.

The 9 Best Curly Hair Salons in NYC

Choosing The Right Curly Hair Salon

I put trust into my handy guide of the best curly hair salons in NYC and chose Miss Rizos Salon. A salon owned and operated by someone in the BIPOC community felt familiar. I grew up getting my hair done by Latinx women, so it was refreshing to see a place run by people who look just like me.

While natural hair in the Latinx community has become a big topic in recent years, owner Carolina Contreras broke the mold and brought awareness to curls and coils back in 2014, when she opened the first curly hair salon in the Dominican before opening another location right in Manhattan (specifically Washington Heights). Her dedication to showcasing curly hair in a positive light, and her belief that it shouldn’t be seen as pelo malo (English for ‘bad hair’), was what drew me to the salon. The positive reviews about the stylists and the overall environment led me to book an appointment immediately.

First Impressions

It might be obvious but the first thing I noticed was curls—everywhere. Whether it was on the heads of clients or on the staff, I immediately knew that I was in the right place. The best part was seeing the different curl types, lengths and textures. It felt like a safe space to walk into, and I felt a sense of pride to be a part of this community.

The space itself was luxe and minimalistic, filled with plants, comfy chairs and chic decor. And I can’t stress enough that there was this wonderful scent pervading the room. I want to write a love song to the sweet smell of shea butter and coconut oil (and every other curly gal’s favorite ingredients) covering the place.

The Appointment

The salon specializes in washing, cutting and shaping curls. They also do protective styles like box braids, flat twists and crowns. (And FYI, if you feel overwhelmed, they provide details for each service on their site or you can peruse their socials to get a better idea.) I decided to do a regular wash and styling, a deep conditioning treatment and a shape cut.

First, the assistant washed my hair. She alternated between using her fingertips and a scalp massager (which if you haven’t invested in a scalp massager yet, then what are you doing?). I appreciated her walking me through every step of the process (which she did throughout my entire appointment) and I learned a lot in the process.

The big takeaways:

  • Invest in a scalp detox treatment to use once a month. Recently, I’ve been dealing with an irritated scalp and some flakes. This treatment cleared up any buildup and left a nice tingling sensation, which is something I enjoy from any product.
  • Using a detangling brush can make a big difference. The next time I washed my hair and used a brush instead of my fingers, I saw that it defined my curls more. It also caused less stress on my strands (meaning fewer knots and tangles).

After the wash and deep conditioner, I was onto the big change of the day: the shape cut. Trims are one thing but a shape cut is a whole different ball game. It provides the volume and shape my curls were missing. When I sat down and met my stylist, Christina, I knew I was in good hands. She took special care to detangle my hair even more and worked her magic in creating the shape that I always admired on other curly gals.

The big takeaways:

  • When doing a big cut, provide a reference picture to your stylist. The best thing you can do is have a clear vision of what you want your hair to look like. Instagram and Pinterest are great tools for finding inspiration. The key (and the secret to not getting overwhelmed) is to find pictures that match your hair type and texture. The last thing you want is to create high expectations for a look that works on 2A type hair when you have a 4A texture. I ended up showing the post above (and two more) to my stylist to let her know what I wanted.

Once she finished with trimming, it was onto styling. She spent time going through the steps while answering every question I had (and I had a ton of questions). But Christina was patient and informative. She never once made me feel like my questions were common sense—even after I told her that I was a beauty writer. She definitely blew my mind with some of her tips and made me realize that my routine needed some refining.

The big takeaways:

  • Have you heard of the LOC method? Well, technically it should be LCO (aka leave-in conditioner, cream and then an oil). My stylist mentioned that hair oil locks in moisture, so you don’t want to add that in the middle of your routine.
  • She also emphasized that all of your products should be focused on your strands (especially your ends) and as far away from the scalp as possible. Your scalp already has natural oils, so the last thing you want to do is cause product buildup (which can lead to irritation and flaking).
  • Since I have low porosity hair, my locks tend to dry up fast. She recommended investing in a mist spray bottle and spray water onto each section in-between styling. This will keep my hair damp and really let the products absorb, while minimizing frizz.
  • There’s a big debate between using your fingers or a brush to define curls. Christina used both techniques in my hair and believes that it all depends on the individual and how defined you want your locks to be.

Finally, my hair was ready to be dried. She used both a diffuser and the dryer nozzle to dry my hair. After a good 45 minutes or so, we were done. But not before my curls were given the finger-coiling treatment, a good shake and a dramatic hair flip.

The big takeaways:

  • After your curls are completely dry, apply a hair serum and start pulling apart large clusters of curls for more volume and definition. Christina spent extra time going through each of my curls, while focusing on areas that needed more love (aka some finger coiling, serum or water). The serum provided a boost of shine and protection against the heat.
  • When it comes to drying your hair, it's all about personal preference. When you air dry your curls, expect low volume, a longer dry time and a little more frizz. If you prefer to use a diffuser (or going under the dryer), expect more volume, quicker dry time and little to no frizz. The biggest difference is heat. Many curly gals (like myself) are not keen to using heat to style their hair, so it all depends on what you’re comfortable with.
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Chelsea Candelario

Final Thoughts

Honestly, why did I take so long to go to a curly hair salon?! Miss Rizos Salon truly made me feel so welcome and excited to put my new takeaways to practice on my next wash day. They made my first-time experience worth the wait. I walked out of there with a pep in my step. I’m more confident (hello, bangs) and motivated to upgrade my routine (especially with the new products I picked up). Let this be a sign to finally book an appointment at a curly hair salon. I promise you won’t regret it.

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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...