As much as we love curly hair, we’d be lying if we said it was always a breeze to maintain. Whether you’ve got loose ringlets or tight coils, finding the perfect routine and cocktail of products to keep it in tip-top shape can be a challenge. “Why is my hair so dry?” is a question those with soft spirals, tight springs, or densely-packed zig-zag strands ask themselves all the time. One of the main reasons for this is simply the nature of how curls are structured.
Here’s why curly hair tends to be the driest of all textures: The way it grows out of the follicle makes it difficult for the natural oils produced by the scalp to work their way down the hair shaft. “A strand of hair receives sebum on its exterior from the secretion of the sebaceous gland,” says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD. “Sebum is not evenly distributed along curls, resulting in drier hair.” Dr. Fusco explains that these oils can be better distributed with a little brushing or combing. But brushing can your curl pattern, which is not great if definition is what you’re looking for disruptive.
Because of their generally drier nature, people with curls typically don’t wash their hair as often those with straighter textures do. Spacing out washes can be helpful in maintaining the scalp’s natural oils, but waiting too long to cleanse can leave hair brittle and prone to frizz.
That’s why choosing the right type of cleanser is also important for curly-haired folks trying to maintain hydration. Products with harsh surfactants can actually strip the oils that our scalp produces. This makes maintenance in between washes extremely important. “Pushing moisture back into the hair strands not only rehydrates the hair but also helps reduce frizz,” says New York-based hairstylist Yessenia Reyes.
Need a little more help keeping that coiled crown hydrated? We chatted with a few experts for some tips that will help you figure out how to battle your dry hair demons without disrupting your styling habits.
Meet the experts:
- Francesca Fusco, MD, a board-certified dermatologist who works at Wexler Dermatology in New York City.
- Yessenia Reyes, a hairstylist working in the New York area. She specializes in curls, kinks, and coils.
- Ni’Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist and beauty ingredient expert based in New Jersey.
- Tonya Fairley, a hairstylist and salon owner based in Covina, California. She is the founder of Strandz On Grand in the SoCal area.
- Tippi Shorter, a Kansas City, Missouri-based hairstylist, salon owner, and artistic director. Throughout her career, she’s worked with a number of celebrity clients like Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Jennifer Hudson.
- Chris Appleton, Los Angeles-based hairstylist and ambassador for Color Wow. His celebrity clients include Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, and Dua Lipa.
- Vince Spinnato, a cosmetic chemist and author based in Capistrano Beach, California.
Pinpoint Why Your Hair Is Dry
Before you start spraying or slathering on any products, start by narrowing down what may be causing your dry hair. Things like over-washing, not using heat protectants with hot tools, and temperature shifts from indoor and outdoor air can all contribute to dry hair.
London-based board-certified dermatologist Ksenia Sobchak, MD, explains, “Over-washing the hair can cause reduced volume and a dry, itchy scalp.” Cosmetic chemist Vince Spinnato adds that “when you train your hair to be washed every day, your oil glands adjust to produce more oil to compensate for the loss of oils that the shampoo is stripping. Even if you’re more oily, you’re still drying out the hair strand.”
In addition to over-washing, heat-styling can dry out your hair. We’re not just talking about blowouts or frequent flatironing — even using a diffuser or sitting under a hooded dryer to set a protective style can zap away too much moisture. Though your diffuser does help spread the air around, “heat is heat, and if it is too hot, then it can blast moisture out of the hair faster causing the strands to dry out,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson.