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How to Style Curly Hair

I finally came through– I’m sharing how to style curly hair. Well, my curly hair, specifically.

How to style curly hair

This is probably the most requested topic I’ve had in my 8 years of blogging. It’s not that I’ve been trying to keep this a top secret operation. I just know I look awkward AF when I’m doing my hair (the things we do for beauty), and I was slightly self-conscious about putting photos of myself on the Internet in the act. Also, I’m not a beauty blogger. But because I love you, I gave in and asked a friend to stand in my shower and photograph me doing my hair. And then I did a lot of cropping. It’s called compromise.

A Little Curly Hair Background

To give you a little background on my hair, I didn’t learn how to style it this way until I was 14. I started out using Redken No. 8 Contouring Lotion, but they discontinued it around 2010. And I did what any person would do, I bought as many bottle of contouring lotion I could find and saved them for special hairstyling occasions. I went on a years-long quest to find products that could recreate how I got my hair to look while using the contouring lotion. I tried everything– from DevaCurl to random gels I’d grab at Target. In all, I dropped hundreds of dollars sampling products. In a way, this little experiment was good because I definitely learned what will (gels and hairspray) and won’t (mousse, creams, balms, lotions, serums, etc.) work with my hair.

Around 2013, my hair stylist recommended Kenra products. At this time, they had a strong hold gel– 23. So I would use the 17 gel and the 23 gel but with a different hairspray. But then they discontinued the 23 gel. I immediately went on ebay and bought all the 23 gels I could find so I could stockpile them. Hello, flashbacks to 2010. I was talking with another hairstylist and she recommended using the Kenra 25 hairspray with the 17 gel. I started experimenting with that combination, and I loved the results. I’ve been using it ever since. And so help me, if Kenra ever discontinues those products I will orchestrate a riot and expect all of you to participate.

I hate taking selfies, but I was having a good hair day.

curly hair

Products & Tools

shower filter

To keep my hair from drying out and getting mineral deposits, I have this shower filter installed on my shower head. It also helps improve the condition of your skin and nails.

leave-in conditioning product

I never had to use a leave-in conditioning product until we moved into our new house. We still need to install a water softener, so if you have no issue with easily running a brush through your hair, skip this product.


My favorite hairspray holds up to 120 hours, 24 hour high humidity resistance, 25 mph wind resistant, flake free.

firm hold gel

I’ve been using this gel for years. It’s alcohol-free, non-drying, non-flaking, helps extend the life of color

hair dryer

Hands down, my favorite hair dryer. I can dry my thick hair in 15-20 minutes. It’s a bit o a splurge, but mine has lasted for at least five years.


A diffuser is a curly-haired girl’s best friend. It lifts hair to add volume and natural ions help style curls without frizz.


I use a regular, oval cushion hairbrush. I’ve tried wet brushes, and I’m not a fan.

shampoo & conditioner

A few years ago, I switched to a new shampoo and conditioner. I feel like this brand works a lot better on my curly, highlighted hair.

hair mask

Since I only wash my hair once a week. When I condition my hair, I mix the conditioner with a hair mask. When I want to do a deep conditioning, I mix the conditioner and hair mask together, apply it to my hair, cover my hair with a plastic cap, leave it on for 10-15 minutes and then rinse.

purple shampoo

Since I have blond highlights, I mix purple shampoo in with the regular shampoo every other wash.

curly hair products


I typically shampoo and condition my hair once a week. I don’t towel dry my hair after washing it. Instead, I squeeze out a decent amount of water and put my hair in a bun on top of my head so I can towel off the rest of my body and get dressed.

How to Style Curly Hair

1. Leave-In Product

With very damp hair, flip your head over, spray on some leave-in product if your hair tangles easily and brush your hair out.

Note: For me, there’s a sweet spot for how wet my hair needs to be for it to look exactly how I want the finished product. I want a little bit of water to drip out of my hair when I’m scrunching my hair (Step 5). If my hair isn’t wet enough, I’ll add water from the bathroom faucet to my hair.

Another note: I do Steps One – Six with my head over our shower because it’s messy. At our old house, I put my head over our master bathroom garden tub– the only use that tub served.

2. Apply Gel to Hands

Apply the gel to your hand. Rub your hands together to disperse the gel onto both hands/fingers.

3. Apply Gel to Hair

Apply the gel to your hair by starting at the rooting and pulling down your hands down to the ends of your hair. Repeat if needed– dependent on hair thickness and length. I typically run three sets of gel through my hair.

styling curly hair

4. Scrunch

Scrunch your hair with your hands. Do this by taking your hands at the ends of your hair and move the hair up to your scalp. Do this gently but firmly. If you get too crazy, it causes the hair to get frizzy. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

how to get the perfect ringlet curls
how to style and dry curly hair

5. Hairspray

Spray your hair with hairspray, and then scrunch your hair some more.

6. Diffuse

Diffuse your hair with your head flipped over until dry. I start by doing a once over my hair using high heat and high speed settings, hovering the blow dryer over my hair but not touching it. Then, I turn the settings to medium heat, medium speed. I repeatedly move the diffuser around my head, spending about 10-20 seconds on each section.

I diffuse my hair with my head flipped over to add more volume. Since it takes 15-20 minutes to dry my hair, I sit on the toilet (with the seat down) and my head between my legs. It’s a good look. You can also sit on a chair. I used to drag one into the communal bathroom at my sorority house in college. This pissed off a decent amount of girls, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

styling curly hair

7. Hairspray

Spray hairspray on your hair as it dries, as needed.

(I’m sitting on my toilet in this photo. Like I said– lots of cropping.)

curly hair diffuser

8. Tousle

Once your hair is dry, keep your hair flipped over. Tousle the curls a little by removing the diffuser (be careful, it’ll be hot) and blowing out your hair for 30 seconds, moving the hairdryer around your head.

9. Arrange Curls

Flip your hair over and begin arranging your curls. There’s no real instructions with this step– I see which way my hair is wanting to part and go with it. Then, I’ll use hairspray to keep things in place so my hair isn’t falling into my face.

Tips for styling curly hair!

If I’m being completely honest, I don’t like how my hair turned out in the photo above. It looked too stringy for my liking but that’s the thing with my curly hair– I never really know how it’s going to turn out.

While I use a lot of product, I wouldn’t say that my hair ends up feeling or looking crunchy. I do like it firm in the beginning because I try to get as many days as possible out of my hair. And if it starts out firm, I can make it last a good 6-7 days. During those 6-7 days, I will freshen my hair up with hairspray to keep everything under control. I will say that my favorite hair days are typically day 3-4.

How to style curly hair


Hair is Too Firm

  • Use less product.
  • Hair is too wet prior to scrunching.

Hair is Too Frizzy

  • Use more product. Start by using more gel.
  • Hair wasn’t wet enough prior to scrunching.
  • Touching your hair too much or not being gentle enough with the diffuser while drying your hair.
  • Try a deep conditioning mask treatment.

Hair is Firmer at the Ends Than the Base

  • Not enough product is being applied to the base of the hair.

Trial and Errror

If your hair doesn’t look the way you want it to the first time, keep trying. I think sometimes curly hair needs time to adjust to new products and a new method of styling. And my hair doesn’t always turn out how I want it. I’ve been known to wash my hair again and start over. I actually did that at midnight the night before I went into the hospital at 5AM to have Emmett (it was too frizzy the first time I styled it). Just imagine my 39 week pregnant self bent over the tub re-washing my hair, and then restyling it. The second time turned out damn good, if I do say so myself.

curly hairstyles

Sleeping with Curly Hair

I’m a nighttime showerer (I don’t like going to bed feeling dirty), so I usually do my hair before bed. I’ll sleep with my hair sprawled out on my pillow– kind of like the pic above. Sometimes I’ll go to bed with my hair, sans product, in a bun on top of my head, rewet my hair in the morning, and style it. But I prefer to knock it all out before going to bed. I don’t use a special pillow or pillowcase. Although I’m tempted to try a silk bonnet or silk pillowcase because I’ve heard good things.

This is how my hair looked after I slept on it before going into the hospital to birth Emmett.

And here’s how my hair looked two days later when we came home from the hospital.

Click here to read my FAQs about my curly hair!

And if you try this out, let me know! I’d love to see pics of your gorgeous curls!


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  1. I’m going to try your method! I think I’ve been messing up my curl pattern by over towel drying my hair. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Also, you look like an angel in that hospital picture with your newborn. Beautiful!!!!

  3. Man you have beautiful hair! I am envious! My hair is stick straight. My hairdresser laughs that people pay a lot of money to get hair as straight as mine!

    1. dianne mcneely says:

      I do pay a lot !!!

  4. Thank you for sharing your method! Curly hair is such a personal thing, but I think many of us struggle to find that process that works for us.

    I miss our old house because of the water there. We are now on well water and I have struggled for 4 years to get my hair to cooperate. I never really thought about changing to a gel and hairspray combination though. Thank you again!

  5. Heather Stephenson says:

    I would love to know if you tried the curly girl method! Mainly getting rid of sulfates and all the additives they suggest. I discovered it a couple of years ago and it was life changing for my curls, but lately I’ve been feeling like my hair needs a change….in product or something! I can’t get my hair to stay looking good the second day. I go from almost ringlet curls to soft waves (which do not always look good). My hair isn’t all that different from yours actually. Also, I’m amazed you can sleep this way! I love way too much. I generally sleep with a silk cap if I really need my hair to last.

  6. I will join you in your riot if Kendra ever discontinues the 25 hairspray. That’s the only hairspray that will hold my fine-haired curls.

  7. Jennifer Wroniewicz says:

    So, you just mirrored my curly hair life. But I, unfortunately, didn’t figure out the curls until my late teens/early 20s. So ALL THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL – in the 80s – I had troubled hair. What doesn’t kill you…
    Once you find your system – they cancel the key gel – I loved Kenra 23 gel. Am now on LUS brands. I could put one kid through college on what I’ve spent trying to find the perfect styling tool. Our process is very similar, but I use clips around the face to hold and build lift (I typically air dry only) .
    Curly hair. Good times.

    Looks great! Curly Girls Unite!

  8. dianne mcneely says:

    I call my hair a mass of mess. I get Keratin treatments to relax the curl. The only time I tried a diffuser, it blew off the dryer & flew across the room. I haven’t tried it since. I am going to try your method. Thank for the pictures….wish you would do a video!

  9. And to think, I used to perm your hair to get the curls! Your natural curls are gorgeous!

  10. thanks for all the good info. I just might enbrace my curls!

  11. Do you have fine hair? My hair is very fine, and when I was young, was straight. Maybe a slight wave, but really more of a cow lick! In my 30s my hair dresser said, “You know, we really should work WITH your curls.” I never realized a had any. But now she says people would kill for my naturally curly hair. I can never get as much curl as you do though. I’ve tried plopping. Tried doing the t-shirt tie over night. Tried many things. Lately I’ve taken to sock buns. Two of them, up on the top of my head so it’s more comfortable for sleeping. I shower at night too to make mornings easier, so the hair is dry by morning (if I don’t go to bed too late!). I pull the socks out, fix my bangs, and I have great looser, bouncier curls. But, I’m going to try your technique and see what I get. I have a very hard time keeping the curl into the second day, but I use virtually no product compared to you. I think your hair is just gorgeous, so I’d like to see if I can come close to achieving it! Thanks!

  12. Hi! I get scared to use so much gel because I don’t want to weigh down my medium curls, but I feel like I’ll give it a try! Question – if you do your hair at night and sleep on it, what do you do in the morning?


  13. Catherine says:

    I think I do a lot of these steps, but your comment about the bottoms being firmer than the roots made me realize I don’t comb products through my hair like you do, I just scrunch.. next time I wash my hair, I’m going to try that step. Thanks so much for sharing!
    Go Hoosiers!

  14. I have a very similar method, but I use a towel. I will try without one tomorrow. 🙂 I asked you on insta a few weeks ago: How do you get so much lift at your roots? I diffuse upside down also but my hair turns out looking like the looney tunes character, gossamer. (go ahead and look him up, you’ll see haha!)

  15. May i ask what you sleep on…like satin pillowcases or anything? Or do you sleep very still? My curls never look good the next day

  16. Spring1onu says:

    #MagicalMane My curl pattern and volume is totally different than yours, but I’m still going to try your methods with my current gel and hairspray products and see what kind of craziness ensues. Should be interesting! lol I diffuse upside down, but don’t apply my products that way except for a head flip and scrunch at the end before the diffusing. I always feel like my hair looks big and fabulous for about 73 seconds after flipping back upright then it falls flat again and I’m not as fabulous. But at least I have those 73 seconds. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  17. Christina says:

    I’ve always loved your hair! I am a curly hair too but feel like I struggle a bit with it. Would you say the gel/hairspray combination that you had the most important/life changing factor of getting your hair to turn out? And I also love to know what kind of cut you have? Layers? Any specific way you get it cut?

    Have you ever tried the curly girl method of conditioner only washing?

  18. Tahna Price says:

    I just tried your method for the second time (this time with super wet hair) and it really does make all the difference. I am so happy you posted this! I’m 32 years old and have been stumbling around for who knows how long not having a clue how to style my crazy curly hair. My curls are so much tighter and voluminous! Thank you, Thank you!! 🙂

    1. Awwww yay!!! I’m so glad you tried it again! I always tell people to keep trying different things to see what works best– it’s all about trial and error.

  19. Thank you for being brave and posting the pictures! I use a similar routine for my curly hair and wanted to share something that I do on the non-wash days, in case it helps you too. To freshen on non-wash days I use a super tiny drop of Paul Mitchell Smoothing Super Skinny Serum, rub it together in my hands then lightly go over my hair (careful not to mess up the curls). I find doing this smooths any frizz from everyday movement and adds a little glow. Then you can still reapply hairspray, if needed. The serum is on the expensive side, but even the travel size bottle lasts for 6-8 months, with the tiny amount used. Here is to great hair days!

  20. Can you please tell me what dryer you use? The link does not work. Thanks.

  21. My hair is fine spiral curl

    I use:
    L’Oréal Professional Série Expert Absolute Repair Lipidium Shampoo, conditioner (daily) and masque (weekly)

    Matrix Instacure (daily)

    Pureology Curl Complete Uplifting Curl spray gel (daily)

    Diffuser upside down

  22. Looking forward to giving this a try. Great explanation of each step. Thanks for sharing with pics!

  23. Ashleigh Perkins says:

    Would you say that you have thick curly hair? I only ask cause you said you flipped your hair over when defusing to add volume. I have super thick curly hair with natural volume. Would it give my hair added volume?

  24. Where does the “it’s a ten” hair product fit in?

  25. Do you find that the more you touch your hair the frizzer it becomes?? I have very thick head of hair.

  26. Thank you so much for sharing your step by step technique. I have had a love hate (lol) relationship with my curl as long as I can remember – I have tried all imaginable products and techniques over the years. I’ve recently decided to stop fighting with my curls. I tried your technique with recommended products and I’m very happy with the results.

  27. I have short wavy hair. I have recently become allergic to something in the hair color process so I my hair color will soon be gray, my tear drops falling! My waves drop out around day two. I currently don’t use a gel but I will be in Ulta today and will pick up your #7 gel and give it a try. Thanks for the tips. You have very beautiful hair.

  28. Billie Sullivan says:

    I’ve been struggling with my curls my whole life. (In my 40’s now) & had my first deva cut. I love it, however, I have not been able to recreate what the stylist did. I have long fairly thick hair. My curls are still better, but I’m finding that I need to wash every other day. By the end of the 2nd day, my hair is extremely matted. I use a ton of leave in conditioner, but the knots & tangles are a night mare. I am losing a lot of hair every time I wash as well. My hair is not as thick as it used to be & I’m blaming it on the amount of hair I’m losing at every wash. Do you have any tips for me? I feel like I’m using a ton of product, but maybe I’m not. I’m gonna try your method to see how it turns out.

  29. I just want to say a big THANK YOU for sharing this. I’ve never been able to get a handle on my curly hair and I decided to try your method on a whim. I was shocked when it really worked and looked good! The products are fantastic, and my hair stays for days (even in the Florida panhandle humidity). It also doesn’t take 3 hours to do- I can get it done in thirty or less. Thank you so much for sharing.

  30. Christine says:

    Thanks for posting these steps to the ultimate styled curly hair. I hated my curls until spirals became fashionable years ago. Then I realised just how lucky I was. While everyone else was spending a fortune and many hours in the hairdressers to get the look I had it naturally and have viewed my curls as an asset ever since. I am now in my mid-60s, have kept my long curly hair and do wear it down when going out. 🙂

  31. None of her products are healthy for curly hair! If you want healthy curly hair, follow the CGM (curly girl method). You can see what is approved by scanning your products http://www.curlscan.com. I’ve been following some CGM on Facebook and have noticed a tighter curl pattern in just 3 weeks

  32. I make my own “hairspray “. I have a spray bottle and I put alcohol free gel in it, then add water, shake and check till I get the right consistency. I like it to be a VERY FINE mist. Might need more water, might need more gel, but it’s great to be able to customize the amount of hold you need. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of conditioner too. Helps keep it from drying out.
    Also I just figured this out, I don’t comb product thru my hair after I get out of the shower. Combing product thru seems to comb out the curls! No matter how I scrunch it after that, it just isn’t as curly! So, after shower, I wrap it in a towel for a few minutes so it’s not dripping wet, then I take it out of the towel, spray it upside down (with my gel spray), flip it back right side up and scrunch it. Let it air dry a bit, then sometimes I’ll dry just the roots. (I live in cold country and don’t like walking around with a wet head.). I use the concentrator and try not to blow the hair around too much as this creates frizz. Just hit the scalp til the roots are somewhat dry.
    Day 2 – I wet my hands, hold my head upside down and dampen my hair. Flip it over and hit it with the gel spray, just a light mist seems to do it. That refreshes the curl. Also when I re-dampen it I kind of pinch the hair as I run my wet hands thru it. Trying to keep the curls defined. That seems to work for several days.
    Good luck! I hope my tips will help some curly girls!

  33. Thanks for sharing ! For anyone reading – I recommend the naturally curly website. They have a quiz to help you find your curl pattern and what products are best for your type. I’ve been using Kinky curly products and probably silly never switch out of fear. Haha! I do a “pineapple” for sleeping and use a silk pillowcase.

  34. I’ve read this article several times but hadn’t tried it until today. I’m soooo glad I did!! Thank you for sharing all your details on how you do this! I was leary about using the hair spray on wet hair & drying it without the diffuser for the final 30 seconds but those were both game changers!! I only had one of the products you used on hand (“10” spray) but the shampoo, conditioner, gel & hairspray were different brands but similar types. My hair came out great!! Thank you so much for detailing out your process!!

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