Things my hair has taught me

I think I’ve mentioned once or twice that I have a lot of hair. Gobs of the stuff. I was pretty much bald as a baby, and my hair didn’t come in as quickly as my daughter’s did (she had waist-length hair at 3). But since then, it’s just been unwieldy, my hair. It’s thick and coarse and so heavy that certain hair styles make my head ache.

It’s also pretty curly. If you speak curl, it’s 3a/b. If you don’t, it’s the kind of curly that makes women go “oh, I wish I had your hair!” (Guess what? I wish I had yours.) And because I live in the South, it’s also quite frizzy. We are talking serious poof here.

It wasn’t always this way. While it was curly when I was a toddler, it straightened out during my preschooler days; only after I hit puberty did it start curling again. I didn’t realize at first that it had changed, in those days of blow dryers and hair spray, so I had crazy bad hair for a few years. Fun times.

Because there is so much of it, I let my hair air dry — I simply do not have the patience, or the tolerance to heat, to blow dry this mop. But it takes hours (literally overnight) to dry, even at shoulder length. I’ve tried cutting it short once or twice, thinking that I would have a little more flexibility in terms of hair style, but crashed and burned each time. My hair just doesn’t do short well. Anything above my shoulders is more floof than I can deal with. So I wear it long.

Long. Thick. Coarse. Curly. No blow drying. And I have allergies, so I have to wash it every single day. Product is, therefore, everything.

Since I was in my late teens, I have tried literally hundreds of shampoos, conditioners, masks, hair oils, mousses, gels, creams, jellies, puddings, and the like. Every time I find a product that I love, that works wonderfully, that leaves my hair soft and shiny and frizz-free, chunky-curly and still feeling like hair…they discontinue it. (Dove, I’m still not speaking to you for axing my mousse in favor of that whipped cream crap.) So I took to the internet.

The internet says that hair like mine needs moisture. Loads of it. I asked for recommendations from hair stylists, Sephora employees, classmates, coworkers, and people on forums. One by one, I tried the products they recommended — salon products, cheap stuff, and everything in between. Every few months, I go through my bathroom cabinet and throw away a dozen partial bottles of goop.

The recommended techniques also failed me. Plopping (twisting your sopping wet, product-laden hair in a t-shirt to dry) appealed to me because it sounded similar to my routine shortly after I went curly, only less drippy. But I awoke to soggy, definitionless curls that turned into frizz poofs when they dried, morning after morning. My hair also dried too slowly for twisting. Co-washing (washing with conditioner, to the uninitiated) worked at first, but over time I got gooey. No poo (washing with baking soda and vinegar) left my hair super shiny, but after a week it became tangly and brittle. I stopped brushing my hair. Then started again.

Finally I found some products that didn’t leave my hair goopy, but it felt dry, rough, and snarly — worse than it did when I was in high school and was bleaching it Lea Thompson red. My hair, which is uncolored and not heat treated, felt like straw. Nothing worked for me the way it did for other women. Was I using the products wrong? Or was my hair just that awful?

A little more research uncovered another possibility: That the issue wasn’t the texture or curl of my hair, but its porosity and reaction to protein. I read for hours on the subject (Kai was in a sleepless phase). Then I started reading the labels on my products, and a light dawned.

I picked up a clarifying shampoo (I was still sticky from my last product failure) and a mousse without protein. After degucking my hair (which took three washes), I conditioned it with my usual conditioner, then applied the new mousse and hoped for the best. The next day…I had hair again, not frizzy straw. Encouraged, I bought the matching conditioner, which was far lighter than my regular conditioner. That night, my hair dried within two hours.

Maybe my hair isn’t so awful after all.

Anya, too, has low-porosity, protein-sensitive hair. We have far fewer hair brushing battles now that I’ve switched her over.

I still don’t have the perfect products yet; I have to mix mousses to get the level of hold I want (enough to survive sleeping on it without frizzing, but not so much that it’s crunchy and sticky), and I’m not 100% happy with the results yet. But I’m so much closer to where I want to be. And I’m spending less, too; my new shampoo and conditioner cost half of what I was spending on the old stuff.

I’ve learned an important lesson in all this: Just because something works for everyone else doesn’t mean it will work for me. I should keep searching until I find what fits. Not just in hair products, but in all things.

Also, science. It works.



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