What To Do When You've Lost Your Curls

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
If you once enjoyed curly, bouncy ringlets, but have lately been finding that your crowning glory is beginning to, well, droop, you have reason to be concerned. Fortunately, there are some likely causes for your loss of curl, and we're here to help bring 'em back. Whether you've had one too many run-ins with the flat iron or you're scared of visiting the salon (and subjecting your hair to helpful curl-enhancing treatments), we've outlined a few ways you may be (accidentally) losing your curl pattern along with suggested strategies for bringing it back.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Heat Damage
Heat can wreak havoc on your curls. Using heat on your hair temporarily breaks the weak hydrogen bonds in your hair making it moldable and easy to alter. This temporary breakdown allows the hair to mold itself into your desired shape — curly hair can temporarily be straightened by using a flat iron, or straight hair can temporarily be made curly by using a curling wand. Your hair is made up of a protein called keratin, and the heat allows the keratin chains to maneuver themselves and assume new positions, essentially breaking down the bonds and weakening the structure of the hair. The process of breaking down the bonds excessively or with severe heat can permanently damage the structure resulting in deformed curls or permanently straight pieces. Hair is its strongest when all bonds are intact.
Putting down the heat styling tools, or at least decreasing the amount that you use them, can significantly help in preventing heat damage. And, when you do heat style, be sure to use a heat protectant product.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Long Hair
Many of today’s hair trends include textured styles and braided updos that call for longer locks. Unfortunately, long hair tends to equate to heavier hair, which drags your curls down and gives the appearance of stretched curls. This does not happen to all hair types though. Finer hair textures carry less weight, while normal to thick strands have a greater chance of being affected. How can we get the volume we crave with the length we love? Well, since the way the hair's cut will help determine how the hair behaves, the best way is to keep your hair cut in a layered shape. Layers are formed by holding sections of the hair at a specific elevation, and volume appears as a result of the hair standing rather than falling. Therefore, if you cut your hair at standing elevations, you'll get volume while maintaining length.
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Always be sure to explain and communicate your hair goals to your hairstylist; if you’d like to keep it long but don't want too many layers, talk to your stylist about a cut that'll help you keep the curl definition you love.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Chemical Damage
The strongest bonds within the keratin are the disulfide bridges. They are not easily broken down and can only be altered with chemical treatments. Unlike the temporary effects of heat styling, chemicals like hair coloring, relaxers, and cold wave or permanent waving techniques involve chemicals that break down and reform the bonds in the hair to make a permanent change. This is what you would call a chemical reaction. Chemist Corner explains that while "most of the chemical reactions in our (cosmetic chemistry) industry occur at the raw material suppliers labs, there are some cosmetic products specifically designed to chemically react.” These chemical reactions cause the hair to swell giving access to its inner workings. They then use products to reform the bonds of the hair, and close the cuticle.
These results are permanent and cannot be reversed; as such, stylists are trained to coach clients that utilize these techniques to use special products to nurse the hair along the way to prevent further damage or stress on the hair. Products that neutralize — sulfate-free cleansers for example — and deep conditioners add moisture to the hair and strengthen it. While the only true antidote to chemical damage is a trim, there are ways to optimize your hair health with deep conditioners and natural oils. Look for products that mention “reconstructor” or “repair” and set up a regular treatment schedule.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
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Dryness Or Damaged Hair
Dryness can cause the hair to be frizzy, resulting in a lack of curl definition, while hair damage can cause the hair to look misshapen from a lack of structure. Styling hair that is dry or damaged takes extra time and can be frustrating. Taking a systematic approach, however, is necessary to correct dry or damaged hair — though figuring out the cause is the first step. If a lack of hair care is the problem, you can recover by using hair conditioning treatments at least once a week. For general dryness, use moisture masks and hydrating deep conditioners to feed the hair the moisture it craves. For damaged hair, look for Keratin-based treatments that promise to repair your damaged hair. When using a reparative mask, rinse it out and then chase it with a regular rinse-out conditioner to balance out the hair, since sometimes keratin or protein-based products can cause the hair to become brittle. When the hair regains its moisture and strength, you may stretch your treatments to every two weeks.
Try not to freak out if you feel you’ve lost your curls; there are ways to bring them back depending on whether you’re dealing with temporary or permanent damage. For permanent concerns like chemical treatments or heat damage, you might not be able to fully recover your original curl pattern, but you can nurse the hair back to a stronger state to try to prevent further damage.
Temporary concerns like dryness or long hair woes can easily be addressed. Long hair can regain its volume with a layered cut, especially if you utilize products that give your curls a boost. Dry hair can regain its elasticity and youthful appearance with the use of moisture-rich products packed with fatty acids and nourishing oils. Be kind to your hair and consider whether you truly want permanent change or if you can live with temporary enhancements.
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