What Every Curly Girl Needs To Know Before Hitting The Salon

For curly girls, the salon is a nightmare: A haven of bad cuts, flat irons, and long hair that doesn't shrink when dry. Until recently, women with wavy, curly, or coily hair have not had many options when it came to finding a natural-hair-knowledgeable salon. Instead, horror stories abound, from botched bleach jobs that kill curls to straightening treatments and blowouts that result in having to cut 10 inches off — an unsolicited big chop, if you will.
Luckily, there are now plenty of curl specialists in salons across the country who know how to cut and color curly hair without causing any damage to the curls themselves. This isn't your average straight haircut experience: Curls need special attention because the follicle is generally more fragile and drier than other hair types. In curly girl salons, brushes are a no-no, products boast sulfate-free on their labels, and scissors snip off bits of dry hair to lessen shrinkage.
Sadly, not everyone can make it to a curl specialist, much less afford one. So, how do you get the perfect cut and color on both a budget and time constraint? You ask questions, and be sure to have your Wendy Davis pink sneakers on too, in case one of their answers requires you taking your textured hair and running for the hills. Here, we asked the pros which questions you need to be asked your salon in order to get the best cut and color for your curls. Read on, and be prepare to kiss that salon PTSD goodbye.
1 of 5
Photo: Picture Perfect/REX USA.
Question 1: Can you describe your process?

Cassidy Blackwell, founder and editor-in-chief of the natural hair blog Natural Selection, says that just because a salon has good reviews doesn't mean that you should assume they know best about what's right for your hair. Always be sure to ask what the entire process of the cut and color will consist of, otherwise, you might end up with a horror story like Blackwell's.

When trying out a straightening treatment at a Dominican salon in Harlem, Blackwell said that her first red flag was having to beg the stylist to put a heat protect on her natural hair. "The way the Dominican straightening process works is that often times the heat regulators are removed from the dryers and they heat up way beyond what they should in an effort to get the hair straight. The fact that the stylist was resistant to using something to protect my hair from damage should have been my sign to stand up and walk out," she says. "Two hours later, I had perfectly straightened hair, but two days later my curls still hadn't bounced back and I ended up having to cut 10 inches off."

From that experience, she learned "about the importance of self advocacy when it comes to hair styling. You know your hair better than anyone else and when trying out a new stylist, it's important that you speak up on your behalf about what you'd like to use and have done to your hair. You are their client and they will have to listen to you." Because when you have curls as naturally amazing as Jurnee Smollett's here, you want to do everything in your power to protect them, even if it means standing up and walking out of a salon that gives you a bad vibe.
2 of 5
Question 2: What tools will you use?

Women with naturally wavy, curly, or coily hair know that there is a whole arsenal of hair-care tools that should never come close to their texture — and brushes are the biggest threat.

Take a lesson from Priscilla, graphic designer over at NaturallyCurly.com, who assumed that a traditionally African-American salon would know how to handle her texture.

"Most 'black' salons, or any salon for that matter, don't know how to do type 4 (coily) hair. They don't know how to give it the TLC it needs," she said. "I got my color at one and the stylist that did my hair had very short, shaved natural hair so I thought, 'Yeah, maybe she'll know what to do.' Wrong."

"I should have asked how she was going to do the color and what tools and products she would use on my hair. At some point she suddenly began ripping through my dry, coily 4C hair with a paddle brush. I wanted to scream and run away, and I wish I had."

Denman D3 Medium 7 Row Styling Brush, $12.15, available at Denman.
3 of 5
Photo: MediaPunch Inc/REX USA.
Question 3: Will you cut it wet or dry?

Cutting curly hair is a whole different ballgame than a traditional straight hair appointment. Women with curly hair, like Danielle Brooks here, often have multiple curl patterns ranging anywhere from wavy to coily, and each section reacts differently to a cut. Morgan Whillhite, lead stylist and educator at Ouidad, says that not all stylists are trained to visually analyze curl pattern and texture.

"Layering or achieving a desired length can end in disaster due to the shrinkage of the multiple textures," she says. "The length can also end up being shorter when dry due to a lack of knowledge of curl pattern. This can end in shelf-like layers — the 'pyramid' effect — or bulkiness."

To combat this, most curl specialists cut curls while dry so they can see the effect immediately and be sure not to take too much off. Denis DaSilva, co-owner of curly hair salon Devachan, says that if you can't get to a curl specialist then you should ask a salon representative if they have any curly hair clientele and go to the stylist that has worked with them. "And ask if they cut the hair wet or dry. If they cut the hair wet, run away," he says.
4 of 5
Question 4: What method will you use for coloring?

Hair color via foil is a big negative for curly hair, and stylists have a lot of other options. Recently, painting techniques on dry hair known as pintura or balayage have become more mainstream thanks to curly hair salons and specialists.

"Pintura or balayage are much better for the hair because you can see exactly where you are putting the color," says Shari Harbinger, the director of training and development at DevaCurl, the product offshoot of Devachan. "In foil, you can't see; you are guessing. More importantly, with foil, the chemicals are inside and that seems to be more damaging to already fragile curly hair."

Harbinger even recommends that you ask your stylist to only use half of the color they normally would, given that curly hair is more fragile. And the experts over at Ouidad agree: "If you are looking just to enhance your natural color for vibrancy and shine, opt for a semi-permanent gloss. This helps close down the cuticle, making curly hair more manageable while having the ability to reflect more shine," says Whillite. "You don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of your hair in order to achieve a certain color. Baby steps are required so that the hair can have an adjustment period."

In the end, if you are still unsure about the cut and color, ask to meet up with the stylist beforehand and plan a method of attack, like Jamie Klazmer, account director at NaturallyCurly.com. “As a curly gal, I have run out of salons many times in my life crying. It seems that a number of stylists are just not always equipped to cut more textured hair,” she says “I sometimes like to do a five minute meet-and-greet to make sure they understand my curl pattern before the day of the appointment.”

L'Oréal Healthy Look Creme Gloss Color in Black Cafe Noir 2, $8.49, available at Drugstore.com.
5 of 5
Photo: David Fisher/REX USA.
Question 5: Can you show me?

While shorter hair on curls can be gorgeous —just look at Rita Ora — having too much length removed is the number one complaint from women with curly hair. "There is a difference between what clients see as an inch and what salons see as an inch," says Harbinger. "Ask your stylist to show you how much they plan to cut off."

In fact, Harbinger doesn't even recommend cutting length if you aren't with a curl specialist. "If you aren't blowing it out often, you might not even need a trim. Don't even cut the length, leave it alone," she says. "Focus less on length and more on perimeter and interior. Shape is a priority for curly girls, so ask the stylist to work with the crown area, the interior. That's where hair is the heaviest and it’s the area that causes the triangle affect. Don't cut length, tell them to go right to the crown — elevate the crown."

More from Hair


R29 Original Series