One look through my baby pictures always gets the same response: Wow, your hair was so curly. The '90s me had a head full of tight, untouched curls that went down past my shoulders. But eventually, I found myself going to the salon for a blowout nearly every week, a common beauty ritual in the Latinx community. I loved the convenience and the power I had to straighten my hair or wear my curls whenever I wanted. But because I was applying heat to my hair constantly, my curls lost their shape over time. In fact, I wouldn't even call them curls anymore. They're more like waves or a wet mop after it's passed across the floor a couple of times — just plain limp.
But at 26, I got tired of spending $55 every week on a blowout just for my hair to look healthy. After every shampoo, I could see my real curls — the ones from my elementary school days — peeking out from my roots. But before I could wear my ringlets proudly in public, I needed to go to heat-damage rehab, meaning no more heat (at all) and a haircut to get rid of the dead weight.
After doing some research, I found myself in the chair of New York-based curl expert Mona Baltazar, a.k.a. @themonacut. Her Instagram feed is filled with edgy, angled cuts and before-and-after transformations, where curls spring to life seemingly out of nowhere. During my visit to her studio, I learned that transitioning back to my natural curls was going to be a lot more complicated than I thought — and require sacrificing a few more inches than I expected. Throughout my curly cut, I took notes and asked Mona questions. Here's what you should know if you plan on doing a drastic chop like mine.
Do A Damage Detox
It's time to say goodbye to every hot tool and chemical treatment you turn to for straightening — well, except the blowdryer, you'll want to keep that for diffusing your curls. Straightening irons, keratin treatments, curling rods and wands, they have to go in the weeks leading up to your cut. "You'll want to allow for some of that natural hair to come through first before getting the first cut," says Baltazar. "If you wait some time, you'll be able to hold on to length if you're afraid of going too short. The wait period before getting your cut depends on the individual; I've even had some girls who have waited a year to a year and a half."
Do Your Research
As you would with a tattoo artist or a dog sitter, you want to make sure you're dedicating time to finding the right person, especially being that there are few curly cut experts in the industry. Baltazar recommends using the Internet to your advantage: Go to Google for reviews, view Instagram as an up-to-date portfolio for artists, and scour Pinterest for inspiration. You want to make sure that the professional you choose has worked with hair textures like yours. If you're still not 100% sure, reach out to the stylist for an in-person consultation.
At my consultation, I went to Mona with a Pinterest photo of a girl with 3A curls falling right under her chin. Mona quickly explained that I would need to cut much more than that. I actually needed to go a little above my jawline. Eek. "You have to be prepared to cut hair," says Baltazar. "It doesn't have to be a big chop, but it has to be a lot more than you're comfortable with as you get rid of that anchor hair [that's the damaged hair at the ends that weighs down the new, healthier hair at the roots]. Think of this experience as going out of your comfort zone; you're wanting to let go of that current tie with your old hair."
While you could show your stylist what your ideal length would be, you have to be OK with the fact that they might cut off a little more than that. You picked the stylist you felt was right, so you have to trust in that they're doing their job properly.
We know that stylists can sometimes get scissor happy, and on the other side, customers can occasionally be stubborn. But you and your stylist have the same goal: a good haircut. "The stylist and you have to meet in the middle for it to work smoothly," suggests Baltazar. "A client can't stick to the mentality of, 'Well, this is what I want,' and the stylist can't have too much ego and stand by, 'This is what you need.'"
Even though I had this Pinterest photo in my mind, I had to trust in Mona to do what my hair needed to transition correctly. I expected to lose seven inches, but at the end of my cut, there was at least 10 inches of damaged hair on the floor. And it was just what my hair needed. What was left on my head looked and felt 100% healthy.
The Initial Cut Is The First Of Many
After my hair was diffused, the curls I thought would take years to see sprung up — not exactly like those baby album photos but more than what I ever expected. Mona explained that, more often than not, you won't get exactly what you're looking for the first time around. "The initial cut is not really the haircut," Baltazar said, letting me know that I'd have to come back for two more cuts before I achieved the hair that I wanted, with the next one being in three months. "You're going to have to be OK with your hair being shorter than expected, or that your hairstyle might not be exactly what you want. We know that you have a hair goal, and it could take four more haircuts for you to get there."
Why so many cuts? As the natural curls begin to grow in and spring to life, the shape of the hair changes. You want your strands to fit into each other like puzzle pieces, and as the texture changes, the puzzle pieces are constantly changing. So, Mona recommends cutting frequently at the start of the transition.
You Pay For What You Get
Warning: Curly cuts can be expensive. Baltazar, who charges $200 as a starting price, says it's all based on the artist's experience, but expect to pay more than you would for a straight haircut. "It's not more expensive because it's a different type of hair," she clarifies. "It's more expensive because curly hair has to be catered to differently. The hair needs more conditioning, the stylist is putting in product, the client has to go under the dryer or diffuser, then there's cutting it more than once. You end up spending two hours, or maybe even three, depending on the hair's density and texture."
Your Entire Hair Routine Needs A Remix
The work doesn't end when you walk out of the salon. I'm still on a strict no-heat regimen, and Baltazar stressed that I need to focus on treating my hair at home with deep conditioners and moisturizing products. My texture is entirely different than what I entered the salon with, so my product collection needed an update following my chop.
Prior to my curly cut, I was using defining curl creams (or whatever was around) when I wore my natural hair, but now, I needed to focus on repairing and strengthening. Baltazar suggested I try bonding cleansers and conditioners like Olaplex's No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo and No. 5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner. Also, it's important to cleanse product buildup on the scalp thoroughly with purifying shampoos that can be used once a week. I'm currently a fan of the Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-exfoliating Shampoo.
And as for styling, she told me to not stress it. "That step will evolve as your hair gets curlier," she says. After washing my hair — which I do about twice a week — I apply a leave-in conditioner all over, the Dark and Lovely Damage Slayer Leave-in Spray, and then go in scrunching the hair with mousse, the Kenra Curl Glaze Mousse. The last step is drying with a diffuser and blowdryer. For the days when I'm not washing my hair, I refresh my curls with the same leave-in spray, and just scrunch it in.
I will say styling curls is a commitment. This routine takes a little longer than what I'm used to (about 10-15 minutes more), but after I see my healthy curls afterwards, I'm totally OK with that.
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If you're looking to reclaim your curls in the new year but haven't had the courage to go for the chop, let me leave you with this: The only thought I had leaving the salon after my Monacut — even though it ended up being shorter than I expected — was, What took me so long to do this?