Which Curly Hair-Cutting Method Is Right For You?

Photographed by Brayden Olson.
Most people with curly hair have a hair-cutting horror story (or two, or three). Finding a salon that can both cut and style coils is like apartment-hunting in New York City: long, arduous, and with limited options. You see, cutting naturally spiraling locks is 40% art, 40% science, and 20% talent. It's not like taking scissors to a head of straight strands, when you can simply line up the edges and make sure everything's even — each curl has its own independent personality.
Not all stylists have mastered this skill (ditto on taking care of curly hair in general). But those who have attained it are developing their own unique methods. These are techniques learned through years of studying and working with countless natural and curly-adorned ladies and gents. The approaches vary: There's the group that cuts it wet, some who prefer dry-cutting, and others who swear by first blowing curly hair straight in order to get the desired results.
Which technique reigns supreme? There's no cut-and-dried answer. It depends on your personal preference — so you have to be the judge on that one. To help you weigh the options, we asked three stylists to make the case for their preferred method.
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The stylists at the Devachan salons are fond of this technique. The company employs what it's coined the DevaCut. The client comes in with air-dried, conditioned hair (with no styling products in it), and the stylist goes to town. The main reasoning here is: We wear our hair dry, so why wouldn't we cut it that way too?

"If you cut [curly hair] where it lives, you’re going to be guaranteed better positioning. Because right now, with the hair being dry, it’s in its resting place," explains Lorraine Massey, founder of the DevaCurl method shown in the below video. "I’m merely responding to her hair; I’m not imposing."

Judy Rabinowitz, senior stylist at Devachan NYC, agrees and adds that the salon caters the cut to the curl type. Because, again, no two coily heads are alike. "You give the cut depending on the spring factor... If the hair was very curly or coily, it would spring a lot so you would take less hair off," she explains. "The curly girls are typically afraid to have their hair cut because, number one, it does shrink up so much. And, number two, because oftentimes it seems like it's taking so long to grow." Cutting the hair dry addresses this concern, since it allows the stylist to better gauge how much hair should be taken off.

The process involves cutting curls one (at most three) at a time. While this might seem tedious, it's more than necessary, says Rabinowitz. "[The DevaCut method] is very meticulous because...rarely is the curl pattern consistent throughout their entire head. So we cut with very minimal tension, and we allow the curl to have a life of its own and try not to manipulate it out of what it wants to do naturally," she says. "Some clients wonder whether we can see the real curl pattern because it's scrunched up, but we can. A trained eye can really see what's happening, what type of curl you have, even if it's a little bit frizzy."

Rabinowitz notes that, with other methods, curly customers often complain that their cuts are too short or uneven. "The hair stretches when it's wet — it becomes even more elastic — so it's going to pop up way more than anticipated," she explains. "There's a much greater read [with the DevaCut method], and you pretty much can tell, as a stylist, where the hair is going to fall and how much you're taking off without shrinkage or stretching it too much."
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YouTuber Farrahdreamz was hesitant to lose her length, but worked with her stylist, Dominique, to trim her ends — which ultimately prevented after-wash tangles. "It was lacking definition. Now, my curls are back and they're bouncy," she said afterwards.
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Devacuts aren't just for loose curls. Watch and see how YouTuber Afia Asantewaa's Type 4 Afro gets a gorgeous, sculpted shape within a matter of minutes.
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This is the method most stylists tend to gravitate toward, and what most people (whether their hair is straight, wavy, or curly) are likely used to. It's also the technique that curl-focused salon Ouidad uses. According to Ouidad Master Artistic Educator Chadwick Pendley, your hair is in its most natural state when wet. Curls aren't consistent from day to day — so when you get them cut wet and clean, they're being shaped in a way that allows you to better style your hair going forward.

The patented Ouidad method is called the Carving & Slicing technique. It focuses on cutting hair from the inside out. It's done to mimic the natural curl pattern and is carved specifically to avoid a "pyramid" or "triangle" result. "We're using techniques that allow curls to puzzle, to move within themselves," Pendley explains. "Curly hair can have a tendency to be bulky or bushy. These techniques are somewhat of a de-bulking method. What it's actually doing is it's causing curls to cascade, to puzzle, and to move down and become organized."Pendley notes that, often, haircuts mainly address length and while Ouidad's method (which you can check out above) of course takes it into account, it's also meant to address the interior challenges. "When we're carving and slicing, what we're actually working on is a curl pattern one at a time, but we're not cutting each individual curl," he says. "Because, remember, what we're trying to do is...create movement and consistency throughout."

This method is the only way to ensure a consistent, flawless curl style every time, Pendley adds. "If you go in and blowdry the hair and you straighten it, you've altered it. And while you can cut precisely like that, when you rewet the hair and re-blowdry it, you'd have to do it in the exact same manner for that to make sense," he says. "When it's in its natural state, if you get it right at that point, you're free to do whatever."
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The stylist that worked with YouTuber Simone Aisha did more slicing on the outside of her hair to create shape, and carved on the inside to remove bulk.
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Blowdrying First

Hairstylist Anthony Dickey, founder of Hair Rules salon, has perhaps the most controversial technique of the bunch: He cuts curly hair after it's been blown out. Now, before anyone goes all crazy in the comments, hear out his reasoning. He doesn't cut all textures in this manner, for one thing — only the ladies with tighter coils; each customer gets a customized experience.

"We look at the hair texture first, and that determines the method we're going to use to cut that texture. So, for instance, if you have a wavier or a straighter texture, or a loose curl that doesn't have a lot of tight spring to it, there's no need to cut the hair necessarily when it's dry. You can cut it when it's wet," Dickey says. "But for textures that happen to have a lot of shrinkage, tightly wound spirals, or tight kinks, we blow the hair out first to be able to make sure that all strands get the attention that they deserve and don't turn into a split end." Some ladies receive a full-on blowout, while others solely have their hair stretched out with a comb attachment.

Dickey adds that Hair Rules stylists might go in afterward, on dry hair, to do some customized cutting, one curl at a time. The method is meant to approach curls in a texture-specific manner, rather than being one-size-fits-all. "We're not talking about kinky, curly, wavy, or straight as much as we're talking about all of the different textures that fall in-between those textures," he says. "Just because, for instance, your hair is kinky doesn't mean you have the same [type] of kinky hair as the next person, right? Because we are a salon that's inclusive of every texture, we take this unique, customized, texture-specific approach very seriously."

Ultimately, the best way to ensure a satisfactory cut is to have a consultation, be vocal, and, most importantly, find both a stylist and a salon that you trust and believe in. Now that you have an idea of the different methods out there, hopefully you're encouraged to seek out the best curl-cutting technique for you. After all, you don't want to be that girl who goes into hibernation after a bad cut...again.
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In this video, Dickey clarifies that you don't necessarily have to flat iron before cutting. A blow dry, especially on hair that is prone to shrinkage, helps you see each and every strand. "You can't cut what you can't see," he explains.
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