curly questions

I’ve had curly hair all my life. I had long hair for most of my twenties that eventually grew to be a curtain of unruly waves, then got chopped back to a bob.

1996 25 October Mairead Fiona Sue

my thirtieth birthday!

In my “world traveller” phase I chopped all my hair back to a pixie cut and when I grew it back the curls were a lot lazier, less defined.

Over the years I spent ten fortunes on hair products trying to tame my frizzy mane. John Frieda’s Frizz-Ease was my best friend. Styling my hair at home became a complex cocktail of up to seven (seven!) products in a specific order. And still five days out of seven I looked like Worzel Gummidge’s slightly messy younger sister.

The older I got, the more frustrated I became. My hairdresser bill grew and grew as I tried every new product on the market. Cupboards filled up with bottles, aerosols and pump-action containers of hair products, all seven-eights full. More times than not if I caught a glimpse of my reflection, my spirits would sink. I wasn’t vain and I didn’t have high expectations: I only wanted to look respectable really.

The dreaded mid-forties came. Looking for a new job, I polished up my working wardrobe and got new headshots done by a professional photographer. On the morning of the shoot I took particular care with my hair but it still grew into a halo of amorphous frizz. At the photographer’s suggestion I twisted my hair back into a severe up-style just to look halfway decent.




… and after.

I turned to the internet. Maybe I needed a new hairdresser. All roads led to a man called Neel in a funky-sounding salon in Collingwood called Cherry Bomb. Didn’t sound like a salon for an ageing executive with no tattoos. But I got an appointment anyway.

That first appointment changed my life. I walked into a colourful, cruisy salon staffed by an army of curly-haired stylists, and was taken in hand by the famous Neel. A young man from Brighton in England, Neel has made curly hair his niche (even though he wears his own close-cropped). He was positively evangelical about his advice, learned over the years from curly hair specialists all over the world.

  • First: shampoo is not your friend. It is full of sulphates that have been sucking the moisture out of your hair for years. Go home and throw all your products out.
  • Second: silicones are not your friend. John Frieda is an imposter. Silicones only give the illusion of a frizz-free solution for a few hours until your hair realises it is actually being parched to death and reaches back out into the atmosphere in search of water. Go home and throw all your products out.
  • Third: towels are not your friend. Your curly hair is actually quite fine and fragile. You need a micro-fibre towel and a gentle touch. Go home and throw all your towels out.
  • Fourth: hairbrushes are not your friend. You are damaging your fine, fragile hair every time you brush. Go home and throw all your hairbrushes out.
  • Fifth: your hair is unique. If it is cut when wet you will have no chance of showing off what curl you have. Always have your hair cut when it is dry.
  • Six: Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise.

Over the next three months I read all the books, subscribed to all the blogs and brought my haircare regime back to basics. I really did throw all my products out. I started to wash my hair with conditioner, massaging my scalp with my fingers to clean it instead of relying on the squeaky-clean feeling of a head full of suds.

I slathered good, simple, sulphate- and silicone-free conditioner onto my hair and didn’t rinse it all out. I wrapped my wet hair in a micro-fibre towel, combed it gently with a wide-tooth comb and then slathered even more conditioner onto it before allowing it to dry naturally. I washed my hair only every five or six days, and revitalised it in between washes with yet more conditioner.

After a month I could really see a difference. After another two weeks on a tropical island with pure coconut oil in my hair, I was like a different woman. Even after scuba diving I could simply soak my hair in conditioner and walk out the door looking fantastic. I finally achieved my impossible dream of half-decent hair every day.


after Neel cut my hair for the first time

The strange thing is that all of this cost so much less time and money: most of these pure products were very affordable and could be used as both a conditioner and a styling product. My seven-step styling regimen was reduced to a quick once-over with a wide-tooth comb and a generous dollop of Sukin conditioner. In summer my hair dried naturally in the car on the way to work. The extra time taken to wash and dry my hair in the morning went from one hour to barely ten minutes.

So why am I telling you this? Because so many women don’t know. We believe the Unilever/Procter & Gamble marketing hype. We don’t realise we are poisoning our hair and stripping away the very thing we are desperate for: moisture. We buy products full of petroleum-based chemicals, drying alcohol, formaldehyde and artificial perfumes, and wonder why our hair doesn’t react well. The alternatives are not expensive or hard to find, but I suppose they don’t help the bottom line of Garnier or Proctor & Gamble.

Lou Davison is a young Scottish woman who spent the early years of her life hiding her curls until an accident a few years ago left her with a lot of time on her hands. She did lots of research and discovered the so-called “curly girl” online community. When she moved to Melbourne Lou found that there were almost no resources for curly-haired people here so she started her own blog, sharing tips and tricks in the hope that she could inspire others to discover what she had.

“It sounds ridiculous, but discovering this new haircare method literally changed my life”, Lou tells me as we chat with other curly-haired women at a meet-up in Brunetti’s in Melbourne. “I used to hate my hair and now I embrace it. I see women in the street who are doing what I used to do, and I feel like going up to them to tell them there is another way.”

Love Your Curls

It’s hard to believe that Lou could ever hate the beautiful mane of golden spiral curls she loves so much now. Her website is a treasure trove of information and inspiration for all things curly. She even has interviews with regular curly-haired women who tell all about their routines and care tips – no two curly heads are the same so we are always on the lookout for similar people whose secrets we can share.

These days there are good websites and blogs in most countries for curly-haired people (mostly women) to get informed, share information and support each other in their quest to be kind to their hair. The interesting thing is that curly-haired people are still often seen as dangerous, uncontrolled, and even unprofessional in a workplace setting. It takes a little bravery to take the first step, but I can almost guarantee you that like Lou and myself, it will change your life and save you money and time into the bargain.

Useful links for curlies around the world:

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