Before we start, I'd like to preface this list of tips with my ultimate piece of advice: no one knows your hair better than you do. There's no substitute for trial and error, but I do think incorporating one or a few of these ideas into your styling routine can help get the look you're after!
If you have a tip that I am missing here, or if you find any broken links, please email me at email@example.com. This is a community endeavor and I welcome suggestions.
I'm listing these tips in order - all the way from shampooing to 2nd day hair. I've highlighted important points in blue. You can scan below to find the topic you're most interested in. I'm mentioning some products with which I am not affiliated and do not make a profit from, and they are only suggestions. Please do your own research to find products that are suitable for your unique hair texture.
Cleanse + Condition: Shampoo/Conditioner/Co-Wash/Pre-poo
Everyone knows about shampoo and conditioner, and you probably have your favorites. I can't recommend the perfect shampoo or conditioner because your hair needs are unique, but I do recommend a sulfate-free shampoo for everyone - it's less stripping to the hair. Co-washes have been around for awhile, but are still not considered mainstream and pre-poos are new to the line-up, so I'll introduce you to them both.
Co-washes (sometimes called cleansing creams) are beneficial in a few ways. Firstly, they are a one-step product, eliminating the need for a shampoo and a conditioner. Also, when used over time, they help regulate the amount of oil your scalp produces. Finally, because of their gentle cleansing properties, they don't strip the hair of all moisture (better for frizz control!). Co-washes are better for drier hair types but can overwhelm fine hair. There is generally no lather with these products and it can take up to 6 weeks to see improvements in oil reduction at the scalp and enhanced frizz control.
Pre-poos are a treatment you put on your hair before you shampoo. When I first heard of this, I'll be honest - I thought, "What a bunch of baloney! I'm going to shampoo my hair, so what's the point?" However, I have recently used Oribe's Gold Lust Pre-Shampoo and I can testify to the benefits. The idea is that if you use a treatment with a high absorption rate on the hair prior to shampooing, it will retain some of that moisture, helping to keep hair soft and hydrated. You can also do this inexpensively by using coconut oil or black castor oil. Bonus - black castor oil is known to help with hair regrowth! Apply oil or treatment from roots to ends - you can also apply to the scalp if that area is dry or flaky. Leave on for 20-60 mins, and then shampoo as usual. This is great as a once-a-week treatment. Use a normal shampoo (not a co-wash) and then conditioner to remove the treatment.
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Removing Excess Water From Your Hair
There are a few schools of thought on how to approach removing water from your hair, and after putting these all to the test, the truth is in: there is no right way except what works for you. I'll share with you some of the techniques I've learned - read through them all and see what resonates.
Using a towel, t-shirt, or microfiber towel to dry your hair
Some people may not even notice a difference between these modalities. However, many people with frizzy or curly hair enjoy using a t-shirt or a microfiber towel to dry their hair. These two options are kinder to the hair cuticle by not roughing it up which can create more frizz. A t-shirt is easy to try because we all have one at home. I personally use a microfiber towel and love it. There's no right or wrong way.
Typical products include gels, creams, mousses, sprays, and serums. AirWaves Air Dry Cream is a hybrid cream-gel, with a balance of moisture and hold, created to eliminate the need for using multiple products on the hair. Personally, I think wavy and curly hair needs a mix of moisture and hold to help combat frizz and control wave patterns. This can be accomplished by layering products (for medium to thick hair). Using two or more products like a leave-in conditioner and a gel or mousse can increase your level of customization in terms of hold and moisture, but it is not always necessary. Finer, low-density hair types can do well with leave-in sprays and mousses, but it all comes down to trial and error.
From the most hold to the least: Gels will provide the most amount of hold, but don't discount them all as being crunchy. Many leave hair soft, but check user reviews prior to purchasing. Hybrid cream-gels can be the perfect combo for medium to thick hair, but they all have varying degrees of hold and moisture so look for reviews and photos that represent your hair type. Mousses are usually middle of the road, but it depends on when you apply them (wet or damp hair). Most creams do not have much hold, so they can moisturize the hair and help control frizz but aren't usually great at wave definition. Serums and oils are the lightest of the bunch - even though they are often marketed to help with frizz control, I find that for air-dried hair, they aren't the best choice. That being said, there are exceptions to every rule. Sephora gives free samples and is a good resource to utilize. User reviews of products by people with similar hair types to yours are also great. You can also ask your hairstylist who can make a recommendation for you.
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When Should I Apply Product To My Hair? (but do what works for you)
If you have extremely frizzy hair or very curly hair:
Try applying product to very wet hair. Using your hands, squeeze excess water out in the shower. Try applying product while in the shower and then use a towel or t-shirt to scrunch hair and remove excess water. You can also try applying product to wet hair, and then wrap hair in a towel or t-shirt to help remove water. Extremely frizzy hair is best combatted when hair is wet. Sealing a product on the hair before it has a chance to dry helps curls clump together. I like to say that "curls like friends" - basically, they look better when they come together in a uniform way.
If you have wavy to curly hair, with moderate frizz:
Take the time to find your hair's sweet spot of wet to dry ratio. In my experience, if you have a looser wave, applying product on hair that is damp (not soaking wet) allows for more volume and a more defined curl pattern. If you decide to diffuse (more on this below), I recommend starting with fairly wet hair with product in it in order to preserve the wave pattern. If you have curlier hair, you likely get natural volume from your curls so more water in the hair during product application could be better, especially when it comes to taming frizz. Also, note that more water in the hair dilutes the product, so you will probably get a softer effect than if you applied product to damp hair.
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How Much Product Should I Use?
Figuring out how much product to use depends on when you apply the product (very wet or damp hair), the effect you want (light hold, or more hold and definition), and your hair's characteristics (fine, med, coarse, frizzy). It is impossible to tell you how much to use without having that conversation. Here are my general recommendations when trying a new product for air-drying your hair:
For fine, low-density hair that gets weighed down easily, it is a good idea to start with a small amount of product. For everyone else - and this may be an unpopular opinion, but here goes - I suggest evenly coating the hair with product. This means using more than a dime or quarter size. You should be able to feel the product in your hair. This doesn't mean dumping tons of product on your hair, but you can push the product to see what it is capable of. If it dries and leaves the hair very crunchy, now you know the level of hold the product is capable of. If it leaves the hair heavy or overly moisturized, you know the level of softness the product is capable of. I suggest this technique because oftentimes people do not use enough product on their hair when air drying it, and they immediately discount that it doesn't work. For some reason, people are afraid of using too much product. Of course, we don't want to waste it, and no one wants to have a bad hair day, but this is an important part of the process. I suggest testing new products on a weekend or a day off. Also, considering trying new products solo without any additional products so you can see the true result.
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How Should I Apply Product?
You may want to detangle your hair prior to applying product. You can use a pick or a wide-toothed comb. You can also detangle your hair with your fingers as you're applying product. These methods can help to keep your wave pattern intact.
If your hair density is low (IE, not a lot of hair on your head), or if you have short hair, you can apply product evenly in one step. If you have medium to high density, consider sectioning your hair with a clip. I have high-density hair, so I section my hair into 3 or four parts. I apply product evenly starting at the nape, then do the midsection, and then the top. This way, product is distributed evenly. Otherwise, it is easy to get a lot of product on the top part of the hair and end up missing underneath and the back.
When applying product, I use two techniques called "Rope and Release". The idea is to smooth product through your hair as if you were climbing a rope in gym class. Afterwards, use your fingers in a scrubbing motion on your scalp to release the waves and create volume. I use these techniques instead of "raking" product through the hair, because I feel that this creates a stringier curl pattern, and I prefer a fuller curl (If you currently have success with raking, keep on keepin' on!) Scrunching is another great technique - try doing it with your microfiber towel or a t-shirt for better curl clumping! You can also try twirling and twisting sections of hair around your finger, particularly areas that don't lay the way you'd like.
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To Air Dry or Diffuse?
Diffusing is a great technique for keeping your wave pattern while expediting the drying process and creating volume. It can cause excess frizz for some people. Despite this, diffusing is a technique that I would suggest you try. If you have long hair without an exact part, you can flip your head upside down and use the diffuser end to "scrunch" the hair - do not use your hands in this process (except to manipulate the blowdryer). For shorter hair, you can tip your head to the side to get volume and access to the scalp with the diffuser. Focus on getting the roots dry by holding the diffuser close to the scalp. If the hair starts to become frizzy, it's time to stop. Some people can diffuse their hair completely without much frizz, but others can only diffuse 40-50% and then air dry from there. You can also try using clips at your roots to help with volume.
Side note: Your blowdryer should have come with a diffuser. If it didn't, there are universal diffusers you can order on Amazon.
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Should I Scrunch or Touch My Hair During the Day?
This depends on the effect of your product, your habits, and if your hair is prone to frizz. Generally, the more you touch your hair, the more it disturbs the hair and creates frizz. Some people like to put product in their hair, scrunch it or put it into place, and not touch it afterward. This can create beautiful hair because it is undisturbed, but it can also sometimes lead to flat hair. Scrunching is something you can do while your hair is wet/damp, and this can increase volume and curl bounciness. Once the hair starts to dry, the shape has been built in and there isn't much you can do to alter it at that point. Shaking your hair out when it is dry can give added volume and fluffiness, and you can even use a pick at the roots to give lift and volume. A hint about "crunchy" products - often, the crunchiness is a good thing, because that is what has allowed your hair to hold its shape. Once it is dry, you can lightly scrunch the hair to "break the cast" so that the hair feels soft but keeps its shape. You can use an oil on your hands to do this if you'd like.
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What Can I Do If My Hair Gets Frizzy/Loses Shape During the Day?
If your hair gets frizzy during the day, you have a few options. You can use a light-medium hold hairspray - I like Bumble and Bumble's Spray de Mode. Then, gently use your hands and fingers to smooth any excess frizz. You can also slightly dampen any frizzy areas and then use a small amount of a cream-based product to smooth unwanted frizz. Very light styling creams such as Brilliantine or Featherbalm are also great for taming dry, unruly ends. Oils can also be helpful, as long as you get one that isn't too heavy. Dry shampoo can be great for adding volume to flat hair - even wavy and curly hair can benefit from this! Lift the hair and spray about six inches away from the roots at areas where more volume is desired. I like Rock-A-Holic, but there are many excellent brands, as well as drug store brands available.
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Tips For Going to Bed With Wet or Dry Hair
FOR WET HAIR: If you have long hair, you can try braiding your hair overnight. This will create artificially controlled waves. You can also wrap your hair into a bun for a similar but looser effect. Another option is to try twisting large sections of hair to encourage the hair to stay in a uniform pattern while you sleep. In the morning, you can reassess your style. Adding a little water, with a little more styling cream to refresh any unruly bits is helpful.
You can also use a technique known as "plopping", where you flip your wet hair over onto a t-shirt and let your waves slowly descend onto the t-shirt in a uniform way. Wrap your hair in the t-shirt and sleep in it overnight. This can produce soft, controlled waves. I am linking to someone else's video because I think this technique works better for longer hair, which I don't have right now. (video here)
There is another technique called "sleeping in the crunch". Use your normal styling products (make sure you are using at least one product with a decent amount of hold) and diffuse the hair until it starts to become crunchy. Go to bed with damp, crunchy hair, with your hair fanned out on your pillowcase, up and away from your head and scalp. Your hair will finish drying overnight, and the crunchy "cast" is broken from your movements during sleep. You can refresh as necessary in the morning.
FOR DRY HAIR: You can use a technique called "pineappling", where you loosely tie up your waves on the top of your head. This allows your curls to remain intact overnight with minimal disruption. Again, I'm using an outside video because this works better with longer hair. (video here)
Also, there is a new trend in using silk pillowcases to help decrease friction on hair while sleeping. There is a very expensive one available on Sephora, but you can also purchase one for a fraction of the price on Amazon.
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How Can I Refresh Second Day Hair?
I'm not going to pull any punches here - having great 2nd-day hair is possible, but it's kind of a crapshoot. Flat hair and hair without wave definition is hard to revive without completely wetting your hair. Hair that has retained the majority of its shape and style can be revived using a little bit of water. A little bit of a cream or oil-based styling product can be used to gently smooth excess frizz, but products with too much hold can make nearly dry hair go crunchy. If you're going to use a volumizing dry shampoo spray, do it before any water or smoothing techniques so you disturb the hair as little as possible.
You can also use a curling iron or flat iron to add curl or smooth unruly bits. This is a great way to extend your air-dry style!
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