In the battle of women versus their curly locks, monotony often comes out the winner. Curly hair, in all its varieties of texture and curl patterns, can be maddeningly difficult to manage. Small wonder that once curly-haired women find a cut and style that works for them -- more or less -- they settle into wearing that day after day.
"Women with curly hair struggle a lot," says Craig Carter, an ethnic-hair expert with the Carlos Lobo Salon in New York City. Dealing with curling hair's twisty ringlets, tight coils or something in between may require additional deep conditioning and preparation with styling aids -- such as curl-defining or enhancing mousses and gels -- than other types of hair, he says. But with a regular at-home conditioning regimen and a few new and simple styling tricks, you can easily bust out of a hair rut.
If your hair grows in spiral curls, twist it into five French braids down your back and then sleep in them, suggests Daven Mayeda, a Los Angeles hair pro who styled Mariah Carey's hair during her Angels Advocate tour.
"When you wake up and take out the braids, your hair will be an amazing texture," says Mayeda. "It's a great no-heat, organic way to do a curly hairstyle, and it will last for several days."
For a full, wavy look, create five or six small buns in places where they won't interfere with your sleep, says Mayeda. Dampen hair with a mix of water and conditioner, then coil hair into ropes, twist into buns and secure with bobby pins. Let the hair dry overnight and simply unpin and tousle in the morning.
"With curly hair, anything asymmetrical is amazing," says Mayeda. He suggests experimenting with a few coils pinned up on one side. Another off-center look that's a cinch to achieve: side-part your hair, and then plait it into a low-slung loose braid on the heavy side of your part.
"I've been giving women with really curly hair a few shorter layers or a bit of fringe around the face to help create shape, instead of letting the top and sides be flat," says George Gonzalez, owner of George the Salon in Chicago and the hairstylist for Oprah's in-house spa at Harpo Productions.
With layers and bangs, you'll have loose pieces that you can keep free when you create the half-up-half-down 'dos you've long admired on women with straight or wavy hair.
With her waist-length, shiny black ringlets, Timon Cana, a Beverly Hills hairstylist, has lots of opportunities to experiment with new styling options. Unlike slick, straight hair that can slide around, "curly hair will stay where you put it," says Cana.
She's a fan of a loose ponytail that you secure wherever it looks and feels best -- high at the crown, low on the nape or folded into a loop on the back of your head. Curly hair looks great slightly mussed, so Cana often allows some portion of a ponytail, braid or bun to hang loose.
Curly hair is a great anchor for all types of accessories, including chopsticks, banana clips, combs, chignon pins and silk head scarves.
Bun cages are a favorite of Cana's; these cages or domes fit over a bun and are held in place with a hair stick. You can find them online or at your local beauty-supply shop in a wide variety of materials, including tortoise shell, beads and rhinestones.
Valli Hermanhas covered international fashion, beauty and travel for the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News and other print and online publications.
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