How to Wash Curly Hair (and How Often to Do It)

Much like many other curly hair tips and advice, how to wash curly hair isn’t one-size-fits-all. That means there isn’t a singular answer when someone asks, “How often should you wash your hair?” In all honesty, the frequency of your wash days depends on your curly hair shampoo, personal preference, and the state of your natural curls. With that said, there’s a solid chance that you should be cleansing more often than you have been—or at least think you should be.
Understandably, reservations about overwashing curly hair are common. It’s the driest of the bunch, which makes it a lot more prone to damage, breakage, and curl pattern disruption. However, there’s one big takeaway that those with natural hair need to remember: Water is your friend. It’s all about balance, and with the right curly hair products and hair washing routine, you can absolutely make the most of each shampoo session. Here’s what you need to know.

How Often Should You Wash Curly Hair?
Although there isn’t an exact science to figuring out your wash frequency, it depends on a few factors. To start determining how often you should wash your hair, consider how much product and the types of products you’re using on a regular basis. Here are a few general guidelines you can follow.

Wash your hair once a week if … your curls require heavier oils, gels that might flake after a few days, or hairsprays that leave hair stiff. This also may be what’s needed if you have an oily scalp. Piling product on top of the natural oils that your scalp produces, particularly if it’s in excess, can not only clog the hair follicle but also might lead to irritation, inflammation, itching, and in more severe cases, follicle damage or hair loss.

Wash your hair twice a month if … you heat style your curls with a diffuser to dry, a curling wand to define, or even if you blow-dry your hair straight with any regularity. When you heat style your hair often, cutting wash frequency back to every other week can be beneficial. Even if you’re using a heat protectant (which you absolutely should be), there still may be some level of moisture stripping happening. When you do shampoo, use a moisture-boosting shampoo like Monoi Repairing Sulfate Free Shampoo to help bring back any lost hydration.

Wash your hair once a month if … your hair is drier or if your scalp is more on the normal to dry side. Once a month shampooing will likely be ideal for you. Of course, you can always tweak this frequency if in between washes you’re feeling itchy or if you work out often and sweat a lot. If the latter is true for you, weekly shampoos may better suit your active lifestyle to keep hair feeling and smelling fresh.

In general, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind. Wash your hair when it’s dirty, has product buildup, if your scalp is itchy, if you exercise (even then, you can swap in co-washing), if you go swimming, or if you have an overly oily scalp.

Should You Shampoo Curly Hair?
We’ve already touched on this, but it doesn’t hurt to really spell it out. Contrary to popular opinion, curls need shampoo. A lot of naturals are die-hard co-wash fans, and this is totally fine, but a traditional shampoo is needed to help remove excess oil and product buildup, something a cleansing conditioner isn’t designed to do.

What Should You Use To Wash Curly Hair?
No matter your hair type, curl pattern, or the current state of your hair, what’s most important is the type of curly hair shampoo you use. Sulfate-free shampoo is key as it will give your hair and scalp the necessary cleansing to keep it strong and growing, without stripping it of the natural oils that it also needs to keep breakage at bay. The exact sulfate-free formula that you should go with depends on your hair’s current needs.

Thicker curls or strands that easily dry out need a moisturizing formula like the Almond Milk Sulfate Free Shampoo. Whereas wavy, fine, or already well-hydrated curls might benefit best from a curly hair sulfate-free shampoo that has a lighter weight, volumizing formula like the Cactus Rose Water Sulfate Free Shampoo If you don’t lean one way or the other and have more of a middle of the road hair type, try one that’s not too heavy, not too light, and focuses on frizz-fighting.

Editor’s tip: We have way more shampoo recommendations where those came from. Check out our article on Why Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Natural Hair Is a Must for more.

How Should You Wash Your Hair?
This may seem unnecessary, but there’s actually a method to washing, especially if you’re shampooing curls, that will ensure that you keep hair from getting damaged and help eliminate frizz when you get to styling. Read on for all our best curly hair washing tips.

Step 1: Check your water temps. Much like skin, hot water can dry hair out. While it feels luxurious to run hot water through your hair, the heat can strip your hair of essential oils. Wash with lukewarm or room temperature water instead, and finish with a cool rinse.

Step 2: Portion out the shampoo. Have you ever wondered, “How much shampoo should I use for curly hair?” Well, let us tell you: You shouldn’t just squeeze a sizeable amount of product onto your locks and hope for the best. Pour shampoo into the palm of your hands and not directly onto hair. This will ensure that you’re doling out the right amount and not overdoing it.

It’s better to start with working a smaller amount of product (about a golf-ball-size dose should be sufficient) through your hair and add more if needed, than to douse your head with it. It’s unnecessary. Because shampoo should primarily be applied on your scalp and not the length of your hair (more on that in a minute), if you’re using to coating every inch of your strands, you may be accustomed to washing with way too much of your favorite curly hair shampoo.

Also unnecessary? That whole lather, rinse, repeat deal. We’ve already gone over that you likely don’t need to wash your hair more than once a week—you definitely don’t need to lather up multiple times during the same shower.

Step 3: Work through your scalp. Start by massaging the shampoo into your roots. You want most of the product to be concentrated on the scalp as that’s where the majority of buildup, dirt, and oil usually settles. Work the product around the scalp in a back and forth motion, not in circles—this will tangle your curls and make it more difficult to comb through later.

Step 4: Cleanse and finger comb the hair. Use your fingers only and not any brushes or combs to gently work the shampoo through the length of your hair. Try to detangle a bit as you go. You want to start the detangling process while you have product in your hair, so that even if it’s not all the way knot-free before rinsing, you can at least run your fingers through larger sections.

Step 5. Massage as you rinse. Once you’ve worked the shampoo through to the ends, it’s time to rinse. How you do this is equally as important as how you applied and worked it through. Rub your hands all the way from root to tip as water flows through your hair. This will ensure that all of the shampoo gets out, and your hair is all clear for your conditioner. You don’t want any curly hair shampoo residue to get in between your strands and the conditioner or combing creme you’ll be applying next.

Step 6. Follow with conditioner. You knew this was coming. Cleansing and conditioning go together just as perfectly as any duo ever has. After washing out all of your shampoo, apply your curly hair conditioner. It’s best to stick with a conditioner that coordinates with your shampoo—aka one that’s part of the same curly hair care system—instead of mixing and matching. Apply the formula to your hair, focusing it on the mid-lengths to ends rather than your roots. Let your conditioner sit for the allotted amount of time—probably between two and five minutes—then rinse it out.

Step 7. Use a leave-in. Wring excess water out of your hair to prep it for a leave-in conditioner. Pick one based on what your hair needs. Do your curls need a boost of definition? Is your mane dying for more moisture? Are you desperately trying to fend off frizz before your hair dries? Choose wisely!

Step 8. Dry your curls. Don’t want to leave your hair sopping wet? We get it. To soak up a little bit of the water, use a soft cotton T-shirt to dry your hair. This will be more gentle than a terry cloth towel. If you’re in a rush, you can break out your blow-dryer, but make sure to use heat protectant, and we’d recommend reading up on How to Dry Natural Hair Without Damage, first.

When Should You Wash Curly Hair? Aside from the frequency, it’s also important to note the best time of day to wash your hair. Of course, this tip is merely a suggestion, but it could impact the long term health of your hair. Hair is most fragile when wet, so you typically want to avoid sleeping on wet hair. Knowing that, you should give hair enough time to air dry—before you go to bed—if you prefer to style it without heat. Even with a protective bonnet or satin pillowcase, any bit of friction against damp or wet hair (something that’s unavoidable when you move around in your sleep) might compromise your strands while they’re in such a fragile state. For this reason, many people with curly hair prefer to wash their hair in the morning to give it plenty of dry time.

You should also take note of your hair’s porosity. This will determine things like how long it takes your hair to dry and even plays a part in how your hair absorbs and retains moisture when you wash it.

How Often Should You Condition Curly Hair? Once you know the answer to how often you should wash curly hair, it only fits that you ask how frequently your curls should be conditioned. And believe it or not, there is such a thing as over conditioning your hair. Of course, soft strands are the goal, but using too much conditioner, deep treating it too often, or leaving a conditioner on for a lot longer than the recommended time frame can leave hair limp and fragile. If you need to back off with conditioning, it shouldn’t be hard to determine. You’ll be able to tell pretty easily if your curls look lifeless or if you’re having a hard time getting your hair to hold a style. If this happens, you’ll need a product with protein in it to help balance things back out.

To get your hair on a better conditioning routine, try using conditioner on a weekly basis. Weekly treatments with a traditional curly hair conditioner are ideal for all curl types. If your hair is drier, you can amp things up by continuing to use a regular conditioner once a week and adding hair masks or a deep conditioner for curly hair to your routine bi-weekly. For finer hair or strands that are not typically super dry, you can cut back to using the deep treatments once a month, but stick with the regular conditionings with a light leave-in formula like the Pracaxi Nectar Body Builder Leave-In.

Take note of how you condition as well. We touched on this a little, but the point of conditioner is to replenish moisture, rebalance, and help seal in water from washing your hair. There’s no need to apply conditioner to your scalp, even if it tends to be dry. There are other products that you can use at the styling phase to help soothe a dry scalp, but that isn’t conditioner’s purpose. Even super coily and dry strands don’t need conditioner at the roots, instead, apply it from the mid-shaft down to the ends of hair. Remember that curls especially need most moisture at the tips, so focus the application there.

Once you’ve mastered the art of the cleanse, Pamper Your Curls with These Hair Masks.

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