HELP! My Curls Look Stringy. What Do I Do?

Nov 10, 2023

By Alyson Lupo

Published by Naturally Curly 7.3.18 at https://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/waves/help-my-curls-look-stringy-what-do-i-do  

Updated for nicolec135.sg-host.com on 11.1.23

Stringy curls or waves? Tell me about it. But fret not, we’ve all been there—and I have solutions for you that are easily doable. 

Stringy curls—where you end up with a head full of skinny curls instead of the big chunky curl families many of us crave—have abundant causes. Your hair could lack moisture, or you could be styling it without enough water. Here’s my checklist for creating clumpy curls, in the order I’d start my problem-solving: techniques first, products second.

WHEN IN DOUBT, CLARIFY!

If you’ve ever seen my YouTube or follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you likely know how I feel about a good clarifying session by now. Clarifying, or deep cleansing your hair with a more stripping/sudsing shampoo, is an absolutely crucial step for curly girls because buildup of all kinds—protein, moisturizing ingredients, butters, oils, minerals from your hard water—happens to everyone, but especially to those of us using more gentle cleansers on the regular. This is step one before moving onto any of the other solutions, as you’ll want to start with a clean slate to diagnose the problem, and also to allow water to penetrate your hair strands, as lack of hydration is often the problem. And where does actual hydration come from? You guessed it: water. In the past, my go-to clarifier was Suave Daily Clarifying shampoo (can you even believe that name?), but today, as a licensed curl specialist seeing hundreds of clients each year, I can tell you that using a sulfate free, fairly gentle cleanser will often do the trick. AG Curl Fresh shampoo is one I reach for in my salon when clarifying a client is needed. Normally, I recommend following a clarifying session with a deep treatment. In the case of frizz diagnosis, there’s a chance the deep treatment could actually be the culprit, as many deep conditioners can be too heavy or sticky. So, we’ll skip that for now. Look for a separate future blog post all about deep treatments, coming soon.

‘SQUISH TO CONDISH’ METHOD

While we’re on the subject of water, let’s talk about how to leverage the power of this element when it comes to your hair. Having it merely touch your hair isn’t enough for most curlies or wavies. We have to “squish” it in to deeply hydrate our hair. Michigan stylist Melissa Stites created and coined this in-shower technique several years ago. Essentially, it involves scooping your wet hair into your palm and cupping it up to your scalp, then gently squishing/pulsing water into your hair, before rinsing out your conditioner, or as *the* method of rinsing out your conditioner. Check out The Sciency Hairblog for some incredible microscope images that demonstrate why this method is so effective. For me, this has made a world of difference in how deeply hydrated my hair truly is, day in and day out. Dry hair frizz is a mostly thing of the past. In fact, I love it so much, I created a video dedicated entirely to this method. It’s a more important technique than any product I use.

SUPER SOAKER METHOD

Another water-related technique for you to try! This one is great for those of you with incredibly dense hair. Created by Naturally Curly CurlTalk user ‘rudeechick’ back in 2009, this method became super popular again in 2016, as it was known for its ability to make curls clump like magic. Unlike ‘squish to condish,’ the super soaker method involves squishing handfuls of water into small sections of hair, one section at a time, during the application of your styling products. You could use this technique to deeply hydrate the hair as part of one or more of several steps in the styling process: Right after applying leave-in conditioner, after applying styling cream, after applying gel, and so on. The concept is simple: More water = more hydration, and more hydration = more definition. It’s up to you to find the right balance of product quantity and water application. Experiment, take notes or photos, and discover the technique that helps you achieve the look you’ve been after. 

SKIP CURL AND RAKE & SHAKE

Some curlies swear by the Skip Curl method for avoiding stringy curls and increasing clumpiness. Developed by Jonathan Torch, creator of Curly Hair Solutions, the method involves smoothing and then twisting large sections of hair around your finger and then, while holding on to the tip of each section, swinging it around like a jump rope before gently letting it drop. This technique yields well-defined, chunky spiral curls, best for type 3 curls, but can also lend more control to type 4 coils or result in more spirals for type 2 waves. The method is somewhat similar to Ouidad’s Rake & Shake technique that involves raking product-laden, wide-spread fingers through the hair, separating it into large chunks, then giving a gentle back-and-forth shake before letting go. There’s something about shaking wet curls that helps them seem to ‘find’ their curl families—resulting in thicker, chunkier curls every time.

DENMAN BRUSH

Using a Denman brush is a time-tested clump-provider for many curlies. But the magic is not just in brushing the hair, but in the unique aspects of this tool, and how they’re used. The wide-spread bristles separate wet hair into ‘families,’ eliminating stringiness. Rows of bristles can be removed to create larger or smaller curl families. The rubber base below the bristles is grippy, further smoothing the hair with each pass. Finally, many users of this brush twist the hair around the brush, or the handle, while pulling it through—visually similar to the technique of using a smoothing/straightening iron to curl the hair. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of just how defined this technique makes my waves, but for my definition-seeking wavies out there, give it a try! This video demonstrates 4 different ways to use a Denman brush on wavy hair. PS – But have you heard about the new Bounce Curl Define Hair Brush?? I’ll be covering this one soon, so stay on the lookout. You can sign up for my email list right here

CORRECT DRYING TECHNIQUE

Drying technique is huge when it comes to achieving the final look you’re going for. Look for a future blog post dedicated to drying techniques, because we’ll do a deep dive together! But for avoiding stringy curls, my biggest tip is to be sure you’re not diffuse drying on high heat or high speed. Removing too much water too quickly from the hair will result in stringy curls every time, even if every technique above you’ve followed to a T. My in-salon go-to is medium speed, low heat. And my finger is always on that cool shot button, which I toggle on and off. Want a blow dryer that handles that for you?? Check out the Laifen hair dryer. It’s a great Dyson stand-in. 

USE MOISTURE-RICH PRODUCTS

If the above techniques aren’t getting your curls as juicy as you’d hoped, it may be time to reconsider your styling products. Here are some tips: Use a leave-in conditioner if you aren’t already. Think of it as a primer for your other products. It pH corrects your hair, closing the cuticle, preventing frizz and keeping your hair hydrated. If using a leave-in is something you always do anyway, but the curls are still skinny, you may want to consider adding a curl cream on top of that leave-in (no, they aren’t the same), to further seal in the water you just squished and/or super-soaked into your locks, especially if your hair is high porosity (color treated, extra long, or tangle prone). Last, try using a moisturizing gel as the final step to seal in that water and lend long-lasting hold to your look. Moisturizing ingredients to look for in your leave-in conditioners and cream stylers: cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and/or behentrimonium methosulfate or behentrimonium chloride.

Favorite moisture-rich products include:

GO PROTEIN-FREE FOR A WHILE

Your hair is STILL stringy. Another educated guess is that the problem could be protein buildup, sometimes called protein overload. Your hair strands are either on the strong/coarse side and doesn’t need much protein to begin with, or your hair is on the medium/fine side and has some protein buildup from overuse. You’ll need to clarify, deep condition (with something protein free; I recommend Jessicurl Deep Treatment) and go protein free in your styling products. Here’s how I know a product contains protein: When I read the ingredients label, I look for foods I could eat. If I can eat it. Corn, soy, quinoa, wheat, oat, seaweed (my sushi lovers out there!) are all snack-worthy = protein. And these are typically large-molecule proteins, which will affect your hair differently and build up faster than the small-molecule proteins, such as amino acids, hydrolyzed silk, keratin and collagen, which are generally beneficial for all hair types and are difficult to overuse. For my finer strand width, I have found protein balance to be the main reason I see more consistent results and bigger curl families because my individual strands are shored up and supported in a way that helps them curl their best.

For my protein overloaded friends, some low-protein or protein-free favorites of mine include As I Am leave-in, Curls Blueberry Bliss leave-in, MopTop leave-in; DevaCurl Wavemaker styling cream, Living Proof Prime Style Extender cream; Boucléme cream, Boucléme Curl Defining Gel, Jessicurl Spiralicious, Uncle Funky’s Daughter Curly Magic

TRY A LIGHT OR MEDIUM HOLD GEL OR CUSTARD

There have been times when hard-hold gels haven’t worked for me; not for the ‘look’ I’ve wanted to achieve. They’ve left my hair stringy, stiff, and untouchable — even near the roots. Switching to lighter-hold gels as needed can make a big difference in the softness and clumpiness of my waves, in a way I wouldn’t have imagined just a few short years ago. MopTop Custard, Innersense I Create Volume gel, and Jessicurl Spiralicious are three of my favorite products that have left me with smooth, touchable curls and waves. No crunchy, stringy bits here!

TIME FOR A TRIM

When all else fails, I scroll waaaay back in my calendar. When on earth was the last time I got my hair cut?? Oh, 6 months ago. No, a year ago?! Well there you go. Problem identified. Freshly cut ends and a refreshed shape can make more of a difference than you realize—even the curliest of curly girls need regular trims. Don’t sell this one short! Dry, dead ends can really make your entire hair strands and thus your curl pattern suffer. If you’re not sure where to start your stylist search, you have several online resources to turn to. Curl Magazine maintains a database of curl specialized stylists nationwide; Devacurl keeps a regionally searchable list of all Deva salons and Deva-certified stylists via their website; Ouidad has a list on their website of regionally located certified salons, as does the non-brand-specific Curly Hair Artistry curl education company.

With these tips, you now have some new ideas for replacing stringy curls and waves with beautiful chunky curls. Have you tried out any of these tips, or all of them? What worked for you when your stringy curls were out of control?

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