What Causes Frizzy Curly Hair (And How To Avoid It)

Frizzy hair. It’s the bane of all curlies. It seems that no matter how much you baby your curls, you just can’t seem to avoid it. The good news is that you don't have to make peace with the frizz, and there are a few simple changes you can make to your routine that will significantly minimize it. So how can you keep curly hair from frizzing?

First, we need to understand what actually causes frizzy hair. Frizz is caused by the cuticle of the hair opening up to allow moisture in. If you were to look at a strand of hair under a microscope, you would see that the hair is actually covered by small “scales” – this is known as the cuticle. When the hair shaft opens to absorb moisture, the scales that form the cuticle open up and out, away from the center of the hair shaft, creating a halo of unsightly frizz.  

But wait, moisture is supposed to be a good thing, isn’t it? Moisture is indeed very important for your curls, but when your hair reaches the point of opening up to glean moisture from the air, it’s a sign that your hair is absolutely parched.

There are many factors that lead to dryness in your hair, but for the most part it’s cumulative damage that results in frizz . If left unchecked over time, this damage can accumulate and cause breakage of the strands, resulting in even more frizz. So what can you do to keep your curls adequately moisturized and frizz-free? Follow these few rules of thumb and you’re golden!

what causes frizzy hair?

Stay Away From Sulfates And Alcohol In Your Products

Sulfates (most commonly Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, often abbreviated as SLES or SLS, respectively) are present in many hair care products, most commonly shampoos. If you’re still not completely on board with the no-poo method or find that it’s not working for your hair, make sure that the shampoo you are using does not contain SLS/SLES. Sulfates strip away your hair’s natural oils, and take a much harsher toll on curly hair simply because of its curly nature. Since the hair doesn’t extend straight down from your scalp, the naturally occurring oils that remain after you shampoo are unable to reach the entire length of the hair, resulting in very dry hair that is prone to frizz.

Alcohol, on the other hand, is more common in styling products such as mousses and gels. Even if your product is otherwise CG-friendly, it may be drying out your hair if it contains alcohol. Alcohol evaporates quickly and leaves the cuticle of the hair open, while also stripping away the natural oils in your hair, hitting  your hair with a double dose of dryness.

how to make your hair not frizzy

Dry Your Hair Gently

There are two main factors to drying your hair gently: no rough towels and no/low heat.

The first rule of thumb is to avoid terrycloth towels. They cause dryness and because they remove too much moisture too fast, leaving your curls dry and frizzy. Furthermore, the rough nature of terrycloth raises the cuticle of your hair, which is a major trigger for frizz. A good alternative to drying your hair with a terrycloth towel is plopping your hair when you get out of the shower (even if you are not planning to style it right away). Plopping your hair, either with a cotton t-shirt or with a microfiber towel, will remove excess water from the hair without drying it out and without raising the cuticle.

Secondly, if you use a hairdryer in your routine, avoid using it on the hottest setting, and make sure not to keep it blasting on one spot for too long. A good way to avoid overheating your hair is to keep a finger in the airflow, and when it gets too hot for your finger you know it’s gotten too hot for that section of hair. Additionally, try to avoid very hot water when washing your hair, as this opens up the cuticle more than cold water and can dry out your hair over time. When shampooing, co-washing, or conditioning, keep the water temperature as cool as possible, and use a scrunching motion when rinsing out product and squeezing out excess water.
how to make my curly hair not frizzy

Keep Your Hair Moisturized As Part Of Your Routine

As discussed earlier, dry hair is more prone to frizz and damage, which is in turn a cause of even more damage and frizz. Help your hair out by conditioning every time you wash your hair, and make sure that the conditioner is distributed evenly throughout your hair, coating every curl and strand. Allow the conditioner to sit and seep into your hair for a few minutes in the shower, and squish it into your hair for extra effect. Once every week or two give your hair a nourishing deep conditioning treatment to keep it moisturized and frizz-free. For those with naturally high porosity hair, sealing oils (such as jojoba oil) can help your hair better retain moisture between treatments.

how to keep curly hair from frizzing

Step Away From The Hairbrush

This is a lesson most curlies learn pretty early on: we simply cannot brush our hair like our straight-haired counterparts. We all know that running a brush through curly hair when dry is a one-way ticket to frizz, but even using a brush on wet hair can cause major frizz when your hair dries. With the exception of some denman-style brushes, most brushes are too rough on curly hair and can cause snagging, breakage, and frizz.

To detangle curly hair safely, your hair needs to be wet and completely and thoroughly covered in you conditioner of choice. You can then detangle your hair using your fingers, or with a wide-tooth comb starting in small sections from the bottom of your hair and working your way up. Never detangle wet hair without conditioner, as this will lead to damage, breakage, and a whole world of frizz when your hair dries.

Now that you’ve learned what causes frizzy hair and a few ground rules to keep your curly hair from frizzing, remember that frizz is (unfortunately) an inevitable part of having curls. Some days your curls will behave, and some days they will decide to frizz even if you’ve done everything right. On those days when your hair is being extra rebellious, remember that frizz can also be caused by factors out of your control, like a particularly humid day. The best defense against frizz is a routine that focuses on moisturizing your hair regularly and maintaining the overall health of your hair.