Ready to make your curly hair shiny?
Curly hair has a little bit of a reputation for lacking shine; let’s turn that around!
Why This Reputation?
It comes down to a couple of factors.
Curly hair may appear less shiny than straight hair because of the twists and bends – these mean that it doesn’t reflect light as well.
In addition to this, curly hair has a tendency to be high porosity.
It is possible to have low porosity curly hair, but curly hair is generally a little weaker than straight hair, again due to the twists and bends which affect its strength.
This means that the hair is more fragile and easily damaged by factors such as heat, friction and colouring than straight hair. This damage can lead to hair that is more porous and, in turn, dull.
The cuticle layer is raised on high porosity hair and may have gaps in it. This means that it doesn’t reflect light or ‘shine’ in the way that low porosity hair does when the cuticle sits flat.
We can make curly hair shiny in one of 2 ways – either by improving the health of your hair or by adding it externally
Let’s start with adding it externally – who doesn’t like an easy fix?!
There are plenty of shine shampoos, conditioners, sprays and serums available, but these are frequently not part of the ‘curl’ range of products.
Firstly, marketing. It’s easier to sell shine enhancers to people that already have relatively shiny hair.
Secondly, a lot of the time they contain ingredients that the many curly-haired people would usually avoid.
That’s not putting me off, is it putting you off? I didn’t think so.
My best-selling product…
1. Products To Add Shine
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Let’s consider shine serums and sprays.
What I really mean is, let’s consider silicones.
These are just the sort of ingredients I was talking about a second ago – the ones that people with curly hair tend to avoid.
It’s a personal choice.
If you are following the Curly Girl Method then we’ll find you a product that doesn’t contain silicones at all.
Silicone-free shine products
Cantu Shea Butter Coconut Oil Shine & Hold
Provides lasting moisture, smoothes and hydrates your hair and tames frizz.
Noughty Hello Curls Define & Reshape Primer
Use on damp hair before styling or on dry hair to refresh, add shine and bounce to curls. Contains shea butter, avocado oil and Cetearyl alcohol
These are sprays or serums that you add onto dry hair, a great way to boost shine! They are also free from drying alcohols.
2. Oil Treatments
Let’s move a little deeper into the overall hair care routine. It’s pre-poo treatments.
Pre-poo treatments are a simple way of contributing to your hair health and believe me, they will make your curly hair shiny and take as little as 10 minutes.
Adding an oil to your hair before you wash will achieve a multitude of hair goals.
- It adds slip to your hair which aids detangling in the shower
- A penetrating oil will add moisture
- It prevents friction from hair washing
- Coconut oil will actually stop your hair losing protein
All of these factors contribute to shine at the other end of the wash.
Since I have mentioned coconut oil already, I’m just going to say that it is my absolute favourite.
It is proven* to reduce damage when used regularly as a pre-shampoo treatment. This reduction in damage will mean better cuticle health (less chipping caused by damage) and will lead to better hair health over all; and that leads to shine.
To do the treatment:
Apply the oil straight onto dry hair.
I like to section my hair first to make sure it is all covered.
If the oil is at room temperature it may appear solid. This is why it’s best to buy a jar rather than a bottle. Just scoop some out with a spoon and hold it between your hands. It will be a liquid in no time. You can leave it for as little as 10 minutes or for a couple of hours before you wash your hair as usual.
You can use coconut oil every time you wash your hair. Experiment with it and see what works for you.
You can also use it post-wash to add shine. One small word of caution here – due to the oil’s nature it will return to a more solid state after time on your hair at room temperature. This can lead to a slightly crispy, solid feel. For this reason I would recommend using it pre-wash.
You can also do a pre-shampoo treatment with other penetrating hair oils such as argan oil avocado oil or olive oil.
For increased shine ensure that you are deep conditioning regularly – every 2 weeks is ideal and using conditioner every time you wash your hair.
The emollients (the moisturising ingredients such as oils or shea butter) will ‘fill in’ the gaps in the cuticle of high porosity hair, reducing the potential for further damage. In doing so they help create shine.
For deep conditioning low porosity hair, use a source of heat to help the conditioner penetrate the cuticle. A heat cap or hairdryer will help this. Try to leave the conditioner on for around 20 minutes with heat.
Great ingredients to look for include Cetearyl alcohol (a ‘good’ alcohol), aloe vera, shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, argan oil or castor oil.
Try to make sure at least one of these ingredients is listed within the first 5 to ensure that there is a good quantity present in the product.
This one is my favourite deep conditioner – it contains great moisturising ingredients – Cetearyl Alcohol, glycerin, shea butter and coconut) oil.
4. Protein Boost
Protein works in a similar way – by adding protein to your hair you are helping to ’patch up’ any damage.
All types of hair need a protein boost. Low and high porosity hair, but high porosity hair will need more.
It isn’t a permanent fix but you can certainly help the health of your hair and addd shine by doing this.
Busting a myth!
‘Protein-overload’ is frequently mentioned in the curly community, but there is no scientific evidence to back this up.
Your hair will only be able to take on a certain amount of protein, as much as it needs. The rest is excess but it doesn’t build up on your hair or cause it to be brittle.
Use a small amount of protein in your routine on a regular basis to ensure you are giving your hair enough. If you hair feels brittle, this more likely to be a lack of moisture than an overdose of protein.
Look for products that contain ‘hydrolyzed proteins’.
‘Hydrolyzed’ means that the protein has been broken down so that it can actually penetrate your hair shaft.
Without this process protein molecules are too big to do this. This is why at-home treatments using egg, for example, will not help with protein.
Once you have given your hair the protein that is needs it will be stronger and healthier and less likely to become damaged. This will mean fewer split ends and more shine.
For a regular protein dose, the Noughty Primer spray that I mentioned above also contains hydrolyzed wheat protein.
For a protein-rich deep conditioner, you could try this from Shea Moisture which contains both hydrolyzed vegetable protein and hydrolyzed keratin.
5. Keep It Cool
Go easy on the heat if you want to make your curly hair shiny.
If your hair is not prone to being shiny, this might mean that your hair is already damaged. The damage can be managed and may not even be that noticeable, but heat can make matters worse.
Heat can damage the cuticle layer and can dry out your hair.
Moisture will begin to leave your hair’s structure at as little as 50C or 122F.
The cool setting on most hairdryers is about 70C which in turn will heat the hair to about 30C (Dr. Tim Moore, Chief Technology Officer at ghd) so sticking with the lowest heat setting will definitely help limit any damage.
Damage from heat styling can lead to dry, dull hair so dry on a low setting for shine.
6. Water Type
A final tip! If you like in a hard water area, try to do a final rinse of your hair with distilled water instead of your usual tap water.
This can simply mean that the water that has been through a water filter.
I know this sounds like a faff but it made a huge difference to my hair and it will to yours, too!
The distilled water will have a neutral PH, unlike your hard water.
Hard water can cause your cuticle to raise up which can lead to damage and is especially problematic if your hair is high porosity.
Read more on how PH levels can negatively affect your hair
Let’s bust another myth!
There is no actual evidence to suggest that rinsing with cold water closes or seals the cuticle to add shine to your hair.
Cold water won’t lower the porosity level of your hair.
What is true is that hot water can cause the hair to swell which in turn cuticle scales to raise up. Try to avoid using hot water to wash your hair, using lukewarm water will be much more beneficial**.
Healthy hair is the sure-fire way to achieve shine, so make sure your moisture and protein routines are up to scratch!
In the meantime, spritzing a bit of shine spray is going to add a shine boost. Choose one that contains water-soluble silicones and is free from drying alcohols.
Curly hair, meet shiny hair!
*Gavazzoni Dias MR. Hair cosmetics: An overview. Int J Trichol [serial online] 2015 [cited 2021 Feb 11];7:2-15. Available from: https://www.ijtrichology.com/text.asp?2015/7/1/2/153450
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