Due to the shape of curly hair strands, the hair tends to be under-moisturized. The curly-haired scalp, on the other hand, can get very oily. Curly hair care comes down to managing these two competing demands.
See, your scalp produces natural oil, sebum, to keep your hair soft and to protect it. Straight hair wicks the sebum down the shaft easily, so that the whole length of the shaft is moisturized. Brushing aids this process by distributing the oils thoroughly (thanks, Scarlett O’Hara, with your hundred-brush-strokes-a-day routine). Curly hair, on the other hand, is shaped irregularly and the oil has a hard time wicking throughout the length of hair because of the bumps and ridges. It’s also impossible (and often painful) to brush when dry, so brushing can’t help, either. In fact brushing curly hair often damages it. Your poor curly, dry hair is exposed to the environment without anything to buffer it from the wind or the sun, and so gets damaged easily. Further, the unused sebum ends up sitting on the scalp collecting dust… Literally. Grossed out? I promise I’ll teach you coping mechanisms in a minute.
Once you understand the relationship between your scalp and hair, there are certain rules that make sense:
Curly hair has one Great Commandment: Thou shall not brush thy hair when it is dry!
This wrecks your curl pattern by breaking up the hair strands that are forming curls. These groups of hairs are called “clumps”. Breaking up your clumps will make look like that triangle-headed girl from the Dilbert comic: frizzy. Not attractive.
Further, because your curls resist the brush (understatement of the year), brushing can yank your hair out at the root or break it into split ends or probably both. Remember, you are more likely to damage the hair shaft because it is not protected at all!
Always detangle your hair wet, preferably with conditioner in it so it has something protective coating it.
How often should you wash your hair? It is different for everyone. I know curlies who wash everyday and people with straight hair who have to go several days in between washings or their hair will dry out. Experiment!
If you notice your hair is always dry, try waiting a day to wash it… You might just solve your problem that way! I wash my hair every 2 days. More frequently makes my hair dry, less frequently and my scalp gets itchy and oily. When it was very long I would go 3 days.