Hair, identity, science, soul

Patron Saint of the Straighteners

The REAL detangling expert

They find me in the strangest places: ringing up my purchases at Sephora, at my cat’s vet, in the bathroom at work, at my dentist’s office. They ask me what I do, and they are never satisfied with vague answers: “Product!” or “Conditioner! Tons!” To a one, they have smooth hair, but it’s not straight hair. People with straight hair always ask me what I use to make it look “like that”—twist around your fingers, a curling iron, or what? The straighteners know, though. Sometimes they pull their hair out of ponytails to show me and explain their frustrations.

But you don’t just pivot to curls after frying your hair regularly. Hair has memory, for a while, then it forgets. They are asking for the One Weird Trick to wearing their hair curly, and what I have to offer is a dissertation.

Still, for them and for me, there’s the lure. Let’s marvel whence I came:


I have finally arrived: I’m some kind of expert. Like all those social media gurus I followed and copied, I’ve got something (sometimes) that others want to replicate. It’s a form of power to be on the other side, but it’s also an illusion. Tomorrow’s another story even if today looks nice, for one thing. For another, there are no shortcuts, no one deals with what you do, not completely. And experts make you stop paying attention to yourself and start paying attention to them. THEN you start missing what’s right in front of you.

My answer for the straighteners: two-and-a-half years of trial and error with a zillion products. And it’s still really weird until it all grows out. You will want to set your hair on fire at regular intervals. The goal is: better than it was before, incrementally.

Your hair’s behavior and needs will be a code you need to crack. Think of it like a small child who can’t articulate—you learn to read subtle signals with practice. Your hair needs hydration/moisture, which can be a strange concept if you aren’t used to how flexible your hair needs to be to hold its curl. Learn what “enough” looks like, what “not enough” looks like, and what “too much” looks like. Protein is the corrective to moisture excess. Use the minimum, figure out what rotation and form works for you. Finally, find products and techniques you like.

DO NOT find an expert whose hair seems in some fashion to be like yours and decide categorical rules based on how their hair behaves, or how “fine hair” behaves, or how “coarse hair” behaves. If, for example, their hair gets soft and limp when it has too much moisture, and your hair gets soft and limp when it has too much protein (both possible), you can get stuck in an extended doubling-down cycle solving the wrong problem. (Ask me how I know.)

And if you go to a curl stylist, know that unless they are extremely gifted or have a lot of experience, they are likely working from care templates and broad rules. If you fit their template, you might be fine! If you don’t, you may be in for frustration. It’s not about you; you are the expert of your hair.

It’s a pain in the ass, but it does get easier once your hair learns (or relearns) what it does. And getting consistent results that get a little better over time is incredibly exciting—even less-good results are kind of interesting if you are getting to know your freaky hair for the first time.