Sunday, 7 April 2013

Curl Power


With a definite trend for curling hair and volume back in, one of the biggest issues many women face when curling is the fact that shortly after the curls are created, they begin to drop out of the hair.   Whilst many techniques and products exist for style retention, the issue of curl flop still resides with most.  Here I will try to explain why this happens and the methods which can be deployed to resolve it.

Understanding temporary curl 

A temporary curl is created in the hair when the internal hydrogen bonds are broken.  These bonds are broken whenever moisture comes into contact (eg when the hair becomes wet) and these same bonds will reform when the hair dries and as oxygen enters the hairs fibres.   Therefore, a curl (or any style) result can be achieved by moulding the hair around a tool during this drying phase.  Likewise, heat will also reset these temporary hydrogen bonds, hence why curls can be created from tongs, irons or heated rollers.

However, certain hair types are naturally very rich in keratin and will tend to draw moisture from the atmosphere.  A general rule is the silkier and softer the hair (naturally) is, the harder you will find it to hold a curl, whilst the courser and drier hair (naturally) is, the easier a curl or shape will retain.  This is due to the fact that if the hair readily accepts moisture and hydration from the atmosphere those temporary bonds will just revert back to their natural shape.  However, drier or courser hair types which (readily crave moisture) will not suffer this issue.  Ironically, this can be why naturally curly hair will hold a (set) curl pattern very well – because (in general) curly hair can lack moisture, hence why it becomes dry so easily. 

If you are a definite sufferer of curl flop, these below pointers should be able to help you retain your curl, volume and style:-


If you wish to create a curl in straight or silky hair that will typically not retain it, avoid all conditioners and even conditioning shampoos.  Many of these shampoos and conditioners contain polymers and silicones that draw moisture into the hair to enable it to retain softness, therefore hair that is treated with either a rich shampoo or conditioner will tend to suffer curl flop.  Instead, you need the hair to be a slightly drier texture.  Using a clear or simple shampoo and then following with a sea salt spray will cause the PH of the hair to rise and the cuticle to open slightly making the texture feel rougher.  This drier texture will help retain a curl.  For hair that is very stubborn to curl retention (and particularly silky), try mixing two tea spoons of salt into a mug of warm water and rinsing it through your hair for additional (temporary) dehydration.


Whilst probably 80% of people still use heat curling methods, the use of heat to create a curl in dry hair is never as long wearing as setting the hair on rollers or a curling tool from wet.   The internal hydrogen bonds will reset to their most effective level when the hair is wound from wet because at this point the hair holds additional elasticity which will stretch the hair and cause a tension that will form stronger bonds.   Whilst a good result can be achieved by allowing the hair to set overnight or (generally) air dry, by far the best method is to use a hood dryer.  A hood dryer blasts warm air across the head and causes an even, quicker and more effective long term curl result – even in the most stubborn of straight textures.


Using any silicone based serum or product is lethal for naturally straight hair wishing to retain a curl.  As stated, silicones are used in products to draw moisture into the hair, therefore if you create or finish a curl with a silicone based product it will increase the likelihood of curl flop (over time) because that moisture is being drawn into the hair which can cause the bonds to reset back to their natural pattern.  In addition, a second misconception is the use of curly hair products to create or retain a temporary curl.  These products have been designed for naturally curly hair which is typically dry in texture and needs moisture to form the natural curl.  If someone with very straight silky hair uses such products they will find (once again) the curl will begin to drop, as although their hair may be temporarily curly they do not have a naturally curly hair texture that would benefit from the product.  In general, setting lotions and hairsprays such as Elnet should be used to style straight hair that is not readily willing to hold a curl.

4.       PERM IT

The biggest misconception about perms is they are only capable of creating those scrunchy looks as seen in the 1980’s – this is untrue.   Traditionally, cold perming was created 100 years ago because women had suffered for centuries with the issue of curl retention.    Chemicals found in the traditional cold perm work by breaking the permanent disulphide bonds within the hair and changing its shape.   If the hair is left to dry naturally (once permed) it will have a curly or permed look, however the point of perms was not actually for the famous ‘wash and wear’ look, but actually to enable the hair to be set (as normal) on rollers or moulding tools.  When permed hair is curled or set, the temporary hydrogen bonds (which create the style look curls) will hold in place without dropping because those parallel disulphide bonds have been permanently changed.   Therefore, a perm foundation in very straight hair will enable you to wash and set or curl your hair but retain volume, movement and shape without fear of flopping. 

 My only word of warning on perming is that it is not compatible with bleached hair.  In bleached hair the permanent bonds have already been weakened and the hair will not withstand a second process.  However (and in my experience), bleached hair will often hold a curl better than natural hair because it has a slightly drier texture.  The only exception to this is damaged bleached hair which has lost its elasticity.  When hair is very damaged it becomes difficult to create any curl or shape in the hair as the structure has begun to deteriorate.

5.       DRY CLEAN

If you are passionate about sporting curls and movement as part of your everyday style and look, reduce the amount you wash your hair.  Spending time washing and then setting the hair to dry (especially with a perm foundation), will create effective, durable and long lasting curls.  However, if you wash your hair everyday it will just not be possible to retain this level of hair upkeep.  Instead, washing maybe twice a week and then using a dry shampoo daily will clean the hair but retain the style.  Because dry shampoos contain no moisture ingredients they will not unrest the temporary hydrogen bonds – therefore, you can clean the hair without needing to wet it.

Remember, these above pointers are designed for individuals with straight hair who suffer curl flop soon after styling.   The principles are somewhat different for those who have naturally curly or wavy hair. 



  1. Rag curls work really good too.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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