Naturally curly and not ashamed

There is a common and nearly universal narrative among naturally curly women, which tends to follow this trajectory:

People thought my curls were cute when I was little, then I became a teen and hated them; committed all sorts of sins against my hair, including flat-ironing; had a string of abominable hair cuts by curl-ignorant stylists; but then, the clouds opened, I grew up, and I embraced my natural hair and started taking care of it. And now my life is good.

I think I’m finally reaching the happy ending of this shared story.

Curly heritage

I owe my hair, naturally, to my family; specifically, to my paternal grandmother and my mom.

I hope to have hair as awesome as my Gran someday. Her curls have always looked incredible, and I love the way she wears them (in her beautiful, natural light gray color, in tight ringlets):

Southern Living
Gran, hiding; summer 2013.

And my gorgeous mother is most directly responsible for my hair:

Visit with Mom to the Botanic Gardens
Mom, May 2013; Botanic Gardens in DC.

I am thankful that she has always embraced her natural hair and thus encouraged me to embrace my own as a child. For many years, we shared the same products, but now we’re venturing out and sharing our curly-hair discoveries with each other. It’s really nice to have a curly ally who is so closely related to you and your hair journey.

Mom is very attractive
The two of us; July 2011.

And Dad also deserves credit for my curls (which he clearly got from his mother, aka Gran), as you can see from this absolutely glorious photo of him and our most beloved childhood dog, Emma:

Dad and Emma

Hair history

I don’t have photographic proof at the ready, but my hair has been curly since I was tiny. I had strawberry-blond ringlets as a toddler, which gradually morphed into a mass of blond frizz, into its present color today (brown with red undertones).

As a teen, I tried to live with my curly hair:

Kelsey and me, circa 2000?
Kelsey and me, circa 2000?

But I always wanted it to be straight. The only time boys told me I was pretty was when I flat-ironed my hair within an inch of its natural life. As a young girl, I took this information to heart. Pretty = straight hair; ugly = curly hair. Many naturally curly women have received this message their whole lives. I have often felt like I had to work harder to be beautiful because of my hair. And it’s not an uncommon feeling among the naturally curly; it’s the message you receive from culture and from society at large.

Super-curly hair, December 2008; first year I was dating Guion, the Amish man.

By the time I got to college, however, I was tired of fighting it, and I was finally able to accept the fact that my hair just wanted be free.

My hair today has much looser curls than I had when I was younger (as you can see from this photo progression). The loosening of my curls began when I started birth control, so be forewarned that hormones can play strong tricks with your hair follicles. (Mom, for instance, says that her hair straightened out considerably during her four pregnancies, only to spring back up again postpartum.) I’m getting used to this straighter texture. Although I still miss the tighter ringlets of my youth, I’ll admit that these half-hearted curls and waves are somewhat easier to trick and tame.

One continuous unexhausted reading #haircut #woolfdefinesheaven
Much looser curls today; circa September 2014.

Curly identity

My mother often makes the point that the two of us ought to live into our hippie roots, by virtue of our hair. There’s a cultural assumption that women with curly hair have personalities like their hair (wild, crazy, natural, unpredictable), which I find interesting (if often frustrating).

For this reason, curls are often seen as unprofessional, unkempt. In media portrayals, a tough modern woman never has curly hair. But feminists, backyard farmers, and commune dwellers have curly hair. I’d like to think that opinions on this could change, and I think they are, slowly. Hair styles several generations ago seemed to be intent on making your hair look as unnatural and plastic as possible. Then there was a wave of “big hair” in the 1980s, but I’m not sure anyone was flattered by that trend. Today, I’m encouraged by the rising tide of women who are embracing their natural hair, throwing away their flat-irons and hair dryers, and living into the hair the good Lord gave them.

Wedding ready! #firstselfie #wildhair
Big hair, don’t care! October 2013.

The question that I often get from people that surprises me is: “Oh, is that your natural hair?” I always want to say, “Um, yes, of course it is. Would you pay money for this??” The answer is no, no way. And then people want to touch it. And the answer is always NO. Absolutely not. I’ve had complete strangers come up to me and touch my hair, which makes me want to do something obscene in return. (I don’t even let Guion touch my hair. It’s just not a thing that curly girls can allow. If you are one, you understand what I am talking about. Hands = frizz.)

Life-changing tips

  • No shampoo! Sulfates are bad news for everyone but they’re especially damaging to curly-haired people. So, I don’t use shampoo anymore and just use sulfate-free conditioner. Conditioner can clean your hair, yes.
  • I only clean my hair once every three days. Curly hair rarely, if ever, gets greasy. Curly hair is naturally extremely dry. And shampooing it just dries it out even more.
  • Don’t touch it. As mentioned above, keep your hands off your curls. Don’t touch it when it’s drying; don’t let anyone else touch it; your curly head is a sacred, sacred space.
  • Find a product that works for your type of curls and don’t use too many products. I have wispy curls now, so most gels are too tacky and heavy for my hair. I’m using mousses and creams now, but I may return to gels if my curls get tighter again.
  • My newest resolve is to only go to curly-hair stylists. I’m so tired of fighting with hairdressers about how to cut my hair. Most stylists will not cut your hair dry, even though they should if you’re naturally curly. I found a Ouidad salon about 30 minutes away, so I am taking the trek there for my next hair cut.

Are you a naturally curly comrade? Share your story and tips!

Resources for the Naturally Curly

Cosmetics roundup

Model applying lipstick, vintage photograph

I have never been shy about how much I love beauty products. Furthermore, I am unabashed in my adoration of French cosmetics, although I rarely can find it in myself to shell out the cold, hard cash for products of such Parisian perfection (even though I believe they’re worth every cent).

Without further ado, here are some products I’ve recently been using and loving.

Recent favorite products

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré (24-Hour Miracle Cream) - 75 ml

A long revered French beauty staple, I’ve had this face cream on my wish list for years. It’s worth the hype! I treat it like gold and use the smallest amount on my face at night and feel so very luxe. Makes your face feel like silk. That’s really all there is to it. There’s a whole worshipful post about it on Into the Gloss, if you’d like more convincing. ($28 for 75 ml on Birchbox)

Jouer Matte Moisture Tint

I kind of want to talk to everyone about this. I have tried at least 10 different types of BB creams and tinted moisturizers, and this is the champion, by far. Of course, it’s also the most expensive that I’ve tried. Naturally. That’s how makeup works. This tinted moisturizer offers enough coverage to call itself a BB cream, but it is light as air, has a matte texture, and boasts SPF 15. What else can you say this about? Nothing. Nothing, I tell you. ($38 for 50 ml at Jouer Cosmetics)

Benefit They’re Real! Mascara

Benefit They're Real! Mascara

Benefit is one of my favorite brands, and this mascara is fabulous. It really does make you look as if you were wearing falsies. My only complaint is that it can be a bit hard to remove, but this also means that it has lasting power throughout the day. The medieval-looking spike at the end of the wand is a bit frightening, but it’s a perfect tool for separating stuck lashes or getting the ends of the lash line. ($23 at Sephora)

Benefit Gimme Brow

Benefit Cosmetics - Gimme Brow

A well-groomed brow is an essential part of every lady’s face. This is one of those universal truths that I hold very dear to my heart. And this product by Benefit is incredible. Don’t use eyebrow pencils; they rip out your fine brow hairs. Instead, a lightly tinted wand (like a tiny mascara brush) is just the thing for taming, shaping, and enhancing. Geez. Benefit really needs to put me on retainer. I could write these rave reviews in my sleep…. ($22 at Sephora)

The Balm Hot Mama! Blush

theBalm® cosmetics Hot Mama Shadow & Blush All-in-One

If you are a white lady, it turns out that peach/pink tends to be the most flattering universal shade for blush. And this blush by The Balm apparently mimics the cult classic NARS Orgasm blush, but is $10 cheaper, so it’s a big win in my book. You just need the lightest dusting of this blush. I think my compact is going to last me 10 years. ($20 at The Balm)

Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie

Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie for Thick, Curly Hair

Shea Moisture might make the best and most natural line of products for naturally curly-haired women. I’ve become a devoted fan in a short amount of time. This tub of coconut oil/neem oil/and other things I don’t know much about can be used to reshape dry curls on the second or third day after a washing, and it really works. Plus, it smells amazing. This tub will also last me maybe 20 years. It’s not a product for women with fine or straight hair; it’d be disastrous for such ladies. Thick, frizzy, naturally curly hair only. ($12.99 at Shea Moisture; also sold in drugstores, Target [for $9.79], etc.)

New routines

I’m also exploring new beauty routines, which I find to be very refreshing.

  • I’m not using shampoo anymore, or using it very sparingly (once or twice a month). In lieu of shampoo, I use a sulfate-free conditioner when I shower. There’s a whole explanation and enormous benefit to it, for us naturally curly folk, which I won’t bore you with, but basically, it’s wonderful, and my hair is happier than ever.
  • I’m taking a break from nail polish, which I think my nails have needed. They’ve never been spectacularly healthy-looking, and I daresay they are appreciating the time to breathe. I love having well-done nails, but it’s a luxury of time that I can’t bring myself to these days. Also, gardening + dogs + calligraphy (certain nail polishes will leave streaks on paper!) = nail polish is low on the cosmetics totem pole.
  • I’ve become very faithful about daily moisturizing, and I think my skin is thanking me for it. My complexion is clearer than it has ever been and has felt more balanced, now that it’s getting an appropriate mix of cleansing and moisturizing. Once in the morning, once at night = face is happy.
  • I’m returning to my Clarisonic, after I finally figured out how to get the brush to stop smelling like feet. I use it once or twice a week, and I imagine that it is doing something beneficial for my skin.
  • I use a bit of perfume now in the morning, especially on work days. Current favorites: Tokyo Milk’s French Kiss ($30 at Tokyo Milk), which my sisters bought for me on our honeymoon and I finally restocked (every time I use it, I’m transported back to our magical honeymoon; c’est très romantique!), and Tocca in the Stella scent ($68 at Anthropologie), a gift from my dear mother-in-law.
  • I’m applying lip balm in the morning before any lipstick, which I’ve found makes a huge difference, as I have a tendency toward dry lips. I swipe it on while getting ready and it stays on through breakfast, until I brush teeth and apply color.

Your turn to dish! What are you loving lately that you’re putting on your face?

Previously in this series: An amateur’s journey in the beauty cosmos and a few of my favorite things.

Also: I feel like this isn’t worth adding, but no one asked me to say anything about any of these products. I bought them all myself with my hard-earned, improperly budgeted cash.


An amateur’s journey in the beauty cosmos

I’m not shy about the fact that I LOVE beauty products. I don’t even wear much makeup myself, but I love playing with it. Into the Gloss is one of my favorite and most consistently read blogs. Birchbox makes me giddy about beauty samples and eager to experiment. I love how bold Ruby Woo makes me feel. I particularly love putting makeup on other people and pretending like I know what I’m doing. It’s like getting to be a painter… on someone’s face.

Source:, Creative Commons license.
Source:, Creative Commons license.

Big lessons learned

  • Your face needs more moisture and hydration than you think it does. Having oily skin doesn’t mean that you should skimp on moisturizer; usually, it means the opposite. You’re not getting enough hydration, and so your complexion overcompensates. Learning this one thing has revolutionized my actual face.
  • Splurge on face products; skimp on eye products. Having the perfect base, foundation, or powder matters. But no one can ever tell if you spent $5 or $50 on your mascara or eyeliner. Spend money on the important stuff.
  • Experiment until you find the right thing. Everyone’s face is different. Just because half the blogging world raves about this one product doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for you. Shop samples and travel-sized products when you can until you find what really works for you.
  • Curl your eyelashes! Unless you have naturally curly eyelashes, putting mascara on without using an eyelash curler first is kind of a moot gesture.
  • Also, learn what your eyelashes need. Study the composition of your eyelashes. Are they short but full? Long but sparse? I have decently long lashes, but they don’t look that full naturally, so I need a volumizing mascara. A lengthening mascara is a nightmare for me.
  • Embrace your natural brows. Don’t succumb to the sin of over-plucking your eyebrows. Define them, cherish them!
  • Trust your natural hair. Don’t fight your hair. Work with it; love it; embrace the frizz (or the straightness or volume or thinness, or whatever it is you were born with). It’s easy to tell when people are fighting against their God-given hair (and it’s often very expensive and time-consuming for such people). Surrender to your hair.
  • Stop washing your hair so much. Shampooing every day is so bad for your hair. So bad. Stop it. Your hair hates you for it. I now wash my hair twice a week, and it’s immensely happier and healthier for it.

Favorite products right now

Whish Coconut Milk Correcting Gel

Whish Coconut Milk Correcting Gel. $32. This was a Birchbox discovery, and I swear it’s the main thing that’s revolutionized my complexion, because I haven’t changed anything else. It’s a mostly organic serum that’s composed of aloe vera, water, and coconut oil, and I think it might be magic. It’s also marketed mainly to people who are aging and have skin imperfections. I’m aging (aren’t we all?) and I certainly have skin imperfections, and I think it’s really smoothed out my complexion — AND the biggest thing is that I’ve completely stopped having my seasonal acne flare-ups. I’m a bit obsessed.

Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream, Light/Medium

Garnier BB Cream. $12. I’ve tried so many different types of foundations and BB creams, even samples of higher-end products that sell for $50 for a tiny tube, and nothing beats this drugstore version.

Ultra Facial Cream

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. $26.50. Yes, a lot of money for a little jar, but this is the best heavy cream/night-time moisturizer I’ve tried. Somehow I also trust it more because of its lack of fancy packaging? Reverse marketing psychology?

Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies WP Mascara

Maybelline The Falsies Mascara. $7. I’ve probably tried 25 different types of drugstore mascara, and this is my current favorite. I’m really into the slight curve of the brush.

Benefit Fakeup

Benefit Fakeup. $24. I am a very vein-y person. I have tons of veins on my eyelids, and I’m starting to get a bit of darkness under my eyes. This is the best eye-area concealer, because it comes with a moisturizing ring around the concealer itself, so it’s never flaky or drying, and it blends in perfectly with your skin. Love it.

Miss Jessie's Quick Curls -  8oz

Miss Jessie’s Quick Curls. $28. I went on a quest to find the perfect thing for my naturally curly hair, and this is where I’ve landed. I learned that my softer curls got too crunchy with gels, so I was hunting for curl creams. A lot of curl creams can get too heavy or greasy, but this is the perfect stuff. The cream is light and makes great curls on my head, and it smells very strongly of fresh laundry. Which is maybe kind of weird, but it’s not the worst thing for your head to smell like.

SheaMoisture Olive & Green Tea Body Wash -  13 fl oz

Shea Moisture Olive and Green Tea Body Wash. $9. Love this body wash, and I love how self-righteous it makes me feel! It’s all-natural with no parabens, mineral oils, chemicals, etc., etc.

Favorite brands

I’m not loyal to that many brands, because I’m always experimenting, but these three are my tried-and-true favorites.

  • MAC. The serious side of real-deal makeup, but I love everything I’ve ever tried from them. Their lipstick pigments can’t be beat, and their pressed powders are miracle workers.
  • Benefit. I’m not sure what this brand’s deal is, but I also love everything I’ve tried from them. They’re slightly less expensive than some of the more premier makeup brands, too.
  • Essie. It’s completely a looks-based judgment, but I feel like it’s classier than OPI.

One day, maybe I’ll try the really high-end stuff (Dior, Chanel, YSL), but for now, I’m enjoying the low-end experimentation.

Disclosure: I feel like this is not necessary, but whenever bloggers mention products, I get suspicious, so: I was not paid or asked to say any of this about any of these products. These are my independent and trivial opinions about beauty products.