Let’s face it: There are many salons that have been slow to learn about all hair types and textures. So when it comes to catering to clientele with tighter curl patterns, some hairstylists are left “spiralling” out of control.
“When you’re working in a salon that only wants to stick to what they’ve been doing, stylists are not going above and beyond to learn more, which is what we’re seeing right now,” says Paula Whitelocke, owner of Curly Hair Designs salon in Ottawa. “As stylists, I think it’s really important to focus on all the different hair types. Hair is hair, so it’s about shifting your mindset around what it takes when you’re working with curlier hair types. It does take a different amount of time and effort but once you learn how, it makes it a lot easier to understand.”
For clients with tighter, coily curls (also known as Type 4 hair) some stylists may believe their hair is thicker and robust, but it’s actually a lot more delicate than they may think. While in some ways, it’s similar to working with other hair types, there are some key things to keep in mind when working with it. From cutting to styling and everything in between, we’re breaking down the advice and techniques we received from top curl experts to help you become a curly and coily hair pro, too.
When cutting tighter curl patterns, it’s important to consider how the client wears their hair on a regular basis. While many stylists prefer to cut hair while it’s wet, most experts agree that tighter, coily curls are best cut while dry and in their most natural state.
“The client should wash their hair the night before and come to the salon with it in its natural state or in the client’s desired look. I always prefer to cut the hair dry because the hair has different patterns. Once you wet the hair, the pattern starts to shift and could become a different dimension of curls, so cutting dry is the best way to do it because I have more control.” — Donna Dolphy, owner of Donna Dolphy Hair, Toronto
“It’s important to remember that curls expand and take up space. For stylists who are just starting out, it’s important for them to visually build a shape and you can do that more when the hair is dry. Curls can have different tendencies, which can be very similar, and you can identify more of them the longer you’re working with them. You have to be able to predict what happens before it does, and what the hair might do.” — Paula Whitelocke, owner of Curly Hair Designs, Ottawa
“I’ve noticed with Type 4 hair; a lot of clients want to cut their hair or wear it a bit shorter because they believe it’s more manageable when it’s shorter, and they’re not wrong. But as stylists, we know that if you have the right techniques and manipulation, coupled with the right products that add moisture to the hair, you can have good, strong, healthy coily hair.” —Gladys Afolayan, owner of Creative Mindz salon and barbershop in Calgary, Alta.
“It depends on the curl type, but usually you want to cut curl-by-curl, especially if you’re cutting in its natural state. I would wash and reset the curls so they’re fresh, and section the hair off in four sections. Take one curl at a time and cut off half an inch to an inch off the bottom. It’s the safest way and you can look at the silhouette in the mirror and shape it accordingly.” — Aisha Loobie, owner of Crown N’ Glory, Toronto
PRO TIP: If the client wears their hair both naturally curly and straightened, Loobie recommends blow-drying it out halfway before cutting it, to make sure it’s even for however they choose to wear it.
Once you’ve mastered the art of colouring hair, Type 4 hair shouldn’t be any different. However it’s important to keep in mind the fragility of this hair texture, so some colourists recommend opting for slower techniques and gentler products.
“You just need to become more versed on the underlying pigments that are in this specific texture and how high you can take it. Type 4 hair is a lot more delicate and can react differently to lightening services. You shouldn’t lighten hair that’s been chemically relaxed because these two different chemicals services are not exactly compatible. Otherwise, you can highlight and balayage the same way [as other hair textures], as well as do one-step colours, rinses, protein and other colouring services.” — Adrian Carew, owner of Hair 91, Toronto
“I find that with curly hair, you cannot tease as much as you can with straight hair because curly hair tends to spring up, so you could end up with a lot more dimension than you want. Curly hair also tends to lighten faster than straight hair, because it’s coarser and more porous so the cuticle is more open. It has a rapid reaction and then it really starts to slow down. Pay close attention to make sure you’ve lifted it to the level of lightness that you really want. You have to be patient when you’re lightening curly hair. Start low with a 20-vol, or even a 10-vol if the hair is finer.” — Sharon Mudavanhu, colourist and brunette balayage expert, Vivid Salon, Mississauga, Ont.
PRO TIP: Mudavanhu recommends using foils to incubate the hair for the best lift, and suggests using a cream-based lightener because they tend to contain more oils, which are more moisturizing for the hair.
“I always start with a consultation to find out how the hair has been maintained—this is particularly important with curly and coily-haired clients, as it’s such a fragile and delicate texture. I always say don’t mess with Type 4 hair if you’re not going to maintain it, because it will break off and dry out. I like to go slow and gentle—it’s like cooking a turkey. The less volume you use, the slower it will pull the colour, but it will leave the integrity of the hair at a healthier state.” — Donna Dolphy, owner of Donna Dolphy Hair, Toronto
PRO TIP: Dolphy prefers using gentler colour products, such as ammonia-free alternatives, to maintain the health and integrity of the hair.
“When it comes to choosing chemicals for the coily hair, always assume the hair is fine. I never put more than 10 Vol on extremely coily or ethnic hair—I always use 5 or 10 Vol and many clients don’t even believe that it’s going to show but then when they look at my past work, they realize it will and not only will it show but it also won’t cause any breakage. I also make sure my clients have the right products at home to maintain the hair post-service. When using the right chemicals and formulas suited for this hair type, the hair will cooperate.” — Gladys Afolayan, owner of Creative Mindz salon and barbershop in Calgary, Alta.
“For some kinkier, curlier hair types, you cannot go in with too strong of a developer or it can destroy the curl pattern. You always want to take it slow. For some of my curly clients, I love open-air lightener. The reality is, the darker the hair is, the more warmer undertones it’s going to have and you can’t get to that light blonde the first time, like some others may be able to, without causing some destruction to the hair. It’s one thing for them to want that, but it’s another thing for you to be able to say what is and isn’t achievable in their first service. And even if you can get them to that colour in their first service, it doesn’t mean that you should. Similar to straight hair types, you get breakage at the ends, but with curls you also can get breakage along the entire shaft. Consider the ultimate goal and what colour or level is the best to hold on to as much of the hair’s health as possible.” — Paula Whitelocke, owner of Curly Hair Designs, Ottawa
“You definitely want to ask the client if they’ve had a previous colour experience. A lot of times, natural clients will use rinses and semi-permanents, just to bring out the natural colour in their hair, and they don’t always consider telling us because they didn’t have to mix it up in a bowl, so they’ll tell you that they didn’t do anything. Strand tests are always important, especially if you’re lightening the hair because you don’t know what you’re working with and a lot of the time, you know natural hair—type 4 hair—is usually finer, so to just go in there with a lightener can end up really damaging the hair. Doing a strand test can prevent that and set realistic expectations to your client on what they can and cannot achieve.” — Aisha Loobie, owner of Crown N’ Glory, Toronto
“[For clients with straightened hair] you should ask if they’ve had a straightening treatment, like a keratin treatment or relaxer. With a relaxer, you definitely cannot lighten the hair because the hair will fall off or be very dry. With keratin treatments, you have to find out how long ago they did it and how often they plan on doing it. If they’re not sure, they should contact their salon. Usually, clients have to wait at least two weeks after a keratin treatment before a colour service, and it’s always ideal that they do the keratin treatment first. Otherwise the reverse can cause the keratin to lift or change the colour.” — Sharon Mudavanhu, colourist and brunette balayage expert, Vivid Salon, Mississauga, Ont.
PRO TIP: For added protection during colour services, consider using a colour line with a built-in bond builder, or add a bond builder into the colour formula to help protect hair’s integrity.
“We’re in an industry that thrives off of continued education, and it should include every hair type out there and not just the ones you’re most familiar with.” — Paula Whitelocke, owner of Curly Hair Designs, Ottawa
Whether your client is looking to enhance their natural curls or wear their hair straight, there are a few key things to keep in mind to help your client achieve their hair goal while maintaining the health and integrity of the hair.
“Not all coily hair is exactly the same, but you’re dealing with density and hair that’s very porous and has sometimes been chemically treated. I advise my clients with coily hair to not brush or comb it dry. The coil pattern is extremely tight and mixed with different bends and twists. When it comes to brushing hair that’s dry, it’s human nature to use force on the hair. Type 4 hair is like a spiderweb and when you’re using the wrong comb or you’re brushing it dry, you’re breaking the hair; you’re basically trying to straighten hair that is naturally bent. For styling, misting the hair with water will help it soften without force or pressure as the hair has the ability to move better when wet so you can direct the hair where and how you want it. — Gladys Afolayan, owner, Creative Mindz salon and barbershop, Calgary, Alta.
PRO TIP: When styling hair, try raking your fingers through the hair to prevent overbrushing it. Not only can overbrushing cause more breakage (especially if the wrong types of brushes are being used) but it can cause the curl pattern to expand, so whether the client has a tighter or looser curl pattern, it ends up looking the same and can appear more overwhelming than it actually is.
“You can do a lot to style Type 4 hair once you maintain the health of it. Flat irons, curling irons and crimpers work well, but a proper heat protectant is necessary. Also, you always want to condition the hair because curls lack moisture and no matter what hair texture you’re working with, if there’s no moisture in the hair, the curls will not last.” — Adrian Carew, owner, Hair 91, Toronto
“It’s best to use a deep conditioner and detangling brush, and comb the conditioner in the hair in small sections. Then, I let my client sit with it for at least 10 to 15 minutes before washing it. I style with a lot of water and products, as well as a finger comb technique to loosen the curls and create definition. I work the hair, section by section, once it’s super moisturized and push the product into the root area and crunch it [with my hands] in order to create a nice curl pattern. When you finish all the sections around the head, you can use a diffuser and use it in the same motion—using your hands to crunch the hair. You’re going to go in with the diffuser’s bottom at the end of the hair and crunch it to the root area, in back and forth motions. When set properly, it can last for a full week.” — Donna Dolphy, owner, Donna Dolphy Hair, Toronto
“Water is the biggest key to making sure the hair is moisturized. If I can’t hear a squish sound before I apply the product, the hair is not wet enough. Sections are also important when styling—I typically work in three sections. You have to really work the product into the hair, so patience is the biggest key for both the stylist and client. With that said, it’s not just about the product; it’s how you use and apply it. It’s not just not about having a miracle product or process, it’s about the patience it takes to actually work with the hair to get to that final result.” — Paula Whitelocke, owner, Curly Hair Designs, Ottawa
“You should ask the client if they’re comfortable with you using heat in their hair, because not a lot of naturals like heat, even down to a blow dryer—they want their natural texture, and for you to be able to work with that. It’s easy to grab a blow dryer and stretch out the hair, or to grab a flat iron and straighten it to be able to manipulate it, but you definitely want to ask first.” — Aisha Loobie, owner, Crown N’ Glory, Toronto
PRO TIP: While some stylists (and clients) think using oils is the key to keeping hair moisturized, too much can be a bad thing. Loobie advises against ‘greasing the scalp’ since it can clog up pores and sit on the surface of the hair and scalp. Instead, she suggests using more conditioning treatments or leave-in conditioners, and staying away from products with alcohol or sulfates, which can end up drying hair out, and mineral oils that can cause build up and make the hair appear flat and limp.
Enhancing the Experience
It’s a known fact that clients with tighter and coily curl patterns have experienced unique challenges when visiting salons—from not feeling welcomed to not having a stylist in the salon that wants (or knows how) to work with their hair, to being turned away altogether.
“A lot of times what happens in the curly hair community is that if you have one bad experience, you don’t go back for years,” says Whitelocke. “I have a lot of clients who haven’t been in the salon for 10, 20 or 30 years, and never had a great haircut because of so many negative experiences in the hair salon.”
From consultations to retail, here’s what our experts have to say:
“I like to know what products they’re currently using, how often they shampoo their hair, how often they get their hair cut and basically ask them to tell me a story about their hair—what has the salon experience been like up until this point? I ask what they like and what they dislike. Knowing the history and background knowledge goes a long way.” — Donna Dolphy, owner of Donna Dolphy Hair, Toronto
“I think a lot of it begins once they walk in. What’s the greeting like? How welcoming are they at your front desk? Try to make them feel welcome and seen within the first 30 seconds. Address them by their name and continue to make them feel comfortable throughout the appointment, even when you’re busy. People want to be seen and heard. During the consultation, be really focused on listening more than speaking. At the end of the appointment, explain what they can do to take care of their hair—showing them that you care, rather than just selling products.” — Sharon Mudavanhu, colourist and brunette balayage expert, Vivid Salon, Mississauga, Ont.
“Every client needs a proper consultation. Before you do anything to the hair, you need to know about the client’s habits. The best advice I could give a stylist working with textured hair is ‘know your curl patterns.’ Know how your client maintains her hair on a daily basis and you’ll be able to give her a proper service—whether it be about embracing her curls or straightening her hair, that will make her happy. ”— Donna Dolphy, owner of Donna Dolphy Hair, Toronto
“I would recommend that stylists ask their client to show them pictures of what their desired look is, and for the stylist to set realistic expectations on whether or not they think or believe that their hair can achieve the images that they’re showing, because a lot of the times clients with natural hair don’t always have a curl type to work with, or the texture of the person in the picture means the stylist is expected to create a miracle out of the texture, length or density that they have.” — Aisha Loobie, owner, Crown N’ Glory, Toronto
“Take your time with the consultation. Some stylists only have 45 minutes for a service, and to me it’s just not realistic to get clients to where they want to go. Sometimes you need an hour or two. Whether it’s a first-time client or not, ask for photos in advance so you can prep how much time you’ll need. Have more of a thorough consultation so everybody is clear and on the same page, and you ultimately set yourself up for more success because of that.” — Paula Whitelocke, owner of Curly Hair Designs, Ottawa
“Treat your clients like kings and queens. Remember them and give them 110 per cent of your work. Suggest change to them—even if it’s small, they’ll appreciate the suggestions. Make them feel special as soon as they walk through your door. It’s all about acknowledgment and respect.”—Adrian Carew, owner of Hair 91, Toronto
“Stylists should know better than the client. Most times, clients aren’t exactly sure about what they should be doing. They come in with questions about caring for their hair, products to use, how frequently they should wash their hair and more. Stylists need to be equipped to answer any and all of these questions. Clients come in with a variety of hair challenges and not enough stylists are educating them on how to take care of their hair and about products they should use. Stylists should bring along the client in the process and let them know step by step what they’re doing. Services on Type 4 hair typically have more steps involved before achieving the hair goal so be open with your clients about the steps involved and the price for the services. Clients don’t mind paying if they’re getting the right service, but they like to be in the loop. Break down the price and the reasons why the service will take the amount of time it will, explain which products you are using and why. I always carry my clients along and they really appreciate that—it also helps with the client/stylist bond. Also, never assume a client wouldn’t pay for something before asking them first—you’d be surprised.” — Gladys Afolayan, owner of Creative Mindz salon and barbershop in Calgary, Alta.