Why I Love (and Loathe) My Curly Hair Wash Day Routine

Andrea Jordan
·8 min read
Photo credit: F.J. Jimenez - Getty Images
Photo credit: F.J. Jimenez - Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

If I’m being honest, I have a love-hate relationship with my naturally curly hair routine, particularly wash day. It’s one of those days during the week that I try to push off for as long as I can, but if I stuck to a strict schedule with my curly hair routine, it may just be a more enjoyable experience. But before I dive into why I equally look forward to and loathe the days of the week I wash my hair, let me give you a little back story on my never-ending hair journey.

As a child, I always wore my hair in its naturally curly state — 3b/3c curls to be exact. And for the most part, I didn’t think much about my waist-grazing spirals. Hair was just, well, hair. And TBH, it wasn’t until middle school when that adolescent innocence began to fade and I started to notice my hair was different than most of those around me. And even though most of my peers would swoon over my curls, I began to develop a desire for long, flowing, straight locks.

During my pre-teen years, my mom would allow me to style my hair on my own, you know, to practice a bit of independence. But because I wasn’t super knowledgeable on hair in general, my curls always ended up a knotty mess at the end of the week. So, once a week my mom would sit me down and wash, detangle, and style my hair to sort of reset my strands. And while it felt so good to have ringlets that weren’t matted together, the process was, well, somewhat painful and long. This was the beginning of my love-hate wash day relationship.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college, I was beginning to love my hair again. Natural hair blogs were becoming a thing and even though there were few options to choose from, I read up on any and everything I could find. I even saved up the little spending money I had and would ride the public bus to my local drugstore just to pick up a new curly hair product every week. At this stage in my hair journey, wash day was, dare I say, fun because it was experimental. Every few days, I’d look forward to cleansing my curls so I could try out new formulas and see what worked for my hair type.

After years of experimenting and a few more years of being a beauty editor, my wash day routine is pretty short, sweet, and to-the-point. One of the blessings of being a beauty editor is chatting with seasoned pros about the do’s and don’ts of haircare and trust me, with every conversation, I took notes:

My wash day routine

Since I prefer my hair the most on days two and three, I aim to wash my hair twice a week. Ideally, I would wash on Saturday and Wednesday, but if I’m being honest, it’s whatever days of the week I have time to let my hair air dry (more on that later). Even though my wash day routine can seem like quite the commitment, it’s helped me learn to love my mane and to appreciate having naturally curly hair. Here it is:

1. Hydrate and prep pre-shampoo

When I know wash day is approaching, I try to keep my hair from getting super tangled the day and night before. Sleeping with my hair in a loosely swirled bun or pineapple-style keeps my curls intact so detangling isn’t such a pain. Oh yeah, that’s another point I should mention: I only detangle my hair on wash day, so in-between shampooing, I let my curls live their best life and try to minimize any manipulating or styling that would interfere with their natural spring and bounce.

If my hair is feeling particularly dry or hay-like that day or week, I’ll reach for a deep conditioner to start my wash day routine. I don’t typically overthink this process and just choose whatever is in my hair product bin at the moment. My current obsession is Bread Beauty Supply Hair Mask Creamy Deep Conditioner: it's thick, luscious, and makes my hair feel as soft as a baby’s bum. I’ll slather that on my strands, using no particular method, but I do try to focus on my edges, ends, and the crown of my head since it’s prone to frizz.

After letting the mask sit on my hair for 15 to 30 minutes while I do chores around the house, it’s time to get down to business. So, I take a deep breath and prepare myself with a tiny pep talk for the 30-minute shower that lies ahead.

2. Shampoo the scalp

Shampoo is one of those products that most curly gals steer clear of, but I’ve learned that it is essential for my hair and scalp. If I skip shampoo, my hair tends to have more of an odor and itch so it’s a must-have in my routine. I reach for gentle, sulfate-free formulas and focus it mainly on the scalp to get rid of product buildup and excess oil.

Lately, my go-to is Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Defrizzing Shampoo (a summertime fave), but I’ve loved Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Hydrating Shampoo, too.

3. Condition, condition, condition

TBH, I can’t live without hair conditioner. If I had to choose one product to have for life, this would be it. Once I’m done cleansing, I always touch the texture of my hair to make sure it doesn’t feel like straw or hay. These days, it doesn't happen often, but if it does, then I’ll consider deep conditioning once more before moving forward. If my hair feels soft and clean, it’s time to pull out the jumbo-sized bottle of conditioner. The key to the perfect conditioner is the amount of slip it gives the hair, which is key as I start to detangle.

So, I put about a ton of my favorite conditioner in my palms, usually Aussie 3-Minute Miracle Moist Deep Hair Conditioner or Tresemmé Flawless Curls Conditioner, and get to work. Because I use such a large amount of conditioner to detangle my hair, I usually steer clear of expensive brands that come in small bottles. It’s just not worth it.

4. Carefully detangle

I choose to avoid tools like brushes and combs to detangle my hair, so I just use my ten fingers to unknot while my conditioner is in. Over the years, I’ve found there to be a slew of benefits to finger detangling, including better curl shape, less breakage and therefore more growth, and more care with split ends and knots. And since I don’t have a tool doing the work for me, I need a conditioner that allows my tangles to sort of melt away.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to say, finger detangling takes patience (hence my self-pep talk earlier). If you’re rushing and feeling frustrated, you’re going to rip through your knots and tangles the same way a brush or comb might. It’s important to slow down and be gentle with your curls for the best results.

To detangle, I split my hair in half and work with one side at a time. I usually start pulling apart tangles at the ends and work my way up to the roots. On a good day, this will take me 10 minutes to do my entire head, but if I wait a day or two past my typical schedule, I could be detangling for 20+ minutes.

5. Let that conditioner sit and get to work

Once my curls are silky-smooth and tangle-free, I let the conditioner sit in my hair while I work on the rest of my shower routine: shaving, washing my face and body, and exfoliating. Then, it’s time to rinse my hair.

Since I use such a large amount of conditioner, I focus my rinsing on the roots to avoid product buildup. I’m totally fine if there’s still remnants of conditioner on the ends of my hair; in fact, I actually prefer that for styling. But I definitely don’t want conditioner on my scalp, it leads to an itchy, flaky mess after a few days.

6. Gently style with curl cream and gel

Once my shower is over, I scrunch the extra water out of my hair and start to apply my styling products. For me, it’s simple: I stick to a curl cream and a gel. My favorite styling cream is the DevaCurl Styling Cream Touchable Curl Definer and the Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel. And if I’m feeling super fancy that day, I’ll rub on a squirt or two of my favorite leave-in, It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In Product. This stuff is like liquid gold.

Finally, I wrap (or plop) my hair into an old t-shirt or terrycloth towel until my hair is no longer soaking wet and get dressed. After about 20 minutes, I’ll let my hair down and allow it to air-dry for a few hours — that’s how I get my springiest, bounciest, shiniest curls ever.

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