It Took Damaging My Natural Curls for Me to Appreciate Them


Presented by ULTA Beauty

Whenever I hear about a curly girl’s journey to going natural, it often involves a time in their life when they didn’t love or embrace their hair texture. My relationship with my curly hair has been interesting. I don’t remember ever hating it and for most of my life, I styled it both straight and in its natural state. But I didn’t really appreciate my curls until I lost them to heat-damage a few years ago. It was during that process of transitioning my curls back to health that I really learned to fully love and embrace them.

“Beauty is pain,” I remember the stylists at the Dominican salon saying whenever I’d flinch from the blow-dryer’s blasting heat. Growing up, my younger sister and I would take occasional trips to the Dominican salon for yearly haircuts because my mom used to style our hair at home. Every Saturday morning mami would wash our hair, pin it in rollers and we’d both sit under an at-home hooded dryer. This was the Dominican way of straightening curly hair without frying it with the blow dryer. After 45 minutes we’d come out from under the hairdryer and mami would do a gentle run through with the blow dryer to get rid of any creases or waves from the rollers and hairpins, enough to get the hair straight but still making sure to keep the heat low. As a result, my natural curls always stayed intact. Once the spring and summer came, mami would wash and air dry our curls styling it with gels or whatever curl creams actually existed in the market back then. Heat damage wasn’t a thing so I had no idea that heat-styling could ever damage my curls.

Even though I’d sport my natural curls for half the year, like a lot of young brown and black girls, I had become conditioned to believe that I looked my prettiest, most polished and presentable when my hair was straightened. Mami always made sure my hair was straightened for picture day and special occasions and over the years I started to develop a complex about my hair. Fast forward to college when I had zero time or patience to straighten or hit up the hair salon. My curls were worn in their natural state through most of those four years, plus taking black and Latino studies classes made me resistant to straightening.

Photo by Marissa Pina

 That all changed when I started working as a beauty and fashion writer and would notice all the other writers, editors, and influencers with sleek blowouts at every beauty event and fashion show. I felt this pressure to look “polished” and glamorous all the time so I started going to the Dominican salon every week for blowouts. This went on for years and before I knew it I was only rocking my curls in the summer, not paying attention to the fact that they had become looser, less defined, and drier than ever.

The heat took its toll on my hair and three or four years ago I realized my hair was severely damaged from constant styling. It took awhile for my curls to come back and look the way they do today, mainly because I didn’t want to cut it and when I couldn’t stand the way my awkward damaged curls looked, I’d quickly resort to heat-styling all over again. But in 2017 I finally took the leap. I cut my hair into a lob and gradually started wearing it straight less and less. My Dominican stylist — unlike most Dominican stylists — was on a mission to help me get my curls back so she suggested I reduce heat styling to once a month max. When I did see her, we stuck to wash and sets instead of direct blow-drying. The lob made a significant difference and within a couple of months, my hair was bra-strap length and curlier than it had been in years.

Changing my products also made a huge difference. I quickly switched from shampoos to cleansing conditioners, like Ouidad Curl Immersion Coconut Cleansing Cream – No Lather ($36). I started using a sulfate-free conditioner like DevaCurl One Conditioner ($24) and a leave-in conditioner before styling. My favorite these days is the DevaCurl Leave-In Decadence ($26). It’s the only leave-in I have found that deeply hydrates without weighing down my curls. Then I follow up with scrunching in a light-weight styling gel that doesn’t leave my curls dry or crunchy, like Bumble and Bumble Bb. Anti-Humidity Gel-Oil. Then I let my hair air-dry.

Photo by Marissa Pina

Deep conditioning my hair with SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Hair Masque has become a weekly thing for me and sleeping with a satin pillow case has also done wonders for my hair.

Getting a curl cut really helped cut out most of the -heat-damage I had left while also giving my curls much more definition. In fact, it’s a must for any curly girl struggling with heat-damage. After getting my curl cut in September, my curls finally started to look like how they used to look before the damage happened. It’s allowed me to finally love, embrace, and appreciate my curls in a way that I never have before. I now mostly wear my hair curly. I’ve straightened it maybe three times since my cut and don’t have plans on wearing it straight anytime soon. I even make a point to always wear my hair natural on dates — first dates especially. In the Latinx community, hair that isn’t straight or loosely wavy is considered “pelo malo” or “bad hair.” But I’m here to say that there is NO such thing as bad hair. All healthy hair is good hair. I wear my natural curls like a crown. They are my way to honor my natural beauty, my Afro-Latina roots, and my ancestors and now I feel the most beautiful rocking my natural curls.

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