Tips for cutting and coloring curly hair

01/27/2010 11:53:46 AM


When it comes to working with curls, the options seem endless. Philosophies and techniques keep evolving as curl empowerment takes hold – both in the chair and behind it.

“I’ve always felt most at home working with curly hair,” declares Jill Leitz, owner of Salon Salon in Boulder, Colorado, and an international platform artist and educator.

Letiz’s passion for texture generates equal passion among her clients—they often tell her they’re thrilled to find someone who finally understands the unique needs and characteristics of their hair.

Many salon experts and texture pioneers have developed their own approaches to working with waves, curls and kinks. Their varied approaches illustrate the challenges and rewards of working with texture. Learn from them, and you will be able to produce gorgeous shapes and hues on any client in your chair.

Every service on curly or textured hair should start with a thorough analysis.

“I equate the hair to fabric,” explains Shawna Parvin, owner of Worlds Local Parvin in Austin, Texas, who is also an educator and winner of the 2009 Texture Category in the North American Hairstyling Awards. “Is the ‘fabric’ fine and curly like silk? Or is it coarse and heavy like corduroy? With that information, I can determine if the ‘fiber’ is better off enhanced or altered.”

The range of curl and wave patterns is endless, but RARE/Pureology Salon’s Ruth Roche of New York City identifies three categories for her prep work:
• Highly Textured: thick and coarse with very tight curls.
• Little Girl Curls: medium to superfine hair with medium-sized, bouncy curls.
• Slow Waves: loose, natural waves.

Roche also assesses the density of the hair, the actual strand diameter, the curl pattern and the chemical service history in order to make her cutting, coloring, styling and product plans.

Next, determine the cutting strategy, and if the hair requires fullness, support and strength (fine strands) or “negative space” to counteract density (thick and/or coarse textures). Usually, a fluid, freehand approach allows stylists to custom sculpt the best shape.

“If your shape is too structured,” explains Parvin, “it can start to look like a hedge. So after I establish the perimeter shape, I’ll go in and begin channeling through random pieces, watching it take shape. The idea is to let the curl pattern lead you so that you get languid, droopy, sexy shapes.”

That means using lots of disconnection, says NAHA Texture Finalist and Goldwell Master Team Member Dimitrios Tsioumas of Mizu Salon in New York City. Particularly if a client likes to air dry her curls, disconnection—shorter strands next to longer lengths—will break up and separate the hair so it “flows.” What’s more, says Artist Kaz Amor of Warren Tricomi Salon in Los Angeles, textured hair patterns aren’t always consistent—there might be more curl at the nape than at the crown, for example, so keep a sharp eye out for these variations and adjust your techniques accordingly.

Another thing to keep in mind is the “shrinkage” factor. When stretched, a tight curl might be one and a half to two times longer. “The general rule,” says Amor, “is that for every one-half inch that you cut, it shrinks an inch and a half.” This is why many textured hair pros opt to cut textured hair when it’s dry. “You really want to see the shape,” says Amor, “so that you can cut it ‘visually’ rather than performing a super precise hair cut.”

One exception to this is the client who wears her hair straightened most of the time. In these instances, says Chaune Hurt-Fitzgerald of Salon Remedi in Tri Cities, Washington, shampooing, conditioning, drying and straightening the hair before you cut will enable you to create a well-defined line and will help you cut more accurately. “If the client does want the option of wearing her hair curly,” Hurt-Fitzgerald advises, “be sure you don’t cut the interior layers too short, because they will shrink. Remember: the smaller the diameter of the curl, the more it will shrink.”

Ultimately, says Leitz, you have to train your eye to work with curly hair. “Michelangelo once said he ‘saw the statue’ in the hunk of raw marble,” she says. When working with texture, you have to learn to see the shape in the raw curl and then use your cutting skills to help it come to life.

Most experts agree that in order to make haircolor really “pop” on textured hair, it’s necessary to modify some of your standard approaches.

Color “don’ts” on curly hair:
• Don’t create the same full head of precisely placed, fine weaves that you might offer a client with straight hair. They will get lost on a highly textured head.
• Avoid too much contrast, advises Parvin—a Level-5 base with Level-10 highlights on curly hair, for example, will look like lots of little snakes in the hair!
• Don’t assume one formula will cover evenly. Hot roots often occur when doing a single process on curly hair, says Amor, so adjust your formula accordingly. He might use a Level 6 on the base, for example, and a Level 8 on midshafts and ends.
• Be careful not to over-lighten, says Roche. “Highlights are a great way to show dimension,” she says, “but lifting more than three to four levels lighter can damage strands, leading to a rough cuticle, dullness and frizz on hair that is already prone to those challenges.”

Better color options:
In addition to being hard to see, says Abbey Theis, color specialist at Arrojo Studio in New York, smaller weaves can make hair look wispy and damaged. So she likes to create larger “ribbons,” or triangular weaves, which “help you see the undulating movement of the hair.”

Another effective technique for curls is a freehand placement like baliage. Follow the shape of selected curls with a brush, perhaps tracing just the edge of some, and then covering a few entire sections. “When I baliage curly hair,” notes Amor, “I first style it exactly as the client will wear it. Then I can place the color where it will look best.”

And, when applying single process color, Tsioumas likes to keep the color away from the scalp for a more diffused, “rooty” effect. “The goal,” he says, “is to concentrate light and movement on the midshafts and ends.”

The key to successful color on these clients, says Leitz, is to apply your formulas thoughtfully. “Curls are chaotic,” she says, “so you don’t want to do chaotic color. As you are applying your color, continue to ask yourself, ‘What can I do to really enhance each and every curl on this head?’”

Now that you have covered the basics, it’s time to apply them.

Typically, clients with textured hair spend more time and money on their hair than anyone else. Help them enhance and enjoy their locks and look, and you’ll not only have a loyal client for life, you’ll also become the stylist of choice for all of their textured friends.

Celebrity stylist David Babaii says succeeding with textured hair starts with an understanding of your client. How much time does she have to style her hair? How knowledgeable and comfortable is she using styling tools?

Christo of Christo Fifth Avenue in New York City agrees. “When a client sits in my chair, they undergo a complete ‘PsychoHair Therapy Session’ that includes a total consultation on her lifestyle and hair texture. This helps me better understand her needs so that I can deliver the best results.”

Experts agree cutting curly hair properly contributes to only half of the success. The other half is just as important: The client learning how to manage and maintain each curl.

“No cut will stop frizz,” says Jonathan Torch of Toronto’s Curly Hair Institute. “Some clients even need lessons on how to shampoo correctly.”

How to get started? Approach people you notice with interesting textures and say, “I would love to work on your hair—would you like to come to my salon for a free consultation?” Bill yourself as a “multi-texture expert” on your business cards and in all of your promotional materials.

Most of all, have no fear. “If you are passionate and you do great work, you will become a star, it’s as simple as that,” says Rodney Cutler.

To enjoy the most success as a curl authority, you must pursue the best texture education.

Most major hair care companies offer excellent classes for stylists looking to boost skills in cutting and coloring all hair types and textures. (Contact your manufacturers and distributor for the latest tips on curl curriculum.)

The internet is a great tool, making it easy to check out texture-specific instructional videos on YouTube and, and many hair care companies offer tutorial videos on their websites or on DVD.

Specialty certifications can also offer more focused education. Here are three well-known options in the curl specialist community:

• Award-winning stylist Ouidad, has become an expert in the art of working with curls. After developing trademarked cutting and styling techniques, she began to share her knowledge with other stylists. Ouidad Curl Certification classes are held at Ouidad’s flagship salon in New York City. These intense classes take two days to complete. Each day of training consists of close observation and hands-on technical education. One stylist will go through five models over the course of the class. All stylists are expected to show mastery of Ouidad’s methods of styling and cutting in order to become certified. For information, visit

• DevaConcepts has developed a system specifically for curls and waves. Deva offers cutting, coloring and styling “Curlaboration” classes to stylists throughout the year at their Devachan Salon in New York City. Stylists should expect to pay $395 for the one-day course—products and lunch are included. Stylists will become proficient in dry cutting and the Deva color technique, Pintura, and become a “Deva-inspired stylist.” Visit

• Christo learned about styling curls in Greece, where 90 percent of women have curly hair. After developing his own techniques, including the “smart light” coloring technique and the “Curlisto Method,” Christo began touring the professional beauty show circuit to share his knowledge. Visit

Double Texture
Have you ever considered offering a texturizing service to your textured clients? At Arrojo Studio in New York City, chemical specialist Abbey Theis works with modern texturizing formulas to reshape textured hair. “People think of perms as those horrors from the ’80s,” she explains. “But we’re using new, much gentler, chemicals like ISO’s Option 1, which is thio-free. These formulas are safe for color-treated hair, and you can even apply them over previously textured sections.” Theis offers texturizing services to reform hair into loose “Blake Lively” waves, to create a more consistent curl pattern in inconsistent textures and to tame frizz. She also likes to produce creative new shapes, using fingerwaves, pin clips, bendable rods or cone-shaped rods to form cool curls!

Unlocking the Keys to Textured Hair
Analyzing curly and textured hair types just became easier, thanks to the new Mizani Natural Curl Key. This guide helps stylists identify the hair type of any client and determine its key characteristics and special needs, along with the best salon services and products to produce strong, healthy, manageable hair. According to Mizani Vice President of Marketing Maria Cerminera, Mizani research experts analyzed close to 2,000 heads of hair, from all over the world, and broke the physical features down into four key characteristics:
• Curve diameter
• Curl index
• Number of twists
• Number of waves

Armed with this information, they were able to classify eight distinct hair types worldwide, making the Mizani Curl Key an indispensible resource for multi-texture experts and their clients. For details, visit

*This article is related to the Texture! Guide. Click here to return to Texture!







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