I've been seeing celebrity hairstylist and co-owner of 454 North Salon Cervando Maldonado, ever since I landed in L.A. almost two years ago. I had just begun my career as a beauty editor for Byrdie and had some residual hair damage from cringe-worthy college wear and tear—bleaching, extensions, the like. His cozy West Hollywood salon feels like a secluded oasis (I've been a regular ever since meeting Maldonado!), and it was also there where I first laid eyes on celebrity hairstylist and colorist Jenda Alcorn. Her station was right next to Maldonado's, and she had the most incredible, I repeat, incredible curly hair.
With noteworthy clients like the Fanning sisters and other members of the Hollywood A-list (in addition to her very loyal non-famous clients), Alcorn is one of the best hair experts in the industry, and thanks in part to her own gorgeous strands, she has special expertise in the realm of caring for and styling naturally curly hair.
Since curly hair can be confusing and frustrating to care for (largely because texture and curl pattern are highly individual and can seem to have a mind of their own), I knew I needed to feature Alcorn and all of her best hair tips ASAP. Here, she's sharing 10 of the most common curly hair mistakes and what you should be doing instead to maximize your hair's ultimate curl potential. Keep scrolling.
Mistake #1: Brushing and Detangling Post-Shower
"The most commonly made mistake I see with curly hair is brushing or detangling after the shower," says Alcorn. "This is the number one factor in curls becoming more unruly and hard to work with than they already are!"
As Alcorn explains, each and every curl has a specific curl pattern, and each person is unique. Therefore, when you comb or brush curly hair, you disrupt the curl pattern, splitting the curls apart, and creating unnecessary chaos.
To avoid this, Alcorn recommends always combing and detangling your curls in the shower while you're conditioning your hair. "After the final rinse, never comb through again, even with your fingers," she warns. "Any 'curl touching' after the final rinse should be scrunching and squeezing."
Mistake #2: Combing and Rinsing in the Wrong Direction
That said, as you detangle and condition, you'll also want to pay attention and pay careful heed as to how you detangle—i.e., the direction you comb your curls in. According to Alcorn, the ideal way to detangle your strands for maximum volume and shape is to comb your hair in the direction you want it to dry in.
"For me, that’s all forward toward my face since I have bangs and a shag. Then, rinse your head upside down! This is a game changer for curly clients," she tells us. "Most new curly clients come to me complaining their curls are flat on top and that's largely due to rinsing your hair how we’ve always been taught—head back, which flattens out the hair. So instead, invert!"
Mistake #3: Not Scrunching as You Condition
This one may seem simple, but it's one of the best ways to help keep your curls intact before you begin the product and drying process after you've shampooed. "Flip your head over and scrunch your hair up to the roots while the water is rinsing the conditioner out," instructs Alcorn. This, combined with the inverted position of your rinse, will help maximize curl.
Mistake #4: Not Using a Hair Towel
"Shut off the water—head still flipped—and reach for your a hair towel, twisting your hair up into a turban," says Alcorn. "This gives your hair maximum lift at the root since the hair never got a chance to lay flat—instead, you're lifting the root with the towel as you physically rise from conditioning with your head down."
Alcorn's one caveat? Don't leave your hair wrapped for too long, which can be easy to do if you begin on your makeup or start doing other things around the house. She recommends keeping hair wrapped for three minutes, maximum.
Mistake #5: Waiting Too Long to Apply Products
"If you have curly hair, you'll need to apply your hair products while the hair is very damp and before the frizz has time to come out and wake up," says Alcorn. She also recommends keeping your hands closes as you work through product, taking care not to open your fingers and "rake" through fragile curls.
Mistake #6: Not Using Two Separate Coats of Your Curl Product
"I start by coating my hands in a 'first' layer of product, making sure to keep my fingers close as I mentioned above," Alcorn shares. "I run my hands through with my head tilted back and hair away from the face—like you would if you were pulling your hair back in a ponytail, which ensures you get the under layer of your hair coated with the product, too."
For the second application of product, Alcorn says to flip your hair upside down and scrunch it in before flipping your hair back up and rearranging anything that looks out of place. Then, absolutely no touching!
Mistake #7: Not Experimenting with Different Curl Formulations
"This one is huge, and it’s honestly really going to come down to lots of trial and error since our curls are all unique," explains Alcorn. "For my own curls, curl creams have never worked, but some of my curly-haired clients love them! You have to try gels, mousses, and creams to see which type of formula your hair responds best to. My favorite is Oribe's curl line, especially the curl gloss since it's the perfect hybrid between a gel and a serum. It has a gel cast to keep curls and frizz under control while your strands dry, but with one final scrunch using your hands the crunch breaks up and goes away, leaving your curls super soft and defined."
Alcorn tells us she also loves to use Olaplex as a multi-tasking styling and leave-in treatment once or twice per week. "It actually dries nicely in the hair and can be a secret conditioning treatment—no need for a slick wet bun all day—you can have your usual curly look and do a treatment at the same time!"
Mistake #8: Favoring Your Blow Dryer
According to Alcorn, curly hair is best if air dried, recommending to let curly hair dry roughly 80% on its own, and then depending on the desired outcome, you can fluff with a blow dryer and diffuser to add a little volume if it needs it.
"If you need to touch up any areas that need a little more direction or frizz taming, you can use a small curling iron and wrap those sections around to organize your curl a bit better," says Alcorn. "Just keep in mind curly hair isn’t about every hair being in place and 'perfect,' I think the more natural and wild the better!"
Mistake #9: Using Hair Oils
"One of the biggest myths in terms of caring for and styling curly hair is the idea that you need to add oils," says Alcorn. "Yes, curly hair needs moisture and hydration, but this should come from conditioners and creams. People try to use oils to calm or get rid of frizz, but ultimately, the oils just weigh the hair down, which I’m not a fan of. I'm all about embracing your curls, and the bigger the better!"
"I only use oil-styling products like Oribe's Gold Lust Oil on curly hair when I'm blowing it out to be straight and smooth, but never when I'm keeping it curly," Alcorn explains. "Oil doesn’t have the proper hold and hydration that curly hair needs, which is why creams and gels are the better options." (Psst! Beauty editors also love Shu Uemura's cult formula below for when we're not working curls.)
Mistake #10: Neglecting Your Mask Routine
Even though coconut oil is a hotly debated topic in the world of haircare (people either hate it or swear by it), Alcorn says the buzzy oil isn't a curly-haired girl's friend for making the most out of your natural texture.
"Another huge myth is coconut oil as a treatment in any hair for hydration—unless you want greasy hair that’s weighed down, I just don't recommend it," she warns. "If you feel like your curls are dry and in need of hydration, use conditioning treatments."
"Brand-wise, I love the formulas from Kérastase, Olaplex, and It’s a Ten—I suggest everyone do a mask once a week as a minimum for at least 20 minutes, but all day if possible." (Ahem, meet the super-chic slick back, folks!)