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How-To Get Defined Curls

Posted on 22 August 2019

Picture this: soft, frizz-free, defined curls! For some curly girls, it’s the ultimate #hairgoal. But how do you achieve super defined curls? It all comes down to how you style and care for your hair.

What are defined curls?

First things first, how do you define defined curls? (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves 😅). We’ve identified four qualities that make naturally curly hair really defined:

1. Minimal frizz: Frizz occurs when individual hairs fray and separate from each other, often as a result of dryness, damage or over-manipulation. The less frizz you have, the better your curl definition will be!

2. Curl clumping: Clumping is that magical moment when a cluster of individual hairs band together to form a single curl (like in the pic below!).  

3. Curl separation: Unlike frizz, this is the good kind of curl separation! It happens when your individual curl clumps are nicely separated from one another starting at your roots and without any stray hairs or frizz in between them. Make sense?

4. Curl formation: When your curls are healthy, they retain a memory of their shape and pattern. Each time you wash and style your hair, they fall back into their natural formation, regaining their bounce and texture. When we do things to our hair that disrupt our natural curl pattern, it makes it harder for our strands to clump together and achieve definition.

How Do You Get More Defined Curls?

Lots of things play a factor in curl definition, so we're giving you a start-to-finish guide that includes pre-styling, curl-defining styling techniques, and important things to remember after you're finished!

Before Styling

Have a Clean Slate

Sometimes product build-up can linger in your hair even after you shampoo, rendering your styling products ineffective. Why? Because build-up makes it hard for your hair to retain moisture and clump together, and remember: more curl clumps = more definition!

Give your curls a fresh start by using a gentle clarifying shampoo. If you’ve been using heavy creams, custards or gels, you might want to opt for a deeper clean by using an apple cider vinegar rinse, which you can learn more about in this Clarifying Your Curls blog post.

Moisture, Moisture, Moisture

Moisture and hydration are essential if you want to define natural curls because the drier your curls are, the more prone they are to frizz. While deep conditioning is a quick way to instantly moisturize your strands, you can also avoid rinsing your hair in hot water. Using cold water instead will help seal the hair cuticle and lock in moisture!


Knots happen! It’s part of having curly hair. Taking the time to detangle your hair thoroughly will help your products go on more evenly, resulting in smoother, more defined strands.

Pick The Right Products

While the glue-like ingredients in gels, mousses and hair spray can give definition by sticking and binding hair strands together, they also tend to be super drying for your hair and can leave it hard and crunchy to the touch.  

You’ll want to find a product that gives you definition AND provides hydration and moisture.

Our All-In-One formulas are perfect for moisturizing and defining natural curls, waves, kinks, and coils. Not only are they versatile in use and application, they’re also packed with ingredients that contribute to the overall health and care of you hair over time. 🙌

Styling & Application

Make Water Your BFF

If you’re struggling to get your naturally curly hair to look defined, chances are you need to tweak your routine. For starters, you should always style on wet hair because water makes it easier to apply and distribute product evenly throughout your hair, helping you maximize your definition.

💧+ ❤️ = ➿

Evenly Distribute Your Product

Failing to apply your styling product evenly from root to tip can leave you with super defined ends and frizzy roots or vice versa. Many curly girls in our community find that applying in sections is the best way to ensure that you're giving every curl the same amount of product and attention. If you want to see how it's done we've got alllll kinds of product application vids here. 😉

Find Your Technique

The raking technique (when you use your fingers as a rake/comb and distribute product throughout your curls) is probably the easiest and most common way curly girls style their hair. This is a great method for days when you don't have a ton of time and aren't looking for uh-mazzzing definition.

However, since this is a definition blog we're going to go over a few techniques that may take more time and effort but will without a doubt help you get your most defined curls!!

1. Praying Hands Method

For some, using the raking method can make their hair appear stringy or straggly once dry. If you're running into this problem, try using the praying hands method. This is when you use the palms of your hands to glide product through your strands, making your waves/curls smooth and helping them clump together.

Check out this tutorial from @lovelifecurls to see it in action!

2. Finger Coiling

Finger coiling is an amazing way to get great curl definition, but keep in mind that attempting it on a whole head of hair can take a bit of time! All you need to do is take small sections of hair and twirl the length of them around your finger so that it manipulates the strand into a uniform clump.

Watch Lisa, aka @curly_n_fab, demoing it in this Live Tutorial!

3. Shingling

Like finger coiling, this method takes quite a bit of time since you’ll have to work in small sections and your hair has to be soaking wet to apply your product.

Start by combing through each section with a small-toothed comb to get all the little micro-knots that your brush or wide-tooth comb weren’t able to snag. Next, apply a small amount of product starting at the roots, pull through to the ends and comb through for even distribution.

Now for the real work. With your hair soaking wet you should be able to see where your individual curls clump and separate. Separate the curl from the section starting at the root, then take a small amount of product between your index finger and thumb and smooth it down the length of the curl. This is repeated throughout each section and while it's tedious, it does yield long lasting definition.

Check out this vid of @jiolkad to see how she uses this technique on her curls.

4. Detangling Tools

You might’ve used a brush to detangle your mane but have you ever used it to define your curls? This technique is all about the wrist action.

First, pull the brush through a section of hair several times (or until it’s absolutely tangle-free). On the final stroke pull the brush down slowly, turning it outwards as it combs through the hair, almost as if your wrapping the section around the back of the brush. It's important to find a brush that is gentle and won't snag on your curls be cause you'll need to follow all the way through to the ends of your hair, allowing the curls to spring up out of the brush on their own.

Check out this vid from @kraziicurls to see how she uses her brush (plus a lil' finger coiling action) to get her curls poppin'.

5. Twists/Braid-Outs

This a great solution if you experience a lot of shrinkage and are looking to stretch your natural curl pattern. This technique is extremely versatile and can be altered based on your preference. The bigger the twist/braid, the bigger the curl. To achieve a defined style with this technique, part your hair into your desired sections and apply your product before twisting or braiding your hair. Wait until your hair is 100% dry before unraveling, any earlier and you could be inviting frizz.

To see a full twist-out tutorial on 4c hair, check out this dynamic sister-duo!

Post-Style Drying

Drying is the final frontier. Deciding whether to air dry or diffuse can greatly affect your drying time. If you’re running short on time, use a diffuser on low heat. It will win you back some time while still protecting your curls from drying out as a result of excessive heat. If you decide to air-dry instead, do your best not to move/disturb your curls too much.

And most touchy! No matter how tempting it can be, you must resist the urge to touch your curls. Remember your curls won’t be fully set until they’re dry and moving/manipulating them too much can invite unwanted frizz.

Stay Committed

Getting more defined curls is ultimately a matter of having healthy hair. In fact, the better you treat your curls, the easier it will be to style and define them.

Avoiding these three curl-damaging habits will not only help to keep your hair healthy but also help to keep your curls nice and defined.


3 Common Causes of Damaged Curls

1. Heat

It can spell disaster for even the strongest strands. Overuse can lead to dehydration, frizziness, split ends and worst of all ruin your natural curl pattern…eek!

2. Color and chemicals

Chemicals in harsh dyes and lighteners can strip and damage your hair. If you do decide to play with color, stick to gentler products and fortify your tresses with a deep conditioning routine!

3. Rough detangling

Stop fighting your knots! The best technique for safely detangling curly hair is to take it section by section, start at the ends and gradually comb through higher and higher until you reach your scalp. Any time you feel a snag, pause and gently work through the tangle until it runs smooth.

Curl Training

We often describe curls as having their own memory, reverting back to the same shape and pattern every time you wash and style them. In a lot of ways, curl-defining techniques are a way for you to train your curls.

Once you find a technique that works for you, start incorporating it into your regular curly hair routine. The more you spend time styling and defining your curls, the stronger your curl memory will get. Over time, you’ll notice your strands will 'remember' which curl clumps they belong to, which means eventually, you’ll be able to spend less time defining and styling your hair.

📸 courtesy of @leslie.joanny

📸 courtesy of @leslie.joanny

Finally, it's important to try not to get too caught up in definition and achieving the so called "perfect curl." Trust us when we say, a lil' frizz never hurt no one. Don’t get us wrong, we love poppin' curls as much as the next girl, but time is precious and we should be spending most of it loving what we’ve got, frizz and all.

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