Harsh chemical processes will affect your curls no matter what, even in the hands of a trusted professional. When I got blonde highlights back in 2016 I knew my curl pattern would loosen slightly, but not to the point where I couldn't repair them.

Though I was right about that, a routine visit to touch up my hair color this fall went horribly wrong — and left me scrambling for a solution.

I had already gone heatless since June of this year (with a few exceptions) as I began my journey towards living my best curly life.

curly hair
photo: Cindy Diaz, Vivala

It feels like I have been getting blowouts since I came out of the womb, and it was right before my 30th birthday that I finally reached my breaking point. I was tired of spending a huge chunk of the little time I had off every weekend on my hair.

Thanks to the natural hair movement on social media and a push from my friends, I began to embrace the curls that I was raised to believe was not as good as straight hair, and rocked my natural texture, heat damage and all.

Even though I knew using bleach again would cause a little damage, I had no idea a retouch would end up turning a section of my hair into mush.

bleached hair
photo: Cindy Diaz, Vivala

My hair appointment seemed to go according to plan, but there was a stubborn section that refused to lighten up. It had an orange tone which made a noticeable contrast against the ash blonde highlights on the rest of my head.


I talked to the colorist and went back to get the color corrected... but it ended up being a huge mistake. The section that was once too orange was bleached to the point that it was practically white. At that point, I was fed up and just left the salon without complaining. It wasn't until I started running my fingers through my hair in front of a mirror that I realized that strands of my over-processed hair were turning into gum in my hands.

A section of hair right by my face had been burned, and there was no way for me to hide it. I don't know how I didn't have a melt down right then and there.

The only explanation I can come up with for not having a breakdown was that deep down inside, I knew that it was just hair. Worst case scenario? I would cut it, and it would grow back.

Luckily, all of the extra bleached hair did not break off in my hands, but I knew that whatever was left was hanging on by a thread, and I needed to act fast to save it.

The first thing I needed to do was strengthen my hair, and I turned to a protein treatment for the job.

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It is the best thing you can do for your hair when it is feeling weak but you have to follow the instructions to a T. Leaving on a protein treatment longer than the time recommended on the packaging can lead to breakage, and I definitely didn't sign up for that.

I tried the Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture Dream Come True Wonderful Pre-Wash Protein Treatment ($32, Sephora). It was pricey but I trusted a friend who told me I needed it in my life. I applied a generous amount all over my hair and left it on for 15 minutes before shampooing. You can use with heat for a stronger effect, but I used it without it and was just fine.

The one down side about protein treatments is that they can leave your hair feeling a little dry so it is important that you add moisture back into your hair immediately. I went for hydrating shampoos made for curly hair to start that process.

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DevaCurl's No-Poo Decadence ($22, Sephora) is a milk cleanser that doesn't lather and is extremely gentle on the hair. It feels like you're applying a conditioner, which makes me feel confident that I'm not stripping my hair any further after a protein treatment. Major key!

While shampoos that don't lather make me feel like I am not stripping my hair, I still miss the foam every once and a while. Luckily, I found an option that doesn't leave my strands feeling thirsty AF.

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My FAVE is the CURLS Blueberry Reparative Hair Wash ($14, Target) because it smells delicious and keeps my hair feeling soft.

A critical part of wash days that involve protein treatments is a hydrating hair mask and OMG, I think I am in love.

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Amika's Nourishing Mask ($28, Sephora) doesn't have over 700 reviews on Sephora.com for no reason. This treatment is heaven-sent. It's one of the few treatments that I have tried that make detangling my hair a walk in the park. I use it in combination with a Tangle Teezer ($15, Sephora) and the process is pain-free. I rinse it out after all of my knots are gone or leave it on overnight.

This part is EXTRA, but this conditioner makes my hair feel so luxurious. I feel the hydration levels go up to 11 the moment I put it on.

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It's the DevaCurl One Condition Decadence ($22, Sephora) and I refuse to live without it.

I do a full wash routine once a week and do protein treatments every other week.

I haven't used any heat on my hair since it was bleached.

And just when you thought I couldn't add any more moisture in my hair, I have one more step — leave-in conditioner.

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This is an essential part of my routine that I do while I'm in the shower while my hair is still wet so that I lock in the moisture. The As I Am Leave In Conditioner ($9, Target) is my go-to because it keeps frizz at bay. I've learned to embrace this rebellious side of my hair but bleach makes it even more porous so I need extra help, and this product definitely does the trick.

Finally, I lock it all in with hair gel. For days when I'm leaving my hair down I found a product that is like magic in a bottle.

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The Camille Rose Curl Maker ($22, Target) is the definition of faking it until you make it. The gel manages to encourage even my most heat damaged sections into gentle waves at the very least. It is incredible! I scrunch it into my hair, making sure I give my straighter pieces more attention and let it air dry. The product will harden but don't let that turn you off. Once my hair is dry I scrunch again to break the cast and I am left with bouncy, defined curls that feel soft to the touch.

On days when I want to give my hair (and myself) a break with a sleek bun, I go for a different type of hair gel.

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The Ecostyler Professional Styling Gel with Olive Oil ($3, Target) hydrates the hair and has a strong enough hold to keep my shorter pieces that like to do they're own thing in place all day.

I am so grateful that weeks after my tragic bleaching incident, these products have helped me save the strands that were almost burned into oblivion.

curly hair
photo: Cindy Diaz, Vivala

What are your favorite products for curly hair? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.