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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A critical part of wash days that involve protein treatments is a hydrating hair mask and OMG, I think I am in love.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are your favorite products for curly hair? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.