Maybe it seems vain or girly, but I really like taking care of my hair. I have naturally curly hair, but it took some time for me to be comfortable with it. When ‘Japanese straightening’ was all the rage, I would flat-iron my hair into oblivion and go to comical lengths to avoid getting my hair wet. Both my parents have curly hair but middle-school me thought there was no way my curls could look nice no matter what I did.
But I started getting tired of the long routine of drying and straightening my hair every night, and all the heat protectant in the world couldn’t hide the fact that daily straightening was taking its toll on my hair. Eventually, I decided to embrace my curls, and after a few good haircuts and a lot of trial-and-error to find the right products, I learned to love my hair.
And then I moved to London.
London has notoriously hard water–look inside any kettle in the city and just imagine what that could do to your hair. Within a few days of arrival, my soft curls had become a scraggly mess from hard water deposits. When I was FaceTiming my boyfriend he asked if I had just gotten out of the shower–I hadn’t. But my hair was so weighed down with that Victorian-era plumbing gunk it looked wet. I had packed my whole life into a suitcase and was still figuring out the finer points of formatting my CV and opening a bank account, and now my hair had to betray me? Ugh.
I had never experienced this before–I’ve always lived in soft water areas, and in London I was in uncharted territory. Determined to not give up and just throw my hair into a bun for the foreseeable future (especially when I’m renting and can’t install one of those nifty filter showerheads), I knew something had to be done.
I follow the ‘Curly Girl Method’ when choosing products, meaning I try to avoid sulfates, silicones, and alcohols. When I first started, the only products that fit this specification were pricey salon brands. The tide began to turn when I was in college, and I found lots of drugstore brands that were creating curly-hair-friendly lines. I more-or-less found my perfect cocktail in the States, but most of those products didn’t exist in the UK, or had different ingredients here, or just plain didn’t work with hard water.
Thanks to CurlsBot and a lot of time on the Superdrug and Boots websites, some patience, and a lot of washdays, I’ve found what works for me. And best of all, it’s all well within my student budget, with all of my favourite products coming in under £10–and most under £5!
Twisted Sista Clarifying Shampoo (£8.99, Superdrug or Amazon)
This rescued my hair from the first use–it’s absolutely worth the price tag and I’d buy it by the drum if it were possible. It’s the only shampoo I’ve found that removes hard water deposits without overdrying my hair. In addition to Superdrug and Amazon, I’ve also seen it for sale at bigger supermarkets and independent beauty shops.
Superdrug Extracts Conditioner (£1.99, Superdrug)
Silicone-free conditioner for 2 pounds? Say no more. All the conditioners in this line are silicone-free, but I like the coconut/sweet almond one best. The oil content isn’t too heavy so it doesn’t weigh my hair down. I’m from New Jersey. Big hair is my thing. This line is often on some sort of buy-one-get-one offer as well.
Noughty Wave Hello Curl Taming Creme (£6.99, Superdrug or Boots.com)
The entire Noughty brand is sulfate- and silicone-free (also cruelty-free/vegan if that’s your jam) and this creme is my personal favourite. I apply it after scrunching the water out of my hair, and it dries beautifully.
Twisted Sista 30 Second Curl Spray (£5.89, Superdrug)
I’m still weaning off my addiction to dry shampoo as most of them are quite drying. This is a good substitute that adds moisture back to my hair, smoothes down frizz, and adds shine.
Garnier Ultimate Blends Argan Oil & Almond Creme Mask (£4.99, Boots)
Deep conditioning with a lightweight feel–perfect for finer hair. Plus it smells like a Bakewell tart. 🤤
The second part of managing your hair, and arguably more important than any product, is finding the right salon and stylist. I know, I know… ‘cheating’ on your hairstylist is a deadly sin, but I wasn’t about to schedule my visits home around haircuts. Or attempt to trim my own hair–I did that in Exeter and the results were… exactly what you’d expect.
Something that really helped me find the right salon was using Instagram–there’s a pretty robust curly hair community on there, and through the recommendations of a few London-based curly Instagrammers (most notably @dervscurls) I found Bebop.
In addition to using CG-friendly products, the salon feels very hip. Like, ‘I’m not cool enough to be here’ hip, with lots of succulents and concrete accents, fitting in perfectly with its trendy, student-friendly surroundings in their Islington neighbourhood.
As soon as I saw my stylist Sara’s amazing curls, I knew I was in safe hands.
Freshly cut // the next morning after washday
Finding a hairstylist feels like finding a place here. Maybe that’s a little too fake deep for a post about my hair, but I like embracing those little routines like haircuts and bus rides and going grocery shopping. It makes me feel like I’m living here rather than just playing tourist. #expatstruggs
If you’re looking for guidance on embracing your curls, Naturally Curly is a great place to start. Straight hair is boring! Embrace whatever you’ve got.