The Curly Girl’s Guide to Getting a Great Haircut

Photo via Tobias Schenk, Shutterstock

For most women, our relationships with our hairdressers are a mix of comedy, drama and romance. (See: films from Steel Magnolias to Beauty Shop). But for those who are blessed with naturally curly hair, it’s often even more complicated.

From corkscrews to waves to ringlets, no curl pattern is alike — and cutting them correctly requires training and expertise. Which explains why L.A.-based celebrity stylist Shai Amiel, dubbed “The Curl Doctor” by grateful clients, has amassed such a devoted following. Trained by DevaCurl founder Lorraine Massey herself, he’s coaxed beautiful curls from the manes of Zendaya, Tamera Mowry and Tameka Harris at his Studio City salon, Capella.

Since we can’t all be lucky enough to sit in his chair, Amiel graciously agreed to give us his tips for finding a local stylist who understands naturally curly hair. Read on for his excellent insider advice.

Aquis: Every curly-haired girl has learned the hard way that not all stylists know how to cut curls properly. What exactly is it about curly hair that makes it more difficult to get a great haircut?

Shai Amiel: Most stylists are not trained to study and understand curly hair. They know only one way to cut hair, no matter what texture or curl pattern we have. They wash the hair, comb it straight and cut as if they're dealing with straight hair. Once the hair dries it will shrink in an uneven unpredicted manner—leaving holes and choppy layers.

A: You trained with the legendary Lorraine Massey. What was the biggest "aha" moment you had as a young stylist learning to work with curly hair?

SA: You have to look at the hair in its natural state to understand how much spring it has. You wear your hair curly and you should cut it curly.

Photo via Instagram

A: When clients come to you for the first time, what are a few of the most common mistakes or "botches" you see in how their hair was previously cut?

SA: I usually see the underneath really short with a longer layer on top like a mushroom. I also see a lot of uneven layers that don't bring out the beauty of the natural curl pattern. Most haircuts that are done wet or straight won't dry even.

A: Curls, of course, come in all shapes and sizes. Are there particular categories of curl that require different techniques?

SA: [I always say], “Where it lays, it should stay.” Don't fight the curls. Let them do what they want to do and pay attention to the spring factor. [You have to] treat each curl differently, because no two curls are the same.

Photos courtesy of Shai Amiel

A: If someone's sitting in a chair for the first time, what questions should a good stylist ask?

SA: I always ask them how much of their hair they want to keep. I show them anything that needs their attention—like uneven pieces or damaged ends. I'll explain to them what is wrong with their hair so they know what their options are to make it look even and better. [Then] I let them decide how much they want cut.

A: Sadly, we can't all fly to L.A. and have you cut our hair! How would you advise a curly-haired girl in a different city to find a great hairstylist?

Photo via Instagram

SA: Look at girls with pretty and healthy hair and ask them who they see! That's usually the best referral system.

A: And what questions should curly-haired girls ask a new stylist? Is there any way to tell before the scissors come out whether someone will "get" your curly hair?

SA: Have your stylist go over your hair with you to understand the real status of your hair. You should feel like you know exactly the condition your hair is in. Also, discuss options with your stylist for what it would take to fix your “issues.” And ask to see pictures of their work with similar hair. You should also be upfront about length and let him/her know how much you’re comfortable cutting off.

A: Last but not least, are there any big red flags that curly-haired girls should keep an eye out for and put a stop to in the salon immediately?

SA: Yes! If a stylist tries to brush, comb or wet curls prior to the cut, RUN!!! And never let them use any tools that don't create blunt shapes, such as thinning shears or razors. They should only use quality shears that produce clean, blunt cuts.

For haircut inspiration and more tips from Amiel, follow him on Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.