Skip to content

Curly hair wash routine: Tips for bouncy curls

If you have curly hair, you’ll know that wash day entails much more than a quick shampoo-and-go to keep your spirals bouncy and well-defined.

Your curly hair wash routine starts before you’ve stepped foot in the shower and continues after you’ve turned off the taps, from detangling prep and pre-shampoo treatments to applying frizz-banishing products and choosing the right styling tools. 

Here we’re going to cover how to wash curly hair, with helpful advice at every stage of your routine. 

Understanding curly hair

Before we dive into the best hair wash routine for curly hair, let's recap the key characteristics of this hair type. The hair cuticle, a protective outer layer, surrounds every strand of hair. It consists of overlapping sections that slot together like tiles on a roof.

On straight hair, they’re able to sit flat and pack neatly together, but on curly hair, they’re a little more mismatched, with gaps between them. These gaps make curly hair naturally more porous, which means it’s less able to hold onto water.

Curly hair also tends to have a lack of oil, as the natural oils produced by our scalp aren’t able to travel down the helter-skelter of coils as easily as they can a straight strand of hair. Both of these factors combined mean that curly hair needs a little extra TLC, especially on wash day.

Preparing for the wash routine

For the bounciest results, follow these steps ahead of every shampoo: 

Detangle carefully

detangling your hair

Our hair is most fragile when it’s dry, so, to avoid breakage, it's always best to detangle washing. Instead of starting from the scalp like you usually would when brushing, the best technique is to tease out tangles from the root and work your way back up the hair shaft. Steer clear of narrow tools that can snag the hair – a wide-tooth comb is the gentlest option. 

Pre-shampoo treatments

oil treatments

As curly hair is naturally lacking in moisture, you want to include as many opportunities for hydration within your hair wash routine. Slathering on a nourishing pre-shampoo treatment will allow your curly strands to soak up extra hydration, helping to counteract any moisture that might be lost during the shampooing process. 

Choose the right shampoo and conditioner 

shampoo bottle

It’s important to choose the right shampoo and conditioner to suit your hair type and its key concerns. The hair type is self-explanatory (that’ll be curly hair) but you’ll also want to consider whether your hair is thinning, oily, coloured or damaged.

Sulphates are an ingredient added to shampoos to give them a satisfying lather but can strip away hair's natural oils in the process. If your hair is feeling frazzled or overworked, then our advice is to swap regular shampoo for a sulphate-free formula and trade your conditioner for a nourishing deep conditioner or hair mask

Consider a scalp scrub 

hair wash

Healthy hair starts with a happy, healthy scalp, so it deserves just as much attention when washing your hair as the strands themselves. To dislodge any build-up of left-over styling products, sebum and dead skin cells, we recommend using a scalp scrub at least once a week. Taking the time to massage this in will not only feel like a relaxing treat but will also help to encourage blood and oxygen flow to the area, creating an optimum environment for new and existing hairs to grow. 

Looking for a way to make your curls last longer between washes? Discover "The ultimate guide to keeping your curls looking great between washes".



Your step-by-step curly hair wash routine

Okay, so you’ve laid the groundwork with plenty of prep, now for the main event. We’ve broken down how to wash curly hair into an easy-to-follow step-by-step.

Wet the hair 

For your curly hair wash routine to be as effective as possible, you need your strands to be fully saturated with water before you start to shampoo. Keep your hair under the shower until it’s sopping. If you have very thick hair, this may take a little patience. 

Distribute and lather the shampoo

Squirt a 50p-sized dollop of shampoo into your palm and massage it into your scalp using your fingertips. Make sure you include often-forgotten areas like behind your ears and the top of your neck. You can smooth a little shampoo through the lengths of your hair but don’t worry too much about lathering here, as it’ll wash through from your scalp as you rinse. If you’ve used a pre-shampoo treatment, shampoo twice

Follow with conditioner

Take a generous blob of conditioner or a scoop of hair mask and smooth onto the hair, focusing on your lengths and ends rather than the scalp where you are more likely to lose volume. These are the oldest parts of your hair, so they are most prone to dryness and damage.

Leave to work their magic for a moment, or up to 20 minutes depending on the brand guidelines. Take this opportunity to detangle while the hair has more slip to it. You can use your fingers or a wide-tooth comb or flexible-bristled brush. 

Rinse properly

It is important to rinse thoroughly, as too much product on the hair can irritate the scalp and weigh down the curls, but if you need extra moisturising, you can leave a small amount in.

Give it a scrunch


Scrunching your hair will encourage its natural curl pattern and movement, giving it more body and bounce. If you have time, you can also enhance individual curls by wrapping small sections around your fingers to create spirals. Taking the time to do it when hair is still wet will give you a head start on the styling and drying part of your routine. 

Drying curly hair

Drying curly hair takes patience and practice to avoid frizz, loss of volume and flattening your curls. Your two options are:

Leave to dry naturally

If you want to leave your curls to dry naturally, remember that something as seemingly simple as lying down can cause friction between the hair and the pillow that leads to tearing. It is also a lengthy process and can irritate the scalp. Silk pillowcases can help to minimise this.

The most popular approach for drying hair naturally is a technique called "plopping", where you scrunch your hair and wrap it in a cotton t-shirt or microfiber towel. These gentle fabrics will help to speed up the drying process without encouraging frizz. Don’t secure too tightly though, as this can squish your curls. Then proceed with drying with a diffuser.

Blow-dry with a diffuser 

For efficiency and the best chance of bouncy curls, dry your hair with a diffuser. A diffuser works by distributing airflow over a wide surface area and is shaped to encourage curl formation. Work your way methodically through your hair, lifting each section onto the diffuser until dry. For extra volume, you might want to do this with your head upside down.

The settings on your hairdryer are really important, and for optimum results, you want a mid-to-high heat and low-speed setting. Going too fast with the speed setting will blow your curls too much, causing them to form into one mass rather than individual, defined spirals. Use the cold shot to set them in place. 

A note on towel drying

wet hair

Towel-drying might feel like an efficient way to dry your hair, but this classic technique involves a lot of rubbing which can rough up the hair cuticle and leave hair frizzy. It’s much better to gently squeeze water from the hair, combing this with the process of scrunching, before moving on to blow-drying.

Post-wash care for curly hair

Post-curly hair wash routine, care and styling products can enhance your style. Leave-in conditioners and oils are great for hair health, locking in moisture to maintain softness and shine. For styling, mousse is great for volume, curl creams will help with definition and gels will provide impressive hold. All can be scrunched, swirled or very carefully combed through the hair with your fingers. 

Bellissima Italia products for your curly wash routine

Sick of the diffuser attachment falling off of your hairdryer? With a two-in-one combined tool, drying curly hair just got a whole lot easier. 

Diffon Supreme

diffon supreme bellissima italia

Great for drying curly hair without arm-ache, the Diffon Supreme is a supersized diffuser that dries large sections and longer lengths in the gentlest way. If you’re worried about heat damage, don’t be, as digital heat control sensors maintain and regulate the temperature – which can be set to three different levels with a choice of two speeds. There’s also Ion Care Technology to avoid frizz and damage, plus ceramic and argan oil coatings to infuse moisture into your strands. 

Looking for a way to make your curls last longer between washes?

Shh... this one's for you

Sign up here for exclusive hair tips 'n' tricks AND 10% off your first order.

onda newsletter