Here’s Exactly How I Make My Thin, Curly Hair Look Thicker


Khadija Horton

Lil anecdote about yours truly: The first time I ever deep-dove into the magical world of ~the internet~ was in middle school, when I spent a full weekend attempting to figure out how to style my fine, flat, thin, curly hair. I’m talkin’ sketchy curl forums, typo-riddled blogs, and the occasional ill-advised DM with strangers about my curl type. Cut to me, a decade (plus) later, and I can confidently say that after literally all of the trial and error, I’m now a true expert on the best products and tricks for thin, curly hair.

I’ll preface this with the not-so-fun news, though: There’s no single curl product that will magically make your curls look 10x thicker (trust, I’ve tried them all). Instead, if you really wanna amp up your curl pattern and get major volume, you need to take a multi-step approach that starts with how you style your hair (the most important part, IMO), and ends with what products you actually use to keep ‘em voluminous. Yup, that sounds overwhelming, but I promise you it’s not. Just follow my lead, starting with…

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1

Use shampoo (!) on fine curls

Maui Moisture Smooth & Repair Anti-Frizz Curl Shampoo

Despite what you’ve probs heard, shampoos are not the devil for curly hair—at least, not for thin, curly hair that gets greasy by the end of the day (hi, me). Fine curls can’t handle the butters and oils in cleansing conditioners and co-washes; we need a little cleansing action to keep our curls light and defined. The key here is to use a sulfate-free shampoo (this one from Maui Moisture is my fav), which still breaks down scalp oils and buildup, but won’t strip curls.

2

Clarify thin curls regularly

Mixed Chicks Shampoo

Certain ingredients (see: silicones, waxes, mineral oils) will quickly build up on the surface of your curls, weighing them down and making them look frizzy, flat, and greasy. I saw a major change in my hair once I started using a clarifying shampoo—yup, one filled with harsher sulfates—every 2 to 3 weeks to break down buildup and “reset” my curls. Pro tip: Cover your ends in conditioner both before and after clarifying to help keep it from drying out.

3

Style thin curls upside down

Up until last year (!!) I spent my entire life ignoring the whole upside-down styling advice I saw on every tutorial and curl blog, because I genuinely thought it wouldn’t make a difference. Hey, I tilt my head side to side when applying curl products; isn’t that good enough? No. Omg, NO. I was so freakin’ wrong. This styling tip has been the biggest game-changer of my life’s curl journey—more than any product or haircut—and I legit urge you to try it.

The gist is simple: Just flip your sopping-wet hair over in the shower, comb through it, then cup and squish a palmful of product (conditioner, leave-in, hair gel, cream, whatever) into your hair with your hands. That’s it. Need to layer on another product? Cup and squish it in. Feel like you used too much product? Cup and squish a palmful of water in to dilute it. The reason the upside-down-squishing technique (often called squish to condish, or S2C) is so beloved is because it encourages definition and volume at every step, all without the frizz.

Above is my favorite tutorial showing the squishing mechanism in action on fine hair. FWIW, I don’t squish in my conditioner (my roots get too greasy), but I do squish in my curl cream and mousse.

4

Use lightweight curl products

Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curl Boosting Mousse

After trying virtually every product combo, I’ve found my fine curls do best with a lightweight curl cream (I swear by Ouai’s Fragrance-Free Curl Cream) for definition, and a lightweight, volumizing curl mousse layered on top for hold. I’ll first squish the curl cream through my sopping-wet hair in the shower (upside down, natch), and then squish in a few golf ball-size puffs of mousse.

5

Plop fine curls for more volume

The second biggest game-changer for getting volume on fine, thin, curly hair? Plopping. Plopping is technique that uses a T-shirt to dry your curls in a self-contained mound on top of your head, helping to increase definition and cut down on frizz. Unlike when you twist a towel around your head—which pulls out your curls—plopping keeps your wet curls compact and scrunched, accordion-style, so your roots stay volumized, your curls stay clumped, and your hair cuticle stays smooth (thanks to the soft cotton fabric).

6

Diffuse thin, curly hair

XTava Black Orchid Hair Diffuser Attachment

I usually let my curls air-dry, even if that means sleeping on damp hair (more on how I do that below), solely because I actually like my curls loose and messy, rather than perfectly spiraled. But on days when I want my curls to really spring up and get major volume and definition, I’ll diffuse right after plopping (here’s my favorite tutorial on how to diffuse curly hair, FYI). This universal diffuser attachment fits most blow-dryers (but measure first!) and has long prongs and a wide bowl to evenly cup your curls while you dry.

7

Sleep with your curls clipped up

Sleeping on my thin curls usually means waking up with flat, stretched-out waves and frizz, especially if I sleep with my hair in a ponytail, topknot, or bun. So to preserve my curly hair while I sleep—and keep the volume—I swear by Medusa clipping, which works especially well on short hair. It’s essentially just strategically clipping up sections of your hair with small clips (I use Goody’s Mini Hair Clips or Scunci’s Mini Jaw Clips) to keep curls intact overnight.

Don’t worry—you can’t feel the clips when you sleep (they’re on top of your head, not smashed against your pillow), and even if you’re a chaotic sleeper like I am, the clips still manage to keep enough of my hair under control for it to look good once I take it down in the morning. Just be warned: Your hair will look a bit cray after you unclip it, but give it time to settle (think 10-15 minutes). I usually just clip the sides back and off my face while I get dressed and do my morning thang, then remove the clips and live my life.

8

Add layers to fine curly hair

Blah, blah, blah, I know this sounds obvious, but getting a layered haircut is truly key for giving volume to fine, thin, curly hair. I usually ask the stylist to give me “a ton of short layers, with the shortest layer still long enough to fit into a ponytail,” and describe my ideal hair shape as a circle, rather than a pyramid. (Also, FYI, this isn’t my natural curl pattern—the stylist touched up my hair with a curling iron, so I know I have more of a ~wavy~ texture here, but the layers still shine through.)

Another pro tip: Because most curl types tend to shrink up a bit as they dry, some stylists get nervous about accidentally cutting off too much length, even if you ask them. But if your curls have minimal shrinkage (like mine!), let your stylist know ahead of time, so they don’t leave you with layers that are too long and heavy.

9

Add some texture

Briogeo Blossom & Bloom Volumizing Root Powder & Dry Shampoo

Listen, no matter how well you follow these steps, your flat, fine, thin curls are probably still going to need some extra help in maintaining their volume all day. And usually, that help will come in the form of a texturizing spray, texturizing powder, and/or dry shampoo, like this hybrid from Briogeo. I usually sprinkle a bit along my roots in the morning, gently massage my scalp upside down, and I’m left with non-sticky volume and a bit of oil-absorbing powder that keeps the greasies away.

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