Cutting Curly Hair


Currently, we have a situation in hairdressing where there are now specialists in racial hairdressing. There are Afro-Caribbean specialists, cutting curly hair, Asian specialists, cutting straight hair and European specialists, cutting everything in-between. There seems to be complete separation where only stylists from a particular part of society can do the hair of other members of that society. I was trained to cut any type of hair to the same standard and if I can do it, why can’t everybody else.

It cannot be the case that we can only cut the hair of people who are from our own ethnic background, hair is hair and hairdressers should be able to handle all hair types.

Let’s start with hair in general. Straight hair lays flat, each hair sitting neatly next to its neighbours, becoming what scientists call a 2-D hook. That means it moves in just two dimensions, front to back or side to side and as such tends to lie flatter. As below.

Hair with a typical curl, has multi-directional characteristics. If the curly hair is reasonably short, each hair forms what the scientists call a 3-D local helix, that means it moves in lots of directions up, down, at angles and doubling back on itself. These qualities cause the hair to lift over each other creating what hairdressers describe as volume.

Longer curly hair tends to be flatter and less curly on the top because the weight of the hair pulls the curl down and the curls collect and mass around the baseline.  If the hair were one length it would be triangular when viewed from the front.

In this picture you can see the hair has a triangular shape at the baseline. This is because the shorter sections of hair underneath are able to curl more due to them having less weight, making them draw upwards and push outwards.

Layering long curly hair reduces the effect of the weight and releases the curl and the volume moves from the outline to further up the hair depending on the length.

I always make sure that the lines I cut are as strong and clean as possible. This helps the curl to form cleanly. An untidy line will look bitty at the tips of each hair.

Above, you can see that the curl is higher on the head creating volume and the shape of the cut is more rounded.

When cutting curly hair, I always take the following things into consideration.

  • After shampooing the hair, I examine the amount and tightness of the curl. This way I can estimate how much the hair will lift depending on how much I am going to cut off.
  • I always cut solid outlines. They look clean and support the rest of the hair and a weak outline will look messy and badly cut.
  • I always consider the vertical shape that I am going to cut the layers. This will determine the shape of the silhouette. The silhouette is the third dimension of the cut, also referred to as the volume.

This type of longer curly layered cut is really just a long layered haircut with one slight difference. The layers are pulled straight out vertically from the head rather than upwards towards the parting. This way the shape of the layers can be cut to create a more attractive rounded shape.

The shape I cut the layers will determine the overall shape of the cut. Technically with very curly hair I could cut the hair into a cube shape. I wouldn’t, but technically I could. I’m just stressing the fact that it’s the shape of the layers that matters most.

Let’s take a look at short curly hair.

There’s much more scope for creativity with short curly hair because as the length is closer to the scalp after cutting, the hair tends to move less so can be in effect sculpted. I only ever cut subtle shapes into short curly hair because I believe that cutting extreme shapes is not flattering and does nothing for the customer’s appearance.

Above is a short curly bob. You can see that it has long layers that help the top sections to lift up and create shape. This is done by cutting the baseline and then lifting each of the following sections a little higher than the last until the desired effect is achieved.  

Next, let’s take a look at a short afro.

You can see that really, it’s just a short layered haircut. There are no special skills required to perform this or any other cut on any type of curly hair. The important thing is the shape of the layers. Once this is understood by the stylist, customers can easily get a haircut that will work with their hair.