My curls come naturally. They are a barometer of the weather. They corkscrew when it’s humid and relax to wavy when it’s cool and dry, which is almost never in the summer. As a teenager I tried various workarounds, like ironing it straight. At night I would wrap it around my head with huge clips that left ridge marks on my scalp. As a college student in Madrid, I tried fire. A salon suggested a treatment to singe off split ends using waxless candles that looked like incense sticks, allowing my thick hair to grow longer. That left me smelling like a Girl Scout camp fire.
But in decades of haircuts, I felt my locks largely ignored. That is until a few months ago when I met Catherine Wahome, an immigrant from Kenya, who specializes in the curly, the coily with the more defined ringlets, and the wavy among us. In 2012 Wahome opened Beauty Naturals Supply/Salon on Main Street in Gaithersburg.
In the early 2000s Wahome, then in her late-20s, followed a younger brother and a dream to the United States. She says she always wanted to do hair, seeing creativity in it. Within five months she had enrolled in a beauty school in Silver Spring to learn the basics, among them, she says, was taught to treat curly hair as if it were straight, weighting it down with water or conditioner to better cut it.
That pretty much summed my life-long experience, I told her.
“I’m in school, and I’m thinking maybe this is how it’s done,” she says. “But in the back of my mind I thought, there’s got to be a different way.”
It took her a few years to get on that path. She worked at a cosmetics counter, was a freelance make-up consultant, and took jobs as a stylist at a Hair Cuttery in Silver Spring, and at the now shuttered Colour Salon in Darnestown. In a color class she had what she calls her “ah-ha moment,” not with color, but with curls. Also enrolled were several curly centric hairdressers from Rockville’s Oasis Hair Salon. Soon she was working alongside them.
A friend with curls gave Wahome rave reviews. “Some people can cut your hair well once,” she said. “Catherine cuts your hair well every time.” Wahome told me that thinking differently about curls is a healthy change for the industry, and has been good for business.
I watched as she cut my hair dry, curl by curl, with terrific results.
She said her clientele is as diverse as the curls she cuts. “You get people from all different walks of life, and cultures.” On the day I was there, I was among Wahome’s appointments with curly heads with roots in Africa, Europe and South America.
After my cut, Wahome washed my hair and applied deep conditioning, a treatment that included a steam bath for hair that made me feel like I was in the clouds on a spring day.
After a quick rinse and cursory drying with a microfiber towel, she set a few clips and directed me to a hooded dryer. She handed me “Curly Girl: The Handbook, A Celebration of Curls.” Page-by-page it was a homecoming to a club I always belonged to.
Rosanne Skirble is a freelance writer in Silver Spring with naturally curly hair.
Beauty Naturals is located at 341 Main St., Gaithersburg.
Tips for the Curly, Coily and Wavy
Sixty-five percent of the U.S. population has curly, coily or wavy hair, according to naturallycurly.com. Beauty Naturals owner Catherine Wahome offers these tips to keep your curls (and you) happy and healthy:
1. Curly hair is best cut dry, curl by curl.
2. Since curly hair does not generate much buildup or oil, a once-a-week wash is advised. Over washing takes moisture from the hair.
3. Choose a sulfate-free cleanser and a conditioner without silicones and parabens.
4. Finger comb your hair after cleansing or conditioning when hair is soaking wet.
5. Spray a light leave-in conditioner on those days you don’t wash your hair.
6. Condition deeply once a month leaving product in hair covered by a fitted cap for 30 minutes to an hour.
7. After cleansing and conditioning, use cream gel or curl cream, then crunch hair for curl definition.
8. Rid excess water by gently drying with microfiber towel, cotton T-shirt or paper towel. Regular towels pull on the hair, making it frizz. Air or diffuse dry.
9. Stay away from combs and brushes that straighten hair.
10. Overnight, use a satin or silk pillowcase, which absorb less moisture than cotton. Loosely gather longer curls in a scrunchie.
11. Spray curl revitalizers to add moisture, prevent frizz and make hair shine.
12. Enjoy your beautiful curls!