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It Took Me 34 Days to Figure Out How to Air Dry My Hair

Because of New York’s mandatory quarantine, basically the only people I have seen in the past month and half are my boyfriend and my cat. We’re taking our time at home to complete projects we have long avoided: my boyfriend’s installing a new WiFi modem and tending to his illegal vegetable garden; my cat’s trying to finally shred that one spot on the couch; and I’m removing my way-grown-out gel polish and (drumroll, please) finally figuring out how to air dry my hair.

My long, fine hair doesn’t have the greatest resume. As a beauty editor, I’ve bleached, processed, dyed, strangled in ponytails, back-combed in an attempt to look like Priscilla Presley, and sometimes even heat styled it a few times in a single day. It’s frizzy in a Hermione-Granger-in-Harry-Potter (books, not movie) sort of way—and so quarantine, a time when my bad hair days will be hidden from the world, is the perfect time to finally see if I can coax my hair into some sort of smooth curl pattern.

But, of course, I didn’t just try a miracle product and wake up with Lorde’s hair. (And I definitely still don’t have those dream curls.) It took me 34 days—yes, more than a month—to figure out the right mix of products and technique. My diary, below.

Day One: The Control

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Like all good experiments, there needs to have a base line to compare all future curls against. I committed to using my favorite shampoo and conditioner combo, the affordable-but-luxe Smoothing Shampoo from Odele and Drunk Elephant’s new super-thick marula butter conditioner, for the entire experiment. First impression? With no products or technique, my hair was frizzy and almost standing up straight in some parts. I had a bad hair day while chilling in the aforementioned rooftop garden.

Day Two: Let’s Do This

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Instead of dousing my hair in products, I first attempted to solve the problem with technique. I’ve flagged tons of backstage images of models with creaseless clips sculpting perfect waves, so post shower I tried to DIY. Great for an Instagram pic, but once it’s dry, it’s frizzy beyond belief. And why are my ends straight?

Day Seven: (Almost) Giving Up

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I’m weak, I’ll admit it. My hair isn’t cooperating. And just because I spend most of my days on slightly blurry video calls doesn’t mean I don’t want my hair to look good. Drying with a diffuser left my hair looking like I’d run it through a crimper. Other products gave me the crunchy curls that were popular during my middle school days. Bleak.

I almost give up on my mission until I FaceTime with my boss, Katie Becker. She has great curls. We talk technique, products, and how she’s still experimenting with how to perfectly air dry her hair. Okay, I’ll keep trying.

Day Sixteen: Let’s Call in The Professionals (Advice from Yusef)

Yusef instructing on the best air-drying technique.

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A Zoom meeting with Rihanna and Normani’s hairstylist, Yusef, transitioned from talking about his new hair accessories collection to the best air-drying techniques. He even brought out a friend to style on. Williams advice was to start with sectioning wet hair, then dividing each of those sections in half and creating a twist. Next, clip the twisted hair pin curl style on the top of your head and let air dry for as long as you want. The more sections and tighter the twists, the curlier the hair.

It looked simple enough—and after a few attempts at pinning the curl to my head, I had the flick of the wrist down. I left it in for 30 minutes and looked sort of like a bad ’90s hair informercial. As I examine the shakeout in the mirror, my boyfriend wanders by the bathroom. “Your hair looks great today,” he says—and was it with a note of surprise? But I would definitely end up on Subway Creatures‘ Instagram if I left the house with my hair up like this—I need something low maintenance.

Day Twenty-Three: A Breakthrough

air dry margaux anbouba

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I’m finally getting into a curly hair groove. But every single night, something happens. I go to sleep with (kind of) pretty curls, and wake up with…what could be described as Edward Scissorhands hair. My second-day curls are consistently flat and stringy—and traditional powder dry shampoos left my hair looking chalky. An internet deep dive convinces me that Pantene Cheat Day Dry Shampoo Foam will fix my problems. It’s the lovechild of an enhancing mousse and a dry shampoo. I very lightly dampen my hair in the morning in the sink, then run a dollop of this through the strands. Minutes later, the curls have bounced back.

Day Twenty-Eight: The Final Routine

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Sixteen creams, foams, mousses, gels, oils, and leave-ins later, I’ve finally discovered my holy grail hair product lineup. And I know I said I wanted something low maintenance. And the below hair routine isn’t that. But for an almost-guaranteed good hair day, I’ll do just about anything.

Day Thirty-Four: We Made It

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Not heat styling my hair for practically a month (I gave in a time or two, sue me) combined with the proper scrunching motion and concoction of products (a dab of cream on this part, a lot of mousse on that part) finally has my hair in a good place. I’m dedicated to my day twenty-eight routine. Next up, fixing the grays and roots that are growing in…

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