The Low Maintenance Woman’s Guide to Curly Hair

Guest post by Ellen

The author with short hair, dressed as a red crayon

The author with short hair, dressed as a red crayon

For much of my childhood I had very short hair. I got mistaken for a boy a lot, but I didn’t mind it, and it made being in the pool easy – I didn’t have to wear a swim cap. Granted, my hair was also the texture of straw, but it didn’t bother me.

However, once I got to sixth grade, I decided I’d had enough of both being mistaken for a boy and short hair, and I grew it out. Somewhat to my surprise, it was curly. My response to this was to wear it in a clip (sixth grade) and then side barrettes (seventh grade through eighth grade), and then came the grunge era – enough said.

I never quite knew what to do with my curly hair, and, because I am lazy, have stuck mostly to just washing it and letting it air dry. However, whenever I went to get it cut, the stylist would lobby for straightening it. One: I am lazy and don’t even use a blow dryer most of the time. Two: I have very fine hair and live in humid climes, so all the work would be undone within minutes of exposure to the weather.

For my last haircut, I went to a stylist who specializes in curly hair and discovered that the system she uses is based on a book called Curly Girl, which I had actually perused a while back. Since that haircut, I’ve been happier with my curly hair than ever – it’s been holding the curl and hasn’t been frizzy, even in the considerable humidity of the Gulf Coast region. I’ve found that having had hair care made into a system with discrete steps has made it much easier for me to understand.

The author in seventh grade, with omnipresent barettes

The author in seventh grade, with omnipresent barettes

Here are the basics of the Curly Girl method, as gleaned from my stylist, a perusal of the Curly Girl book, and various curly hair websites:

-Most products designed to hold curl, reduce frizz, etc., do this by using silicone, which is heavy and not great for the hair.
-To remove silicone residue, you need sulfates in your shampoo. Sulfates are not good for anyone’s hair, but they’re especially damaging to curly hair becuase of its structure.

According to the curly girl method, if you respect the structure of curly hair and keep it healthy and adequately moisturized, it will naturally reduce frizz. How to do this?

-Avoid sulfates, silicones, and parabens.
-Don’t shampoo. Cleanse instead.
-Use a non-silicone conditioner.
-Use a non-silicone gel/curl volumizer.

If you google this, you’ll find guides about following this method in 15 simple steps, but (as I’m lazy) I’ve reduced it to three, which I will explain here. I’m going to tell you the specific products I’m using (as my stylist was trained by a specific system) but if you read the book no specific products are mentioned and a quick googling of the method pulls up lists of other products that meet the criteria.

Step One: No more shampoo. Say what?

I thought this was totally gross, but it turns out you’re not just going to leave your scalp and hair greasy. Instead of shampooing you are going to cleanse (yes, semantics are at play here). It turns out that the lather in shampoo is mostly there for psychological reasons and isn’t really doing much. As a result, you don’t really need it.

The non-shampoo I now use is Deva Curls Low-Poo, which does have some lather, but there is another, No-Poo, which doesn’t. There is some difference in the pH or somesuch that made her recommend the former. When you cleanse, you’re going to be focusing on your scalp, not your hair. Use the pads of your fingers to massage the scalp. Rinse as usual.

Step Two: Condition

You want to use a rich, silicone-free conditioner. The one I use is Deva Curls One Condition, which is the only conditioner they make. What you are going to do with this conditioner is comb it (with your fingers) through your hair. As you do this, bring your fingers together (my stylist calls this “noodling”) so you can feel the texture of your hair. You want to do this until your hair feels smooth. When you’re working on the right side of your head, turn your hair to the right, and so on. Rinse.

Step Three: Gel

Do this while you’re still in the shower. “Noodle” it through your hair, then drizzle just a little water over your hair and re-noodle. You’re done with the shower part. The one I use is called B’Leave In, but there are several others available.

There’s no need to comb your hair, since you’ve noodled it thoroughly. To dry your hair, lean over and scrunch the water out with a towel. You want to lean to the side you’re scrunching. Then, if you’re lazy like me, let it air dry. Those of you who are less lazy or who live in climes where leaving the house with damp hair won’t work, blow dry with a diffuser. There are additional hair products you can add – what I’ve outlined seems to be enough for me.

Videos on this method are available from the Deva Curls website:

Again, this is the brand I have experience with but any products that meet the no sulfates, silicones, and parabens criteria should work.

I really recommend that if you are a curly girl you try getting your hair cut by a stylist who is trained specifically for curls.

The author with self-styled hair, present day

The author with self-styled hair, present day

Ellen is from New Jersey and spent enough time in Boston to be a die-hard Red Sox fan. After becoming a librarian, Ellen moved to Mobile Alabama where her most important role is to make sure that Beckett, a golden lab, is properly entertained. Beckett would like you to know that while he likes chicken, he would never ever drink beer in the club house. Ellen likes pie, geology, mathematics, books and baseball.


Facial: an experience

Following my adventures in facial masks, I decided to bring my facial journey to the ultimate conclusion: a proper spa facial. A week at my mother-in-law’s over Christmas provided the perfect opportunity to sneak away for 90 minutes and spend an exorbitant sum. I went to Beverly Day Spa in Woodstock Georgia and got the European massage (which was on sale). Here’s how it’s billed:

European Facial

This therapeutic facial will leave you feeling refreshed
and renewed. It begins with gentle cleansing, exfoliation and
steam therapy. Your skin is analyzed, extractions performed and
then customized for your specific needs. This includes a face, neck
and décolleté massage, appropriate mask and protective hydration.
A soothing warming hand treatment completes your relaxation.
This Seasonal Special includes a $20 Facial Moisture Treatment
as a FREE Gift fromBeverly’s Day Spa Salon
Regular Combo Price $100
Giving Season Special $80 Save $20

Before the facial

Before the facial

So, like a massage, it started with me under a sheet on a table in a darkened room. My aesthetician, Stacy, cleaned off my face by gently rubbing it with cleanser. There were many hot towels and wrappings and gentle upward circles across my cheeks. It was quite pleasant and relaxing.

Then we exfoliated (I’m not sure what product she used for that – sorry! – except that she said it was perfectly circular unlike walnut or apricot scrubs). By the way, exfoliation is a fancy way of saying, “take off the top layers of dead skin cells”. There was a steaming wand that got waved at my face – not unpleasant. Be warned though – I was asked if I was claustrophobic and all the towels, cloths, covering, steam streams etc. might be not fun if you were claustrophobic.

Next up: looking at my skin through a bright magnifying glass to tell me everything that was wrong with it. This, my friends, explains so much about who we are as a cosmetic culture. I was paying someone to look at my skin through a magnifying glass and tell me everything that was wrong with it. Now, I was assured I had very good skin (which, well, I think I do). But on the list of horrors for my mid-30s skin I was told I had fine lines in my forehead and neck (but no crowsfeet!), large pores on my chin (although blessedly small ones on my nose), broken blood vessels around my nose (avoid hot and cold to prevent those from getting worse – and if they ever bothered me I could have them lasered off) and rosacea.

This was also the section where she would do “extractions” which is a fancy way of saying “popping your zits, with a needle if need be”. I did not have much need for extractions. I was wondering if this was really a good idea, given that every mom in the history of the universe has told her teenage children to just not touch them. (Of course, every teen in the history of the world has ignored this advice.)

Of these, I have noticed the lines on the forehead and neck. My mother has a serious case of rosacea, so that wasn’t too surprising and helps explain why my cheeks can be so sensitive. The pores I’d never noticed, and I think the broken blood vessels are invisible for those NOT using a magnifying glass to evaluate my skin clarity.

I have very mixed feelings about this. I went in thinking, “I have good skin”. I came out thinking, “I have good skin, but large pores, fine lines, rosacea and broken blood vessels. Maybe I should manage/fix/do something about those.” And that is precisely how the beauty industry ends up getting quite so big and profitable. But at the same time, I’m actually glad to know about the rosacea, because it is something better prevented in one’s 30s than attempting to be fixed in one’s 50s.

After the delivery of this bad news came the paraffin mask. This was part of what made it a European facial, I guess. She snipped out a nose hole from some gauze. Warm paraffin was put on the gauze and laid on my face. (Although I thought it was funny she did this right after telling me not to put hot stuff on my face.) Then she did a massage of my shoulders, arms, hands and top of my chest as the paraffin cooled.

I was getting pretty drowsy at this point. I think she put the facial mask on? She put lotion on my hands, put them in plastic baggies, and then put them in these warming gloves. Then she left me for a nice little nap. I have no idea how long it was – somewhere between 2 minutes and 20. But mmmmm that was a great little nap! The final step was to put on another round of some sort of cream (I think) and some lip balm. I was told not to put on makeup for AT LEAST half an hour to let it all soak in.

After the facial

After the facial

With the Christmas special, I paid $80 for the service, plus a nice tip since Stacy was great. I also decided to spring for a sampler of the product – it cost $12 for the teeniest tiniest samples you’ve ever seen. The product they used is CRAZY expensive – even on Amazon a 1.7 oz bottle of serum costs over $50. So overall I spent $112 for about 120 minutes of pampering.

The facial was extremely relaxing and enjoyable. But it was also a “problem-finding” experience – the sort that ends up making you think you need to spend more money and buy more things. Although I think it did noticeably improve the quality of my skin, I suspect we’re talking no more than a 2 to 3 week improvement. I also suspect that the only person who notices the improvement in my skin is me. (Maaaaaaybe my mother-in-law, but almost certainly NOT my husband.)

I asked what people usually got facials. I think facials are most useful when you have a skin problem or big event. For instance, I think it would likely be a pretty good idea to get a facial a week or a week and a half before a wedding. Someone battling acne or an active skin problem would find competent help with an aesthetician.

Do if:
– You are having an active skin problem you’d like some help addressing
– You have a big event coming up in more than a week and you’d like your skin to look better than average
– You want to know what’s wrong with your skin
– You would like a relaxing pampering thing to do, but don’t want a mani/pedi or massage
– You have some decent cash to splash around

Don’t do if:
– Your skin is already good
– Money is being carefully watched
– You’re susceptible to “Experts” telling you that you need to spend a lot of money to fix things that are wrong with you, and that you never noticed before
– You don’t like having your face touched
– You are clausterphobic

Beauty Balm – BB Cream

In my recent reading of InStyle magazine, it seemed like every third ad was dedicated to BB Cream. It took me at least two magazine’s worth of poring over it all to discover this is an acronym for Beauty Balm. After having been brain-washed by sufficient repetition, I began to find the BB concept compelling. I mean, check this out:

BB Cream in shiny package

BB Cream in shiny package

Experience 5 complexion-perfecting benefits in a single step. Youth Code BB Cream Illuminator instantly evens, illuminates, perfects, moisturizes and protects skin.

Illuminates! They’ve come so far with LEDs!

I decided it was clearly part of my job to figure out what this BB Cream was, and whether we are interested in it. Standing in the sultry and alluring lighting of my local Stop-N-Shop I reviewed the five or so BB Creams on offer, and picked the one with the shiny label (Youth Code BB Illuminator ~$15).

I’ve been using it for about two weeks. You put this stuff on a lot like you would a moisturizer/sunscreen. And it does, in fact, claim to do those two things. However, unlike my moisturizer and sunscreen combo, it is tinted. They didn’t have a “practically albino” setting, so I picked up the light version, which still looks unexpectedly dark in my hand.

I took probably 30 pictures this morning in the bathroom mirror (I even cleaned the mirror first!) so you could see the “before/after”. So even though they look identical due to lousy photography, I feel obliged to include them. Here’s the before:

BBB - Before BB

BBB – Before Beauty Balm

This is my morning face. I’m sorry. I’ve seen it look worse, too. Anyway, here’s how I go greet the world on weekends, work from home days, or any time before I started wearing makeup to work. (I actually don’t usually wear makeup to church. It’s funny – I dress up in order to be respectful and honor God, but I don’t wear makeup in order to be less vain and to be honest with God and myself. I get the feeling these two things somehow are not sympatico, but I can’t figure out which one to drop.)

Sometimes when I put on the beauty balm, I put on Regenerist eye cream first. I’m not really sure why, other than that it seems like the thing to do. It takes me a touch longer to put on the BB Cream than it would my good ol’ SPF/moisturizer, but not much. I’m not sure if the shine would wear off by the time I am done with my coffee, but I usually end up putting my powder on over that. When I have this cream on and the powder, I feel like my face has been wiped clean and is now a blank slate. This is the feeling that tempts one to wear a lot more makeup. Still, I only add mascara and eyebrows, and sometimes lip gloss. The end state is this:

After BB and makeup application

After BB and makeup application

I like this cream. I think it actually does a lot of what it claims to do. While I feel slightly cakey and make up in the morning, by the time I get to work I feel like my skin looks better. I think the biggest difference is in the evening, when my skin does seem to have a more youthful radiance than it does when left to its own devices. I naturally have pretty decent skin, so this doesn’t make a huge difference to me, but if you have any blemishes/patches/things you don’t like about your skin, this might be really helpful to you. After two weeks of regular use, I have not broken out or noticed my skin seems damaged in any way, so it’s not just plastering over issues.

Use if:
– You have skin you aren’t happy with
– You are already using sunscreen, moisturizer and foundation in different steps
– You have a big public presentation, and there may be photography/unflattering lighting
– You are going to be very good about removing your makeup every night
– You want a solid base for more fun/exciting makeup

Do not use if:
– You don’t like feeling or looking “made up”
– You already have a great skin
– You are not going to use other makeup

To Sunscreen or not to Sunscreen

A few weeks ago, I wrote up a list of three things that a young woman interested in a technical career could do to plan for when that career requires looking professional. I recommended three things: start wearing sunscreen with moisturizer young, cut out sugary drinks while you still have an adolescent metabolism and keep your tattoos discreet.

Now, I knew I was courting controversy with these. Weight is the besetting body issue of our age. Tattoos are the ultimate form of self-expression. I steeled myself for controversy, prepared myself to both listen carefully and support my views, and clicked publish.

And lo! (Extremely mild) controversy ensued! But not about Mt. Dew or tramp stamps. It was about whether wearing sunscreen was a good idea or not. Huh. Not what I was expecting.

Unilateral Dermatoheliosis

Unilateral Dermatoheliosis: or why you should wear sunscreen even when you are inside all day

But my curiosity was piqued. One of the nice things about this topic (fashion & apparance) for me is that it’s easier to be open minded. I mean, do I really have a great reason for thinking I needed to wear sunscreen? There isthe dermatologic-industrial complex and their advertising budget. My mother-in-law. And my extremely desultory browsing of fashion magazines. I concede the possibility that I could be wrong in my advice.

Then I remembered that one of my geek-gaming friends was a dermatologist. I dropped her a line and asked if she’d be willing to go “on background” to educate me – and by extension you – on sunscreen: the whys, whens and hows. After a review of the AMA’s guidelines on MDs talking as MDs on blog platforms, we decided the easiest way to get information from her to you was an informal overview and review. So… all those standard disclaimers about “But talk about it with your own doctor” apply.

The objections to sunscreen raised in the previous post came in the following areas:
1) The chemicals in sunscreen might cause cancer
2) Especially for people in Northern climates, insufficient vitamin D might be produced using a rigorous sunscreen regimen
3) Most technical folks spend their working days indoor anyway and don’t get a lot of direct sun exposure

In discussions with my dermatologist friend, she mentioned a lot of people have been strongly influenced by The Environmental Working Group’s analysis of sunscreens. Their main points are:
1) Maybe sunscreen doesn’t prevent skin cancer, or might cause deadlier forms of cancer
2) Sunscreen blocks the body from synthesizing vitamin D
3) Sunscreens may use antioxidants, which can create free radicals, which can create damage to cells

There seem to be many variations on these themes in their online materials.

My friend and I had a fascinating 90 minute discussion on sunscreen. And I realized: I’m writing for an audience of technical women… women who are probably as interested as I am in the science of how sun and skin interact. So let’s talk about it!

Next up: UVA, UVB and the desk jockey

Advice for the future

I am hoping that some of you reading this blog are younger women, just getting their start in technology. Some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, that might be useful information in a few years, when I’m interested in managing a technical team. But right now, as a programmer/lab tech/engineer this fashion stuff just isn’t relevant yet. Jeans every day, baby!” I get that. I lived that. I agree – no need to do this stuff before you’re good and ready.

That said, there are three things I’m recommending you do today so that when you are ready to look managerial, you don’t have a big uphill slog. With no further ado, here are three pieces of advice I offer for the 22 year old girl programmer:

1) Moisturizer with Sunscreen
Wrinkles are almost impossible to get rid of. So are liver spots. Go take a moment and google “effective ways of removing wrinkles”. Notice how they are a) painful b) expensive c) quacky . Notice how many times they say, “This one really works, unlike all the other ones that totally don’t work”. Right now, you’re trying to look older than you are. There will be a blessed but brief period of your life where you will be happy looking exactly as old as you are. And then you will spend a long time wishing you looked younger than you are. Percentage wise, the largest period of your life is likely to be the “wishing you looked younger than you are”. But once you get to that age… there’s not much you can do about wrinkles or skin damage. So. Every day, put on a moisturizer with an SPF over 30 – even if you don’t currently care about how you look – just in case you change your mind.

2) Cut out sugary drinks now, while you still have a metabolism that can handle them
In the same way it’s much easier to prevent wrinkles than to remove them once you have them, it’s much easier to take smaller steps to prevent weight gain than it is to take the big steps needed to lose weight later. Now, I don’t think there’s much wrong with being overweight or large. I don’t think folks should strive to be skinny or hate themselves if they aren’t. I don’t think there’s evil in chocolate cake and virtue in celery. However, being overweight is another cultural stigma that has to be overcome to gain acceptance in certain circles. If our goal here is to be taken seriously, it is an easier task for a person of normal weight (however normal may be defined) than a person who is not a normal weight.

Not only that, as any plus-size shopper can tell you, it is much easier to get fun, flattering, professional, inexpensive clothing when you are roughly the size and shape that designers are working on. If you’re in the middle of the size bell curve, you can go to any store and find clothes that you can wear. If you’re at either end of the bell curve, the chore of shopping gets much harder, more disheartening, more expensive and offers fewer options.

Current studies are showing that the single biggest impacts on weight gain is sweetened beverages – even if they have no sugar. Apparently, aspartame and some of those other sweeteners play nasty tricks on your metabolism. So if you’re a perfectly fine weight now, and you drink two sodas a day… well, cut down to one. Cut down to none. Develop a love for coffee/iced tea/water. Chances are you’ll thank yourself 30 years down the road.

3) Keep the tattoos in places you can cover
I have mixed feelings on this one. I’m pretty sure there is a cultural shift from the time I was breaking in a decade ago to now. A decade ago, this would have been no-brainer advice. Now, so many qualified people are highly inked that it may not offer an impediment. But if you keep your tattoo in a place you can choose to reveal (or not), you can play it both ways. You should think about the impact of what you choose to have tattooed as well. Celtic knots/geometric shapes are pretty neutral. Arcane code snippits (ok, I’ve never seen that, but you never know) might make it hard for folks to imagine you as CTO. Anime might make it harder for you to get people to take you seriously. Too much to look at on your skin that people get distracted from what you say because they’re trying to figure out what that bit is right there, and means people will be looking at your body instead of listening to your words. Look at the people in the roles you’d like to be in. Any more ink than they have, and you will have to work a bit harder and be a bit more qualified to get the same role.

So am I completely nuts? Terribly old-fashioned? Did I miss something obvious? What advice would you give your 22 year old self, if you could go back in time? If you’re the younger programmer, are you doing any things differently? What would your top three recommendations be?

Made Up

An Intro To My Makeup

$25 of pretty

$25 of pretty

Just over two years ago, I switched jobs from a pure-programming, behind-a-computer-all-day, best-dressed-because-my-jeans-don’t-have-holes job to a terrifyingly corporate environment. I went from a place where the CEO wore shorts, to one where the click of high heels rang through the halls. This was a job change I wanted to make. I like people. I like writing. I like coding too… but I wanted a mix, and this was my chance to get it.

And I did.

But before I showed up at my first day at the new job, I thought very carefully about how I wanted to look. How did I want people to see me? I could get by with my wardrobe for a while. My hair was ok. (Not great, but ok. That’s another post.) But I had just crossed the threshold of 30, and borne my second child. It was time for me to start wearing some makeup. Oh, and moisturizer.

So I did. Here were some of the things I weighed in my makeup decisions:
1) I didn’t want to wear a lot of makeup (or look really made up)
2) I didn’t want to spend a lot of time putting it on
3) I didn’t want to spend very much money on it
4) I wanted to be able to buy it in a store I already went to
5) I needed to come up with a good, non-obnoxious way of removing the makeup every night, so I didn’t seem young due to zits
6) I didn’t want to feel like I HAD to wear makeup to look normal. I wanted to feel makeup-free and confident on weekends and other days.

I’ve accomplished most of these goals. Here’s how I did it:

1) Moisturizer with SPF 35. (Target – $9.99) I use Neutrogena oil free moisture at least in part because it rubs in quickly and easily, and comes in appropriate portion controls. (I had trouble with some other kinds I tried giving me way too much.) Even if you do nothing else, if you ever might think you could care a little bit someday about how you look…. use a daily moisturizer with an SPF over 20 to prevent wrinkles. And by daily, I mean every day since you will burn much more easily if you use it regularly and then forget one lovely clear day in October. (Not that I ever did that. Ahem.)

2) Pressed powder. I use the Maybelline Shine Free Pressed Powder #4 Beige. (Target) It costs $4.94. The primary purpose of the powder is to reduce the shininess that comes from the moisturizer. (I actually brush my teeth between steps 1 & 2 in order to give the moisturizer time to “Sink in”). I think this has a pretty big impact on how I look – it gives me a more polished, even look.

3) Mascara. I have blonde eyelashes. I like to use brown mascara because I don’t like a look that screams EYE MAKEUP, but brown mascara is not an “in” color so I’m still wrestling with finding the perfect mascara. In the interim I use Maybelline Great Lash. ($4.44 Target) Beware if you wear mascara and have never worn makeup before… if I had even plausibly present eyelashes I’d probably skip it. When you are wearing mascara you cannot cry or rub your eyes while you’re wearing it, or you look awful. Waterproof mascara may be ok, but it’s really difficult to get off afterwards. Try both ways – and not wearing mascara. If you wear mascara, can you keep your hands off your eyes? Are you a cryer? Do you have darker lashes? These should all affect your decision about whether to wear mascara, and what kind to wear.

4) Eyeshadow but… for my eyebrows. I also have blonde eyebrows. They sort of vanish by themselves. So I more or less paint them on with brown powder every morning. You probably don’t need this, unless you also have pale facial hair. Once again I find myself with a $5 Maybelline product (Maybelline Expert Wear Eye Shadow – $4.49 at Target.)

That’s my daily routine. It takes two minutes. Nothing in that set costs more than $10 … you can stock up brand new for $25 at Target. (And most of that is moisturizer.) The powder goes fastest, followed by mascara, followed by moisturizer. I have yet to “finish” an eyeshadow.

At the end of the day, I remove it all with makeup wipes from Costco (~$15 for a bajillion). Chemicals yadda yadda, but awfully convenient and not at all messy.

There are a lot of makeup elements I don’t use, that you may need or want. For example I don’t:

– Use blush. I have a great natural blush and I don’t need it.
– Use eyeliner. I have not the skills. Nor do I want the “made up” look that eyeliner gives you.
– Use eyeshadow as eyeshadow. I only do this when I’m dressing up, and I have trouble making it look the way I want to look. The colors in eyeshadow are very particular to a season or trend, so you can easily go wrong in eyeshadow if you don’t know what you’re doing. (See also: blue, green, purple)
– Use lipstick. Proper lipstick is a dangerous thing, in terms of going where you don’t want it, being hard to maintain, and being hard to get a color that flatters. I use a lip gloss if I am feeling fancy, but most of the time I have naked or lip-balmed lips. Again, my lips have good natural color, so I don’t need it. Some lipstick colors are highly seasonal, so it’s easy to go wrong.
– Use foundation. I just never have. I have relatively good skin, so I don’t really need it. Also, when I see people whose makeup seems excessive to me, it’s usually with eyeliner, foundation and bright lipstick. That may be why I avoid those three.

Do you wear makeup daily? Do you feel naked without it? Do you know how to put it on? What mystifies you, and what have you mastered. Do you feel that expensive makeup is really that much better than cheap makeup at Target? What’s your makeup story? What do you do every day?