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Urban Beauty Collective is proud to bring you THE TEN with Teri LaFlesh author of CURLY LIKE ME: How to Grow Your Hair Healthy, Long, and Strong.

Most of Teri's life was spent fighting with stiff and broken hair. After nearly thirty years of trial, error, and research, she figured out what her hair had desperately needed all along.

Finally understood, her natural curls now reach to her hips. One of her big goals is to see that no one else with hair like hers ever has to go through with theirs what she did with hers.


UBC:This site is dedicated to urban style professionals at all levels, and the people they inspire. From the barber in Detroit, to the nail technician in San Francisco, to the aspiring wardrobe stylist in Atlanta. You are such a superstar in your field. How did you begin work on your book CURLY LIKE ME?

TL: Thank you for what you said about me being a superstar in my field! I began working on the book when I was taking the train to and from work, hand writing a page or so a day, then typing the pages up at night. At the time I knew I had techniques that worked for my hair, and a series of rules that helped me grow my hair long, but I wasn’t sure if I would have enough to fill up 100 pages. I felt I had lots to say, but one never knows how much it will translate to on paper. So to be safe, I took lots of photos, and did lots of drawings to add to the book. And then, to my surprise, it actually stretched to nearly 300 pages.

UBC: What do you feel was the major obstacle in getting your hair care work published? How did you overcome that obstacle?

TL: A major obstacle was that my book is pretty niche-y, and I actually thought there was no way it would be published by a real publisher. So I went about learning how to publish it on my own. I love doing things myself anyway, so I started learning a typesetting program and Photoshop for all the photos I’d taken. As part of getting it ready for self-publishing, I knew there were few things worse than putting an un-edited self-published book into the world. So I looked for the best editor I could find, one who wouldn’t be afraid to be tough on me and let me know if my writing was awful. And it turned out that this solved the problem I didn’t even know I had (or thought it was so big a problem that I was going around it): My first editor, Arlene, knew an agent who happened to be looking for books to represent. Arlene told her about my curly hair book, the agent checked out my website, and the rest happened really quickly from there.

UBC: We love that you refer to your own hair care experiences and nightmares in CURLY LIKE ME. Was there any other major inspiration while you were writing CURLY LIKE ME?

TL: I put my own personal and embarrassing stories in the book so anyone who was struggling with their hair as I had been would know that if I could do it (and I was a mess), then anyone can do it. And they certainly were not alone.

I was inspired to write Curly Like Me because I used to be obsessed with my hair. I spent nearly all my free energy and money trying to “fix” it, trying to make it better, and feeling frustrated and ashamed of it in general. When I finally figured out what made it happy, and it wasn’t nearly as complicated as I’d been making it, I wanted to see that no one else with hair like mine ever has to go through what I did. So once I had figured it out, I stopped worrying about my hair, and obsessing about length. Actually, I kind of forgot about it and began focusing on other parts of my life. And one day I realized my hair had grown down to my waist, and my life didn’t revolve around it any longer, and it was really freeing. It was then I really wanted to share what I was finally doing differently, and that it was possible to love our natural hair, and it wasn’t as hard as I’d thought. AND it can grow really long if you just know a few simple things to make it happy.

UBC: You've been dealing with you hair for a few decades now. Can you share that one experience that made you say, “Enough is enough! I’m going natural!”?

TL: Gosh, I wish I could say it was when I dissolved all my hair with a messed-up home relaxer and had it all come out in my hands that I vowed to go natural and never touch relaxers again. But alas, I didn’t have that much sense, and instead went to weaves, then extensions, then texturizers. It was only after I’d exhausted every possible combination of chemicals, fake hair, and “miracle” products that I was left with the one last thing I hadn’t tried yet: my own natural hair.

UBC: What one drugstore hair product do you think the natural hair diva should have? What should we be looking for when choosing hair products?

TL: I think the one drugstore product a natural hair diva should have is a good slippery and moisturizing conditioner. You can use it for about anything. You could use it for washing, conditioning, combing, defining, and styling. It would be my one Desert Island product.

When looking for a hair product, you don’t need an army of them. I only have three regulars: a mild shampoo, a light conditioner for rinsing out, and a great slippery conditioner for combing and leaving in. Occasionally I might put a natural oil on my ends, but I’ve gone years just using these three products only. For any product, I don’t pay any attention to its claims on the bottle. That was written by marketers. I go straight for the list of ingredients because this is the only place they legally must tell you the truth.

So for shampoos, I look to see that they don’t have a really drying cleanser up at the top of the list of ingredients, such as sodium laurel sulfate. I have a personal pet peeve with what I call sticky ingredients such as acrylates or PVP anything, or vinyl anything (for both shampoos and conditioners) because these can build up and make hair sticky. I also scan through for ingredients I consider drying or damaging (for both shampoos and conditioners), such as Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate.

I’m pickier with conditioners, because they have so much work to do in my hair. I first look to see if they have potential. So up near the top, after water, I like to see weight ingredients (such as Cetyl or Stearyl alcohol) and slippery ingredients (Glycerin or Silicones). Weight ingredients insure that once the conditioner is combed in, my hair will stay defined and conditioned (and these are the same ingredients found in lotions, hair lotions, and leave in products). Slippery ingredients will help your wide tooth comb or Denman (I use Denmans or Denman type brushes—not regular brushes) to glide through your hair.

If I see that the conditioner I’m checking out has these things, I look through the rest of the ingredients, scanning for bad ingredients (such as sodium chloride–since this is salt, I feel it’s corrosive for hair), and sticky ingredients (like the ones I mentioned for shampoos). I usually buy the product at this point, and look up the rest of the ingredients I don’t recognize at home before I will use it. I know. I’m paranoid.

UBC: Okay, so if someone is reading this who can only do three things hair wise in the morning to help strengthen and grow their hair what product or steps would you recommend?

TL: I would start my steps at night, actually. Always put your hair up in a protective style when sleeping, such as in a few braids, twists, or buns. Please don’t wet, comb, brush, or finger comb your hair at this time. Then, in the morning, undo your hair gently, starting at the bottom. Again, don’t comb, brush, or finger comb your hair.

To refresh your curls, wet your hands and add a bit of a good conditioner (a good drugstore product I’ve found is Aussie Moist Conditioner), maybe a dime-size, rub your hands together, and smooth them over any fuzzy spots. Repeat for your ends, and any parts that seem tangled up. Then let your hair dry. Doing these steps help refresh your curls, and prevents the wear and tear of combing or brushing in the morning, as well as a buildup of styling products. When you do style your hair, it’s best not to use anything tight in your curls like doubling a hair elastic in it (even those covered in fabric) because that will not only damage your hair, but may get snarled in it to boot.

UBC: It is great how each chapter has take away hints for the reader. Please tell us which chapter you feel is the must read, must commit to memory chapter?

TL: I would say that if someone could only read one chapter in the book, then it would be Baby Curls: Tips for Little Ones chapter. It’s basically an encapsulation of the techniques of the other chapters, but all in one place for a very busy mom who first just needs the basics, and then maybe later can read the other chapters for more details.

UBC: Love your chapter on Baby Curls (For the little ones). Do you have any useful hair tips for the CURLY LIKE ME male reader?

TL: I’m so glad you like the Baby Curls chapter! Thank you! Actually, it’s funny you mention that chapter with this question, because the Baby Curls chapter also has the exact techniques I’d recommend for a guy (if he has shorter hair). This chapter is good for those with shorter curls, who simply want to do their hair, and emphasize their stunning curls, and move on with their day. The only thing I’d change is that if a guy doesn’t want to grow his hair long, and it doesn’t mat up on him when he sleeps, then he doesn’t have to braid it up in a protective style for sleeping at night. Protective styles are more to help retain length (and cut down on tangling and matting). If his hair is long, it mats easily, or if he wants to grow it long, then all the chapters are for him, too.

UBC: Where can our readers find out more information and get more tips from Teri LaFlesh?

TL: The best place to get more information (including recommended conditioners and shampoos, an ingredients dictionary, and answers to about 200 questions I’ve been asked) is at TightlyCurly.com.

UBC: Finally, can you leave all of the working and emerging beauty pros of Urban Beauty Collective with some wise words on helping their multi-cultural client’s hair continue to grow and thrive?

TL: The most important thing I’ve found to help very curly hair grow is to do nothing to damage it. I know that sounds totally obvious, but it’s much harder to do in practice. Tightly curly hair is very fragile, so it can be damaged easily. And there are so many times we do something damaging to it, and at the time everything seems fine, but the damage doesn’t show up until years later when our ends are breaking or splitting.

The key is to do everything slowly, gently, and easily: Very curly hair is not quick hair. Just as you would treat a fine embroidered silk differently than a pair of jeans, very curly hair needs different treatment than straight hair. So our hair takes time to comb it properly. It takes me two hours to comb mine every week. Our hair takes so long because everything we do to it must be done gently, lovingly.

If what you are doing to our hair would hurt your hands (flat ironing, brutal chemicals, rough combing), then there is a good chance it’s causing damage to your hair. And when I say our hair needs to be treated easily, I mean there should never be forcing of your hair. Ever. So if you find you’re using muscle to get a comb through your hair, using force to put up your hair, force to pull your hair apart for braids or cornrows, you are most likely causing damage. When you eliminate all sources of damage from your hair, it will then grow to its maximum length.


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