Sometimes how you're applying products can make just as big of a difference in how your hair ultimately looks as what you're applying. I'm going to give you a rundown of the most tried and true rules for applying product to your hair.
1) Apply to soaking wet hair
This is probably the most often repeated advice for curly hair. I can virtually guarantee you've heard it before. I would say that for about 90% of curlies, this advice works very well.
Frizz: obviously, the main reason we do anything to our hair as curlies is to cut down on frizz! Most find that applying products to soaking wet hair greatly decreases the amount of frizz they see when their hair is dry.
Product distribution: water helps move product throughout your hair. If you've ever tried applying a gel or mousse to damp hair, I am willing to bet that you've found that your finished result looked or felt like you "missed a spot." Applying to soaking wet hair virtually eliminates this issue.
Clumping: bad for your mascara, good for your hair! Clumping is the word used to described larger, fuller curls as opposed to skinnier curls. Applying product to soaking wet hair generally encourages the formation of curl "clumps," which gives you a fuller curl look.
I apply my hair products in the shower, as I have a running source of water to make sure my hair is always sopping wet. But, you can also do this at your sink if that doesn't appeal to you for whatever reason!
2) Rake in leave-ins or curl creams, but scrunch in products that have hold.
The goal with applying a leave in is to get it all over your hair (or, if you avoid applying products to your scalp, to get it all over your length). Raking in the product with your fingers is a good way to accomplish that mission. In order to stay consistent with my apply to soaking wet hair rule, I actually keep my leave in conditioners in my shower. I also keep my trusty Denman brush in the shower with me. That way, I can apply my leave in my raking it through my hair, then I comb it through and part my hair. After I part my hair, I very very quickly stick the length of my hair under the shower again to get it completely soaking wet for the next step.
Scrunching in products with hold encourages even curl formation. What's a product with hold? Think gels, mousses, and jellies. They are the products that leave you with more defined hair, and often they leave you with a bit of a crunch to your hair when dry. They create a cast over your hair shape, holding it in place while it dries.
I always scrunch in a product with hold. So, while still in the shower (mostly to avoid making a mess on my bathroom floor with my sopping wet hair), I take my Suave Professionals Captivating Curls Mousse and scrunch it in to my hair. I spread the product over both of my hands, leave to one side, and using a cupping motion, I squeeze the product into my hair. You'll be able to hear a "squish" sound when you're doing this. I then get a little more product on my hands, lean to the other side, and repeat. If I feel like I need it, I lean back a bit, and hit just the back of my hair with a final small dose of product.
For my hair type, the mousse alone often provides enough hold. If it's particularly dry or humid outside that day (low dew point or high dew point), I will add a gel on top. I simply repeat this same scrunching technique using the gel.
3) It's tempting. But don't touch while drying!
Your product with hold needs to just sit and hold your hair in place! Aside from squeezing out water with my Curls Like Us towel, I don't touch my hair while it dries. I wait until 100% dry, then if I have any crunch from my products, I use that same cupping/scrunching motion on my hair with dry hands to scrunch out the crunch. This leaves me with nice, soft hair. If you can't scrunch out the crunch this way, you used too much of your holding product.