Sat. Jan 23rd, 2021

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The hunt to replace DevaCurl, every curly girl’s fallen savior

11 min read
Essentials Week spotlights unexpected items that make our daily lives just a little bit better. Almost a year ago today, I suffered one of the greatest betrayals of my life.  OK, that's dramatic. But it's hard to overstate the magnitude of shook the curly hair community was back in January 2020. It all started when…
The hunt to replace DevaCurl, every curly girl’s fallen savior

Essentials Week spotlights unexpected items that make our daily lives just a little bit better.
Almost a year ago today, I suffered one of the greatest betrayals of my life. 
OK, that’s dramatic. But it’s hard to overstate the magnitude of shook the curly hair community was back in January 2020.
It all started when influencer Ayesha Malik posted a tearful and scathing video warning her roughly 250,000 followers to stop using the beloved, longstanding golden standard of curly hair products: DevaCurl. Her brunette corkscrews as frazzled as her emotions, Malik explained how she went from proud brand ambassador to boycott leader: Over the course of a year, she started noticing inexplicable damage to her prized, perfectly preserved locks, her thick mane not only thinning but changing texture in a way usually induced only by chemical relaxers.
She was far from the only one.

Malik’s video opened the flood gates. Other influencers and even DevaCurl stylists came forward, culminating in a Facebook support group of 60,000 echoing similar experiences that led to a class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit names some of the most popular products, including their entire shampoo cleanser and conditioner line, leave-ins, styling gels, and repair treatments. Influencers who hadn’t experienced these negative effects weighed in, too, most with support and belief in the allegations but others to challenge the accusations
Watching this chaos unfurl, it felt like the ground fell from beneath me as I realized DevaCurl — the products I once heralded as the divine savior of my hair and beauty — might be the culprit for the damage I’d been literally losing hair over. After years of happily spending thousands of dollars on DevaCurl products and services, I threw away gallons of the stuff in the trash, doubtful that I could ever trust again.
Straight-haired readers might eye-roll at the idea of mourning a brand like this. But fellow curly-haired sisters know the struggle and sacred journey of learning how to care for, embrace, and hopefully even love your curls. It comes only after years of trauma.
While curly hair stigma is pretty universal, as a white Latina myself I’ve had the privilege of not being subjected to the worst of it. For Black girls and women especially, natural afro-textured curls are politicized, discriminated against, and almost completely excluded from mainstream beauty standards, media representation of all kinds, and literal curly hair ad campaigns. From Mia in the Princess Diaries to country music-era Taylor Swift (whose curls allegedly miraculously straightened due to natural causes right as she became more mainstream pop), at an early age we’re fed the clear message that curls are something to be fixed, eradicated, straightened out.
The insecurities of growing up with curly hair are so real that Dove saw a business opportunity in exploiting them in the way they did body image insecurities. Despite knowing it’s all bogus (no one recommends actually using Dove curl products), I still cry every time I watch this old commercial

For curly women and girls, your hair is the first thing people notice about you. For better or for worse, curls become inextricably tied to your identity. Whether that identification takes the form of self-loathing or defiant pride all depends on finding the right products and styling techniques.
The DevaCurl cult-following went beyond products, too, with a whole oeuvre of essentials like the famed Curly Girl Method and pricey Devachan salons with special Devacuts and Pintura highlights. Despite the high cost, it always felt worth it, an investment into the best ingredients that nurture your curls that need to recover from years of trying every damaging fix under the sun.
Seeing the company’s fall from grace felt like a loss of identity. The products once responsible for making me feel beautiful for the first time as a young girl were now potentially ruining the locks I’d worked so hard to love.
To be clear, nothing has been proven. In a statement to its “devoted Deva community,” in February, the company said it was, “committed to providing the information you need to continue to use DevaCurl with confidence.” Pointing to the “rigorous and thorough testing” all their products undergo, it promised to work with “an independent third-party toxicologist to verify the safety of these formulas.” (Though expert doctors in this New York Times article question many of the facts DevaCurl presents on its website to refute allegations.)
It’s been pretty much crickets ever since, but the damage was already done. The lawsuit is ongoing with no trial date set, but both sides have asked to make their case before a jury, according to court documents.

My trusted longtime hairdressers at CurlsOneonOne (owned by two incredible ladies I met at the now-closed Los Angeles Devachan) are dubious that DevaCurl is to blame for my case. I’d been pretty aggressively bleaching my hair Khaleesi-silver since 2014
But when my colorist cut me off in 2019, my curls didn’t bounce back like usual during bleaching breaks. The alarming amount of hair fall continued, along with scalp dryness and curl pattern loss after six months of nothing but Olaplex for color damage and deep conditioner treatments.
However, discontinuing all DevaCurl use led to immediate improvement. More damning still, months post-DevaCurl, I had a curl-mergency and only access to the travel-size Ultra Defining Gel from DevaCurl (and listed in the lawsuit) that I kept in my purse. Even a small amount caused that now-familiar burning sensation and unusual shedding during my next shower
Listen, I can’t say whether DevaCurl is the cause. But breaking from my religious devotion to the brand opened up new paths of discovery that only made me understand, embrace, and appreciate my curls more. But the process of finding new products and a new regimen was harrowing — and expensive. It takes lots of trial and error.
In August, Malik made her first video since that explosive one in January, her curls miraculously unchopped and more glorious. She says she spent day and night working to recover from the Deva damage, and still has a long way to go. But from where I’m standing, it’s the hope every suffering curly girl needs to know they can bounce back from this. 
Though I don’t claim to be an expert, after dozens upon dozens of products and hours of research, though, I’ve picked up a thing or two. So here’s my guide to replacing DevaCurl. Everyone’s curls are unique, so not everything will work for you. But maybe we can learn from each other while on our individual journeys to curl perfection. [Editor’s Note: While the writer independently purchased almost everything listed here, BounceCurl did provide samples for review].
1. Find your curly hair gurus.
Like everything in the influencer economy, curly hair YouTubers get sponsorships and make money the more you spend on products they recommend, which incentivizes lots of bullshit. 
But the best beauty bloggers know the value of their honest opinion is worth more than a #sponcon payday. Trust the ones who are transparent about their relationship to brands and that include unmonetized content and affordable options.
That’s why I personally love Bianca Renee. Aside from sharing the same hairstylists, she’s never led me astray on general consumer knowledge. She’s great for learning how to be a smart shopper, figuring out what’s right for you, which products you really need, the no-no ingredients, exploring options, and testing brands for that curly girl seal of approval.

For styling routines and tricks, seek out curl gurus with similar hair textures and concerns.
Fellow 3B-C girls should check Manes by Mell. She has a wealth of tutorials, with videos for every type of situation like changing seasons, sleep-to-wash-to-style-to-refresh regimens, correct product application, essential accessories, mistakes to avoid, budget picks, and technique pros and cons. She was anti-Curly Girl Method before it was cool so I trust her as a zero-bullshit stylist (and notably one of the most vocal influencers denying Devacurl damage).

2. Throw out all those strict rules and experiment instead.
Treat all curl advice and rules from tried-and-true methods with skepticism, including mine. None of us really know anything except what’s worked for us. Feel free to deviate and, above all, question assumptions and one-size-fits-all truisms.
In my many years of Curly Girl Method devotion, I was told sudsy shampoos and brushes were sacrilege. But failing to cleanse my roots likely contributed to product build-up that caused scalp issues, hair loss, and stunted growth. Meanwhile, exclusively finger brushing led to uneven product distribution.
I religiously stuck to wash-and-go air drying to avoid heat damage, with no patience for diffusing. But like a curly hair newbie hopping on the latest TikTok trend, I tried plopping for the first time. To my amazement, it cut my dry time in half and created amazing from-the-root volume with zero extra effort.
See your journey as a literal experiment: Make hypotheses, test them, add and subject variables, and through deductive reasoning learn what leads to more consistent great hair days. 
3. You do NOT have to spend a lot of money for great products.
One of the good disillusionments from this DevaCurl fiasco was realizing some of the best, healthiest products for curly hair are affordable drugstore picks. 
SheaMoisture and Cantu, for example, are always in the $5-$10 range. Cheap, trusted classics help keep your routine affordable, especially when it comes to shampoo and conditioners which wash out of your hair rather than staying on it for days like a styling product. 

Save your money for treatments or fun stuff like Curlsmith’s temporary color hair makeup (which worked great on me for Halloween). Save on products so you can afford great curl specialists and stylists, too, which I recommend paying top dollar for rather than going to the nearest SuperCuts.
4. Don’t underestimate the importance of the right accessory.
The above rule still applies here, but don’t blow your budget on products alone.
The three brushes I now can’t live without for wash days include:

Also great for your arsenal:

  • An ultra-fine microfiber towel (or 100% cotton t-shirt) for plopping
  • If you like diffusers, research good budget options. No need to drop hundreds on that Dyson monstrosity.
  • A misting spray bottle for refreshing curls
  • A sleeping cap or turban made of gentle fabrics like microfiber or silk so your curls last longer between wash days
  • Better yet, invest in silk pillowcases, which are expensive but did wonders for both my curls and skin
  • If you live somewhere with terrible water quality like me, get a shower water filter! Do research into affordable picks targeting the specific chemicals used by your county that destroy all your haircare and skincare efforts.

5. OK, here’s my new routine and DevaCurl product replacement recommendations.
While these are what I like personally, it is not a definitive guide. Others have crowdsourced a publicly edit-able list of alternatives for each product, but note that there’s zero vetting involved.

  1. Shampoo and conditioner: I replaced the no-poo co-wash DevaCurl cleansers (all listed in the lawsuit) with actual shampoo that removes product without stripping my natural oils, using it at least twice a week. Shampoo should only be applied to your scalp — leave your ends alone. People rave about expensive brands like Innersense and Verb, but I stick with this SheaMoisture shampoo and Cantu conditioner. (Check out SheaMoisture’s curl type chart for personalized recommendations). If luxury is what you want, Curlsmith’s Vivid Tones Vibrancy Shampoo protects my highlights while BounceCurl’s Super Smooth Cream Conditioner makes my hair feel like butter.
  2. Curl primer and leave-ins: Similar to how I’m not sure makeup primers do anything, I’m not convinced this needs to be a two-step process. But the important thing here is hydration and nourishment. While still in the shower I flip my soaking wet hair upside-down, raking a small amount of primer or light leave-in that I alternate depending on what my curls need. When they’re fragile from coloring, a pinch of Hot Tresses Rehab Leave-In. For hydration, Be My Curl’s Mane Squeeze (stylist recommended) or BounceCurl’s Moisture Balance Leave-In. For my main leave-in, nothing beats Curlsmith’s Curl Conditioning Oil-In-Cream, which woke me up to oil as essential to curly routines. Thicker curl types will probably love BounceCurls’ Clump & Define Cream with the Denman brush, but it weighs my curls down a bit.
  3. Styling gel: For me, this step is about sealing with a “cast” of gel that combats frizz and creates strong hold so my curls last three days. Technique is just as important as product here. The reigning champion replacement for my beloved Ultra Defining and Arc Angel DevaCurl gels (again, both listed in the lawsuits) is Dippity-Do Girls with Curls Gelee, applied with the praying hand technique and scrunched up to my roots. Some popular alternatives like Ouidad’s Heat & Humidity Control gave me that same burning sensation DevaCurl did. I can’t rely on Be My Curls’ To Have & To Hold gel alone, but do love how it hydrates while styling. While it wasn’t right for me, those with wavier, less frizz-prone hair should look into Bounce’s Light Hold Creme Gel for touchable, lightweight results. An important lesson I learned for each of the above steps is to avoid putting much of any product directly on your roots (unless it’s a treatment or shampoo). I focus almost exclusively on my ends, then rely on the plopping method to bunch all my hair on the top of my head so it trickles down a bit. 
  4. Refreshing method: A key to great styling products that last between wash days is ones that list water or “aqua” as one of the first ingredients. That means when you re-wet your hair with a spray bottle, the product re-activates, so you don’t need to add much more and avoid build-up.
  5. Treatments: Since I highlight my hair, Olaplex every other week is essential. But everyone can benefit from the occasional deep condition treatment, and thirsty curls will love SheaMoisture’s Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Masque or more luxury BounceCurls’ Ayurvedic Deep Conditioner. Those jonesing for DevaCurl’s Heaven in Hair (which, you guessed it, is also referenced in the lawsuit) should try the nearly identical Be My Curl’s Seal the Deal. BounceCurls’ Hair Detox is great for those with build-up and scalp issues (akin to a DIY apple cider vinegar treatment) but use it sparingly. Don’t leave any of these on longer than instructed.

The moral of this story, though, is that finding your personally-tailored curl routine will never be a paint by numbers experience. Just trust your gut, and be confident that you’re the best expert on your hair.

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