In the wide, wide realm of beauty and hair gadgets, few truly celebrate girls with natural curls.
It’s all about managing, controlling, taming or exorcising curls. Curl-centric product lines are few; the vast majority of products aim to straighten hair. Until now, the curly girl had to rely on lots of product to smooth, shine and accentuate waves ranging from loose to kinky. But suddenly, there’s not just a new product, but a new concept in curls.
Not mounds of goop, oil or a five-step shower process, just a little water.
“I wear my hair curly every day,” said Heidi Schmid, of Milwaukee, the inventor of the Q-Redew, a handheld hair steamer. “I had this thought because I don’t wash it every day. Don’t blow-dry it. Don’t run a comb through it. Don’t use a brush ... and I just thought about using steam.”
She said the idea kept coming back to her, especially after stepping out of the shower and realizing how her hair handled the vapor.
She said that she initially concocted “a really ugly prototype” with duct tape, glue and a clothes steamer.
“That was totally not safe, but it worked on my hair,” Schmid said. She talked about it with friends, and they encouraged her to manufacture a model for people to use in their homes. Even though she was certain that the concept must have been developed before, she did some research.
When she realized in 2007 that she’d be the first to patent the idea, she went for it. The product was introduced for sale ($69.95 at qredew.com) in October.
She said that she still can’t believe no one thought about using steam to add moisture to curly hair before. All of the hair gadgets on the market seem to involve creative ways to dry hair, even though curls are best when air-dried.
“This made sense, because with curls you want to avoid saturating the hair (in the shower),” Schmid said. “Some women are overwashing or trying to solve the problem by putting more product on the hair, but the steam will reactivate the product on your hair. It seals in those things and diminishes product buildup.”
It’s clear that Schmid has her infomercial spiel ready. But like any good infomercial, she addresses a particular problem with a wholly plausible solution that you just want to believe.
Most curly girls do well from a little humidity. Some can handle a lot and some can handle a little, but moisture is a curly girl’s best friend because straight hair looks best combed and brushed. That means natural oils from the scalp are being distributed along the hair shaft. Curly hair by contrast looks best when left alone.
And curly hair is much longer than it appears, so it’s a long circuitous route from root to tip. The ends become dry and brittle and hair is highly susceptible to frizz.
Until now, the best advice was to weigh the hair down with sweet-smelling goop to add moisture, condition and defrizz.
But if we apply a little steam instead of a lot of product, the hair gets the needed moisture, and, according to Schmid, it “reactivates” any product previously applied to the hair.
She sent us one to test, and it’s a surprisingly efficient tool.
I’m a curly girl with hair on the extreme side of curly. If I straightened my hair, it would be a chin-length bob; when I wet my hair, it shrinks to a few inches from my scalp.
To get the kind of curls I like, I usually wash/condition and separate my hair into two to three dozen sections or so and twist (separate each section into two parts and wind them together). I let the twists air dry and then untwist. Then I spritz with a little water from a spray bottle, add a leave-in conditioner, some oil and finger comb until I’m satisfied.
Overnight, I might twist a few sections as needed and repeat the process in the morning.
Each day my hair gets drier no matter how much spritzing I do, and you can only add so much leave-in conditioner.
I used the Q-Redew, and it did exactly what it claimed as well as some pleasant extras.
The steam took less than a few minutes to start flowing in full. It felt like a spa for my hair. It instantly softened my hair and made it more pliable.
When my hair is dry, even finger combing can be a struggle. The stream enabled every follicle to relax without going limp. It refreshed my hair, and I don’t know about reactivating the products I’d applied the day before, but it made adding product less necessary. And the best part is that the effects of the steam lasted most of the day.
Ironically, curly hair is better at retaining moisture for the same reason that it tends to be drier. The curlier the hair, the more of a sponge it is. When moisture is present, curlier hair traps it. When the air is drier, curly hair reacts like a sponge as well, shrinking and hardening.
So you have to know when to say when. A little steam will work better for others. I steamed until I could finger through each section, and then once I had the style I wanted, I added a little steam to encourage my hair to surprise me with a little more curl.
The only con for the product is the weight. Each time I use it, I feel like I’m exercising my biceps and triceps (not that that’s a bad thing). Even though the device is less than 2 pounds, I had to hold it at odd angles to reach all of my hair, and I usually end up taking a break halfway. But then again, my hair is the extreme side of curly. And the weight won’t keep me from using it.
Schmid said that she wants to make the product lighter in the future, but for now it gets most of its weight from the pump that heats the water. Unlike a clothes steamer, all the water has to be converted to steam for this product to be safe. You can’t have drops of hot water hitting someone’s scalp. So for now, the weight is a necessary evil.
As a loud and proud curly girl, Schmid said that she’d like for the product to become a household tool.
“I don’t want women (with curly hair) to feel like the only way to deal with the frizz is to straighten it,” Schmid said. “I think many more women would wear their hair curly if they could. I don’t want to convert anyone, but I want to offer it to people who like to wear their hair curly, sometimes or all the time.”