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Your hair used to feel bouncy, but now it feels lifeless and even looks kinda limp, maybe stringy as well. This has happened to most people with wavy curly hair at some point. While it’s unpleasant, it’s not a huge deal, as long as you’re able to determine the cause, and learn the fix.
In this post I’m going to jump cover the various causes of limp curls, and how they can be corrected.
What Causes Limp Waves or Curls?
Limp curls can be caused by damage, moisture-overload, product overload, water weigh-down, uneven ends, a lack of hold in your styling products, product build-up or changes in humidity.
That’s the short answer. Of course, I’ll go more in-depth about each of these so you can determine what the cause is in your case!
Damage. If you’ve dyed, bleached or used high heat on your hair, sometimes this damages hair in a way that makes waves or curls straighter and/or less bouncy.
- How to fix limp waves caused by damage: I don’t have personal experience with this, but I’ve read that Olaplex #3 can sometimes help some, as can protein treatments. In more severe cases, you may have to wait on damage to grow out before you’ll be able to repair your curls fully.
Heavy products. Sometimes hair looks limp because it’s weighed down by heavy products. Everyone is a little different, but many people with wavy hair will have hair that is more easily weighed down than those with tighter curly hair.
It’s a common experience for people with wavy hair to get excited about embracing their waves, run to the local store to buy curly hair products. Once there, they buy products that are designed for really tight, really dry hair.
Most of the time, wavy hair doesn’t need as much moisture as tighter curly hair. It’s also common for newbies to watch a video or TikTok of someone with tight curly hair and buy the items from their routine, without realizing that their own hair will be weighed down more easily.
Again, everyone is different, so there are certainly some people with wavy hair who can get good results with heavy products. For most wavies though, sticking with lightweight products is best.
- How to fix limp waves caused by heavy products: Just change up the products you’re using! Pass the heavy products to a friend who is better suited to them, and try some lightweight products instead. Related post of mine: Why wavy hair sometimes feels heavy and how to fix it.
Using more product than you need. This is a type of limpness caused by being weighed down by products. However, sometimes it’s not about using products that are too heavy, but just using too many products, so the cumulative result is still that they are too heavy.
For example, maybe you use a curl enhancer, leave-in conditioner, curl cream and a gel that are all light products on their own. Layering all of these products on your hair can still cause limp, weighed-down curls.
Or, even using just one or two products but using a lot more than you need can have this effect. I once spoke with someone who was struggling with their hair not drying even after over an hour and a half of diffusing. It turned out, she was confused about the differences between leave-in conditioner vs gel.
She was trying to get a hard cast from her leave-in. It was a lightweight leave-in, but she was using a few handfuls of it. This was making her hair really struggle to dry, but also making it very weighed down.
- How to fix limp waves caused by using too much product: Use fewer products or use less of each. This is mostly referencing the products that you leave in your hair.
I personally usually just use mousse OR gel. My hair isn’t dry or tangle-prone, so I don’t need a leave-in conditioner or cream. Some do, though. As a general rule of thumb, I’d recommend that wavies use just two leave-in products, one for conditioning (a leave-in conditioner or curl cream) and one for hold (Gel or mousse).
If your hair is weighed down, it’s likely by moisturizing/conditioning products. If you need to cut back or cut a product out, try your conditioners/moisturizers first.
When it’s been too long since I’ve had a haircut, I see more clumps that have ‘weird’ ends like this.
Needing a haircut. Sometimes needing a haircut can result in limp curls. This is usually most obvious at the ends of the hair, as it will look limp and stringy at the ends. If your hair has grown out too much from your last haircut, the ends can grow uneven and it can cause your hair to struggle to clump well and curl well.
- How to fix limp curls caused by needing a haircut: Get a haircut that removes dead ends or uneven ends, and considers your curl pattern. Related post of mine: Dry curl cut advice for wavy hair.
My hair without using any products with hold.
Not Enough Hold. It’s common for wavy hair to need support from a product with hold, such as gel or mousse. This is especially true for people who have wavy hair that is fine (meaning the individual strands are thin).
If you have wavy hair that needs support from a product with hold to keep its structure and definition, then not having enough hold can cause your hair to be limp.
My own hair is this way, if I don’t use enough gel or mousse, my hair will fall flat. This can also happen to me if I use enough gel or mousse, but it’s a product that is light hold. I need hard hold to get good results.
- How to fix limp hair caused by a lack of hold. If you haven’t changed your routine but you find that you aren’t getting enough hold like you used to, this has three potential causes.
One cause would be that your hair has grown out enough that you now need to use more gel or mousse than you used to need. Another possibility is that your hair is over-moisturized and needs a protein treatment. A third possibility is that you have build-up and need to clarify, so that your hair can absorb your gel or mousse well again.
Water weigh-down. Some people (like myself!) have hair that is easily weighed down by water.
My hair is low porosity, fine and dense – so it holds onto a lot of water for hours on end if I shower and try to leave my hair to air-dry. When all that water is left in my hair for hours, the weight of the water pulls my hair into a much straigher curl pattern and it will act limp, as well.
- How To Fix limp hair caused by water-weigh down: Diffuse your hair instead of air dry. Related blog post: How to diffuse wavy hair (tutorials for four different ways!).
My curl pattern is always a bit uneven, one side is just straighter than the other – but the difference becomes more pronounced when my hair is lacking protein.
You could need protein. In wavy and curly communities we often talk about the moisture-protein balance. Moisture is what makes our hair feel soft and manageable. Protein is what makes our hair hold its curl pattern and gives it strength.
We want to have a good balance of moisture and protein to have hair that is soft yet strong. If we use a lot of moisture-heavy products and don’t use any products with protein, eventually our hair will become ‘over moisturized’. This can make it too soft to support its own curl pattern, making it limp.
- How to fix limp hair caused by a lack of protein: Do a protein treatment for more immediate change, and/or add a product with protein into your regular wash day routine to slowly build up your protein level.
If you’re new to protein, it’s a good idea to experiment slowly because it is possible to use too much protein and make your hair brittle.
My hair responds well to Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt protein treatment (Amazon or Walmart links). This gives my hair a protein boost, while also having moisturizing ingredients in it, so it isn’t as intense as some other protein treatments.
Humidity or weather changes. Frustratingly, how textured hair “behaves” can be impacted by the weather! Some people find that their hair gets curlier in humidity.
For example, I’ve heard people say that when they travel to Florida, their hair is significantly curlier. Similarly, some people will find that their hair is straighter in the winter when the air is dryer as it leaves their hair more dry, too. For others, additional moisture can weigh their hair down.
- How to fix limp hair caused by humidity or weather. Unfortunately, this one is only somewhat in our control…unless you have a secret connection with mother nature and can ask her for favors, somehow! However, the products that we use can make some difference in how our hair responds to the weather conditions.
Using (or not using) products with humectants like glycerine can make a difference in how much water your hair does, or doesn’t, take in from the air around you.
Meaning, if your hair curls up better when it is well moisturized, you can use humectants (if the weather conditions are right for humectants) and they’ll help pull water into your hair and help it spring up. Or, if your hair is weighed down by added moisture, you can avoid using humectants so that less water is pulled into your hair.
Product build-up. If you get product buildup or hard-water build up on your hair, that will sometimes weigh the hair down and leave it limp.
The ‘true’ curly girl method recommends using a clarifying shampoo before you start the curly girl method, but then says as long as you avoid the ‘bad’ ingredients (Silicones, waxes, etc) you should never need to use a clarifying shampoo ever agan.
Personally, I just haven’t found this to be true. I find that I get build up even if I avoid silicones and other not-curly-girl-approved ingredients.
I use a gentle sulfate-free shampoo most of the time, but I find that using a clarifying shampoo once or twice a month helps remove buildup. When I keep my hair from getting buildup, my hair stays bouncier, and also less frizzy.
- How to fix limp hair caused by product build-up: Use a clarifying shampoo or chelating shampoo (if you have hard water). I like Suave Daily Clarifying shampoo (walmart link) or Neutrogena anti-residue shampoo (amazon link). I have a whole blog post on clarifying wavy hair if you want to learn more.