Real talk: Going to bed with wet hair kinda sucks. Even the girls who can seemingly jump through a waterfall each night and wake up with beautiful, bedheady waves still run the risk of tossing and turning themselves into a snarled mess in the middle of the night.
So, what are the other options? Inevitably oversleep each morning, take the world’s shortest shower, and then head to work with sopping-wet hair? Cute. Fun. Great. Nope. Or, you can finally learn how to style your damp hair the right way. The trick, says hairstylist Kristin Ess, is Bantu knots—a traditional African hairstyle that involves taking a small section of hair, tightly twisting it, and then coiling it around itself to form a small bun.
“I started playing around with Bantu knots on different hair textures after my girlfriends with super-kinky hair swore by them for keeping their curls intact,” says Ess, who found that Bantu knots worked so well on all of curly-haired clients, even those with looser curl types, that she uses a similar style for those with straight and wavy hair, securing loose buns instead of tight Bantu knots to encourage a wave. “Bantu knots are seriously a wet-hair game changer.”
Keep reading to find the best products and styling tricks for your hair type. Your snooze button will thank you.
Anyone who has hair as curly as Tracee Ellis Ross’s knows how quickly it can frizz up. Cue Bantu knots. “The smaller the knot is, the tighter your curls will be,” says Ess, who suggests prepping damp curls with a few pumps of Mixed Chicks Leave-In Conditioner—curly hair is thirsty hair—then combing a styling cream, like Living Proof Curl Defining Styling Cream, from roots to ends to give some hold to each knot. If your curls are more Tori Kelly than Tracee Ellis, load up the ends of your curls with a super-moisturizing oil (Ess loves Oribe Gold Lust Nourishing Oil) to ward off frizz. After the products are evenly saturated, twist a one-inch section of hair around itself to form a tight knot, tucking the ends underneath the hair to secure them. Repeat all around your head until you have 15–25 knots, says Ess, depending on how small you want your curl, then wrap your head with a silk scarf and hit the sheets.
For loose curls to tight waves…
Oh, hey there, Hudgens sisters. “Curls and waves can really flatten during the night, especially if you’re thrashing in your sleep, so the goal here is to give your hair a defined pattern with eight or ten knots,” says Ess. Regardless of your hair type, here, Ess swears by Healthy Sexy Soy Tri-Wheat Leave-In Conditioner as a base for your style. “I don’t mess around with this stuff—it will make your hair so soft and manageable, which is so important when you’re dealing with wet hair,” she says. Next, rake an egg-size puff of R+Co Chiffon Mousse through your hair, focusing on the roots for texture, before smoothing a dime-size drop of OGX Argan Healing Dry Oil on the ends for shine.
For loose waves…
Comb a leave-in conditioner, such as Garnier Sleek and Shine Intensely Smooth Leave-In Conditioner, through your damp, Blake Lively–esque hair, then rake a lightweight cream—Ess loves Bumble and Bumble Don’t Blow It Air-Dry Cream—through your midlengths to ends. (If your hair is fine, skip the cream and stick with the leave-in conditioner.) Here’s where we deviate from the bBantuknot, though. “Bantu knots will make your waves way too curly, so make four loose-ish buns, instead,” says Ess, who starts her first two buns on the top of her head, “like Shrek ears,” and places the final two buns at the nape of her neck. Since waves tend to have an S-shaped pattern, rather than a true spiral, leave out the last few inches of hair from each knot before pinning them in place, otherwise the ends will curl up.
For straight hair…
Sorry, but even if you’re Liu Wen, “it’s unrealistic to hope to wake up with paper-straight, flat-ironed hair if you go to bed with it wet,” says Ess. I know; it sucks. But, if your goal is to have some natural-looking waves when you wake up, we’ve got you covered. After applying the tiniest bit of hydrating hair milk, such as Reverie Milk Anti-Frizz Treatment, to the ends of your damp hair, split your hair in half down the middle, and twirl the two sections into long twisted pigtails, pinning the ends in place. In the morning, run a flatiron over the ends to work out any kinks from the bobby pins.