Nagel working on a client with curly hair | Photos provided

Hailey Nagel returns to Charleston to educate clients on how to care for their curls — and learn to love themselves more

If you met stylist Hailey Nagel five years ago, she probably had pink hair. Or purple. Or green. Or any other color in the neon rainbow. 

The former color specialist has never been one to shy away from a bold statement. She’s a walk-the-talk type of hairdresser: if she’s done it to a client’s hair she has likely tried it on her own. 

Nagel really “nerds out” on this hair stuff. She can tell you all about the evolution of human hair to protect the brain from heat and cold, and casually uses words like trichologist, (which is a health specialist without a medical degree who focuses on diseases and problems related to the hair and scalp). 

Curiosity about curls

A client with curly hair before and after Nagel’s work

After her second curly-haired child was born in 2014, Nagel’s curiosity about curls grew into a personal mission to learn everything she could about caring for curls. She studied various curl-cutting techniques, started experimenting with clean beauty and dug even deeper into hair science. But becoming a curl specialist was never really the plan. “I sort of just fell into, and in love with, curly hair,” she said

At a DevaCurl certification class in New York, Hailey met a woman who owned a curls-only salon in Brisbane, Australia. Within a year, Hailey and her family were packing their bags to chase dreams. After four years of perfecting her curl craft in Australia (on herself and her clients), the natural redhead is back to her wavy, South Carolina roots, now an accredited global talent for curly hair. 

The kid with messy hair  

Like most curly-haired kids, Nagel had “messy” hair growing up.

“Messy was always the word that grandmas used on every curly-haired child of our generation.  They’d say, ‘You better brush your hair before you go out in public.’  But brushing ruins curly hair. Period. My parents didn’t know how to properly manage my hair, so I was doomed to a fluffy, unruly mess that never looked like my friends’ hair.” 

Two out of three people in the world have textured hair. And being a kid of color, Nagel said, often means hair that is significantly more textured. “Many African American kids grow up their whole life having to have their hair done in a way that is painful, sitting for hours and hours as young children getting braided and using a lot of chemical relaxers. And sometimes it’s traumatizing because it makes kids think, ‘OK, well, this is what I have to do for my hair to be acceptable’.” 

Helping people feel empowered, educated and beautiful in their natural hair has become Nagel’s passion. She said talking about it makes her eyes water.

“When people believe the best version of themselves is an altered version, they will always be disappointed,” she said.  “If you are chasing after somebody else’s ideal of beauty, you will always be disappointed.” 

Natel said she wants her own kids to feel a sense of self-pride about their curls. With some basic curl-care education and a good haircut, she hopes no curly-haired kid will ever have to endure anyone’s “messy hair” comments.  

The curly cut is part science, part sculpture

Nagel’s independent study of trichology has formed her research-based approach to cutting hair. Her craft lives somewhere at the intersection of science and art. 

“Many people think that curl type is determined by ethnicity, but two people from completely different ethnic backgrounds could have the same curl type,” she said, adding that when she assesses a client’s hair, she’s looking at thinness/thickness, fineness/coarseness and density. 

“The cut is based on face shape, hair texture and personal style — but it will always be a dry cut.” Dry-cutting enhances the hair’s natural shape and allows the stylist to cater the cut to the client’s curl type, personality, and lifestyle. 

Nagel may use several different techniques on a single head of hair, pulling from her magic bag of hair fairy tricks to customize each cut. She has certifications by Rëzo, Curl by Curl ®, DevaCurl, InnerSense Pro Education and Mizani Aircut — and is always pursuing new education.

What to expect at your first appointment

A typical first appointment will last two to 2.5 hours and will include several steps — dry cut, hydrate, style, hydrate again, diffuse and finishing touches. Nagel explains what she’s doing in every step, giving tutorials on how to cleanse and hydrate properly, what type of products to use, and how to use them depending on situations, seasons and life changes. She encourages transitioning to organic products that support repair and strengthen hair so it can be its most authentic shape. 

Every new client goes home with a set of tools and a full-page list of instructions on how to shampoo.  Nagel said she hoped clients also gain a little more self-confidence, acceptance and love. 

Nagel’s top curly hair care tips

In an effort to spread the curl love to as many people as possible, Nagel has put together her top hair care tips. While these are catered to curlies, they apply to all hair types. 

  1. Wet Brush: You should never dry brush curly hair. Only ever brush it when wet with conditioner. 
  2. Dirty is good: You’re probably washing your hair way too much. Instead, learn how to “refresh it, not with dry shampoo, but by wetting thoroughly with water and reapplying conditioner and a touch of gel.” (Nagel only shampoos every 10-14 days.) 
  3. Hydrate: Don’t wash out all of your conditioner. Leave 80% of the conditioner in your hair (as long as it’s silicone-free).
  4. Detox: When you live somewhere with hard water (like Charleston), you need to detox your hair from calcium and magnesium buildup (which leave a film on hair and skin – and white droplets on your shower glass). Using a showerhead with a charcoal filter (such as Ecoheads) can significantly improve your water quality and the softness of your hair. 
  5. Clipping: Use clips (or interlock two pick combs) at your crown to create natural lift while air-drying. 
  6. Patience: If you’re just starting to transition to clean beauty products, it will take time for your hair to normalize and rebalance – especially if you’ve been continually stripping the hair and scalp with sulfate shampoos, hair dye, silicone-based products or heat styling without proper preparation. 
  7. Make it a ritual: Caring for curls can be a time-consuming endeavor, but once you get the hang of these techniques, the process can become meditative, Nagel said. Think of your wash day routine as a practice in self-love. 

Contact Curl by Hailey Elizabeth 

If you’d like a personalized curly cut, the easiest way to book an appointment is through Instagram: DM @curlbyhaileyelizabeth

Jessica Vernon is a James Island writer and founder of Inspirada Creative: a storytelling and creative communications studio. 

Additional Resources:

See before/after photos on @curlbyhaileyelizabeth
If you want to nerd out on hair science check out: Robbins, Clarence R. Chemical and Physical Behavior of Human Hair. 5th ed., Springer, 2001. 

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