Surviving China With Curly Hair

Roisin Johnson
Career China Digital Marketing Manager
Dec 24, 2018

Curls in China can be a hair raising experience, with hil-hair-ious consequences but its knot a joke to those who have to live with curly hair every day. Okay, enough of the puns, onto the serious stuff.

There are many types of curly hair - some thick, some thin, some tight curls, others loose. It’s impossible to tell you exactly what works or doesn’t work for your hair. However, I can tell you about my experience, and include some tips that may help while you are in China.

I live in Beijing where the air is dry. This means my hair tends to go towards the frizz rather than the ideal sleek curls. To put things in perspective:

Yes, this is my hair...

The main issue for curly hair in China, as with many other places, is frizz. In the humidity or dry weather, the frizz monster is always ready to attack. So here is some information to help defeat frizz.

What causes frizz?

Frizz comes mainly from hair reaching out to find moisture. So when your hair is dry, or uncared for, frizz will be more prevalent. Frizz also comes from split or damaged hair. Hair is normally damaged from heat, or lack of nutrients such as protein, which builds strength in the hair strand.

Frizz can be kept at bay through the use of different products, and routines. However, if products are used incorrectly with the hair type, frizz will still exist. It is worth investing money is good quality product and (if your hair is thick) not scrimping on product. Using poor quality products will dry hair out, and so frizz will get worse.

The materials you use to dry your hair can also be increasing frizz. Using a normal towel can increase breakage due to the texture creating friction against the hair. Often people will prefer to use a cotton t-shirt to dry hair, as this means less texture. However, cotton is known for absorbing moisture away from the hair, so it is more recommended using satin or silk materials to wrap your hair up while it dries or while you sleep. Having satin or silk pillow cases can also help to reduce the effect of ordinary cases while you sleep.

Warriors on the front line in the fight against frizz

By the time you arrive in China, you should have a good idea of what works for your hair and what doesn’t. But, it is likely frizz will creep in at time to time while you are in China, as the weather can be more extreme than what you may have already experienced in your home country. The main thing that will help to overcome frizz is a routine and knowing how to get the products you would likely need.

Most products you will be able to get these in drugstores, such as Watsons, as well as some convenience stores like Lawsons or 7/11. Sephora will also stock some brands and products and stores are normally in most large cities. Other brand shops, such as Kiehl’s, are becoming more popular in larger cities such as Beijing but are not as common as other high street stores. A bigger range of products can be found in online stores. Information about this can be found lower down.

Shampoo and Conditioners to Manage Frizzy Hair in China

Common brands that are available in most countries are also in China. However, the same product may not be available.

It is recommended avoiding shampoo and conditioners that do have ingredients sulfates or parabens included in them, due to their drying quality. Opting for more natural products, like Burt’s Bees, will be better for your hair and more nourishing. However it can be difficult to find completely natural products in commercial outlets in China. Therefore, a number of brands that are more widely available in China that are good for curly hair include:

  • Pantene
  • L’Oreal
  • TRESemme
  • Aussie
  • OGX (Organix Hair)

Its advised not to use shampoo too often, instead opt for some washes to be conditioner only. Especially when your hair is not feeling too great. One these days, try a deep conditioning treatment or mask. A recommendation is Aussie “3 Minute Miracle: Moist”. This is a deep moisturising conditioner that will help to keep your locks hydrated. Do this maybe once a week, and you will notice less frizz.

Another thing to mention is that I highly recommend (where possible) conditioning from tips to roots. Beijing, and many other parts of China, has extended dry periods. This means my scalp can get dry fairly easily and this can lead to a touch of dandruff, so over-using conditioner or other products on your scalp will mean you get dandruff for sure!


A leave in conditioner is a good way to give your curls moisture as well as provide a protective layer to help reduce frizz or damage. Leave in conditioners are usually humectants which are capable of absorbing moisture and keeping curls hydrated, healthier and stronger.

For thicker hair, its better to have a heavier moisturising product like oils or shea butter. For finer curls, its best to use a lighter product that will not weigh the hair down too much. When considering leave in conditioner, you can look at the ingredients and try one that best suits your hair type.

Having castor and/or peppermint oil is good for moisture. Keratin is the natural protein found in hair, which makes it stronger (and therefore less likely to break and frizz). Rice protein is sometimes used in products and has a similar strengthening quality. Babassu oil can help to increase shine and the manageability of curls.

In a lot of research for recommendations, a product that kept coming up for leave in condition was a brand called ‘Shea Mositure’. It is normally recommended for thicker hair due to its heavier, more moisturising ingredients. Another brand that came up a few times was ‘Kinky Curly’. Both brands can be found in China, mainly in online stores. But be aware, they are more expensive than they would be at home, and the range is more limited for sure.

Leave in conditioners can be found in online stores, as well as on the high street. However, leave in conditioner is not as widely used, in my experience, in China. This means that stores may only stock a handful at a time. This means you may be waiting a while before you can get another one, or they just not reorder it. I would suggest trying a couple of different types or brands to keep your options open and avoid disappointment.

Towels and other materials

Regular ‘terry’ towels are easily found all across China, but as mentioned before, they can do more damage than good. So having different materials is a good option.

In my research, the cotton t-shirt option came up a few times. This is a simple alternative to a regular towel and is smoother so will create less friction. Simple T-shirts are also very cheap, so you will easily be able to buy one without breaking the bank.

Another suggestion was using microfiber towels. This dries the hair well, without taking the moisture away as cotton tends to do. Microfiber towels are also very much available in most supermarkets, but these are normally designed for cleaning so are quite small. You can find microfiber wrap-round head towels online more easily but still if your hair is very long, you will find it difficult to find a microfiber towel large enough.

So, it was suggested to me I use silk or satin as this will help to retain moisture in the hair while allowing the hair to dry, and is smooth so seems to be the best option. However, silk is expensive, especially if you want to use it as a towel. So a better option may be a satiny pillow case. These are easily found in China, and they are relatively cheap.

Water filtration

Tap water in China is not drinkable due to the chemicals in the water. If you drink this water, you can become very sick very quickly. So imagine what the chemicals can be doing to your hair!

I have noticed a significant difference in the dryness in my hair since moving to China, and I put this partly down to the water. I have overcome this by using different products. But something that you might want to consider, if you notice a similar issue, is a water filtration to reduce the chemicals in the water drying out your hair.


You can buy shower hairs online, or in stores, which offer mild filtration. These are relatively cheap, ranging from 20-60RMB normally. More advanced ones can be more expensive. And if you want to have a proper filtration system installed, you could be paying a lot of money for this.


Hair brushes and combs

Under no circumstances should curly hair be brushed when dry! Unless obviously its for Halloween, or comedy value (as above). Brushing your hair when wet with conditioner in is the best option to detangle hair. Detangler brushes and wide-tooth combs are bother easily bought in most stores if you lose or break your one, or just fancy a new one.


Heat protector products

You can find heat protecting protects in China, but they may not be as strong as what you need with curly hair. The brands that are familiar are also likely to have a price mark up, as with many of the other products.


Hairdryers and straighteners

Hairdryers with diffusers and other heads are so easy to find in most high street stores as well as online. More recognizable brands will be more expensive, as they would normally have some sort of import tax on them. However, this being said, professional hairdryers can take up a lot of luggage space and the cost is not too excessive, so it might be worth considering buying a dryer after you arrive. 

Ceramic straighteners are quite common in shops but, as before, if you are buying well-known brands such as GHD, you will see a markup on the price compared with home. If you are buying a ceramic straightener in China, try to find one where the heat is adjustable so you can limit the damage done to your hair.


Online Stores in China

Amazon in China also has an English interface on their website, so you can easily have things sent to your work place or home address. Other websites that have apps, such as Tmall, YHD, Taobao or also make online shopping convenient and easy enough to use. Taobao is probably the more widely used app for all round shopping, so are most likely to easily deliver across the country.

Currently, apps like Taobao are only in Chinese which may make searching items a little tricky. But. The best thing about these apps is that you can take a picture of the product and it will easily search to see if the item is available without needing to know the Chinese words.


Another English website that can be used is This offers similar services to Taobao, but does not have the same range of products, nor does it have an app at present.

Roisin’s Final Recommendations...

The best bit of advice I can give you is to bring a couple of bottles of each of your favourite products and hair care items with you. This will tide you over for the first month or so and gives you enough time to find your bearings and get set up to buy alternative products. It also means you can try some different products in China and see which one works best while still have the back up of your home products.

Download Google Translate app on your phone. This app can work offline easily, and can scan product ingredients so you can see if there are any potentially harming components to new products you’re thinking of trying. WeChat app also has a similar function, however the translations are not as accurate, and you usually will need data or Wi-Fi for this to work.

In some parts of China where curly hair is rare, you may experience some people wanting to touch your hair. Due to the language barrier, you may have people just touching your hair without asking. As you know, people touching curly hair is a big no no, especially if you spent days ensuring its frizz free. If you experience this, you can show them this: 别碰我头发 - this means don't touch my hair. It may not be the politest way to say it, but it gets the point across! 

Be prepared to pay a lot more on curly hair products than you would at home. Because the demand is not as high in China as it is at home, the products are normally imported. This means there is usually an additional import tax on the price. So I would also recommend saving a little month to make sure you can still get good quality products.

If all else fails, try making your own leave in conditioner. Here are some suggestions:

Most of the ingredients can be found online in China.

To help before you arrive, try to download the Taobao app and, using the photo search option, you can see if your favourite product is available in China!If you can’t find it, but know you can’t live without it you will know to leave more packing space for it!

Resources used & for more information

Learn more helpful tips for living and working in China with The Ultimate Guide for Moving to China

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