What is The Curly Girl Method? A Guide to Healthy Curly Hair
September 4, 2019
If you’ve ever found yourself down an Instagram hole, lusting after other curly-haired individuals, the chances are, you’ve heard of the Curly Girl Method. Or, perhaps you and your curls have stumbled upon this article through sheer luck and have no idea what the Curly Girl Method is. Either way, your curly hair routine is likely to receive a huge overhaul once you’re finished reading this.
What’s a low-poo? Why are sulphates bad? And how do you pineapple your hair? If you want to know more about the curly girl method, what it entails and how to follow it, you've come to the right place. I’ve put together the ultimate guide to the Curly Girl Method, packed with all the information you’ll need to get started on your healthy curly hair journey. Good luck!
What is the Curly Girl Method? The basics
The Curly Girl Method is a way of washing and styling naturally curly or wavy hair without the use of heat or harsh chemicals.
Based on the Curly Girl: The Handbook, by Lorraine Massey (I really recommend buying this book - it makes the method so simple), the regime focuses on simplicity and listening to your hair to understand its needs.
Although it may be tempting to buy every ‘curly girl friendly’ product on the market, with the Curly Girl Method, there’s no need for thousands of hair products. And, in time, you’ll find the best results are all down to using the right techniques.
Curly Hair Product Ingredients to Avoid
As mentioned previously, the Curly Girl Method eliminates the use of harsh ingredients that are often found in hair products. ‘But surely they wouldn’t make hair products with damaging ingredients in them?’ Don’t be so sure! Curly hair especially is naturally dry, so these harsh ingredients can wreak havoc for our curls, leaving them frizzy, undefined and dehydrated.
Here is a list of the ingredients you should aim to avoid when following the Curly Girl Method:
Sulphates Sulphates (or ‘sulfates’ if you’re American) are harsh cleansers that are commonly used in shampoos, and also found in dishwashing soap. They are known to rid the hair of its natural oils, essential moisture and protein - all of which are needed for naturally dry, curly hair. Without the hair’s natural oils, our curls are left dull, dry and frizzy.
Silicones Silicone is a synthetic material that creates a barrier around the hair cuticle, preventing moisture and water from getting in. Silicones are most commonly found in conditioners and stylers, but some shampoos also contain them. They make hair appear shiny and moisturised by coating the hair - when, in reality it’s probably begging for moisture. Silicones can only be washed out with harsh sulphates, and if they’re not washed out, they build up on the hair, weighing curls down.
Common Silicones: Usually end in cone, conal or xane. E.g. Dimethicone, Cetyl Dimethicone, Dimethiconol, Cyclopentasiloxane.
Drying Alcohols While some alcohols are good for the hair, providing moisture, there are also those coined as ‘drying alcohols’ that suck moisture out of hair, leaving it very dry. With curly hair being naturally dry, the addition of drying alcohols can be harmful, resulting in extremely dehydrated curls.
Common Drying Alcohols: Alcohol denat, Propanol, Propyl alcohol, Isopropyl alcohol
Parabens Parabens are preservatives that are used in various cosmetics to prolong a product’s shelf life. Parabens are able to penetrate the skin and stay in the tissue and have been linked to breast cancer, due to their ability to mimic oestrogen. However, it’s unknown if the use of products with parabens present directly causes cancer.
Common Parabens: Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben
Phthalates Phthalates are plasticizers that are used to make hard plastics more malleable. They are used in hair care products to lubricate and soften other ingredients, and they’re also used as synthetic fragrances - anytime you see the word ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’ in an ingredients list unless stated otherwise, it’s a phthalate. Like parabens, phthalates have also been known to disrupt hormone activity.
Common Phthalates: Often listed as ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’. Also: Dibutylphthalate (DBP), Dimethylphthalate (DMP), Diethylphthalate (DEP)
Other Things to Avoid
Heat Stylers Lorraine Massey advises against the use of straighteners, curling tongs, blow dryers or anything else used to style hair with heat. Instead, opt for air drying or diffusing on a low-medium heat setting.
Traditional Towels Using traditional towels is a recipe for frizz, instead opt for a cotton t-shirt, microfibre towel or paper towel.
Negativity Towards Your Curls Learning to love your curls is hard for many, but letting go of any negativity you have towards it will help you to achieve better results.
How to Start the Curly Girl Method
Before you start following the Curly Girl Method, there’s a few things you’ll need. It’s important to remember that while it may seem overwhelming to begin with, the Curly Girl Method is a routine that has to be stuck to in order to see results. I’m talking months! Personally, I saw the most hair progression a year after following the method (but I wasn’t equipped with all the resources I’m about to list below!).
Also, bear in mind that each person’s wash and style routine will differ depending on their hair type. Some people will use less products, some will use more. Some will also use different styling and product application techniques. What works for one person, may not work for another - it’s a process, and a journey of trial and error.
Here’s a checklist of items you’ll need to start out - some are optional, but they’re things I’ve found to be helpful for my curly hair routine:
Curly Girl: The Handbook I didn’t purchase this until a year into my curly hair journey, but as soon as I did, it completely changed the way I washed and styled my hair. I got the best results I’d ever achieved on the first wash day after reading it! This should be the first thing you buy!
A Curly Hair Routine Nailing a curly hair routine is essential if you want to see progress. Your routine will include washing and styling your curls and after some experimentation, you’ll be able to find a routine that works best for your hair.
Natural, ‘Curly Girl Friendly’ Products You’ll need a selection of hair products to start with. The basics will include a sulphate-free cleanser or co-wash, conditioner, stylers (ie. cream, gel, mousse) and a deep conditioner. While there are lots of pricey products on the market, there are definitely affordable curly girl friendly products on the high street. Some of my favourites are from Noughty.
Cotton T-shirt/Curl Towel As you’ll be ditching the traditional terry towel, to prevent frizz, you’ll need something else to dry your hair with. To start with, you’re best off using a cotton t-shirt or strong paper towels (to save money), buy you may decide to purchase a specially designed curl towel.
Diffuser [Optional - but I get the best results by diffusing my hair dry.] Use on a low speed, low-medium heat to protect curls and prevent unnecessary frizz.
Non-snagging Hair Bands Invisibobbles (or similar) and satin scrunchies are great.
A Curly Hair Community The curly hair community of Instagram is fab - that’s where I learnt a lot of what I know! There’s also CG Facebook groups, blogs and plenty of Youtube videos! Make sure to use these resources to learn from rather than compare yourself to others.
Satin/Silk Pillowcase [Optional - but they prevent frizz, so your hair will thank you!]
Satin/Silk Bonnet for Sleeping [Optional - same as above.]
Patience It can take a good few months to see results - hang in there!
The Transition Stage
Lots of people talk about the Curly Girl Method, how great it is, and what fabulous curls they have now, but many fail to mention the transition stage.
Unless you’ve been using natural hair products for a while, when you start following the Curly Girl Method, your hair/scalp will go through a transition phase where it looks and feels, well...a bit rubbish.
This is because regular shampoos that contain sulphates strip the hair of its natural oils, so once you start using cleansers that don’t contain harsh chemicals, your scalp needs to rebalance itself. At the beginning of your CGM journey, your scalp may continue to over-produce sebum (natural oils) as it was used to doing when you used sulphates. However, after a few weeks, your scalp should balance itself out.
During the transition phase, your hair may be:
For most people, along with the greasy scalp and frizz comes the fact that they’ve been straightening or heat styling their hair for years. Many people expect their hair to bounce back after a few weeks of following the Curly Girl Method, but transitioning to healthy curly hair takes time - we’re talking months, years! Unfortunately, we can’t expect to damage our hair for decades and for it to regain health immediately.
My Experience with the Curly Girl Method
I started following the Curly Girl Method around May/June 2017. I can’t actually remember a specific date, I just know I was doing a lot of research on Google and Youtube about how to style curly hair, and somewhere along the way I came across India Batson’s ‘How to Start the Curly Girl Method’ video.
I purchased my first ‘curly girl friendly’ products from Bouclème in May 2017, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I kind of just started using natural hair products and that was that. I’d bought the Boucléme Curl Cleanser, Curl Conditioner and Curl Cream, but as I said...I didn’t really know what I was doing, and it turns out I didn’t buy all the right products for my fine, loose curls.
After posting an image of my new Boucleme products on my personal Instagram account, the brand asked to do a festival hair shoot with them in June 2017. It was here that they introduced me to their Curl Defining Gel and Hydrating Hair Cleanser (the slightly foaming one) - these were the products that I should have been using! So, I swapped the Curl Cleanser for the Hydrating one, and added the gel into my styling routine on top of the cream.
I continued my curly hair journey for another year, using pretty much the same products and heading to Instagram for ginger curly hair inspiration - although ginger curly accounts were hard to come by. I did find a couple though (how amazing are Soul LaRouge’s curls?!).
At this point, I honestly thought my curls were the curliest they could be, and I was really happy with them. I’d seen a few other curly hair accounts on Instagram, from curlies that were documenting their hair journeys, so I decided to start my own in July 2018 - and the rest is history! Not really - I just really wanted to write that.
I realised there was this whole other world on Instagram - the curl community - full of people sharing their curly hair tips and tricks, curly girl approved products and so much more! I learnt how to 'squish to condish', scrunch out the crunch (yep I’d been walking around with crunchy curls), and found out that a hair gel I’d used pre-CG (Umberto Giannini Curl Jelly HANZ20 for 20% off) was silicone-free!
I started trying out different products and techniques, which led to good hair days, bad hair days, over-moisturised hair, weighed down curls - the lot! But I can honestly say, since learning about how to properly look after my curls and follow the Curly Girl Method, my curls have never been curlier (or healthier). It was all worth it in the end.
To Follow or Not to Follow?
I’m aware that was a complete overload of information, so please do feel free to bookmark this guide and come back to it whenever you need. While it may seem like a lot of effort, if you’re really invested in getting your curls back to full health, and embracing them (frizz and all!), the Curly Girl Method is the way forward.
Please also make sure to do your own research - into your hair, what it likes, what it needs and what styling techniques and products work best for you.
While it can be easy to follow what your favourite curly hair ‘influencer’ uses, their hair type and needs may be completely different to yours. There are no two curls on your own head the same, so comparing your hair to someone else's just won’t work. You’ve got to find out what works for you. The Curly Girl Method takes time, but with a little perseverance, you'll see great results!