I’ve always had naturally wavy hair that I’ve had to do something with. Almost all of my adult life I’ve blow-dried on high heat and straightened my hair with a flat iron. The odd time on vacation or when we have humid days in the summer, I’ll embrace my natural waves and put in a beach waves spray and let my hair air dry or diffuse it, but I still always touched up some loose waves by adding in flat iron curls. Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea how much I didn’t know about how to take care of my natural waves. I knew I wasn’t supposed to use sulfate shampoo or comb out my hair, but that’s where my knowledge stopped.
During a break on one of my night shifts a few weeks ago, I fell into a rabbit hole on Instagram of the “curly girl method“. I didn’t know such a technique existed, but I was intrigued and instantly hooked. I couldn’t stop stalking curly girl accounts and saving posts on how to get started. I started learning about what to do and what not to do to get started taking care of my waves and was fascinated by the before and after pictures so many curly girls were posting and how it’s truly such an amazing transformation of learning to take care of your natural hair. I could go from barely there waves to ringlets depending on how I treat my hair!
Looking back, every single important event of my life I chose to have curly hair. My wedding day, my nursing school graduation photo and almost every wedding or special event I curl my hair to some degree. So, I jumped in head first and decided to full on curly girl: no more drying on full blast heat, no more heating tools, no more sulfates, silicones or drying alcohol in my hair products.
Curly Girl Method 101
It all started with Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey. I am actually going to take a bit of a bold stance and say you don’t have to purchase this if you want to start the curly girl method. It’s cheap enough at <$20, but I have learned far more from following curly girls on Instagram and YouTube than I did from reading this book, but this is definitely the unpopular opinion, as it were, in the curly community. The basic rules of the curly girl method are as follows:
- Sulfates — harsh cleansers in shampoos that rid the hair of oils, moisture and protein (which your curly hair needs!)
- Silicones — found in conditioners and stylers, prevent moisture and water from getting into your hair; builds up and weighs down curls
- Drying alcohols — curly hair is naturally dry, these alcohols will dry it out even more
- Waxes — coats hair and prevents moisture from entering
- Brushes on dry hair — will pull out your curl pattern and create frizz
- Heat styling tools — curling and flat irons will just dry out and damage your hair; instead of blow drying, diffuse on low-medium heat
The curly girl method focuses on your natural hair texture, embracing that wave and curl, and helping that hair to be as healthy as it can be. Broken down it is a method of washing and styling your curls without the use of heat or harsh chemicals.
What Type of Hair Do You Have?
The following is a great place to start so you know what products and techniques will work best for your hair. Start here by taking the hair texture quiz and make sure you take this quiz specifically for hair porosity. As I’ve learned, the water strand test is bunk, but the rest of the questions will help you figure out your porosity.
I know you are likely feeling very overwhelmed right now, and that is completely normal, however, I’m not going to get into the science and technicalities of why you do this or that for your hair type, I’m just going to get you started on this method. Fear not!
What To Buy
The curly girl method can be very, very simple and I suggest that you start that way. I made the mistake of buying ALL the products I saw others using, and I definitely regret that now.
Here is your very basic shopping list to start; all products should be CG-friendly, I will provide examples below:
- Shampoo with a sulfate in it, but no silicone (I’ll explain this one below!)
- Cotton t-shirt or microfibre towel
Those are the essentials to start, lots of curly girls say ALL you need to start is CG-friendly conditioner and gel, after you do your final wash. So if that’s all you want to get to really simplify this method—go for it! Here is an additional list that you can add to your CG products as you can/want to:
- Blow drier with diffuser
- Satin or silk pillowcase
- Clarifying shampoo, removes build up from product
- Leave-in conditioner
- Deep-conditioning mask
- Stylers (such as curl activator cream, jellies, custards)
- Wide tooth comb, if you have hair that tangles easily, or for longer hair
- Double-prong clips, for root lifting
- Flairosol misting spray bottle
- Denman brush, for even product application
- Scalp oil, for scalp health and to scrunch out the crunch
- Shower caps, for deep conditioning
- Hot head, for deep conditioning
How To Start: The Final Wash
Okay, you’re in it to win it and the first thing you need to do is your final hair wash to strip your hair of the silicones, waxes, and other ingredients that have been building up to start with a clean canvas.
This time you are allowed to be shampoo with a sulfate—it is a harsh cleaning agent that is needed to remove the residual silicone from your hair. Some examples of final wash shampoos are TRESemmé (un)done, Johnson baby shampoo (the old formula), or green Dawn dish soap if you can’t find any others. Note: you only need this once, a step I didn’t realize when I started, so here I am with a gigantic bottle of shampoo that I’ll never use again. I guess it will be a guest shampoo now!
Condition with a sulfate- and silicone-free conditioner
Curly hair needs LOTS of moisture, so you need to find a CG-friendly conditioner and scrub, scrub, scrub your scalp for at least 5 minutes, and up to 10, and then rinse thoroughly. This is called a cowash, which is short for “conditioner washing”. Examples: TRESemmé (un)done Conditioner, TRESemmé Botanique conditioner, As I Am Coconut Cowash
Add more conditioner and condition your hair as your normally would; let sit on hair for a few minutes to hydrate hair. At this time, you also detangle your hair with your fingers or a wide-tooth comb if you need. You can leave some of this conditioner in your hair, or rinse it all out now. Example: Garnier Fructis 1 Minute Mask, Giovanni Weightless Leave-In Conditioner.
Apply styling product(s)
I suggest to just start simple with a gel. Apply by raking into your hair with your fingers, scrunching or with flat “praying” hands, or a combination of all 3 methods. Example: Dippity-Do Sport gel, Cantu curl activator cream, Pantene curl mousse. There are a lot of videos on YouTube that demonstrate product application.
Gently dry hair
This strange term is called “plopping”, where you take a cotton t-shirt and “plop” your hair in it to soak up extra moisture. You can use a t-shirt or a microfibre towel to gently scrunch out extra moisture, or wrap around your head as you would with a traditional towel. Note: You can apply your styling products before or after you plop, or both—the choice is up to you.
Air dry or diffuse hair on low-medium heat
This is really hard, but do not touch or scrunch your hair until it is 100% dry. You can also air dry/diffuse to about 50% dry, add some clips to lift up your roots, and continue drying. This is where experimenting comes in as to what will work best for your hair.
Scrunch out the crunch
This simply means scrunching your hair out of the hardened gel cast to get rid of the crunchy feeling that the stylers may leave in your hair. It’s the very best part of the process! Use a small amount of oil, or even conditioner, to gently scrunch your hair to break up the cast if you want to. You can also gently massage your roots for volume at this time.
Well, now it’s up to you to get to know your hair, what it likes, what it doesn’t like with a LOT of trial and error. Be patient with your hair as it is a marathon, not a sprint to beautiful, healthy waves and curls. There’s been a big message of “don’t ever give up” circulating on Instagram (my favourite resource for the curly girl method), and it’s so true. You will have less-than-perfect hair days, and wonky curls, and frizz and an itchy scalp and greasy hair at times as your hair adjusts and you learn your hair.
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I want to share with you my very favourite resources that I’ve come across in the few weeks that I’ve been doing the curly girl method.
Now, as you may have guessed, I am no expert nor a stylist (haha!), I’m just sharing what I’ve learned as I’m going. The best resources for me are the ladies I’ve listed on Instagram and the YouTube channels as I have time to watch them.
Good luck, if this interests you, and if not I hope you’ll enjoy following me along on my journey!
Disclosure: This post contains a lot of Amazon affiliate links, thanks for your support if you choose to click through and purchase anything on Amazon!