Today we’re going to talk about how to do the Curly Girl Method to care for your curly hair the easy way.
Sure, there are tons of tutorials out there, but why waste your time? In this post, I’m going to tell you about the Curly Girl Method, what products to avoid, what to get instead, and my simple five-step process so you can manage your curls and look great.
Ready? Let’s jump in.
Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase something you see on our site we may receive a commission at no cost to you. Read our full disclosure here.
What is the Curly Girl Method?
The Curly Girl Method (CGM) is a technique invented (more or less) by Lorraine Massey, author of The Curly Girl Handbook.
Simply put, it’s removing probably everything you have in your shower, and getting a serious education about your curly hair. Embrace the waves, the coils, the ringlets, the Ramen noodles atop your head, and throw out that damn flat iron!
Actually, I’m not that hardcore. I still own a flat iron, and about once or twice a year I use it. It’s when I’m missing my long, long hair, because hold me closer, Tony Danza, do my curls shrink up.
No joke. My hair when straight is past my bra line. When curly, it’s barely past my shoulders.
My Curly Girl Story
When I was little I looked like the Pepsi girl.
My hair was curly and long all throughout my childhood. Where I got it, I don’t have the foggiest notion. Everyone else in my family has straight hair, except my mother who has thick waves (but completely different texture).
My grandmother had curls, but that’s because she permed them: I don’t know what her natural hair would have been.
I’m thinking maybe the mailman on my mother’s route in the ’70s had curls? Just kidding, dad.
As a teen, through the 90s and early 2000s, EVERYONE had flat ironed, stick-straight hair. If you didn’t have Monica/Rachel/Phoebe hair, then forgettaboutit.
There were some big permed hair in the 80s, but I was too little to care about fashion then. When I DID start caring about what came out of my head, pin straight hair was all the rage.
As a late teen, my texture changed to more of a wave then a head full of curls, likely due both to having never trimmed it and the weight was pulling it straight, and because I was a dancer so it went up in a tight bun literally every day of the week for years.
Then, in my 20s, it curled back up again, but I was in the habit of considering curly hair ugly, unkempt, unstyled, messy, and the opposite of what all my friends had on their blessed heads. So I straightened it often, or would at least curl it into larger waves with a curling iron.
About a dozen years ago, I decided to toss in the towel as far as fighting with my hair went, and I discovered the Curly Girl Method. I’m not gonna be all dramatic with you and say it changed my life or saved my life, but it’s been a lot of fun to see what my hair will do when it’s given the freedom and health it deserves.
Plus, my husband LOVES my curly hair (during the first ten years of our marriage when I would straighten it, he would sigh dramatically and whisper under his breath, ‘why would you ruin a perfectly good hairstyle?’).
If you’re wondering why curly haired women (and men) straighten their hair all the time, it’s because we’re sick and tired of looking like the BEFORE photo in every. single. makeover. ever.
Time for new makeovers then!
Getting Started with the Curly Girl Method
Products to Replace
Simply put (cuz I’m here to tell you, this method CAN get crazy complicated, and this post is not about that), you want to get rid of … drum roll, puhleeze………….
Especially sodium laurel sulfates, which are found in the vast majority of shampoos. Once upon a time, when I first started this method (ten years ago now; I’m no newbie), it was difficult to find a sulfate free shampoo, so curly girls skipped the shampoo altogether.
That’s called No-Poo, and the name never ceases to amuse me greatly.
This method (No-Poo) was not my favorite. My scalp (along with the rest of my skin), is dry and temperamental. I like, no love, shampoo. So nowadays, I simply use a sulfate free one. Easy peasy, lather squeasy.
GET: Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Some popular sulfate free ‘poos:
- L’Oreal EverPure
- Garnier Fructis Curl Nourish
- Most Shea Moisture products
- Deva Curl
You can go expensive (Deva Curl, I’m looking at you), or cheap (hello, Cantu).
Not being a curly girl purist, I don’t mind throwing in a sulfate shampoo now and again for some really good clarifying and cleansing.
The next thing you’re going to get rid of is your conditioners and products that contain silicone.
Silicones are nice for smoothing out your kinky curls, but they coat them so “well,” that moisture (which curly hair desperately needs) can’t get in. Also, the only thing to remove all that silicone build up is (you guessed it), the dreaded sodium laurel sulfates. So, when you toss one, you gotta toss ’em all.
GET: Silicone-Free Conditioner
Look for any conditioners that are simply labeled silicone free on the front of the bottle and it will eliminate any confusion. If you aren’t sure, look at the ingredients on the back. If it ends in ‘cone,’ it’s a silicone. Put it back and walk away.
Some silicone free conditioners to look for:
- Deva Curl
- Suave (some of them, at least)
- VO5 (less than a dollar, you guys!)
- Most things from Shea Moisture
- Most Not Your Mother’s
- TreSemme Naturals
- Love, Beauty, and Planet
Again, you can go the spendier route, or do what I do: buy several bottles of VO5 and alternate the yummy scents.
How to Wash and Style Using the Curly Girl Method
There are a trillion Youtube tutorials and Pinterest boards, not to mention blogs, and even CGM conventions you can go to.
I won’t promise to even come close to the in-depth info you can find once you fall down the CGM bunny trail, but if you’re looking for a way to simplify it, here’s what I do:
TIP: For your very first time going CGM, you’re going to need to get all the silicones outta your locks. So, go ahead and use a shampoo that is full of sulfates. Then, you can begin your journey.
Wash with either a conditioner, a sulfate free shampoo, or a co-wash (a cleansing conditioner). I currently am alternating between As I Am Coconut Co-Wash, and Twisted Sister Clarifying Shampoo.
Condition, condition, condition!
I use a wide-tooth comb to distribute the conditioner and to detangle.
This is the only time I comb my hair and I do not even OWN a hair brush!
You’re going to pull out plenty of loose hairs. Do not panic. Remember how many hairs you used to lose in your hairbrush? It’s the same thing.
Plus, we’re not going to wash everyday (I go 3-4 days between wash days), so it’s going to be that many days worth.
Roll it all in a ball and *try* to remember to toss it when you leave the shower. This is so your husband doesn’t panic at the small, drowned mouse in the shower.
Style with a silicone free gel, mousse, or cream, or create a cocktail of all of them.
Most curly girls use a leave-in conditioner and would never skip that creamy boost under their styling products. Me, I have very fine, thin hair that is prone to stringiness, so I find I get more volume if I don’t do a leave-in. I do make an exception for Kinky Curly Knot Today though. That stuff is the bomb.
Mousse is a favorite for volume, gel has the best hold, and creams are great for thicker, coily type curls.
Whatever you use, use plenty. We’re talking a palmful of gel, or an egg sized ball of mousse, coated in your hands, and SMOOTHED through your hair.
Some styling products to try:
- LA Looks Blue Gel
- Aussie Insta Freeze Gel
- ECO gels (especially the olive oil one)
- Totally Twisted Herbal Essences Mousse
- LUS Brands All-in-One styler
- Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk
- Most Shea Moisture gels/puddings/creams
- Girls With Curls Dippity Do Gel
But what about the crunchiness that gels leave? you ask.
The first time you try this method you are probably going to PANIC at this point, curse my name, and want to hop immediately back into the shower. Don’t do it. Trust me.
SCRUNCH IT OUT WHEN DRY. This is so commonly done with curly girls, it has its own abbreviation:
Scrunch Out The Crunch.
Let it dry, or use a diffuser (that weird bowl shaped contraption that came with your hair dryer).
It amazes me that even professional hair stylists don’t know to do this. Here’s how:
Once dry, flip your head over and cup a section of your curls in your hands. Scrunch out the gel cast, fluff out your roots (you don’t want your hair plastered to your head anymore now that it’s dry), and you will be left with shiny, super soft curls. I promise.
There you have it! That’s how to do the Curly Girl Method, the easy way.
Tips for Great Curls
If you’re more of a wavy than a curly, try some finger coiling while wet. Simply section a small piece (you’ll find your hair wants to “clump” into curl sections all on its own) and twirl around your finger. You can do your whole head if you have not a lot of hair, like me, or just a few sections on top and around your face. Then scrunch.
Deep condition once a week or so, or at least a couple times a month. You can use any deep conditioner or mask that is silicone free, or mix some warm oils together (I like coconut, extra virgin olive, and Vitamin E). Slather it on your tresses, and let it sit for as long as you have time. Then, shower.
Get a curly hair cut. If you have a Deva Salon in your area, they’re supposed to be amazing. Stylists who actually know and love curly hair, can you even imagine?! If you don’t have one, take plenty of pictures to your stylist and ask for LOTS of layers. Even long, long, long, mermaid hair need short layers so you can avoid a triangle head! Me, I cut my own, using the unicorn method. You can find tutorials on Youtube for how to do it yourself.
Experiment! Some hair really can’t tolerate coconut oil, or biotin, or aloe, or protein, or what-have-you. What works for some, doesn’t work for all. Mix it up, try different things, and find what makes your curls pop.
Follow curly girl queens on your social media. They’re a wealth of information and inspiration! I don’t know about you, but I get discouraged by being surrounded by super straight hairstyles, so when I open Pinterest or Facebook, and I see lots of gorgeous spiral curls, I get happy and motivated to keep on the path.
Some gals I like:
Shop the ethnic section of the drugstore, and find deals outlet stores. Check places like TJ Maxx, Ross, and Marshall’s. They get the “good” brands for much less. It’s easy to go bananas collecting the newest and greatest products you just saw that one curly girl talk up, so try to limit yourself! I do my best to empty a container before I feel good about buying a new one. I mean, you know, that’s the goal anyway. Ahem.
Use an old tshirt or a microfiber towel to scrunch out the water after showering and applying products. They create less frizz than your typical terrycloth towel. I use my hubby’s old white undershirts when they get too grody for him to wear anymore. Since you can’t buy my hubby’s old white undershirts (I mean, you can, but it’d be awkward), here’s a link to a fantabulous towel (a three pack, no less!) made especially for curlies.
Pineapple your hair at night, and/or sleep on a satin pillowcase. Pineappling is simply putting all your curls up in a very high ponytail so they don’t get squashed as you toss and turn all night. I recommend some satin or silk scrunchies because they cause significantly less breakage than your typical rubber bands. Plus, scrunchies are back IN, don’tchaknow? You can buy a humongous pack of rainbow hued beauties, but who can store all those? Plus, I’m not Punky Brewster. I think this pack of five black scrunchies fits the bill nicely, don’t you?
Refresh in the morning without fully washing your hair again. Most curly girls like a spray bottle with water and conditioner. I find this creates a stringy mess for me. Instead, I pour a dime to quarter sized amount of conditioner in my palm, rub hands together, and smooth over my curls. That’s it, with maybe a tiny bit of water (smoothed over with hands). Or pile it up in a messy bun with plenty of ringlets cascading down. You’ll feel like a Jane Austen heroine, and who doesn’t aspire to that? My best ringlets are always in the back anyway, and this style shows them off.
Try washing and styling upside down. I find this creates too many tangles and weird cowlicks for my liking, but the vast majority of curly girls prefer this method. Me, I do one side of my head at a time, and then I might diffuse or scrunch upside down.
Try a Denman brush, or other curl utensils. The Denman is all the rage right now, for creating spirals and ringlets. It works by separating your clumps smoothly, and for distributing your products evenly. I haven’t tried it yet because I am rather … well, cheap is the honest word. I went to Sally Beauty all set to buy one but the price tag had me sweating like a sinner in church. At Amazon though? Much better! One brush I recently picked up because it seemed very similar in shape and feel is the Conair Infinity Pro Root Booster Brush (whew, try saying that three times fast). I used this one yesterday while styling and it gave me nice, defined clumps.
Try “plopping.” This is another holy grail technique used by a lot of curly girls that I don’t do. Like styling upside down, I find it creates tangles and weird sections that go the wrong way. Essentially, what you do is hang upside down over a large cotton shirt or a microfiber towel, “plop” your curls down on the fabric, wrap your head like you’re gift-wrapping a box, and voila. The fabric soaks up the excess moisture while you put on your face or go make breakfast, what have you. Then let it out and style per usual.
Invest in a dryer with a diffuser. You can air dry of course, but if your hair is long, thick, or you feel like Indigo Monteya and hate waiting, a diffuser is must have. Dyson makes one that hardcore curlies swear up and down by and while I can’t attest to it, I freakin’ love my Dyson vacuum so much I’d consider running into my burning house to retrieve it before say, priceless photos or family memorabilia. Or family members. I kid, I kid! I’ve been using an old Conair dryer with a diffuser for so long, I literally don’t remember where I bought it or how old it is. I just know it’s the only hair dryer I’ve owned and I’ve had hair for 41 years, so it’s no spring chicken. This one looks like the updated version of my eh, vintage model.
Curly Girl Culture
Am I hard-core curly girl? No. First of all, I color my hair every month so that lets me out of the club right there.
Like I said, I occasionally straighten my hair, so that too, is a no-no for serious members of the curly girl cult.
Eh, I meant, club.
I say, take what you love and toss the rest! The point is learning to love your curls or waves, NOT being hyper-sensitive over ingredients and processes.
The Most Important Thing
Here’s the most important thing when caring for your hair, using the Curly Girl method or some other way:
No matter your curl pattern, porosity, thickness, ethnicity, etc, or whether your curls are ringlets or soft waves, don’t compare yourself to others and embrace what the good lord gave you!
Because messy hair don’t care.
Let me know how this works for you, and make sure you…