How to Master the Curly Girl Method – a comprehensive guide

If your hair is wavy, curly, or kinky, chances are you’ve struggled to keep it under control – to the point where you might have chosen flat irons, relaxing treatments, braids or protective hairstyles rather than deal with their natural hair texture. However, learning to take care of curly hair properly can be really rewarding – and look great, too! 

One of the reasons it’s hard to look after curly hair is because most haircare advice focuses on straight hair – washing, brushing, and so on. However, while these tips work for straight hair, they can be catastrophic for curls and many black hairstyles.

The ‘Curly Girl Method’

The ‘curly girl method’ understands that curly hair needs to be treated differently from straight hair and that products designed for straight hair could damage curls. Conventional shampoos are usually formulated with a substance called sodium lauryl sulfate, which creates the foam we see when washing and strips hair of dirt and grime. Unfortunately, SLS also strips hair of moisture – not a problem for straight hair types that are naturally oilier, but a huge problem for curly-haired types who struggle with brittleness and dryness. 

Because of this, the curly girl method uses a process called ‘no poo,’ created by curly hair expert Lorraine Massey. ‘No poo’ hair washing avoids using shampoos that contain SLS and other surfactants, and also shampoos that contain silicones. Silicones keep straight hair smooth and sleek, but for curly hair, they can prevent moisture from penetrating the hair shaft and cause dryness. They also can’t be absorbed by the hair and can create build-up on the scalp.

So how do you know if your shampoo contains these substances? There are a lot of them out there, and they tend to have complicated names, but as a general rule, silicones will end with ‘cone.’ To take care of your curls, you need to replace surfactants and silicones with truly moisturizing alternative ingredients, avoid brushing – as this can lead to breakage – and ‘scrunching’ rather than combing in hair products.

Which products work best for you will be determined by several factors, including your curl type and the porosity of your hair. You’ll figure out these things as time goes on – don’t worry if you don’t get perfect results right away.

What you need

The curly girl method is actually really straightforward; you need only two products to get started. The first is conditioner; the second is gel (or an alternative product such as curl cream, or curl pudding for very thick and dry hair).

First, you’ll get your hair nice and clean – you can use a gentle shampoo (make sure it’s SLS free) if you really feel you need to, or co-wash. In co-washing, you need to think of your conditioner like it is shampoo, rubbing it into your roots and giving your hair a good scrub. This is because co-washing relies on the scrubbing action rather than soap to get your hair clean. The conditioner helps protect your hair from damage and frizz by lubricating it against your fingers, and also helps to dissolve oils that have built up.

Once you’ve washed your hair, you need to condition it – even if you co-washed! You also need to make sure you rinse all your co-washing conditioner out properly, even if you’re using the same product to condition, to make sure you have all the dirt and oil rinsed away. Make sure your conditioner, like your shampoo, contains no silicones, and make sure it’s combed all the way through your hair using a wide-toothed comb. Rinse clean, and you’re ready for step three!

Now it’s time to style your hair. Do not comb or brush it – this can create frizz, and break up the curl pattern of your hair when you’re trying to give it a boost. If you need to get rid of excess water, don’t squeeze it out – scrunch your hair instead, as this helps your natural curls to keep their shape. Once you’re happy with the moisture level in your hair, you can apply your styling product – again, by scrunching it in.

Which styling product you choose is very much a personal choice, but creams, gels, or a combination of the two tend to work well. Again, you need to make sure there’s no silicone! You can also use a leave-in conditioner if your hair is very, very dry. If you’re just starting out, keep it simple – you’ll get to know what works best for you as time goes on.

Now it’s time for the final step – getting your hair dried and ready for the day. Whenever possible, you should let your hair air dry – drying with a hairdryer, even one with a diffuser attachment can cause frizz. If your hair is still very wet, you might want to ‘plop’ it. 

Plopping involves placing your hair carefully into a cotton T-shirt and folding the shirt around your head to hold the curls in place – twisting into a hair turban breaks up your curls and undoes a lot of the good work you just did! You can also, if you prefer, use a microfiber towel as these don’t create as much friction as ordinary ones. Whatever you choose, remember not to twist your hair – just let it drop onto the towel or t-shirt and fold it around your head carefully.

If you’re short on time, you can use a diffuser – but make sure to use a low heat setting, and again don’t comb or brush out your hair while you dry as this will break up your curls and cause frizz. You’ve come this far – don’t undo all your hard work right at the end! 

And that’s it – all the information you need to get started with the curly girl method and be on your way to beautiful, smooth, bouncy curls every single day. If this seems like a lot of steps, start small; you’ll get there eventually, and different products might work better for you than others. It’s all about tailoring your routine to your specific hair type and lifestyle, so take your time – it’ll be worth it.

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