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Everything you need to know about the Curly Girl Method

Everything you need to know about the Curly Girl Method
View Gigi Gordon's profile

There's a lot to know about the Curly Girl Method. This is more than just a hair routine, it’s a lifestyle that many curly girls follow religiously. It can help you fall in love with your natural hair, achieve more growth, and most importantly, get bigger and bouncier curls.

We’re going to give you the lowdown and answer on some of your key questions:

  • How do you do the Curly Girl Method?
  • Why do people use the Curly Girl Method?
  • Can you use shampoo with the Curly Girl Method?
  • Does the Curly Girl Method work for everyone?

Since the natural revolution, the curly community has grown more and more, unlocking new techniques and methods to care for natural hair. After years of hating, hiding and fighting our hair, we decided to embrace our natural textures and go on a curly hair journey.

The Curly Girl Method (CGM, for short) completely changed my relationship with my hair. After years of chemical straightening, relaxers, weaves and tight buns, I finally decided to go natural. Thanks to this method, I started to see my hair as something to be appreciated rather than tamed.

If you’re trying to learn to love your natural hair, I couldn’t recommend this method enough. Whatever your ethnicity, this method will do wonders for all wavy, curly and coily haired people. Even if you think your hair is frizzy rather than curly, you'll be surprised. As Lorraine Massey once said, ‘frizz is just a curl waiting to happen’.

Here, you can learn everything you need to know about the CGM, including how it works, the dos and don't, and which ingredients you should avoid.

Before you start your new journey, make sure you know what hair type and porosity you have. This way, you can choose products that will work best for you. Thank me later.

How do you do the Curly Girl Method?

The curly girl method comes down to four simple steps. Plus, a slightly longer-list of no-gos. The original Curly Girl Method was laid out by Lorraine Massey, co-founder of DevaCurl, in her book, ‘Curly Girl: The Handbook’. Although the method has since been modified in many ways, this book was the starting point. The guide provides advice on curly hair types, homemade hair care recipes and even nutrition - but it’s mostly known for its advice on ingredients.

The original CGM has a strict ‘no entry’ policy on…

  • Sulphates
  • Silicones
  • Alcohols
  • Mineral Oils

According to this method, you should also stay away from…

  • Heat tools (e.g. straighteners and blow dryers), with the exception of a low heat diffuser
  • Brushes (hair should only be combed with fingers or a wide-tooth comb when wet)
  • Towels

Step 1: Cleanse with a sulphate-free shampoo

Sulphates strip hair of its natural moisture and should mostly be avoided. Commonly used in detergents, sulphates are just too harsh for our delicate curls. Squeaky clean is not a good thing, it means the shampoo has stripped every inch of moisture from your hair.

The only time you should use sulphates is when you’ve slipped up and accidentally applied silicone or mineral oil to your hair. These ingredients are very difficult to properly remove, and only sulphates can do the job. Otherwise, avoid them at all costs.

As many shampoos contain sulphates, check the label to make sure they’re sulphate-free. If you want to learn more about how to live a sulphate-free life, check out our top ten list.

Here are our favourite sulphate-free shampoos:

  • Bouclème Hydrating Hair Cleanser 300ml

    Bouclème Hydrating Hair Cleanser 300ml

    3.6 Stars 5 Reviews
    £8.00
  • Bouclème Curl Cleanser 300ml

    Bouclème Curl Cleanser 300ml

    3.9 Stars 10 Reviews
    £8.00
  • Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo 400ml

    Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo 400ml

    4.6 Stars 20 Reviews
    £6.99
  • Moroccanoil Curl Enhancing Shampoo 250ml

    Moroccanoil Curl Enhancing Shampoo 250ml

    5 Stars 1 Reviews
    £19.25
  • Redken Curvaceous High Foam Shampoo 300ml

    Redken Curvaceous High Foam Shampoo 300ml

    3.67 Stars 27 Reviews
    £15.30
  • Aveda Be Curly Shampoo (250ml)

    Aveda Be Curly Shampoo (250ml)

    4.29 Stars 34 Reviews
    from
    £21.50
  • Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Shampoo 384ml

    Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Shampoo 384ml

    4.23 Stars 13 Reviews
    £12.99
  • Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo 236ml

    Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo 236ml

    4 Stars 6 Reviews
    from
    £10.00
  • Bumble and bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Shampoo 250ml

    Bumble and bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Shampoo 250ml

    4.45 Stars 11 Reviews
    £25.50
  • Wella Professionals Nutricurls Shampoo for Waves 250ml

    Wella Professionals Nutricurls Shampoo for Waves 250ml

    4.5 Stars 2 Reviews
    from
    £15.30

When you apply shampoo, use your fingers (not your nails!) to massage the product in for at least 60 seconds. This helps to uplift build-up and properly cleanse your scalp.

How often can I shampoo?

According to the CGM, you should try to limit how often you shampoo your hair. If you have wavy hair, try and stretch it to once or twice a week. Curly haired folk should aim to shampoo every 7-10 days, while coily haired people should cleanse as little as possible, co-washing instead.

However, you should always listen to your hair – if your scalp is itchy, give it a wash.

What is a co-wash?

Short for 'conditioner washing', co-washing is when you ditch the shampoo and only use conditioner. Simply wet your hair to rinse out any leftover product, then go straight in with your favourite conditioner and detangle. It's great if you need to refresh your curls between wash days, without using shampoo.

Step 2: Condition

Step 2A: Choosing the right conditioner

First, you need to pick a conditioner that is Curly Girl Approved. Most conditioners and styling products contain silicones and mineral oils - two ingredients which are banned by the CGM.

Silicones and Mineral Oil coat the strands, suffocating the hair and creating build-up. They can only be removed by strong sulphates (the first big no), which can cause damage.

Alcohols are also on the blacklist because they dry out hair, leaving your locks dull and brittle. Textured hair naturally needs more moisture than other hair types, so we've got to hold onto it for dear life.

Reading the ingredients list is the quickest way to check if a product is Curly Girl Approved. If you’re still unsure, simply copy & paste the full ingredients list into http://www.isitcg.com/. The website will tell you in an instant if any of the usual suspects are present. This is great research for new products, but it's also worth doing a background check on your Old Faithfuls.

Our favourite Curly Girl approved conditioners:  

  • Imbue Curl Respecting Conditioner 400ml

    Imbue Curl Respecting Conditioner 400ml

    4 Stars 8 Reviews
    £8.99
  • Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner 379ml

    Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner 379ml

    4.2 Stars 15 Reviews
    £10.99
  • Shea Moisture African Black Soap Bamboo Charcoal Conditioner 384ml - Exclusive

    Shea Moisture African Black Soap Bamboo Charcoal Conditioner 384ml - Exclusive

    £10.99
  • Bouclème Curl Conditioner 300ml

    Bouclème Curl Conditioner 300ml

    3.65 Stars 17 Reviews
    £9.00
  • Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Hydrating Cream Conditioner 400ml

    Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Hydrating Cream Conditioner 400ml

    4.5 Stars 12 Reviews
    £6.99
  • As I Am Jamaican Black Castor Oil CoWash

    As I Am Jamaican Black Castor Oil CoWash

    3 Stars 2 Reviews
    £9.99
  • As I Am Hydration Elation Intensive Conditioner 227g

    As I Am Hydration Elation Intensive Conditioner 227g

    3.8 Stars 10 Reviews
    £12.30
  • Bouclème Unisex Conditioner 300ml

    Bouclème Unisex Conditioner 300ml

    £19.00

Step 2B: Applying conditioner

Once you've fully washed out your shampoo, apply conditioner. If you have type 2 hair, opt for something lightweight. If you're type 3 or 4, go for a thick and creamy leave-in conditioner.

Once the hair is saturated with product, start detangling with your fingers or a wide-tooth comb. No brushes are allowed within the CGM. This may sound crazy at first, but trust me, it's better for your hair. Finger detangling is a much more delicate way to separate tangles, rather than dragging a brush through your curls. A wide-tooth comb is also acceptable - as long as it's used carefully.

For those with hair types 3 and 4, split the hair into four sections for detangling. It makes things much easier and ensures every strand is properly conditioned.

After detangling, type 2 should rinse out most, but not all, of the conditioner. This keeps your hair moisturised for step 3, without leaving it greasy. Types 3 and 4 are using leave-in, so don't bother rinsing.

Step 3: Style

Any styling products you use must also be free from silicones, alcohols and mineral oil. Again, keep an eye on the ingredients list.

For the CGM, gel is going to be your new best friend. But don't worry, I don't mean the old school stuff that leaves your hair rock hard and covered in white flakes, I mean gel that holds your curls in place while nourishing the follicle.

Comb the product through your sopping wet hair with your fingers. This may sound strange, but you should only detangle curly hair while it’s wet and saturated with product. You’re asking for trouble if you try to detangle curly hair when it’s dry. Not only will this be almost impossible, it'll be painful and damaging for the hair.

If you're from the wavy crew, scrunch the gel into your hair to encourage curl formation. If you're curly or coily, section your hair to make sure every strand is saturated with product. Curly and coily girls can also add a curl butter or cream to their styling mix. This will help your styles last longer and keep your spirals moisturised.

Our favourite CG approved styling products, free from any nasties:

  • Shea Moisture Raw Shea & Cupuacu Frizz Defense Gel Cream 249ml

    Shea Moisture Raw Shea & Cupuacu Frizz Defense Gel Cream 249ml

    3.38 Stars 8 Reviews
    £10.99
  • Bouclème Curl Defining Gel 300ml

    Bouclème Curl Defining Gel 300ml

    4.51 Stars 41 Reviews
    £8.00
  • Bouclème Curl Cream 300ml

    Bouclème Curl Cream 300ml

    4.09 Stars 23 Reviews
    £7.60
  • Camille Rose Naturals Curlaide Moisture Butter 240ml

    Camille Rose Naturals Curlaide Moisture Butter 240ml

    4.54 Stars 13 Reviews
    £12.50
  • Camille Rose Naturals Curl Maker Curling Jelly 355ml

    Camille Rose Naturals Curl Maker Curling Jelly 355ml

    4.83 Stars 6 Reviews
    £16.99
  • Flora & Curl Sweet Hibiscus Curl Defining Gel 300ml

    Flora & Curl Sweet Hibiscus Curl Defining Gel 300ml

    5 Stars 3 Reviews
    £16.00
  • Imbue Curl Empowering Crème Gel 200ml

    Imbue Curl Empowering Crème Gel 200ml

    £6.99
  • Imbue Curl Inspiring Conditioning Leave-In Spray 200ml

    Imbue Curl Inspiring Conditioning Leave-In Spray 200ml

    4 Stars 3 Reviews
    £7.99

Step 4: Dry

Another thing you may have been doing wrong is using a towel. Hair is most prone to breakage when wet and towels are made from rough fibres – a recipe for disaster. Rubbing makes this even worse and can literally snap your strands.

Instead, opt for a microfibre towel, as they are made from a much softer material. Alternatively, use an old T-shirt. I know that sounds funny, but T-shirts are made from soft cotton material that can absorb moisture without damaging the hair.

  • The Vintage Cosmetic Company Hair Turban Leopard Print

    The Vintage Cosmetic Company Hair Turban Leopard Print

    2 Stars 1 Reviews
    £8.99
  • GLOV Hair Wrap

    GLOV Hair Wrap

    4.44 Stars 9 Reviews
    £16.90
  • brushworks Hair Wrap

    brushworks Hair Wrap

    3.6 Stars 5 Reviews
    £9.99
  • WetBrush Detangle and Dry Kit: Detangler, Comb and Hair Turban

    WetBrush Detangle and Dry Kit: Detangler, Comb and Hair Turban

    £23.99

Am I allowed to use heat?

As you could have expected, heat tools are also off the table. They create the unholy trinity of frizz, damage and breakage. It may look nice for one evening, but it really isn’t worth it if you have fragile hair. If you really can't resist, make sure you use a high-quality, Curly Girl friendly heat protectant.

  • ghd Bodyguard Heat Protect Spray 120ml

    ghd Bodyguard Heat Protect Spray 120ml

    4.66 Stars 378 Reviews
    £18.00
  • Bumble and bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Heat/UV Protective Primer 60ml

    Bumble and bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Heat/UV Protective Primer 60ml

    4.38 Stars 21 Reviews
    from
    £12.00

What about diffusers?

If it's a cold day or you can't be bothered to wait for your hair to air dry, diffusers are allowed - just make sure it's on low heat. Specially designed for curly hair, diffusers spread the heat over larger areas to minimise direct contact. They're great for creating volume or mixing up your look.

  • BaByliss Platinum Diamond 2300W Diffuser Dryer

    BaByliss Platinum Diamond 2300W Diffuser Dryer

    5 Stars 7 Reviews
    £55.00

Does the Curly Girl Method work for everyone?

Sadly, no. Your hair needs to have some kind of texture to form waves or curls. Those with hair types 2, 3 and 4 will see the benefits of this method. If you’re type 1, this method isn’t for you.

Even if you do have curly hair, this method won't work in the same way for everyone. Your hair type is very individual, some people have stronger hair that can benefit from sulphates, while some may find a brush works best. Try sticking to the CGM for at least 4 weeks before you change it up. Modify one thing at a time (e.g. add in a sulphate shampoo), to see which changes really work for you.

If you want to learn even more about your hair, check out our Curly & Wavy or Afro & Textured sections. There, you'll find a list of the best products for your specific hair type.

View Gigi Gordon's profile
As a haircare obsessive, I’m always on the lookout for new products and methods that will define my crown. I can never stick with a hairstyle for too long, and I love to pair minimal makeup with a bold lip. I specialise in haircare, with a mission to make all hair types and textures look and feel fantastic. If you’re after a new routine or product – I’m your girl, I’ve tried every haircare challenge and all the curl creams I can get my hands on. I couldn’t live without my wash-and-go routine, and I follow the Curly Girl Method religiously. Unable to find my perfect salon, I’ve always cut, braided and dyed my own hair, working as a freelance hairdresser since 2016. Although I’m a long-time fanatic, I’ve been writing about beauty since 2019, working with haircare specialists from Cantu, Boucleme and Mielle Organics to uncover the best tricks and tips. Felicia Leatherwood is my haircare guru, and Scary Spice is my all-time icon.
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