Some of you may be aware that at the end of last summer, I decided to embark on a journey with my hair. As someone who fell victim to the early 2000s fetish for ironing any sign of life out of their hair, I killed off a lot of my natural curls. But I am, and always have been, a curly-haired creature at heart. So after years of abusing my natural hairstyle, I decided it was time to go back to my roots. Enter something called the curly girl method.
Getting started with the curly girl method
The curly girl method is something I knew absolutely nothing about up until about six months ago but has achieved an almost cult-like following on Instagram. It’s not hard to see why. Some of the results produced on my fellow frizzy heads with their previously distressed waves are unbelievable. Have a look at some of the #curlygirlmethod hashtags for yourself if you’re not convinced.
Anyway, I was hooked by the idea and decided to start researching this magical-sounding routine at once. Which would have been great, except almost all of the information I could find on the curly girl method leaned distinctly towards our American friends. The nuts and bolts of the methods I’ll explain below, but it was frustrating not being able to find as many UK-based resources as I would have liked.
That’s why I’m going to attempt to set out a bit of a guide on how to do the curly girl method UK style, for us out here desperately raking through our supermarkets for suitable products.
If you’re based in the UK and you’re interested to find out how to get started with the curly girl method then keep reading. You might also want to check out this post with some quick tips, or this one I wrote on winter hair care tips for curly girls at some point too, but for now, let’s go back to basics.
What is the curly girl method?
In a nutshell, the curly girl method is a hair care routine designed especially for those of us with wavy or curly hair. It’s not girl-specific, despite the name – anyone with curly hair can get the best out of their locks with this methodology.
It’s most definitely a method, rather than a quick product swap-around, and takes you into pretty much relationship-level territory with your hair. You’ll learn things about your wig that you never even gave a thought to before, but that’s half the fun.
The method was developed by a woman called Lorraine Massey, who wrote this book about the whole thing. However there’s a ton of information online about it, and I’m going to try and break down some of the basics in this post anyway.
Key concepts of the curly girl method are as follows:
- You’re restoring years worth of hair damage – that takes time
- This is a slow process with lots of trial and error
- You need to avoid the temptation to brush or straighten your hair at all
- Your hair-drying routine is about to get a huge shake-up
- Be kind and gentle with your hair at all times
In order to get started with the curly girl method, you need to forget everything you think you know about washing your hair. Seriously, forget all your knowledge, it won’t help you anymore.
Preparing yourself for the curly girl method
You’re going to find the first week or two hard. Like, really weird, uncomfortable feeling, hard. There’s going to be a transitional period where you have to literally stop using shampoo and hairbrushes (stick with me, it does get good). This will feel horrible. I was about ready to dunk my head in the sink at one point because my hair just felt so disgusting but I pushed through it. The toughest part for me was learning not to use a hairbrush anymore.
Honestly, you will want to shave your head after the first week but trust me when I say stick with it because it’s about to get so good.
Right, if think you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, it’s time to take step one: product knowledge.
Curly girl method ingredients to avoid
Curly hair is killed off by two key ingredients: silicones and sulphates.
Silicone is a polymer that is often added to shampoo and/or conditioner to make hair feel silky, glossy and sleek. While this sounds great, silicones help the other ingredients in your hair-washing products to spread across your hair. This then creates a hard waterproof layer on your hair strands. Over time, these silicones build up on your hair, preventing its natural ability to absorb moisture. What’s worse, they then attract dirt and styling product build-up that’s really hard to get rid of. Cue lank, weighed-down hair that you feel that you have to constantly wash. Sound familiar?
The other key thing about silicones is that actually, they’re kind of like acrylic nails…but for your hair. They make it look bright and shiny, but really, they’re hiding some pretty dry damage underneath. For curly hair, in particular, the weighing-down effect that silicones can have on hair is disastrous. The hair becomes unable to spring back into its natural pattern under such build-up, and what’s worse, it can’t absorb much-needed moisture due to the silicone’s insolubility.
So basically, silicones are a no-no for curly girls. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a total science brain to spot silicones in your hair products. Basically, check the ingredients list and if it ends with -cone, it’s a silicone.
Sulphates are essentially just detergents. They’re the chemicals that make bubbles in your washing-up liquid, soap, laundry gel, etc. They break down grease, strip oil and dirt away and make a lather. You’ll find them in pretty much all standard shampoos. It sounds like having that kind of deep clean would be a great thing for your hair, but in reality, these sulphates cause a lot more damage than you’d think.
All that stripping away of oils isn’t restricted to everyday dirt. Sulphates don’t discriminate, they will strip away anything and everything, including the natural oils your hair produces in order to stay healthy. This breaks down your hair’s internal structure, leading to snapping and hair breakage…which could explain all those clumps that seem to fall out in the shower.
Over time, sulphates can cause really dry hair, as well as an itchy and irritable scalp. Additionally, some of these sulfates will leave a residue on coming into contact with water which basically turns into a kind of human-grade limescale on your scalp over time.
So yeah, sulphates are another massive no-no in the curly girl method. Sometimes, these can be harder to spot, but one of the main culprits is called sodium lauryl sulfate, or (SLS). It’s usually listed second in the ingredients list after Aqua (water) because it’s the second most abundant ingredient in the shampoo.
Other things to remember about the curly girl method
That’s a lot of information, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. However, if you take nothing else away from this post, that’s enough of a starting point. Now, as I mentioned, there’s not a great deal of information out there about which curly girl method products are best to use here in the UK, so I’m going to share some of the ones I’ve used so far.
If you’re unsure about whether or not the products you’re using are curly girl approved (free of all the stuff I just talked about), then you can use this handy tool called Curlsbot. It lets you copy and paste an ingredients list from the back of a product bottle and tells you if it’s CG-friendly or not. Which is quite useful if you’re ordering online.
You’ll be pleased to know that some of these products really don’t need to break the bank. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how some of the lower-priced shampoos and conditioners in supermarkets were curly girl-friendly. But you’re going to need to forget about shampoo because, in all honesty, you won’t be using it very much from now on. You see, the curly girl method is all about the conditioner. Or ‘co-washing’, as you’ll find out.
How co-washing helps with the curly girl method
Co-washing, simply put, is washing your hair with conditioner. That’s right, you’re going to use a conditioner like you’d use a shampoo. Then you’ll probably add another type of conditioner after that. Essentially, my curly-haired friends, you’re going to need a load of conditioner and not much else. Oh, and some gel, but more on that later.
The idea is that you use a gentle, cleansing conditioner to clean your hair, then use another conditioner to well, condition it. It does feel weird, to begin with, but you’ll start to see results fairly quickly if you stick with it. It’s all about giving your hair back the moisture it’s been deprived of for years. That kind of thing takes time – the sulphates and silicones have pretty much driven your hair into a drought for the last twenty-odd years. So, it’s a thirsty nightmare.
It’s also worth noting that a product that works brilliantly for one person may not be as brilliant for another, so you really do need to trial and error this part out to see what works. Some curly hair types can’t tolerate coconut, for example, despite it being one of the most naturally replenishing ingredients for other curly hair types. So, you’ll need to experiment.
Curly girl method products you can start with here in the UK
It really drove me up the wall trying to find some of these conditioners and cleansers in our shops. Not to mention how it upped my time in the supermarket, relentlessly checking the ingredients on the backs of bottles. So, to save you from the same fate, here’s a list of a few of the curly girl method products I’ve tried myself. Most importantly, they’re the ones I’ve been able to find here in the UK. Bear in mind what I said about testing out what works for you. Some of these links are affiliate links, but these are products I’d recommend.
- As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner – this is a total staple of mine and it smells amazing. It’s a good starter product and I’m fairly sure they’ve started stocking it in Superdrug now, although I got mine from Amazon.
- As I Am Leave-In Conditioner – I honestly LOVE this stuff, it smells unreal. Again, I ordered mine from Amazon but I think you can get it in larger Superdrug and Boots stores.
- Noughty Wave Hello Shampoo – This is my latest favourite and my go-to for shampoo days. It’s one of those rare things that’s a curly girl-friendly shampoo that actually feels like you’re using a shampoo, if that makes sense. Smells lovely and your hair feels light as a feather after you use it. Not everyone will need one of these, but my hair is quite fine so I find that using a curly girl-friendly shampoo in between co-washes works well for me.
- Noughty 1 Hit Wonder Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner – Another favourite, although I wish it wasn’t in a pump bottle, that’s a minor detail on this awesome co-wash.
- Noughty To The Rescue Intense Moisture Treatment – Does what it says on the tin. If you’re looking for a deep conditioner for curly hair, then this is a fab option.
- Tesco Essentials Hair Gel – Don’t laugh. Get some of this, seriously. I’ll go over why in another post, but trust me, you need this gel. Plus, it’s only about 50p.
- Inecto Naturals Coconut Conditioner – You can pick this range up in B&M or in Home Bargains for about £1.99 and it’s such a good starter product, especially if your hair likes coconut!
Picking out the right products is only the beginning of the curly girl method
There’s a lot more to the curly girl method than just choosing the right products. Styling and preserving your curls once you’ve cleansed your hair is the next step in the routine, and to be honest, that deserves a post of its own, because it’s really quite something.
Getting started with the curly girl method is daunting. But it’s doable, honestly. If you’d like to find out about the next steps then stick around for another guide to how to do the curly girl method – the styling edition. Which I’ll probably write next week, or in a few weeks, or whatever – you know what I’m like. IN the meantime there’s a set of frequently asked questions here to give you some quick answers to any queries.
The curly girl method is a way of washing and styling curly hair without the use of conventional chemicals found in hair products. It’s a gentler way to care for curly and wavy hair and has some fantastic results!
No. Your hair will go through a transition phase and it will feel a bit gross, to begin with, but once you’ve pushed through the initial shampoo detox, you’ll notice massive improvements to your curls and waves!
Not necessarily no! You’ll be pleased to know that most of the products used in the curly girl method are fairly inexpensive and often available in supermarkets. There are more specialist products of course, but they’re not essential. The curly girl method can actually be quite a money saver once you’ve worked out what you need.
Are you starting a curly journey?
Please share this post if you’ve found it at all useful, and feel free to drop any questions you’ve got about the curly girl method in the comments and I’ll do my best to help.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.