Some of you may be aware that at the end of the summer last year I decided to embark on a journey with my hair. As someone who fell victim to the early 2000’s fetish for ironing (literally) 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.
The curly girl method is something I knew absolutely zero 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. No, really, it can get a bit intense, all this hair stuff.
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 anyway?
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 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 which you can order if you’d like to, but there’s a ton of information online about it, so you don’t have to. I’m going to try and break down some of the basics in this post anyway.
Key concepts to 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, bin all your knowledge, it won’t help you anymore.
First thing’s first
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 rank. I was about ready to dunk my head in the sink at one point because my hair just felt that disgusting but I pushed through it. The toughest part for me was learning not to use a hairbrush anymore.
Really, seriously, you will be wanting 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.
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 their 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, if it ends with -cone, it’s a silicone.
Sulphates are basically detergents. They’re the chemicals that make bubbles in your washing up liquid, soap, laundry gel…you get the idea. 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.
That’s a lot of information
Just the tip of the iceberg, my friends. 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 crap I just talked about), then you can use this handy tool called Curlsbot. It basically lets you copy and paste an ingredients list from the back of a product bottle and tells you if it’s legit or shit. 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.
WTF is co-washing?
Co-washing, basically, 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 shitload 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. Still with me? Ok good. 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 wig 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 girls. So, you’ll need to experiment.
Products you can start with here in the UK
It really drove me nuts 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 ones I’ve been able to find here in the UK. Bear in mind what I said about testing out what works for you.
- 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, but 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 like £1.99 and it’s such a good starter product, especially if your hair likes coconut!
- Superdrug Extracts Conditioner Range – Not only is this stuff curly girl friendly, but it’s also really affordable and smells amazing too. You can choose from different varieties, but this raspberry one is my favourite.
Picking out the right products is only the beginning
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, believe me. But it’s doable, honestly. If you’re not sure, you can watch my Instagram story where I’ve been documenting my progress with the curly hair journey so far. In fairness, there are way better curly hair bloggers you could look to for inspiration. But, if you’re after the warts and all version of how to approach the curly girl method, UK style, then you can check out my efforts so far on there.
If you’d like to find out about the next steps then stick around for another thrilling 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.
Found this helpful?
Please share this post if you’ve found it at all useful, and feel free to drop any questions or comments you’ve got about the curly girl method in the comments. I’m definitely no expert, but I’ll do my best to help!
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