I've been doing the Curly Girl Method for nearly a year—this is what I've learned in the process
I started the Curly Girl Method out of strictly journalistic pursuits. Before, my hair routine was pretty much nonexistent. I had accepted that the status of my hair was going to be a big shoulder shrug every day because I didn’t know what to do with it, how to care for it, or how to style it. I wasn’t expecting that to change with the Curly Girl Method, but I thought that going from no routine to a strict routine with a cult following would at least make for a good story. And it did—it was just a much longer story, with a lot more lessons, than I expected.
So, I’m going to walk through some of those lessons. But first: some background. The Curly Girl Method (CG Method for short) comes from a book called Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey. At the center of the method is a vow to ditch the shampoo and wash only with conditioner, otherwise called “co-washing.” To be honest, I don’t know everything that’s inside the book (I didn’t read it) but I do know what I learned from one of the CG-devoted Facebook groups I joined and, trust me, there’s an endless supply of information out there.
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Because I’ve never known what to do with my hair, I had always wanted someone to just tell me, and that’s more or less the purpose that the Facebook groups served. I have wavy hair, which I now know fits into the curl type 2B/2C and could qualify me as one of the “wavies,” but before I would have categorized it as simply problematic hair. The problems? Dryness, volume without shape, and so much frizz—all things the Curly Girl Method is designed to address. I would scroll on the Facebook page for hours, looking for posts from people who had hair similar to mine, then take note of the products and process they used, as well as all of the tips and advice from other Curly Girls in the comments.
Here are all the lessons I’ve learned (so far).
1Patience is a virtue.
I mean this first in reference to the learning process. There’s so much out there regarding the Curly Girl Method and everyone has their own opinion. In addition to the rules (all the dos and don’ts and blacklisted ingredients), the method has its own language, with terminology like “plopping,” “squish to condish,” “scrunch out the crunch,” and so much more. At first, it felt a bit like I was joining a sorority that everyone else had been in for years. I learned to consume the information in small bites, and take in only as much as I could digest.
The second part of being patient is with hair itself. I quickly learned that transition hair is very real. When I pitched my first article about trying out the CG method, I only gave myself a month to experiment and give a review, and that just barely got me out of the transition period. The transition period is essentially the time that your hair takes to adjust to the new, shampoo-free routine. From heat styling to bleaching to general negligence, my hair has been through years of damage, and the Curly Girl Method is like a form of rehabilitation. Since my hair was used to standard shampoos (with sulfates and drying alcohols) to get clean, it had to get used to relying solely on conditioner (sans all those non-CG-approved ingredients) for a wash. And trust me: It wasn’t cute.
I wore my hair back in a bun almost every day for the first month because it felt so greasy, clumpy and, again, so not cute. But the time passed, and once I got out of the transition period, I started noticing curl shapes that I had never seen before—or at least hadn’t seen since before the bleaching. That’s because my hair was starting to become buildup free and actually clean for maybe the first time ever.
2It’s product buildup, not just grease.
The benefits of having a more dry, frizzy texture is that I’ve never struggled much with the appearance of greasy hair—but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have it. I would equate cleaning the back middle of my head with shaving my knees. No matter how hard I tried in the shower, it’s a section I could just never quite get right. Even though I felt like my hair was clean overall, the back middle section of my head always felt greasy. It wasn’t until I was over a month into the Curly Girl Method that I understood why.
Many common shampoo ingredients, like different types of silicones and waxes, can leave a coating on your hair and cause buildup since they’re non-water-soluble (meaning they won’t wash out with just water). So it’s not that my hair wasn’t getting clean, but that the products I was using to “clean” my hair were leaving stuff behind.
Since I’ve been using Curly Girl Method-approved conditioner (I use the As I Am Coconut Co-Wash) to wash my hair, I can honestly say that my hair has never felt this clean. I can now run my fingers through what was previously the no-man’s-land section of my hair and they come out grease-free. And because my hair no longer has all this buildup weighing it down, my curls are much bouncier and more able to take shape.
Speaking of shape…
3Hair gel is back.
If low-rise jeans can make a comeback, then so can hair gel. I was skeptical about this part of the method at first (cue flashbacks of my ill-advised middle school hairstyles) but I came around to it. The whole idea of incorporating hair gel into a curly hair routine is to give curls a little nudge and help them take shape. I’ve found this step to be especially helpful for my hair because it turns my loose waves into legitimate curls and—sometimes, to my surprise— actual ringlets.
The most important part of applying a hair gel (I use the Aussie Instant Freeze 20-Hour Hold Hair Gel) is to apply it while your hair is still soaking wet. That way, the gel locks in the moisture before the hair has time to frizz up. The hardest part, however, is waiting patiently while it dries naturally. This waiting period allows a gel cast (as the Curly Girls like to call it) to form. That’s the hard, crunchy coating that gel creates when it dries—the thing that gives hair gel such a bad rap. The next step—more Curly Girl Method terminology here—is to “scrunch out the crunch,” and, well, that’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
When I do the steps right (applying hair gel right after I step out of the shower, then waiting until my hair dries completely to scrunch it out), I can usually get soft, bouncy waves that help me genuinely love my hair again. I definitely don’t get it right every time, and I still want to experiment with more products and techniques—but that brings me to my last, important lesson.
4It’s an ongoing process.
The Curly Girl Method is not a quick fix for all your hair troubles. One of the first things I noticed in the CG Facebook group I joined was the trend of posts from people who had been trying out the method for about a month and were ready to give up. These posts (and the many forms of “Honey, no” comments on them) helped me understand that this was going to be an ongoing learning experience that wasn’t going to give me the exact results I wanted right away. In the ideal, movie-style version of my life, I would get out of the shower, flip my hair over, look in the mirror, and have annoyingly perfect, effortless curls. But I’ve accepted this long-term process as a form of self care and I’m now fully invested.
I still have a lot to learn, like how to test my hair’s porosity or know if it needs more protein, but knowing what I now know about how my hair works and responds to things has helped me accept and appreciate it more.