This past spring, I decided to it was time to embrace my curly hair. Mostly I was just tired of people asking where my son, Finch, gets his curls. He’s still too young to realize it, but I never wanted him to feel bad about his curls when he eventually learned that I hide mine. My hair was also very damaged from years of using heat on it several times a week. I wanted to grow it out, but never seemed to make any progress. It was begging for a change!
Around this same time, my friend Jen told me about the curly girl method. At first I was very hesitant because not using shampoo didn’t make sense to me, and I was not interested in crunchy gelled hair (been there, done that, I rocked that look in high school and have the senior photos to prove it). I resisted for a couple weeks but kept hearing/learning more about it and decided to finally just give it a try. I have been doing it for four months now!
I’ve always known my hair was curly (see childhood photos above), but in college I discovered flat irons and wore it straight most of the time. Eventually I learned how to create the soft waves I wanted with a curling iron. Because my hair is naturally curly, it holds curl well and I was able to go a few days between washes, but the heat styling was definitely damaging my hair and it often looked flat and dry.
I always got compliments on my natural curls when I would wear it that way, but I usually couldn’t get good curly results two days in a row (whether I showered again or not), so it was actually easier to curl my hair with a curling iron because I could set that style and it would last for a few days. I realize now that my natural curls didn’t last past the first day because I was striping my hair of all its moisture with products that contained drying alcohols. Enter the curly girl method.
THE CURLY GIRL METHOD
So what is the curly girl method? The curly girl method is a way of washing and styling your hair to get the most out of your curls (and no, it’s not just for girls!). The most important thing is to make sure you’re only using curly girl approved products. Don’t be intimidated by this — there are definitely cheap options, which is what I have been using. You can look up any hair product to see if it is approved by plugging in the ingredients on this website. The main thing to remember is that curls need moisture, so any products that have silicones, sulfates, drying alcohols, parabens, etc. are off limits. Using heat (even hot water) and brushes are also a no-no.
I typically only use two products on my hair: conditioner and gel. I personally don’t use shampoo. I was confused by the science behind this at first, but all the curly girl approved ingredients are water soluble so they do not build up in your hair, and conditioner has enough cleansing properties to gently cleanse your hair while not stripping out the moisture your curls love. I use Suave Essentials Tropical Coconut conditioner, which is super cheap ($1.94 at Walmart). I had instant results after my first “wash”!
There are many ways to do the curly girl method, but here’s my current wash routine (which I still experiment with from time to time and might be different than what will work for you):
Wet your hair completely.
“Wash” your hair with conditioner. Take a palm full of conditioner and massage it into your scalp with your fingertips (preferably not fingernails) for as long as your arms/hands will allow. My goal is five minutes but I get tired after about one or two. I also end up detangling my hair at this point with my fingers (you may use a wide tooth comb if you are more prone to tangles). Rinse with warm water.
Condition your hair. Flip your head upside down and get your hair dripping wet. Take another palm full of conditioner (I use the same conditioner as step 2) and this time focus on the hair below your ears by scrunching and squishing the conditioner up into your soaking wet hair. I leave this in for a few minutes and finish the rest of my shower. When I’m ready to rinse it out, I flip my head upside down again and squish my hair while rinsing with cool water (to seal off your hair’s cuticle and eliminate frizz). The scrunching motion helps to get a lot of moisture in your hair and create curl clumps.
Use a leave-in conditioner. Once my hair is mostly or fully rinsed out, I take another tiny dot of the same conditioner and scrunch it into the driest ends of my hair. Do not rinse out this time.
Gel! While still in the shower, I take a dollop of gel and scrunch it into my hair while it’s still super wet.
Towel dry. After I get out of the shower, I flip my head upside down and wrap my hair on top of my head with a T-shirt or microfiber towel (which creates less frizz than a regular towel) for 5-10 minutes.
More gel! Then I take another dollop of hair gel in my hands, flip my head over and coat my hair all over from my roots down, then scrunch up toward my scalp. (Have you noticed there is a lot of scrunching going on?) Once you feel like you have touched every piece of hair, flip your hair back over. I then shake my head around to get my hair to part naturally.
Air dry. Do not touch your hair until it’s completely dry! This is my least favorite part of the entire process because I don’t like the look or feeling of wet hair. You can use a diffuser at this point, but I don’t often have time so I just air dry (my hair takes about three hours to dry completely).
Scrunch out the crunch (SOTC). Once your hair is dry, just like you scrunched the gel in, take a T-shirt in your hands and scrunch your hair to break up the gel cast. You can do this with your hands as well, just remember that your skin has oils on it that might affect your final look. I also like to occasionally flip my head upside down and slide my fingers into my hair near my roots and shake/fluff to create volume.
As I mentioned before, the curly girl method is done differently by each person and can be adapted to whatever works best for your curls. You can wait to gel your hair until it’s a little more dry, use a diffuser to dry it upside down, use clips to create volume during the air drying process, whatever works for you! Everyone’s curls are different and it took me a few weeks to play around with different methods to figure out what works best for me.
So what about day 2, day 3, day 4, etc.? I do my full wash routine every four to seven days. At night I put my hair up in a ponytail on the top of my head (curly girls call this a “pineapple”) and sleep on a satin (or silk) pillowcase.
On my non-wash days, I simply take my hair out of the ponytail, spray it with water and give it a good shake. The water reactivates the gel from the day (or two) prior. Once it’s dry, I scrunch out the gel crunch again. The longest I have gone between washes so far is seven days and I am truly amazed at how well it stays curly from day to day as I have never been able to get these results before!
An alternative refresh routine (if you shower daily and want to continue doing that), is to still follow the steps above but start with step 3 on non-wash days (you just skip the “shampoo” step)!
If you have tried the curly girl method and are frustrated, I hear you! It took me three weeks to feel like I was getting good results. I felt like I was in an awkward middle school stage again where I didn’t know how to do my hair. Depending on how damaged your hair is, it can take several months for your natural curl pattern to come back. The curly girl method can actually be more work at first because you are figuring out what works and what doesn’t. But thankfully now it’s actually much easier than my pre-curly girl days. I probably spend a little more time in the shower now (I can hear my husband nodding/laughing/rolling his eyes as he reads this), but I spend much less time on my hair overall. It has helped me a lot to have a couple “curlfriends” at work to tell me how good my hair looked and share which methods or products were working for them.
I will admit that while it took me a few weeks to understand and get used all the steps (it can definitely be overwhelming at first), it has taken me even longer to feel like curly hair is “me.” I think for so long this was only my hairstyle of choice if I didn’t really care how my hair looked or if I didn’t have time to do anything different. It is not how I feel/felt my most beautiful, and I am still getting over that mindset! I also am insecure about how short my hair is right now and am eager to grow it out. I do think curly hair is beautiful…I notice other people’s hair a lot more now and am really drawn to the beauty of curls. Unfortunately it has taken longer for me to see that beauty in the mirror, but I’m coming around! I have actually packed away my straightener and curling iron as I don’t see myself going back to them anytime soon. I have considered it, but I just don’t think I can put heat on my locks again, knowing all the damage it can cause!
Do you have curly hair? Have you tried the curly girl method? Do you have tips or tricks to share with me?!