This story starts at my birth way back in 1982, so get ready…
Ok, not really – mostly kidding, but sort of serious.
For women with curly hair, complicated feelings about our hair often go back decades. But for time’s sake we’ll just skip ahead to age 14.
A Very Curly Adolescence
Prior to that, I believed my hair was slightly wavy, but mostly just puffy and frizzy as hell. I used a blow dryer and a brush to try to get it smooth & curled under on the bottom. It looked pretty when I had time, but it was a lot of work for a pre-teen.
One random trip with my Aunt Mary changed all that. She is a gorgeous lady who has always rocked her beautiful golden curls. So when I ended up on a weekend trip with her at age 14, she easily spotted the signs of a fellow curly girl. Thankfully she stepped in and taught me the wonders of gel & a diffuser in a hotel room in Ann Arbor and from then on, I was a curly girl most of the time.
I would occasionally blow it out but I was pretty psyched to have an easy way to air dry my masses of wild hair in a way that looked kind of cool. For many years after that, my routine didn’t really change – I used shampoo and conditioner almost every day, followed up by John Frieda Frizz Ease Serum & Dream Curls spray. Scrunch & go!
In college, I sort of just let it be a hot, poofy mess because I was a hippie and it would have been supremely uncool to care too much about my hair. But after college, I moved to Italy and had to get my act together. So I cut my hair shorter and went for a more controlled chaos look.
The Dark Days of Keratin
When I hit 30, I craved a change and wanted to be able to toss my smooth, shiny locks, brush my hair and have a sleeker look. So, I started down the path of keratin treatments. I got one to two treatments per year for maybe 5 years and also would dry my hair with a blowdryer or dryer brush almost every day. Not gonna lie – I sort of loved the way it looked but it was expensive, time-consuming and super damaging to my hair.
A Path Back to Curly
I shouldn’t have been surprised when my hair started feeling like it was thinning, but I was. I had a mini panic attack before realizing it probably had something to do with the damage I’d been doing to my hair every day for years. At the same time, I’d come across multiple social media posts of women with stunningly gorgeous curly hair and when asked their secret, the response was always the same: Curly Girl Method.
So, a couple of months ago I decided I was finally ready to take the natural hair plunge. I spent about a week researching before getting started and though I’m still very much in the transition phase, my hair has gotten SO much better and I’m beginning to get glimpses of how gorgeous it will be once the damage is gone.
And I’m actually loving the process – it’s been fun to experiment with different products and techniques and to genuinely appreciate how pretty my spirally ringlets are when I know so many women would kill for them. I won’t say it’s easy getting started with this method – it goes against everything most of us are taught about hair care and it takes a ton of trial & error, so it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
Enough story-telling – let’s get into what this method is all about…
Curly Girl Rules
1. No Sulfates – Sulfates are the cleaning ingredients in shampoo, but they work a little too well for curly hair. They strip our hair of all the good oils we need. Luckily, there are plenty of curly-girl approved shampoos that even suds up but don’t contain sulfates.
2. No Silicones – Silicone is a major ingredient in anything that is meant to soften or smooth the hair, from conditioners to heat protectants. They get the job done but they can only be removed from the hair using… you guessed it, sulfates! So you can’t use products with silicone unless you also use products with sulfates. See this yucky vicious cycle?
3. No Heat – To dry your hair, you can air-dry or diffuse on low heat only. If you use high heat on your hair while it’s not protected by silicone-heavy heat protectant products, you’re going to severely damage your hair.
4. Pile on the Styling Products – This isn’t really a rule, but more of a general practice. One thing you’ll have to adjust to is using a lot more product in your hair than you might be used to – leave-in conditioner by the handful, gel by the bucket, you get the point. It takes some experimenting to find that sweet spot between not enough and too much, but it’s probably more than you think.
5. Check Ingredients – Here’s a hard truth: Not all products that say they’re sulfate-free or made for curly hair are actually OK according to the Curly Girl Method. In fact, a ton aren’t. So you can either learn all the different names for silicones, sulfates & drying alcohols or do what I did and join The Curly Girl Method Support Group on Facebook – they have giant albums of approved products. And when in doubt, you can always post in there to ask.
Curly Girl Method Starting Guide in 10 Easy Steps 😂
Step 1: Take ALL of your current hair products and put them in a box. There may be some you can keep, but for now just assume they’re all bad or you’ll be reading ingredients for days.
Step 2: Buy yourself a starter kit of all Curly Girl approved products. You’ll need a simple, sulfate shampoo, a sulfate-free shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioner, curl activator & gel. Put ALL products (including styling products) in the shower, where you will apply them on soaking wet hair. You can find a few of my favorites in the image below.
Step 3: Do a final wash. Assuming that your hair currently has silicione on it, you need to do one last wash with a sulfate shampoo to get all the gunk out. But it has to be certain ones – again, consult the albums in the group. I used VO5 Kiwi Lime shampoo.
Step 4: Your hair is now dry and needs a big hit of moisture, so use a deep conditioner for at least 5-10 minutes. I love the ones from Shea Moisture.
Step 5: Rinse the deep conditioner out completely. Follow by raking through a healthy amount of leave-in conditioner all over your soaking wet hair in the shower. If your hair doesn’t feel like silky, slimy wet seaweed, you need to add more conditioner. Then scrunch/pulse all around to try to squeeze more water into your hair cuticle.
Step 6: Rake in a curl activator, then a gel. Scrunch all over and then air dry or diffuse. Take your time adding styling products, especially at first. You really want to make sure that you get each one well distributed and feel your hair to know if it needs more product.
Step 7: Use a microfiber towel or cotton t-shirt to scrunch all around, squeezing any excess water or product out of your hair. You’ll feel the curls stiffen up a little when you do this & that’s a good thing – the gel is working.
Step 8: Now your challenge is to dry your hair with minimal touching. You can either completely air dry (which may take a while) or use a diffuser on low heat & power settings.
Step 9: Scrunch out the crunch! Your hair will likely dry crunchy and that’s perfectly OK, so don’t be alarmed. It’s called a cast and it allows your curls to dry while being held together in clumps, so it doesn’t look all stringy and frizzy. Once your hair is fully dry, then you can gently scrunch, and the crunchiness goes away to reveal soft, defined curls.
Step 10: From now on, only cleanse your scalp & hair with a Curly Girl approved shampoo or conditioner. If you use conditioner as a cleanser (commonly called “co-washing”), be sure to really scrub your scalp well with your fingertips and rinse it out completely. If you use shampoo, always deep condition afterwards.
Keep in mind that this is a VERY simplified explanation. There are a whole lot of different techniques, tips and tricks out there and each curly girl eventually discovers her own favorite way that works. But for now, I’ll share my favorite tips:
- Be patient – This is a process. If you’ve been frying your hair for years, it’s literally impossible to have bouncy, shiny, healthy curls quickly. Plus there’s a learning curve, so it takes time to get your routine down. Don’t give up though! Try to power through the awkward stage and the bad hair days knowing that there are so many good things to come.
- Watch Tutorials – In addition to the FB group, the best thing for me has been watching videos of curly girls doing & explaining their routines on Instagram & YouTube. Not all methods you learn there will work for you but if you keep trying, you’ll eventually find ones you like.
- Document the Process – It may be hard to appreciate the improvements day to day, so be sure to take pics so you can see that your hair really is changing and improving.
- Water Is Your Friend – As you style, keep splashing in a little bit of water between each product. Your hair needs to hold onto as much moisture as possible, so keep hair nice and wet as you style, scrunching/pulsing in as you go to really try to push the water into the hair.
- Get a Good Diffuser – As a curly girl, the diffuser matters more than the dryer. So get a cheap drugstore blow dryer and then buy a separate diffuser from a brand like Curly Co and Xtava.
- Deva Cut! – Invest in a Deva Cut from a certified stylist. This is a haircut in which the stylist cuts your hair dry, curl by curl. It’s really the only right way to cut curly hair which looks 100% different when its wet. This will ensure the right shape to complement your curl pattern. I went to Penny Lane Studio in Chicago, but you can find certified salons here on the DevaCurl website.
- Go Cheap – When you start, don’t feel the need to go all in with the pricey brands. Start with the more affordable lines that are available at the drugstore and are very good! Shea Moisture, Kinky Curly, Not Your Mother’s Naturals, Curls, and Mane Choice can all be found at CVS & Walgreens & won’t break the bank.
- JOIN THE GROUP!! – This Facebook group was the single most helpful thing I did when I started my curly journey. Just using the resources alone is awesome, but the posts and discussions that happen are amazing for newbies trying to learn everything.
I can’t say now that I’ll never blow my hair out straight ever again in my life, but if I do, it will be once in a blue moon. My new norm is the naturally curly hair I was born, which I never imagined could look this good. I’m done fighting with my curls and destroying my hair in the process. And the best part is that I know it will keep getting better as it gets healthier.
If you’re on the fence about giving the Curly Girl Method a try, I urge you to try it. Whether your hair just has a slight wave or is super curly, this method will do wonders for you. I’ve even seen women whose hair is “sort of wavy” go full on curly with time and the right care. It’s pretty amazing what your hair is capable of when you start treating it well and allowing it to express its natural beauty.