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The Curly Girl Method | Step-by-Step Guide & Best Products

Consider this your complete introduction to the curly girl method (CGM), the hair care method for women with wavy to curly hair. Curly girls avoid ingredients that damage curls or strip natural oils from the hair and learn to bring out their hair texture’s full potential with the right ingredients and care.

And, as many of our readers have pointed out, this hair care and treatment method is a lifesaver (we’re not exaggerating, either). Learn how to make the CGM work for your hair in this guide!

The Curly Girl Method — Fantasy or Fantastic?

Image titled Step by Step Guide: Curly Girl Method featuring a woman with naturally curly hair on a blue background

Today, it’s all about curly girls and guys. We’re demystifying the much-talked about curly girl method (CGM), also known as the curly guy method. This hair care method for wavy and curly hair seems complicated and hard to follow. It’s not.

The principles behind the CGM are actually pretty simple when you break it down. There are 4 basic keys to living your best curly girl/curly guy life. We’ll talk about these 4 keys in detail to explain everything you need to do to love on your curls a little more and unlock your hair’s potential. 

One of the first things to understand about the CGM is that it’s not just about choosing natural or moisturizing products that are good for your hair. It’s also about learning to avoid and say no to products with harmful or curl-canceling ingredients like silicones, sulfates, and alcohols.

Avoiding silicones, sulfates, and alcohols? Wait, aren’t those ingredients in most hair care products? Yes, they are. And therein lies the real challenge of following the curly girl or guy method. 

For many people onboard the CGM train, the hardest part is tossing out old favorite hair products and learning to decipher long-winded ingredient lists to avoid those that harm, deflate, or dry out curls. 

Don’t worry. We’ll explain everything and show you how to recognize and avoid the no-no ingredients for curls. Ready for your crash course in the curly girl method? Let’s get started! 

What Is the Curly Girl Method?

Image titled 4 keys to the curly girl method featuring 4 main tips for using this hair styling routine

The curly girl, or curly guy, method refers to a 4-step curly/wavy/coily hair care process that avoids products containing certain ingredients that have been shown to be harmful or drying for wavy, curly, or coily hair. 

Loraine Massey, author of Curly Girl: The Handbook, is the official founder of the curly girl method and movement. Massey says she unlocked the keys to properly caring for curly hair through trial and error caring for her own curls. In her words:

  1. No washing with sulfates or silicones like wool, curls will shrink and dry out
  2. No brushing or combing once hair is dry curls will frizz
  3. No wet cuts curls will shrink inches shorter once dry
  4. No blow-frying (Massey’s term for blow-drying) heat damage hurts curls

In a nutshell, the CGM focuses on tweaking “normal” hair care methods, like brushing and shampooing, to make them more suitable for curly hair. The curly girl/guy method is restrictive and you’ll need to buy new hair care products to start.

But if your curls aren’t putting their best face forward and you’re sick of lifeless, dry, or wonky ringlets that try your patience everytime you wash and style, the CGM may just be your saving grace. 

The 4 Keys to the Curly Girl Method

Next, we’ll break open the method and take a look at the 4 key principles behind it. If you can follow these 4 simple ideas, your curls will thank you. 

1. Silicone and Sulfate-Free Cleansing

For the first step in the curly girl method, a yellow graphic with purple and dark pink conditioner and shampoo that says yes and no

Sasha Kushner/Shutterstock

The first step to following the curly girl/guy method is ditching traditional shampoo. Most drugstore shampoos contain sulfates (detergent to clean your scalp and hair) and silicones (plastic that coats your hair fibers and gives them “slip”). 

These shampoo ingredients are the enemy to wavy, curly, and coily hair, according to the CGM. Sulfates dry your curls out, making them frizzy and limp. But they’re in most shampoos because only powerful detergent is strong enough to remove silicones, another common shampoo ingredient, from hair. 

Silicones weigh the hair down, resulting in less bouncy curls, and prevent moisture from entering and leaving the hair naturally. 

In the CGM, we abandon these traditional formulas in favor of cleansing with gentle, curl-cultivating ingredients that can and this is important be washed away with only water. That’s right: Only water-soluble ingredients are used in the CGM. 

In the curly girl/guy method, you have two options to cleanse your hair: 

  1. Cleanse with sulfate-free and silicone-free shampoo 
  2. Cleanse by co-washing with conditioner

If you struggle with excess oil production at the scalp, a silicone- and sulfate-free shampoo is your best bet. Co-washing, which means using conditioner as shampoo on the scalp, is a great option for anyone who struggles to hydrate and moisturize their curls.  

To sum it up, the CGM says you need to wash your hair with a specialty sulfate- and silicone-free shampoo or “wash” your hair and scalp with a silicone-free conditioner instead. 

2. Silicone-Free Conditioning

Graphic of a silicon-free moisturizing conditioner sketched above squigglies for a piece on the curly girl method

Uniyok/Shutterstock

The next key to following the curly girl method is silicone-free conditioning. Silicones are found in every traditional conditioner, and they can go by a number of names. You might see silicone, dimethicone, bis-aminopropyl dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, or dimethiconol listed as ingredients in your current conditioner. 

If you see any ingredient that ends in -cone, -xane, or -conol, it contains some form of silicone (plastic) that will coat your hair and prevent proper curl hydration. It will also weigh your curls down and flatten them out. 

Silicones also present another problem for curly girls and guys they can only be stripped from the hair with harsh sulfates, which you can’t use in the CGM. 

If you use a silicone-based conditioner and a sulfate-free shampoo, the plastic will stay on your hair until it’s physically worn away over time. And in the meantime, it’s literally suffocating your curls and preventing them from getting normal hydration! 

Conditioner is so important in the CGM. It’s worth finding a great, silicone-free conditioner you love because you’ll be using it to co-wash (if you don’t want to use a silicone- and sulfate-free shampoo), condition, and style your hair. More on that in just a bit. 

3. Wet Brushing and Detangling

Graphic for a piece on the Curly Girl Method featuring a pink background that says Stop! and has a flat iron, silicon-based styling gel, and comb below

Sasha Kushner/Shutterstock

The next key to following the curly girl/guy method is wet brushing and detangling. This is another area where you’ll have to re-learn the hair care routines that have become so normal and natural to you. Once you begin the CGM, you can’t detangle, brush, or comb your hair once it’s dry. Ever. 

All your detangling and brushing needs to happen while your hair is sopping wet, preferably while there’s silicone-free conditioner in it. Dry brushing and detangling will only break up your hair’s natural curl groups and result in terrible frizz. 

You’ll need to train yourself to start brushing and detangling your hair in the shower after you’ve gotten your hair fully wet and have doused it in conditioner. You can also use oil or leave-in conditioner as long as it has no silicones on the ingredient list. 

When you don’t disturb your curls as they dry, they’ll be less frizzy and will clump together in their natural curl groups and sections. This step alone will make a big difference in how your curls look once dry!

4. Silicone and Alcohol-Free Styling

Drawing of a glycerine-free protein treatment to symbolize the last step (styling) in the curly girl method

Uniyok/Shutterstock

Styling curly hair is often the hair care step that most curly girls and guys really dread. It can seem like there’s no rhyme or reason to it some days, your curls look amazing, defined, and bouncy. Other days, they’re misshapen, flat, frizzy, and dry. 

You can get off the curl rollercoaster by adopting the 4th key of the CGM: Using only silicone- and alcohol-free styling products. In general, most curlies use either leave-in conditioner or gel to style their hair. You just need to make sure any product you use to style your hair has no silicones or alcohol-based ingredients in it. 

Curl styling products need to help define your curls, increase shine and moisture, and give you a little hold. Both leave-in conditioners and gels that meet the CGM criteria can get the job done.

  • Leave-in conditioner is slightly thinner than regular conditioner but has the same hydrating properties. It will stay on the hair until it’s washed out with water, so you get the frizz-reducing, shine, and moisture-boosting benefits until your next wash day. If you can’t find a good leave-in product without silicones, you can use a small amount of your regular silicone-free conditioner instead. 
  • Gel usually contains alcohols that dry out the hair and give you frizzy curls, but choosing alcohol-free formulas helps you avoid those problems. Organic gels applied after a good leave-in conditioner will give your curls the right amount of hold to keep them perfectly defined and shaped until you cleanse your hair again. 

Curly Girl Styling Techniques

Applying your styling products properly is also part of the CGM. When you apply these products, you don’t want to disrupt the natural curl pattern at all. Using any of these techniques will keep your curl pattern intact:

  • Praying hands method: Rub product between your flattened palms, take a section of wet hair, and sandwich it between your two palms like they’re in a praying position. Start from the root and move down to the ends. Repeat for all sections. 
  • Scrunching method: Apply product to your hands, then open your palm to grasp wet hair from underneath while pushing upward and closing your fingers around the hair in a scrunching motion. Repeat all over your head.  
  • Rake and shake method: Divide wet hair into 5+ sections, then dispense your product into your hand. Rake your fingers through a section from root to tip and give the section a slight shake or wiggle to “re-activate” the curls in that section. Repeat for all sections. 
  • Shingling method: Allow wet hair to clump into its natural curl groups, then apply your product from root to tip on each individual curl group for maximum definition and bounce. 
  • Twist out method: Choose your favorite type of twist out (finger coil, 2- or 3-strand, flat twists, etc.) and apply your product(s) of choice before twisting sectioned-off hair from the roots to the tips. Leave in twists overnight or up to 2 weeks, then unravel to reveal bouncy curls. 

How to Start the Curly Girl Method

The curly girl method illustrated into a chart with steps for straight, wavy, curly, and coily hair types

egg_shell/Shutterstock

Now that you know the 4 basic principles behind the CGM, are you ready to start transforming your waves, curls, or coils? Here’s what you need to know and grab to get started. 

Before you officially dive in, pick up a silicone-free shampoo that does contain sulfates. Why? Because you’ve been using silicone-based shampoo, conditioner, and styling products for so long that there’s certainly silicone buildup on your strands.

Sulfates are the only way to completely remove that buildup. You need one last hurrah with sulfates to finally strip any remaining trace of silicones away so you can start the curly girl/guy method off right with fresh, clean hair sans buildup.

Grab a small, cheap bottle of silicone-free shampoo with sulfates, like Garnier Fructis Pure and Clean Shampoo, to give silicones a proper sendoff. 

DO NOT use a silicone-based conditioner after your final non-CGM shampoo. Then, put away your usual hair care products and grab the products on the list below to get started. 

  1. [Cleansing] Get a good sulfate- and silicone-free shampoo. We like SheaMoisture Curl and Shine Coconut Shampoo for curly hair because it contains no silicones, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, or petrolatum.
  2. [Conditioning] Get some silicone-free conditioner. We like SheaMoisture Curl and Shine Coconut Conditioner for curly hair because it contains no silicones, sulfates, parabens, or any of those nasties. It’s just natural, rich moisture and hydration for curls. 
  3. [Styling] Grab some alcohol-free gel. We’re partial to Biotera Alcohol-Free Styling Gel because it has such great, crunch-free hold. 
  4. [Styling] Find a good leave-in silicone-free conditioner (optional). This is purely optional since you can always use your silicone-free conditioner as a leave-in. But we like Marc Anthony Bye Bye Frizz Leave-In Conditioner for a good silicone-free option. 

With your new curly girl/guy hair care arsenal stocked, you’re ready to start your new curly hair care journey. 

So, What’s the Curly Girl Method?

Curly girl method displayed in a step-by-step graphic featuring the products to use when cleansing, moisturizing, treating, styling, and refreshing curly hair

Uniyok/Shutterstock

A final word: The curly girl method is the best thing for your curls, but it will take some time for your hair (and you) to adjust. You’ll likely experience a transition period during the first 3-4 weeks of using silicone- and sulfate-free cleansing products with alcohol-free styling gel. 

Your hair will probably look worse during this transition period than it did when you used regular products. THIS IS NORMAL. Stick with it.

You might live in hats and scarves for a few weeks while your hair adjusts, but the results will speak for themselves. Settle in for about a month of “bad” hair days because you’re trading it for a lifetime of perfect curls with the curly girl method.

Click for Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for the curly girl method to work/

Expect the curly girl method to take between 4 and 6 weeks to work. You might start to see results within the first week, but it'll take up to 6 weeks to see the full results. And trust us, it's well worth the wait.

Is the curly girl method bad for your hair?

No. The curly girl method is good for your hair, as it's created specifically for your hair type to give it the care and products it needs. However, there's an adjustment period, during which you might experience excess oil production while your scalp adjusts to its new routine and products.

How often do you wash your hair with the Curly Girl Method?

According to the Curly Girl Method, you should only wash your hair once every 10 days, with a co-wash weekly. The method makes good use of dry shampoo and gentle products while letting your hair balance itself out.

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