This is how to the follow the Curly Girl Method, according to its creator (2023)

The Curly Girl Method is one of the best known sets of practices in curly hair care. While I myself mix and match guidance from everywhere, CGM has garnered a loyal and often meticulous following. A Google search brings up over 78 million results, the principles it teaches have been an undeniable force for change in product offerings, and I'm pretty sure you couldn't watch all the YouTube tutorials in a lifetime.

But when something snowballs this much, the core of it can get lost in the noise. So when I, as a beauty journalist, was asked to explain the method, I didn’t really know where to start. There was one person I had to speak to; hairdresser Lorraine Massey, creator of Curly Girl: The Handbook. While singular steps or principles can never truly be attributed to any one individual, the Curly Girl Method as whole, its name, and the global dissemination of these combined practices, began with Lorraine. Though she says herself she doesn't give many interviews anymore, I was pleasantly surprised she agreed to chat with me.

This is how to the follow the Curly Girl Method, according to its creator (1)

Lorraine Massey, founder of Curly Girl Method

Not being able to learn from, or share with, those around you, can make curly hair very isolating. After much convincing to open up and share her method, Curly Girl became a touch point that helped people connect. Pre-internet, guidance for curly hair had always been lacking, so the Curly Girl Method really made waves, helping millions navigate caring for and styling their curly hair.

What are the main steps of the curly girl method?

The method is best known for cutting out shampoo, instead using conditioner to cleanse the hair. The other major principles focus on ingredients and tools to avoid (i.e silicones, brushes, towels), which is what people are talking about when they call a product ‘curly girl approved.’

Why don't you shampoo in Curly Girl Method?

Cutting shampooing from her curly hair routine — the heart of the method — was something Lorraine once kept secret, recalling the lightbulb moment she realised; "If I'm happier not shampooing then why am I doing this? I started to just wash my hair with conditioner and became happier and happier, but I wouldn't tell anyone, because people judged it as unclean."

It all centres on hydration. Curly hair is dryer than other hair types, as the sebum from the scalp doesn't travel to the ends of hair in the same way that it does with straight hair. And Lorraine asks; "If something's dry. Why are we making it dryer with detergent?" The method teaches that you can sufficiently clean your scalp and hair with conditioners, and that the stripping sulphates that make up traditional shampoo are unnecessary and at times can be damaging to curly hair. Cleansing without sulphates (we mean zero foam to be seen) was something even chemists rebuffed when Lorraine was first trying to develop products without, now sulphate-free is slapped on practically every new product.

What ingredients do you avoid in Curly Girl Method?

So many products are packed with ingredients our hair doesn't need or like. While the internet has endless lists of ingredients to banish, the Curly Girl (CG) ingredients to avoid can almost always be tied back to hydration; like drying parabens and some alcohols, or silicones and oils that coat the hair and create a barrier stopping water from getting in.

Copying and pasting ingredient lists into tools like curlsbot can help you break down what's in a product before buying, and begin to understand what ingredients to avoid. Though bear in mind, none of these tools are verified by Lorraine.

This is how to the follow the Curly Girl Method, according to its creator (4)

How strict is the Curly Girl Method?

When chatting about the ways the method has been adapted and relaxed by users Lorraine said; "It's beautiful, as long as you're happy. But I watch the techniques and they're so unbelievably complicated. The adoption has become so convoluted. Your hair is an organic fibre it does not need all these chemicals, and layers, there's nothing natural about your hair after you've got 20 different products on it." Thoroughly methodical sectioning, combing, twirling, twisting, plopping and pineappling fill tutorials labelled CGM, but they aren’t part of Lorraine’s OG method; "If you over manipulate your curls, maybe for a night it's good. But for a lifestyle, you're basically saying my curls are not good enough. It's not necessary. That's the hardest part to teach, to respond, as opposed to impose."

How to follow the Curly Girl Method

Want to learn the CG method straight from the creator herself? Read on...

How do you clean your hair without shampoo?

Start by getting your hair thoroughly wet. If your hair takes a long time to get wet it could be due to a build up of silicones or other ingredients from products you've been using.

Using a silicone-free conditioner or a cleansing product like Lorraine's CurlyWorld Shamfree conditioning scalp and hair cleanser, coat the hair and focus on getting product to the scalp; "Scrub your scalp, really nice scalp massage, making sure that everything you have on your scalp is dislodged."

CurlyWorld™ - Sham- Free Hair & Scalp Cleanser

This is how to the follow the Curly Girl Method, according to its creator (7)

CurlyWorld™ - Sham- Free Hair & Scalp Cleanser

Lorraine warns to be wary of many products labelled co-wash, as the search for shampoo alternatives has led to many companies using it as a buzzy re-brand of what are essentially still traditional shampoos.

How to condition and detangle curly hair

If you’re used to rushing your wash day along, according to Lorraine it’s time you slowed TF down, this is important to allow the conditioning elements to absorb. Oh, and brushes? They’re a no go in the method, which promotes using fingers to detangle the hair. "I call it organising working through it with your hands. If you have any knots or pulling, then add more conditioner, more water. You're not going to feel it needs more with a brush, so might brush through it when you hair is still dehydrated, which dries it out even more and breaks and damages the hair."

This is how to the follow the Curly Girl Method, according to its creator (8)

What’s the best way to rinse curly hair?

Again, it’s all about taking time. Slowly rinse the hair, cupping it so the water doesn't just fall straight off. As Lorraine notes, by doing so "you're pushing the conditioning elements further into the cuticle and cortex of [the hair], and so the whole strand of hair gets the hydration it as opposed to just the top layer."

Don't fully rinse the conditioner, the amount left is dependent on your curls and how much hydration they need, so may take some experimentation and getting to know your hair. For wavy hair you will want to rinse it all out says Lorraine, but still slowly and while cupping.

How to dry your hair using the Curly Girl Method

Traditional towels and hair dryers are a no-go. Lorraine switches things up regularly in her salon- she uses bamboo towels, sometimes leaves to drip dry, and also likes using paper towels to dry off the hair, reusing them to create DIY conditioning towels that release previously absorbed conditioner. Resourceful.

Microfibre towels are popular, but can still take a lot of moisture from the hair, simple t-shirts or jersey towels are a popular choice for CGM followers.

The best curly girl method styling technique

To style according to the curly girl method, it’s time to stock up on the conditioning gel. Lorraine advises opting for one with a watery consistency that’s not gummy, to allow the gel to move evenly through the hair. The drier your hair tends to be, the less gel you may want to use, with Lorraine herself just using it as a grazer on the top layer to just seal in as she puts it.

After glazing and working through with your hands with as little disturbance to curls as possible, you then leave the hair to dry. "You want a gel that keeps it compact during the drying process, I call it vacuum pack curls. Then once it's dry, you can break that seal, the cast, and fluff it and get the fullness you want, or not."

This is how to the follow the Curly Girl Method, according to its creator (11)

The drier the hair is before you fluff it out, the longer Lorraine says the curls will last. And you don't have to fluff out as soon as it's dry; leaving in extra conditioner and gel, you could break out your perfect curls that evening or even over the next day or two, ready when you want them in all their glory.

What tools are curly girl approved?

Tools, heat or not, are seen as a damage risk in the method; brushes are ruled out, but hair piks are used for fluffing out from the core without disturbing the curl.

Switching to satin or silk scrunchies and pillowcases, as well as sleeping in a satin or silk bonnet, will help protect your hair from breakage and dehydration, and can preserve your curls, reducing the need to refresh or restyle.

This is how to the follow the Curly Girl Method, according to its creator (13)

LilySilk 100% Mulberry Silk Pillowcase

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In a range of colours these clever silk pillowcases are affordable thanks to their cotton underside. Silk or satin pillowcase are gentle on delicate hair and don't steal moisture.

This is how to the follow the Curly Girl Method, according to its creator (14)

TABIGER 6-Pack Silk Satin Hair Scrunchies

Satin scrunchies will never pull your hair out with them, and put less tension on the strands. These colours will look just as pretty on your wrist, but if you aren't as fussed on style you can get multipacks of dozens really cheaply.

This is how to the follow the Curly Girl Method, according to its creator (15)

Nuenen 2 Pack Picks

While brushes and combs aren't used for detangling in the method, picks are recommended for fluffing and volumising.

If you want to really treat yourself , these luxe head wraps from Silke will have you feeling like an old Hollywood movie star. But simpler satin alternatives and classic bonnets will get the job down too. It's all about protecting your curls while you slumber.

As a curly girl method outsider, I’m amazed how simple the original steps actually are. I may still be a shampoo using, tangle brush wielding hun, but the simplicity of two or three products and leaving your curls to do their own thing, is an ethos I am fully onboard with. Sorry to plopping.

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