When I was eighteen years old, my curly hair disappeared.
Until that point, I’d had curly hair that many gushed over: It had just the right amount of coil and shine and would bounce up and down when I did. I don’t know if it was a change in water, but when I moved to another state for college, my Shirley Temple locks fell flat. And it wasn’t a shiny, waterfall flow like that of a Pantene model—it was more so alternating layers of kinky curls and frizzy strands. In response, I reached for hot tools.
Even after I laid off the flat iron and gradually shifted to more natural hair products in recent years, my curls never bounced back. So when I heard about the Curly Girl Method via a Facebook post a few months ago, I couldn’t help but dig in more. The CGM is a scientific approach to hair care that swaps out damaging tools and harmful ingredients for proteins and regimens to help enhance your hair’s natural curl pattern.
After scouring countless articles, YouTube videos and Facebook groups on the CGM, I decided to try it out myself. Here are some steps that have worked for me—and made me learn my hair all over again.
What I Use
Keep in mind that everyone’s mane is different, so my hair’s godsends could be your hair’s kryptonite.
• Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo
• Kristin Ess Shine Enhancing Shampoo and Conditioner
• As I Am Leave-in Conditioner
• Curls Creme Brule Whipped Curl Cream
• Eco Styler Professional Styling Gel
• Tiri Pro Prismapro Hair Dryer
The only time you’re allowed to use products with sulfates in the CGM is when you clarify to get rid of scalp buildup. (Sulfates often found in shampoos are the same ones in dish detergents designed to lift grease from dirty dishes. They strip moisture out of hair.) I use a clarifying shampoo about once every two weeks, and I’ve found that it makes my hair feel lighter and my scalp less itchy.
I Evaluated My Products
The CGM recommends cutting sulfates, parabens, silicones and alcohols out of your hair care routine. I use Curlsbot.com, an ingredients analysis engine where you type or paste in ingredients and the engine tells you whether or not they are CGM approved. This was a lifesaver—more than once, I’ve found myself standing in the hair care aisle at Target cross-checking ingredients on the back of shampoo bottles. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that just because a product is labeled “natural” doesn’t mean it’s CGM-friendly. A so-called natural conditioner that I have sworn by for months listed Amodimethicone as an ingredient, a silicone that can block the hair follicle from receiving nutrients, water and air, in turn stunting hair growth and contributing to hair loss.
Along with a CGM-friendly shampoo and conditioner, I invested in a leave-in conditioner and a hair gel (which was a hard sell at first—my mind went to my eighth grade school picture, where you could practically hear my hair crunching through the yearbook page).
I Ditched My Brush
For non-curly heads, the thought of never brushing your hair might seem almost disgraceful. But brushes are not CGM-friendly, as the bristles separate bonds of hair and can damage hair cuticles holding curls together. I’ve been carefully brushing with my fingers while my hair is still wet in the shower so knots don’t get out of hand.
I Altered My Post-Shower Routine
Before my Curly Girl journey, I would simply get out of the shower, brush out my hair and call it good. But after studying the beautifully bouncy-haired CGM experts, I learned that what I was doing wasn’t enough.
Once I get out of the shower, I spread gel flat onto my hair using my palms (a CGM YouTuber referred to this as “praying hands”) to evenly distribute it—this step will bond hair strands together to curl. Then, I rub a little bit of that same gel into my hands and start scrunching my hair from the ends all the way up to my scalp. After all this, I “plop” my wet hair (a fancy word for gently wrapping it in a T-shirt instead of a towel because the harsh fibers in towels can make hair frizzy) for twenty minutes or so. I finish by gently blow-drying my curls on low heat and with a diffuser until my hair is seventy percent dry.