This post shares a simple 3 step curly girl method for beginners. Topics include defining the curly girl method, its origins and effect on aging hair, curly girl approved products and techniques, hair type classification, and the easiest routine for beginners. Also included are my own before and after photos.
Additional information on hair porosity testing and remediation is in The Beauty Maestra Reference Library here.
Curly Girl Method for Beginners
Beauty is having a Carol King “Natural Woman” kind of moment right now. What strikes me is the increased value placed on simpler makeup, well-tended skin, and the growing intersection between beauty and wellness. Could a next step entail embracing the natural beauty and diversity of aging? I sure hope so.
It makes sense then why The Curly Girl Method (aka CGM) has captivated so many of us and I might add, with fervor. For those of you who may not know, CGM is a natural non-chemical non-heat approach to wavy and curly hair that reveals and encourages natural, more voluminous and more hydrated texture.
This method was created by Lorraine Massey and was first delivered to the world over 20 years ago via her book Curly Girl: The Handbook. Curly haired women were vastly underserved then. Without realizing it, she and her book spawned a movement and made natural curly hair cool. She also became a force in shifting our beauty standards.
Today, the aesthetic of natural waves and curls is still a marked departure from what has been predominantly a Vidal Sassoon monopoly. I would hazard that many of us grew up “knowing” our hair via precision straight angled geometric haircuts. These styles were made possible by a variety of blow dryers, brushes, and straight irons pressing hair into shape.
The Curly Girl Method and Aging Hair
As I have aged, and it has become more difficult and less feasible to “achieve” the youthful locks of my memory, I have asked myself who and what is my natural hair. How could I not know what is on my head? Could my “real” hair be better than what I know it to be today?
And so about 6 months ago, at the urging of a CGM friend, I embarked on a CGM hair identity quest. I won’t lie. The journey hasn’t been entirely easy. However, I am here to say, after a few hit-and-misses, that the positives mostly outweigh the negatives. I also believe that this method can be very beneficial for wavy and curly aging hair.
I will let the before and after progression photos speak for themselves at the very end of this post.
What is the Curly Girl Method
What to Know Before You Begin
It’s important to know that CGM can get quickly and overly complicated. Why? Three reasons. First, while the principles of the method are relatively simple and basic, for many of us, it is a paradigm shift in how we view and treat our hair. With that comes a learning curve.
Second, each person’s hair is different, so the products and techniques that may work well on one person may not necessarily work well on another. Understanding our hair, testing and tweaking are mandatory, and relationships take time. There is also about a 6-week transition period for hair to adjust to the changes.
Third and finally, social media has vastly modified and diverged from the original Lorraine Massey method. There are now many influencers, countless products, and many techniques. It is a glut of information along with a glut of contradiction and misinformation. As a newbie, it is easy to get overwhelmed and all too easy to spend hours researching and testing the better “mousetrap” that frankly may or may not work.
Hair Pattern Chart
Before we dive into each of Massey’s principles, let’s first classify our hair. Our hair curl, or lack thereof, is typed by numbers by shape. See the chart below.
Curly Hair Type Chart Numbers
As you can see, all hair is typed from straight, wavy, curly, and coily, the tightest of curls.
CGM works best for those of us who are at least 2B and above. Straight hair will never become curly naturally no matter how much hydration and TLC is provided. I mention this because when I first started this method, I thought my 2B hair could manifest into a 3B. No such luck.
Hair porosity is another factor that can affect how your hair responds and can dictate how you treat your hair. However, I believe this is information overload for the early beginner.
With that said, for those of you who are interested, I have included a porosity chart in The Beauty Maestra Resource Library here that details what it is and how to test for it and remediate.
Curly Girl Method for Beginners Fundamentals
I have broken down CGM into fundamental core steps while maintaining the spirit and principles that Massey laid out 20 years ago and continues to espouse today. Hopefully, this information will help get you launched and on your way.
Here is Massey’s main goal:
Support wavy and curly hair to reveal its natural texture through better hydration and definition
Curly Girl Method Approved Products
To achieve that goal, CGM identifies 5 main ingredient categories to avoid. Below is an overview of what to avoid:
Sulfates, also called surfactants, are detergents that are in many types of cleaning products above and beyond just shampoos. They can strip natural oils from the scalp making hair dry and brittle. For more information, see my post on thinning hair here which includes a section on sulfates.
Silicones create the “slip” you feel in shampoos and conditioners. They cause damage in several ways. Silicones form a coating around the hair cuticle which prevents needed moisture from penetrating. Since silicones are not water soluble, they buildup on the hair shaft causing it (and the natural curl) to weigh down and straighten. The buildup on the hair means buildup on the scalp.
Eliminating silicone creates a healthier scalp that encourages better hair and hair growth. The hair, without silicones, eventually becomes softer and more voluminous on its own.
Waxes and Mineral Oils
The issues with waxes and mineral oils are the same as silicones above.
this website here is a great resource should you want to know whether a product or ingredient is curly girl approved.
3 Step Curly Girl Method for Beginners Routine
Massey’s 3 tenets are:
#1: CLEANSE: Cleanse the hair vs. shampoo the hair*
#2: CONDITIONER: Add more moisture into the hair
#3: STYLE: Support the hair’s natural shape and texture with no/minimal heat
*There is an additional pre-cleansing step that is not listed here. While Massey does not condone this, many CGM folk believe in a one-time clarifying sulfate filled shampoo prior to starting the method. The premise behind this is to “restart” the hair and strip it of the years of silicone and product build up.
Additionally, there are some hair types that react well to clarifying once or twice a month. As you get more familiar with your hair over time, you will know if this is right for you. If you decide to do this, I highly recommend the extraordinarily gentle but effective The Ordinary Sulfate 4% Shampoo.
Beginner Cleansing Technique
Tenet #1: Cleanse
Not only is it important to use the right product, but the application technique is just as critical for success.
If you were like me before CGM, shampooing would entail cleaning all of the hair with a focus on just that-the hair. In contrast, this method focuses predominantly on cleansing the scalp to remove dirt. Hair plays second fiddle.
Place the shampoo in your hands and then massage it onto your scalp with your fingertips for about 60 seconds or so. Once done, pull the lather and soap down through to the ends of the hair.
Beginner Conditioning Technique
Tenet #2: Conditioner to Add Moisture
The purpose of the conditioner is to moisturize the hair as opposed to the scalp which has just been cleansed in step 1.
While there are many multiple techniques to do this, the easiest is to start with a quarter size amount of conditioner between the palms of the hands, turn the head upside down, and smooth it onto the hair mid-lengths, while ensuring that the hair is thoroughly wet.
At that point, either finger detangle or brush the conditioner evenly through the hair with a wet hairbrush.
Once done detangling and with dripping wet hair, squish the conditioner into your hair with both your hands pressing upwards and towards the roots of your hair. Curly Girl enthusiasts call this “squish to condish”.
Here is a link to a video that demonstrates the technique.
Beginner Styling Technique
TENET #3: Style
Styling products as well as the “squish to condish” technique are very important to create successful waves and curls.
While in the shower, duplicate the conditioner technique and as seen in the videos. With lots of water, concentrate the product on the mid-lengths, then press the product into your hair. This will aid in forming well-defined curls.
Many choices abound on styling products. They fall into several general categories: gels (soft, medium, hard hold), mousse for curls, and curling creams. If you are just starting out, for your first time, you may want to choose a medium hold gel. I have suggested a couple further on in the post.
Curly Girl Method-Drying
While I have not included drying as part of the 3 step routine, it does deserve a few comments. There are many methods, and I have included the easiest and most effective below.
Plopping Curly Hair
“Plopping” (aka drying) curly hair entails using a cotton t-shirt or a t-shirt towel like this one here. Avoid terry cloth at all costs as it will create frizz and will destroy the natural curl pattern that we are trying hard to encourage.
Gently scrunch the hair with the t shirt or t-shirt towel with both hands in a motion just like squish to condish to remove excess water. Wrap the curls.
A short video demonstration of the wrapping technique is linked here.
Heat to dry or style the hair from any source (blow dryer, heated curlers etc) creates frizz and dryness so it should be avoided. I cannot stress this enough. However, it is not always feasible to let your hair dry on its own. An option is to use a diffuser with the blow dryer. If you don’t have one, there are many that custom adjust to multiple dryers like this one.
Here is a very quick video of a couple of different ways to diffuse hair without frizz and linked here.
A Few Final Thoughts
If you decide to move forward with the Curly Girl Method, my suggestion is to get products for the 3 steps (along with a clarifying shampoo) and stick with them for a minimum of 2-3 weeks to see how well they perform on your hair. Assess and adjust as needed.
Here are a few solid beginner product suggestions for the 3 steps:
The Curly Girl Method has been great for my hair and particularly beneficial after years of heat and color. It has taken time, testing and a little obsession.
My CGM quest continues as I intend to continue on with the Curly Girl Method. I am enjoying this new relationship with my natural hair and look forward to seeing what new natural waves and curls the future brings me.
Thank you for reading and keep scrolling for my before and after photos! I would love to hear about your Curly Girl journeys and experiences!
This post was all about a 3 step curly girl method for beginners. Topics included defining the curly girl method and its origins, approved products and techniques, hair type classification, and the easiest routine for beginners with my own before and after photos.
Finally, here are my 5 month progression photos: