Being a hairstylist for almost twenty years before giving it up to write (somewhat) full-time, this is a best-of-both-worlds post for me because it involves a book written about hair. How I've never heard of this book until recently is beyond me, but it was my curly-haired mom who introduced me to the method it gave birth to. After complimenting her on her suddenly tame hair, she said she was waiting to see if I'd notice, that she'd been using the curly girl method. When I asked her what that was, she went on to explain that she used conditioner to wash, then another conditioner to condition, no towels, heat, or brushes, then started talking about making a cast with gel. I was like... "What? A cast? You use conditioner to wash your hair?"
Once she translated it all and pointed me in the right direction, I quickly tried it and fell in love with this method, so I thought I'd share it and recommend the book, since it seems practical for everyone, not just curly girls.
What is the curly girl method?
The curly girl method is a way to take care of curly/wavy hair so that it looks and feels the best it possibly can. This method is explained in detail in Lorraine Massey's book, Curly Girl: The Handbook. What I've found while researching this method is that it can be a bit overwhelming at first because of all the information, however, it shouldn't be. I've easily incorporated it into my haircare routine, since I have wavy hair, and my teenage daughter has, as well, even though her hair is fairly straight. In my opinion, all types of hair can benefit from this method, especially if you're having any type of issues, such as dry hair/scalp, frizzing, or simply lackluster, dull hair.
If you want to know everything there is to know about this method and the techniques recommended, I highly suggest you buy the book and/or join the group on Facebook, which has a lot of informative files to go through that list a lot of important things, including 'CG' (Curly Girl) approved products. If you just want to know the basics, right now, then continue reading what I do.
Step 1: Deep Cleanse (only done once)
Before you begin this method, you must use a clarifying shampoo, dish liquid, or an apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse to strip your hair of waxes, silicones, and buildup. Silicones are in a lot of the products and conditioners we use, especially if they're supposed to help smooth the hair. Dimethicone is a popular one, but any products with words ending in 'cone' on the ingredients list should be avoided. Also, avoid petrolatum, mineral & castor oils, and waxes. If it is preceded by 'PEG-(and a number)', that means it's water-soluble and usually okay to use, but if you have doubts, just don't use it. If you do accidentally use something with these things in it, don't panic! Just do this step again to remove them.
Step 2: Use either a Cowash or 'Low Poo' (Sulfate-free) Shampoo
What is a cowash, you might ask? Cowashing is using a conditioner to wash your hair. It sounds weird, and even a bit gross (or it did to me), but it works. Personally, I only use a conditioner made for cleansing hair (As I Am Coconut CoWash), which I get from Walmart, while some use any type of silicone-free conditioners, like Suave Naturals. I prefer something that's specifically made for cleansing because it has ingredients for this purpose. I didn't think I could do it, the whole no-suds thing, but the cowash I use really cleans my hair and scalp, almost making it squeaky clean, yet it's super conditioning, so my natural oils aren't stripped ~ it's simply clean. I hate using shampoo, now, even though it's sulfate-free, and only do it about once a week, if that, and mainly only if I'm running short on time. Even if I have to cowash every day, due to working out or whatever, my hair still feels and looks great.
A lot of people already use sulfate free shampoos, yet these shampoos don't remove silicones well, so they build up on the hair, preventing conditioners from being able to penetrate the hair strand, making the hair actually dryer, starving it of moisture. Then we use smoothing products, which usually contain more silicones, to smooth the hair, since dry hair is usually frizzy, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
Step 3: Scrub, scrub, scrub, rinse well, condition, comb, & rinse again
Cowashing isn't like shampooing because there are no sulfates or harsh cleansers to depend on to get your hair and scalp clean. Because of this, manually scrubbing your scalp/hair is a must, but don't use your nails. Rinsing well is also a must, since you don't want to leave all the gunk you just loosened in your hair. Once your hair is rinsed, use a silicone-free conditioner on your hair, not your scalp, and comb if necessary. Yes, if you're wearing your hair curly, comb it now, not later. This will keep your curl pattern intact and help it to 'clump', which is a good thing. After letting the conditioner sit for a few, rinse it out. This entire process can be time-consuming, yes, but so worth it.
Step 4: Don't use a towel
Towels can be damaging, roughing up your cuticle, so use something more gentle, like a t-shirt (what I use) or microfiber towel. This is also a step where people kind of do their own thing as far as adding product (leave-in conditioner, mousse, gel) to the hair while it's still soppy wet, but I don't. If you have really curly hair, though, you may want to follow the book more closely at this point in regard to products and when/how to use them.
Step 5: Add product & (if your hair is curly/wavy) scrunch
I always add a silicone-free leave-in conditioner before using any styling products. Two of my faves are the As I Am Leave-In and the Cantu Oil Shine & Hold Mist, which I get from Walmart. My daughter also loves the Shine & Hold Mist to help keep her hair straight, since flat-irons are a no-no *gasp*. The two go-to styling products (aside from curl activators) used most for curly/wavy hair are either mousse or gel. From what I've read, most curlies like gel, while wavies, like myself, like mousse. Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch them in, but try not to touch your hair too much after that so curls stay defined. You'll want your hair to form a crunchy cast (unless it's straight), that you can scrunch out later, leaving behind soft, bouncy curls/waves.
Step 6: Dry using low/no heat
If your hair is curly/wavy, you may want to 'plop' before you dry, which I sometimes do if I have time, but not too long (maybe twenty minutes), since it can lead to frizz for me. If you want to know what plopping is and how to do it, buy the book or Google 'hair plopping', which will pull up a lot of how-to videos. It'll be easier than having me try to explain it here. If you're not plopping, though, simply let hair air dry or diffuse, depending on the look you want. If I wear mine straight, I dry with a flat brush to smooth it out, making sure not to use high heat, ending with cool. If I'm wearing it wavy, I use a diffuser, which is a must for curly hair unless air drying. There is even a method for diffusing that you can look up, but the main thing is to, once again, don't over style or touch the hair, which can disrupt the curl/wave patterns.
Step 7: Style using NO or LOW heat
Once your hair is dry, either by diffusing or air drying, scrunch the cast (hardness from styling products) away. Some people who go to bed, at this point, leave the cast in, since sleeping will naturally remove it. A lot of curlies/wavies also wrap or pineapple their hair to sleep (Google it), but I simply use a satin pillowcase, even when I wear mine wavy. I simply rewet it the next day with my magic Witch I Love Your Hair! spray, which I use a lot, actually, as both a leave-in and styling product to help smooth and either let it air dry or diffuse it for a few minutes to wake my waves up. (I even use it on my face as a toner!)
Whatever you do, don't use harsh heat (irons) to style your hair. Using this method, you shouldn't need it. The most damage and hair breakage I've ever seen in all my years of doing hair almost always come from flat irons.
Like I said before, there's a lot more info in the book, but this is what I do and it has made a HUGE difference in my hair and scalp, which used to be really dry. My hair has gone from being messy frizz to defined waves and is softer than I ever remember it being. With that being said, I've heard of some people having trouble starting out, so here's a few tips I've come across or simply know from doing hair so long.
Don't over think it. Follow the basic CG rules, avoiding the ingredients that suffocate your hair and the heat that cooks it, and go from there with the other stuff.
Don't get overwhelmed. Yes, there's a lot of info that goes along with this method, however, you don't have to incorporate everything all at once. I don't do some of it at all. I think that's why people freak out... they don't follow tip #1.
Don't go crazy. The main products you need to purchase/replace are your shampoo, conditioner, and styling product (if they're not CG friendly). Add on after that, depending on what your hair needs.
It may get worse before it gets better. It didn't for me, but for some this has been called a 'transition period' and will most likely pass. If it happens to you, either more flaky or oily, give it some time. If you've been using harsh shampoos, your scalp has been producing oil to compensate that. It may take it a few days to adjust.
Stiff, brittle, or coated-feeling hair. A lot of the CG friendly products contain coconut, which can mimic protein. Not everyone needs it, so if you use something that has more than your hair needs, it can make it feel rough and brittle. Simply try something without coconut, wheat protein, or keratin and see if that helps.
Stringy, limp, cotton candy-like hair. Unlike a protein overload, if your hair is over-processed, it usually needs protein. If your hair needs more than the products you're using can provide, you can purchase protein/keratin treatments at the local beauty supply store.
Google, Google, Google! I learned so much by doing this! From cowashing, drying, and styling videos to CG approved products, there's a lot of info out there. But again, refer to tips #1 and #2.
I wish you all many happy hair days!