A simple guide to the Curly Girl method

I mentioned recently that my hair has been endlessly awesome of late—I basically never have a bad hair day any more. The reason I’m not posting pictures is that this does not necessarily apply to my stunning good looks, unfortunately. (I want to get some nice portraits of me taken, which means “not via the cam in my MacBook Pro,” which is how I have been doing it.) A few people have asked me HOW I have managed to get such amazingly awesome hair.

The simple answer: The Curly Girl method.

I have had decades of hating my hair. From my mother pulling it unmercifully when combing it out to the other girls at school asking (yes, literally), “Did you stick your finger in a light socket?” to the heartbreak of split ends, I loathed my hair. When I was 10 or 11 I actually cut my hair off because I was so tired of being made fun of for having frizzy hair. The only time it behaved was when I put it up in a ponytail or tight braids. I never had long hair because long, frizzy hair is basically a one-way trip to Roseanne Roseannadanna-ville. To grow my hair one inch vertically requires about two inches of actual hair.

Since I’ve gone all-in on Curly Girl, I think my hair has grown 5 inches and it’s past my shoulders now. It’s shinier, bouncier, and, yes, curlier than ever. I’ve even gotten a bonus side effect I wasn’t expecting, but which I’m absolutely sure is a result of my new hair care regimen. (I’ll put it at the end of this blog post, under the TMI section.)

You can read all about the Curly Girl method in Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey. You can also read more than you can believe on the method and the products you should use at NaturallyCurly.com (note: I’ve got nothing to do with that site, I’m just a satisfied customer). And here’s another pretty good page on how to get started with the Curly Girl method from WikiHow.

Here’s the basics to get you started.

1. Stop washing your hair with the vast majority of hair care products.

You don’t want sulfates or silicones in your shampoo or conditioner. Sulfates strip your hair of its natural oils, and silicones coat the strands of your hair, making it feel soft and silky for a little while…at the same time keeping out moisture and making your hair dry, frizzy, and generally miserable. (So you wash harder. And use more silicone-rich conditioner. And so on, and so on…)

So the first thing to do is basically throw out every hair care product you have, because most of them contain sulfates or ingredients that end in -cone, -conol, or -xane. And all of them have ingredient lists too small to be read by the naked eye.

Most (but not all) of the hair care products at Whole Foods are good. (Yes, it’s time to go all vegan on your haircare regime and Read the labels.) A lot of the Suave products (but not all) are good. You can do a search at naturallycurly.com or use their iPhone app called Curls on the Go to look up various products and what people say about them. Most of the products at curlmart.com are perfect.

YES, buying all of these new products may be expensive, but a)you have to buy new haircare products anyhow, don’t you? and b)it’s cheaper than therapy. Also…you get to try new beauty products!

2. Actually, while you’re at it, stop washing your hair.

Yeah, I know. Sounds gross, right? I exercise 4-7 days a week and I thought, I mustmustmust wash my hair every time!

Going to every third day—a feat I would have sworn was impossible when I started—has done wonders for the health of my hair.

(If you have really oily hair, you might need to read what other oily curlies on CurlTalk (naturallycurly.com’s forum) have to say about what they do. Curly hair tends to be dry; oily curly hair is a pain in the tuchis. So read up.)

3. From now on, the only time you get to comb your hair is when it’s wet. And you only use a comb with big, widely-spaced teeth.

The number one bete noire of the curly girl is the split end, which we get with alarming frequency. So we use conditioners and haircare products with silicones in them to damp down the frizzies, which only exacerbates the problem.

You can practically cure the frizzies overnight by throwing your brush away and only combing when your hair is wet and thickly coated with conditioner. There’s a reason your hair is always easier to handle when it’s got conditioner on it; work with this knowledge.

And comb it upside down. Bend over at the waist and comb down. You need to get the hair away from your scalp. This will help with the ever important “lift” (that thing movie stars always have, so the hair “lifts” off their head and looks much richer and thicker?).

4. Put hairstyling product in your hair when it’s sopping wet.

Not when it’s dry. Once it’s dry, you don’t mess with it again until the next time you wash it. (The only exceptions to this: when you “scrunch out the crunch” from your product or when you scrunch in a little curl activator. But other than that: nonono.)

This is what I do: take a handful of product (I like Curl Junkie Coffee-Coco Curl Creme or Curl Junkie Curls In A Bottle, both available from CurlMart)—and when I say “handful” I don’t mean “quarter-sized dollop,” I mean “a goodly amount”—and bent over at the waist I scrunch it into my hair, lifting up from the ends and scrunching the hair upwards. Do not spread your fingers and comb the product through your hair! Let the product spread over your natural curl clumps. (This process sounds weird, but you get the hang of it very fast.)


Absolutely the worst thing we can do for our hair. Straight hair people can do things like blowdry their hair, because hair oils and sebum drip straight down their hair from the root to the ends and the shaft is protected. Curlies do not get oil and sebum all over their hair, because of (duh) the curl. The shaft is basically nekkid. You. Cannot. Blowdry. You are drying out your hair and begging for split ends doing that.

You’re killing your hair with a blowdryer. I don’t care how long your hair is or how long it takes to dry—you need to stretch out the washes. Experiment with some of the key changes, and work your way up to every other day. And then every third day. Your hair will love you for it.

With my hair still sopping wet, I put it in a “plop” and leave it in the towel for a half hour or so. I know, all this stupid new terminology. What “plopping” allows is for your hair to dry with the roots laying naturally and not being dragged down toward the ground by gravity. This is very important to get lift into your hair. (The best way of all to dry your hair would be to lie on the side of a bed and let your hair hang down from your scalp, but that’s not always possible, now is it?)

“Plopping” is way better than twisting your hair in a turban, which just stresses your curls, so STOP doing that too. (Google “How to plop hair” and you will get lots of links and videos on how to do it. It’s not hard, and it’s GREAT for your hair.)

If your hair takes too long to dry before you go to work, wash your hair the night before and plop it overnight. (Ever noticed your hair looks a heck of a lot better if you wash it at night and then fall asleep with it? Because it’s not fighting gravity, that’s why.)

<Joan Crawford voice>NO. BLOWDRYERS. EVER.</Joan Crawford voice>

6. Put your hair up for bed.

If you’re not going to be combing and brushing your hair any more (and you’re NOT), you need to keep it from being a tangled mess. Here are a few ways of doing that:

  1. Braid your hair before bed.
  2. Put your hair in a ponytail or a pineapple (a ponytail on the top of your head).
  3. Wear a satin nightcap.

Some women also have a satin pillowcase for their pillow.

I felt ridiculous putting my hair in a pineapple ponytail. Dorky gigantic fountain of hair is dorky! But the next morning, when I took my hair down and it looked PERFECT? Well, Darin was welcome to make fun of me if he wanted to: I was pineappling my hair every night. And it doesn’t get all messy and tangly the way it always has. And I have “lift” in my hair every day.

Your hair will thank you.

7. Get a new hairdresser.

Okay, this is probably the worst one to deal with, but very, very necessary.

Most hairdressers are taught how to cut straight hair. Straight hair is the same whether it’s dry or wet, so cut away! When it’s wet, you know how it’s going to look when dry: exactly the same, only with less moisture involved.

Not so for curly hair. We all know that wet curly hair (with the big straggly curl clumps and weird shape) looks 100% different than when it’s dry. So why on Earth would you cut it when it’s wet, when you don’t know how it’s going to look when it’s dry.

You have to find a hairdresser who will cut your hair dry. It’s as simple as that. They cut it, and then they wash it. If your hairdresser won’t cut your hair dry, FIND A NEW HAIRDRESSER.

I ran into a woman at the local coffee roasters who had the most perfect curly hair I’ve ever seen in my entire damn life and I asked her where she got it cut. One of the places she mentioned is Madusalon, which is a curly salon in San Francisco. I drove up there one day (hey! I was desperate!) for a two hour haircut (I know, right?) that left me with the best head of hair I’d ever had in my life…and I got the same results when working my hair at home.

I’ve since found curly salons much closer to home, but Madu was the first place to give me hope that I really could get a great haircut that looked good the next day.

Naturallycurly.com also has a list of hairdressers who cut curlies dry.

And now the TMI portion of this blog entry

I have suffered a horrible patch of psoriasis on my scalp since high school. Probably since I got hormones, you know? Terrible, horrible, flaky, itching, red. I hated having anyone (read: guys I was dating) touch the back of my head, because I was sure they were going to be able to tell I had this horrible, bumpy, grotesque patch of skin. Since at least freshman year of high school, okay? So I’ve had it a few years. I’ve seen several dermatologists. I’ve washed in gallons of zinc shampoo, both over the counter and prescription—mostly this served to tone down the itching, but the patch stayed right where it was. Psoriasis was simply a chronic condition I was going to have to live with.

Within a few months of going completely Curly Girl, the psoriasis has disappeared.

As in: Totally Gone.

Nothing but scalp skin.

Do yourself a favor and at the very least stop using those horrible drugstore shampoos, okay?


  1. Cassandra says

    I was thrilled to read about your psoriasis going away with this method. I have food allergies, and have never, in 30 + years of dealing with them, been able to eliminate the eczema from the back of my head. I’ve been doing the Curly Girl method for a couple of weeks now, and I’m hopeful that getting rid of some of the chemicals in my life will help! Thanks for posting about this!

  2. Jennifer says

    I don’t use curly girl, but patch testing revealed allergies to ingredients found in many hair products (and let’s just say I’m something of a hair product junkie). Some of the ingredients are ‘natural’ and therefore found in health food brands and high end ones too. But, like you, once I stopped using the offending products, my bouts of Biblical (as in epic) dandruff disappeared. Ahhhhh.

  3. karen hackney says

    WOW I have had psoriasis for over 25 years and have chemically relaxed my hair in between break-outs, it was horrible!!! Anyway every time I tried to relaxe my hair lately (6 months ago), I could’nt. So I have allowed my hair to go natural, and I am sooooo happy with it. I did the BIG CHOP. My hair is about 3-4 inches long now since December 2011. The itchy break outs have decreased. My hair texture is soft and wavy.I am so glad that I found this site! I plan to use the Curly Girl method and hope I can eliminate the woresominess of my scape. THANKS!

  4. Field Mouse says


    I have have kinky/curly hair, and have been using the curly girl method for a few days now. I already see a difference. No shampoo, no towel, no styling tools equals lovely moisturized curls. The best indicator for me is the people at work that keep asking me what I’m doing different because my hair looks great! I think it’s working.

  5. Andrea says

    I have patch Psoriasis too, one small patch on my left temple. I was so worried it would get bigger and eventually cover my head. I stopped using shampoo about 3 weeks ago, no-poo and co-washing now, and my Psoriasis also disappeared!

  6. Mary says

    I have a frend from High School who recently took up the Curly Girl method and her hair is so beautifully curly all the time now, it makes me jealous. I knew her as a straight haired girl all through HS… and having straighter slightly wavy hair myself, I’ve always dreamed of having curly hair, have spent countless times using curling irons and mousse and spray and still my curls would fall flat on me. I gave up, and now my hair is only wavy if I put it up in a wet bun then let it down after it is mostly dry, or kinked/wavy from drying in french braids. I am wondering how possible it really is to get wavy/ curlier hair with my kind of straight hair using the curly girl method? My friend has given me some advice and I have the Curly Girl book on hold at the library. But wondering if you have any advice for me?

  7. Kittymama says

    Mary, most of this advice will help you at least some because you won’t be “messing” with your curls. I am a straight-haired girl who still gets perms from time to time — I have a great stylist and everyone says it looks naturally wavy. But I use the Curly Girl method for the whole time I have the perm (and I avoid “bad” products when my hair is straight, even if I have to shampoo more often because my natural hair is super-fine and thin and oily), and it works great. It does tend to flatten out on top if it’s long, and that’s probably an issue for you, but all we can do is make the best of the hair we have — don’t we almost always want someone else’s hair, and the curlies dream of being straight and sleek? (P.S. I spent my whole senior year of high school drying my hair in French braids at night for crimping. It was the best!)