Thinking about starting the Curly Girl Method? I did, and I won’t lie, the Curly Girl Method is not for the faint of heart. It’s strict, and all the rules make hair care quite tedious. That said, It can also be very rewarding. It’s a pretty good feeling to look back and realize how long it’s been since you used a flat iron. And the feeling of finally being confident rocking your natural curls? Priceless. But it takes a lot of bad hair days and a lot of lessons learned to get to that point. To help you skip some of the frustration, I’ve put together some of my key lessons learned that made all the difference for me.
Why I started the “Curly Girl Method”
I noticed a year or two after college that my hair had gotten thinner, more brittle, and way frizzier. I thought it must have been from using too much heat on my hair. So, I decided to tackle my newfound hair problems by trying to wear my natural curls, and ditched the flat iron. This was tough at first, it took at least a few months to start to see my natural curl pattern showing up.
Right when I started to get discouraged, I discovered the “Curly Girl Method.” I decided this must be the way to fix all my previous hair transgressions. Reading through a blog post that summarized the rules, it made so much sense. No more silicones, no more heat, no more sulfates, and whole new set of “CGM approved” hair products.
It wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t easy. My bathroom became more cluttered than ever, desperately in need of organization. But, eventually, I got the hang of styling my curls, and my curl pattern emerged from all the previous damage. This was actually really cool, and I grew to love my curls. That brings me to lesson number 1…
1. Be patient – you won’t see results right away
That time period where I said I “got the hang of styling my curls” was not just about me learning how to apply curl gel. Nope, it also involved my hair taking time to bounce back from years of damage. My hair was so used to being flat ironed into submission each day that it couldn’t just snap into curl mode day one. I’ve heard from others starting the Curly Girl Method that it can take anywhere from a few weeks to 6 months or even a year to really see your natural curl pattern appear, so be patient! But, I did also learn a lot about how to style my fine, wavy curly hair. Here are a few of the lessons I learned in that area.
2. Products don’t work the same on all hair
This one was a curveball for sure. I was all for trying new hair products- really anything anyone would recommend. But I would often get disappointed when they would work terribly on my hair. This was because my hair was not the same as theirs- which looking back seems so obvious. But for instance, most Shea Moisture brand products that other girls would swear by would leave my hair looking super weighed down. It took a while for me to realize that with my fine, thin hair, I needed to avoid products with heavy butters in them and focus on lighter formulas.
3. Knowing your curl type helps. A lot.
Once I found a guide to different words to describe your curly hair, picking hair products became a lot easier. Curls can be grouped by shape, as seen in the illustration below. Beyond curl pattern, hair can also be described as thin, fine, thick, or coarse. Do you know the difference? It wasn’t until I started learning all this that I realized thin does not mean the actual strands of hair hair are thin.
4. How to apply curl gel
I always thought curl gel was not for me. After attempts in the past, desperately wanting to have effortless air-dried curls, I just couldn’t find success. I would apply it after getting out of the shower, briefly towel dry my hair, and then would scrunch away. Little did I know, I was doing it all wrong. Gel works best when applied to wet hair. Like, so much wetter than I would’ve thought. This helps it to soak in and coat all your hair evenly. Now, I spread curl gel evenly throughout my hair by finger-combing it through, add some more water to help my curls clump together, then put my hair in a microfiber towel for about 5 minutes to let it all soak in. After that, I either diffuse it or let it air dry.
5. Scrunch out the crunch
A catchy phrase popular amongst the curly girl community, this really changed the way I saw curl gel. As I mentioned above, I had tried using curl gel before. Based on my results, I really did not think curl gel would work for my hair. It left my hair feeling dry and crunchy. Little did I know, all I had to do was wait until my hair was completely dry, then scrunch it out to reveal soft, touchable curls! Waiting for your hair to dry is key. The “cruch” is a cast left behind from the gel. It helps hold your curls in place as they dry. So if you scrunch too early, you won’t get the same hold from your gel, and your hair can turn out frizzier.
6. Many products work best when paired with other products
This was so confusing to me at first. I really thought products were developed to just… work? But no, everything with curls has to be complicated. If you buy a product that doesn’t seem to work for you, try combining it with another product that will complement it. It also helps a lot to take pictures and notes on what worked and what didn’t. For example, through my experiments with curl gel, I realized it worked great paired with a curl foam. It really helps to document what works and what doesn’t, too. This leads me to my next lesson learned…
7. Take progress pictures!
You’re probably thinking this sounds like overkill… I mean, isn’t that more for like dieting and fitness goals? But this is so helpful in so many ways. For one, you can track which products worked well and which didn’t (I just edit the photos on my phone as seen below). But also, if you fall into a slump, it can be so encouraging to look back on pictures and realize how far you’ve come. I’ll look at my “curls” photo album in my phone sometimes and get completely re-motivated to put more effort into my curls.
8. How to balance protein and moisture
Did you know your hair could be better suited to protein rich products or completely not suited to them? The best way to figure it out is to try testing out different products on your hair. To find protein rich products, simply look for it first in the name of the product (many brands have styling products specifically for this). You can also look at the ingredients for any kind of protein. It won’t always say protein, but if you see “hydrolyzed” in the name of an ingredient, there’s a good chance it’s a protein. Here’s an example using one of the products from my photo above.
9. Pay attention to your scalp
It’s easy to get carried away with just tracking your hair styling success. But don’t forget to take care of your scalp. Your scalp is key to hair growth and hair health. Incorporate scalp cleansing masks, and don’t forget to use a clarifying treatment every now and then to remove build up. Looking at your scalp can also be good to check if any of your products are irritating it. If you see red patches, flakiness, etc, it’s time to do some problem solving.
10. The Curly Girl Method isn’t a cure-all
If you are starting the Curly Girl Method to solve hair thinning and damage, do some digging first. While a lot of the CGM rules will help to prevent damage, and can help you get your curl pattern back, it won’t necessarily prevent hair loss. Hair thinning and damage was part of the reason I started, and I wish I would’ve taken time to learn about all the different things that can cause hair loss before jumping into CGM. While I’m sure my hair was damaged from heat, I eventually realized that most of my hair thinning was probably hormone-driven. That’s a story for another time. Bottom line, take some time to do your research first.
Where I’m at in my “hair journey” now
After all that, you might be wondering if I stuck with the Curly Girl Method long term. I havn’t. There were multiple things that I felt like just didn’t work for me. I loved my results when I was putting in the time to do hair masks once a week, clarify my hair, diffuse my hair, and properly style it. Once I got tired of doing all that (I basically live in a messy bun now) and tracking my results, I realized I wanted a lower maintenance hair routine.
What I ditched from the Curly Girl Method
I’m back to using silicones (I’ve found my hair stays under control better with them). However, I only make this exception for some of my favorite hair products. For example, the Pillow Soft Curls Cream was my favorite curl cream before starting CGM. Now it’s my go-to for air dry hair days when I don’t care about having a strong hold.
I quit using “co-wash.” This is what you use in place of shampoo when following the Curly Girl method. I loved the idea, but for my thin, fine hair, I just needed to really get my hair clean in order to have any volume, and co-washes just weren’t doing the trick.
What I kept from the Curly Girl Method
How I dry my hair has definitely changed. I used to rub my hair like crazy to get it to dry more quickly. Now I can’t even imagine doing all that damage just to get my hair dry. Instead, I opt for a t-shirt or microfiber hair wrap like this one.
I always try to prevent damage while I sleep. Every night, I sleep on a silk pillowcase. These help to reduce friction damage to your hair as you sleep. The one I linked has a zipper, which I’ve found to be essential after using other pillowcase. Since the silk is so slippery, onces without zippers tend to slide off or out of place easily. If I really want my curls to stay in tact, I’ll also sleep in a buff. I’ve tried sleeping bonnets but I just struggle to get my hair all tucked in. All of these options are great to prevent friction damage while sleeping.
I pay more attention to ingredients and brand quality. While I don’t follow all the CGM rules around ingredients now, I do read the labels. I aim to buy products with clean ingredient lists and stick to brands I trust. A couple tools I use to do this include the Think Dirty app and the CurlsBot website. The latter is extremely helpful when you’re first getting started with the Curly Girl Method and struggling to figure out what you can and can’t buy. The Think Dirty App is more helpful for identifying toxic ingredients and finding clean beauty brands.
Good luck with your curls!
Whether you decide to take on the Curly Girl Method or not, I truly hope these lessons help you on your way to discovering how you want to take care of your hair. It’s so worth the effort. Looking to make a hair style change? Check out our list of super cute short hairstyles for women over 50. Or, if you have long hair and need some ways to put it up over the summer, you’ll love our list of braided updos for long hair. You should also check out our other beauty content including