The ultimate Curly Girl Method guide—everything you need to know to get started

If you're ready to try the Curly Girl Method out, here's what you'll need to get started

A girl with curly hair in a yellow jumper on a pink and yellow background for the curly girl method article
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If you have naturally curly hair, there comes a point in life when you realize that the the Curly Girl Method is pretty much the route to amazing curls. Whether you have mostly straightened your curls, or you have a bathroom cabinet bulging with tried and failed products from your curly hair experiments (including the best Olaplex products collection), the Curly Girl Method is the perfect solution—in fact, it even seems to have gained itself a cult following.

And the results often speak for themselves! Those with flourishing, styled, gorgeous curls often purport to trying out the method for the first time. We’re seeing more people than ever experimenting with their curls, coils and waves now, especially after not having access to hairdressers during lockdowns.

The method is more of a set of rules than a simple method, which was created by hairstylist Lorraine Massey to help people with curly hair to achieve the bounciest, healthiest curls possible. Here’s everything you need to know about the curly girl method—and if you feel a bit overwhelmed about the prospect of a brand new hair routine, why not take a look at our guide to the Curly Girl Method for beginners?

Meet the experts on the Curly Girl Method

  • Michelle Sultan (opens in new tab) is the Creative Director of Imbue Curls (opens in new tab), a vegan haircare brand dedicated to coils and curls. She explained to My Imperfect Life what exactly the Curly Girl Method is, the method to follow, and the product to use and avoid if following it.
  • Melissa Timperley (opens in new tab) is the owner of the award-winning Melissa Timperley Hair Salon (opens in new tab), based in Manchester, England. She herself is an international, award-winning hair stylist, and shared with MIL when exactly you should begin the Curly Girl Method.

What is the Curly Girl Method?

Put simply, the Curly Girl Method is a set of rules, dos, don’ts and products that, when applied consistently, gives curly hairstyles the best definition possible.

“It’s a system guaranteed to get your curls popping,” says Michelle Sultan, Creative Director of Imbue Curls (opens in new tab). “The Curly Girl Method makes sure that your natural curl pattern shines through every day. It’s designed to encourage the best kinks, curls and coils and helps to work with your natural texture, using products that have the perfect balance of moisture and protein.”

woman with curly hair

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The step-by-step Curly Girl Method routine: which products to use

As intimidating as it can be to start the Curly Girl Method, the method and product line-up is pretty simple.

“This method is all about the technique,” Michelle Sultan notes. “Thinking of it as a simplified routine that is easy to stick to and cuts out confusion is the best way to achieve success with the Curly Girl Method.” The steps below are the best jumping off point, leaving out any non-approved curly girl method products.

Use a reset/clarifying wash

Before you do anything, you do need to do a final ‘reset’ wash. This is basically a clarifying cleanse, to rid your hair of anything lurking from non-CGM approved products you have used, so your hair is back to square one. Use a suitable clarifying shampoo.

Cleanse your hair

Each wash-day, wash your hair with a CGM-approved cleanser (like one of the best shampoos for curly hair, for example), focussing on your scalp and then working it down the lengths. Do this for at least a minute to really dislodge dirt and grime. What cleanser should you use?

“Sulfate-free cleansers help to maintain natural moisture levels in the hair without stripping away natural oils,” says Sultan. “Curly hair tends to be drier because of the way that it grows out of the scalp from an oval shaped follicle.” Read our guide on what sulfates to do hair for a more in-depth explanation.

Use a conditioner

As a curly girl convert, be prepared to use a lot of conditioner if you want the definition from the best diffusers for curly hair. The CGM advocates a method called ‘squishing’, where you take a heaped handful of conditioner, apply to soaking wet hair post-cleanse and detangle before squishing in water to start to form your curls.

“Using a moisturizing conditioner is key,” notes Michelle. “Frizz is just a dehydrated curl waiting to happen, so using a mask or rich conditioner regularly will help keep the hair moisturized.”

woman with curly hair washing under a shower

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Apply a gel

For the Curly Girl Method, you layer gel on top of your wet, conditioned hair and then you dry—and you need a lot more than feels normal. Yes, it may feel a bit unnatural at first ,but it’s what’s going to create the cast that sets your curls in place.

Use the right hair towel

Use one of the best microfiber hair towels, so that you can ‘plop’ your curls, or gently scrunch out water without disrupting your curl formation.

Then, once your hair is 100% dry, you simply scrunch with your hands to break the gel cast.

Products and techniques to avoid for the Curly Girl Method

Over the years, there have been many variations on the Curly Girl Method, but the basic truths are always incorporated, which are to avoid ingredients that are harsh stripping or overly coating of hair.

For a product to be ‘curly girl compliant’ it cannot include sulphates, silicones, waxes and mineral oils and most alcohols (if it’s in a can, it’s not CGM-approved). If you’re thinking, ‘hang on, this is most of the hair care aisle!’ In previous years, yes—but the industry has come a long way with offering products that are effective and free-from ingredients that hinder your CGM dreams!

Rough-drying and heated tools are also banned with the method. So, if you normally reach for your dryer for a quicker washday then think again. Hot tools really can damage hair in general, but for curly hair, over use will change the texture of your hair and the pattern of your curls so it’s best avoided.

As for rough towel-drying, the rubbing can really disrupt the formation of your curls and cause frizz, so it’s time to get used to drip drying if you don't use a microfibre to soak the water away. Hair brushing is generally best avoided too—though it's worth checking out the best brushes for curly hair if you really want to use one.

Does the Curly Girl Method work for coily hair?

While there are some elements of the CGM that won’t work for tightly-coiled hair (plopping, breaking the cast) the outline of the method and the products to avoid are super relevant for coils too.

“The Curly Girl Method is for those with a wave, curl, coil or kinks…the difference is understanding what products work best for your hair type and in which order to use them,” says Michelle Sultan.

How long does it take for the Curly Girl Method to work?

woman with curly hair side profile, on the beach

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This is wholly dependent on where your curls are to begin with and of often you've had to search up how to repair damaged hair. Hair that has been manipulated a lot with heat is likely to take longer to work than hair that is worn curly all the time. “The truth is that every single person’s hair is different and grows at different rates and is styled differently,” says Sultan. 

“Trust the process and try to stick with the method as much as possible, and enjoy discovering your curls, coils or kinks in the best way possible.”

How do you start the Curly Girl Method?

As daunting as it can be, there is no perfect time to start. “Commit to the curls and avoid chopping and changing between wearing it curly for a day then straightening it for a day,” advises Melissa Timperley, owner of Melissa Timperley Hair Salon (opens in new tab). “This is because curls have a memory—so the more you wear it curly the more defined the curls will be.”

So pick a day and go ahead and get started with your new curly hair routine—you likely won't regret it!

Keeks is an award-winning digital & social content specialist a hair & beauty writer and a brand consultant. You can find her work in Cosmopolitan (in print and online), Refinery29, Harper’s Bazaar, Woman and Home, Women’s Health, My Imperfect Life, OK! Online and Hairdressers Journal