I Tried the Curly Girl Method on My Wavy Hair, and I'm Never Going Back

There's hope out there for all those in-between hair types.

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Portrait of freckled young woman with curly red hair
Photo: Getty Images

I first heard about the Curly Girl Method years ago, but I never considered it an option for my in-between, wavy hair. Even calling my hair wavy has always felt a little generous: Whatever wave my hair is sporting on any given day is almost always overshadowed by some show-stealing frizz, dry texture, and altogether unwieldiness—it wasn't obviously curly hair. What I didn't realize was that, to the Curly Girl community, my hair struggles simply translate to potential.

My friend Susanna, a follower of the Curly Girl Method—a curly hair maintenance routine credited to Lorraine Massey's Curly Girl: The Handbook—for three years, introduced me to the world of Curly Girl Facebook groups. Even though she's not as devout a follower as some—meaning she sometimes uses shampoo and styles with hot tools—her testimonial had me convinced that I could give the Curly Girl Method a try.

Susanna's bouncy curls are the kind that look so perfectly effortless you just assume it's a result of genetic blessings and not much else. But after seeing that her "before" hair didn't actually look that different from my wavy locks, I was optimistic about what this routine could do for me. Plus, learning about these online communities meant that I could, in resourceful millennial fashion, get all the info I needed from searching the internet instead of reading the book (sorry, Lorraine Massey).

The Curly Girl Method and its followers

The Curly Girl Facebook groups are like intensely dedicated book clubs centered around Curly Girl: The Handbook. You won't be shamed for showing up without reading the book, but you may be politely scolded if you try to post without doing a little bit of research beforehand. Research, in this case, means reading through the files posted by the group administrators and using the search function to avoid asking redundant questions. The files offer an abbreviated, broken down version of the Curly Girl Method, and all the dos and don'ts that come along with it.

I should say that I'm breaking one of the group rules by writing about it at all. It's one of those "what happens here, stays here" communities. I won't include the specific group I'm a member of, but I can say that a simple search of "curly girl method" in Facebook groups will yield more than 100 results, with some of the biggest groups having a couple hundred thousand members. If you're interested in joining any of these spaces, all you have to do is ask (read: hit the "join" button to request access).

To Curly Girl experts, the Curly Girl Method involves understanding your hair's porosity level, feeding your strands the correct amount of protein, and remembering a long list of sulfates and silicones to avoid at all costs. Silicones can create a waxy buildup that weighs down your hair so it won't hold a curl. The only sure thing I knew about my hair is that if I blow dry and brush it, it'll increase in size by about 30 percent, so all of this new information and hair science was overwhelming.

Fortunately, baby steps are encouraged, so I focused on the two aspects that seemed the most important: co-washing and post-shower styling. Co-washing is a shorthand for the most central element of the Curly Girl Method, which involves ditching shampoo altogether and only washing with Curly Girl–approved conditioners. Curly Girl–approved conditioners are free of sulfates, drying alcohols, silicones, waxes, and non-natural oils. If you're new to the method, there's a high likelihood that your current products are not CG-safe and that your eye isn't trained to recognize the very specific list of ingredients that do or don't make the cut. There are a few online ingredient checkers out there, such as CurlsBot and Is It CG?, but they're not always fully up to date or reliable. That's where having access to thousands of CG devotees can really come in handy.

What Newbies Like Me Want to Know

"Is this safe?" is the most popular post topic in the Curly Girl Method group, always supplemented with a photo of product ingredients lists. Commenters are quick to point out a sneaky silicone or a suspicious alcohol in the mix if the product doesn't fit within the list of Curly Girl–approved products.

The next most common type of post is probably the frustration post. These are the posts where Curly Girls—also called curlies, or, in my case, wavies—aren't getting their desired results and have just about had it with their hair. They usually express sentiments of feeling discouraged and getting close to throwing in the microfiber towel. Commenters sometimes try to give their diagnoses: "Did you do a final wash?", "How long have you been plopping?", "It looks like your hair could use some more protein." Others offer a commonly circulated reminder, "This is a marathon, not a sprint," and encourage the person to keep at it.

On my own Curly Girl journey, I had to figure out what to do with my hair once I got out of the shower—believe it or not, there is a correct order to apply hair products. There are even products designed for pre-pooing or before you shampoo. Like everything else with this method, figuring out how to style your curls after co-washing them is a matter of trial and error—and learning a whole new vocabulary. Certainly, those who have used a diffuser on their curly hair have probably made one or all the common mistakes. My research on styling options is just the tip of the iceberg and everyone will have their own routine, but these are the methods that have worked for me.

My Curly Girl Method Steps


After scrolling through the Facebook group to identify people who's hair looked most like mine and seeing what products they used, I ended up choosing a popular option: the As I Am Coconut Co-Wash. I wash my hair with it in the shower just as I would with a shampoo.

As I Am Coconut Cowash


"Squish to Condish"

Next, I "squish to condish," using my co-wash for a second time. This part takes place at the end of the shower, with dripping wet hair flipped upside down. "Squishing" in conditioner this way is said to help the curls form and lock in the moisture from the water.

Apply product

After rinsing out the conditioner and getting out of the shower, I apply gel—something I haven't touched since my middle school days of ill-advised hair styling. I've learned that applying gel, and a lot of it, to still-wet hair is key.

Air dry

Then, I leave my hair alone and let it air dry. Since I ditched the blow dryer pretty early on in life, this part wasn't too hard for me to get used to. The harder part is resisting the urge to touch my hair at all since that can interfere with how the curls form and cause extra frizz. (It also unfortunately means no naps during the hair drying process.)

"Scrunch Out the Crunch"

Once my hair is dry and a gel cast (basically a crunchy film on the hair) has formed, I SOTC. Curly Girl translation: scrunch out the crunch. This one's pretty self-explanatory, and it can save you from having hair texture that you can hear. I just use my hands or a microfiber towel to gently scrunch my hair and break up any strands that clumped together when drying.

My review of the Curly Girl Method

curly girl method before and after photo
Morgan Noll, Design: Olivia Barr

When Susanna first introduced me to the Curly Girl Method, she couldn't tell me exactly how my hair would respond, but she did say that no matter what, "You're going to look different."

I was excited about this. I'm a big proponent of adjusting your hair with your lifestyle changes (yes, that includes the breakup haircut). Besides, textured curls are an on-trend winter hairstyle. I recently finished school and moved to a new city, so I was past-due for a new hair experiment—but the process was a slow burn.

It didn't take me long to learn about "transition hair." Like many others, I was starting out with hair that had been through it all—bleach, box dyes, heat products, and even a semester in a highly polluted environment. As I learned from the Facebook page, most people who start the Curly Girl Method are coming into it with years of hair damage, so it can take many months to fully repair. According to Lorraine Massey, this is particularly an issue for women transitioning from full-coverage color to natural gray hair. For the first couple weeks, my hair was greasy, flat, and never felt clean. I felt like maybe I was getting some extra curl, but I resorted to a ponytail every day to distract from the grease. I was impatient but I stuck with it because I knew the process was "a marathon, not a sprint." Still, if you're looking for a quick fix to your hair concerns, the Curly Girl Method isn't it.

After a few weeks, I started to make it over the hump and I noticed a change in my hair. I learned to scrub a little longer in the shower, about five to seven minutes, and I felt like I was starting to get a grip on all the squishing and scrunching.

I'm not sure what category my hair falls into now, but it definitely looks different. When I do all the right steps and take the time to leave my hair completely alone as it dries, it's less frizzy, it feels healthier, and it's far more manageable. Before Curly Girl, I would never know what my hair was going to look like after each wash. My good hair days were few and far between. Now I feel like I have more control over my hair and how my texture turns out. And not only do my waves look more defined, but I'm even starting to notice a few ringlets.

Though it's not quite the drastic change I had in mind when I started, the improvements I've seen in my hair quality are enough to keep me going down this route. It's an ongoing experiment and I'm excited for what the future will bring, like clarifying rinses, hair serums, and deep-conditioning treatments. Highlights for curly hair might even be an option.

But aside from my hair's improved-not-perfected texture and appearance, the most exciting change from the Curly Girl Method is the new attitude I have toward my strands. For example, when I want to "look nice" for something, I no longer reach for the straightener—I just spend more time caring for and styling my waves.

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