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A Step-by-Step Guide to The Curly Girl Method (+Approved Products)

If you have curly hair, you know the struggle is real. Whether your hair is wavy, coily, or somewhere in between, the Curly Girl Method has the power to radically change the appearance and health of your hair.

However, getting started with the Curly Girl Method (and finding Curly Girl Method approved products) is easier said than done, thanks to the countless blog posts and videos often-conflicting advice.

So that’s why I’ve created the guide! Follow along to learn how to do the Curly Girl Method step-by-step. I’ll tell you how to find curly girl method products and how to do the curly girl method (including co-washing hair). With some dedication, you’ll be taking your own Curly Girl Method before and after pictures in no time!


What Exactly is the Curly Girl Method?

The Curly Girl Method is a unique approach to hair care and styling of naturally curly hair. The Curly Girl Method recommends using Curly Girl Method approved products and certain styling techniques in order to improve hair health, accentuate curls, and reduce frizz.

Hairstylist and curl expert Lorraine Massey introduced the world to the Curly Girl Method in the early 2000s. The method has changed over the years to accommodate different curl patterns, but has retained a few key concepts:

  • No-poo or low-poo cleansing products that cleanse curls without stripping them of their natural protective oils. Curly hair is more prone to dryness and other hair issues that come with it (like breakage and frizz).
  • Using Curly Girl Method products that are formulated without sulfates, silicones, waxes, or mineral oils.
  • Detangling hair in the shower with the help of a conditioner. Typically, hair care experts recommend detangling damp hair outside of the shower with a wide-tooth. With the Curly Girl Method, however, you actually detangle your hair in the shower while you still have conditioner on your strands using only your fingers. This helps to prevent breakage and distribute much-needed moisture through your curls.
  • Scrunching hair with a curl-activating product like a gel or curl cream to define curls.
  • Using an old cotton t-shirt or bamboo towel to dry hair rather than a traditional cotton towel. Traditional cotton towels have rough fibers that can fray curls, leaving them frizzy. Old cotton t-shirts and bamboo towels have smoother fibers that absorb excess moisture without causing frizz.

Who is the Curly Girl Method Good For?

Since the purpose of the Curly Girl Method is to get healthy, defined curls, it makes sense that this approach to haircare works best for hair with some natural curl in it. Thus, the Curly Girl Method works for all curly hair types, from wavy to coily. The Curly Girl Method does not work for straight hair.

Curl Types

Many women who learned how to do the Curly Girl Method have discovered that their hair has way more curl than they ever dreamed (myself included!). If you have often struggled with unruly, dry, frizzy hair, you may have hidden curls that the Curly Girl Method will unleash. Learning how to do the Curly Girl Method can completely change the appearance of your hair.

Just take a look at Curly Girl Method before and after photos to see what I mean!

Curly Girl Method Approved Products: The Basics

Before we get into how to do the Curly Girl Method, you’ll need a few Curly Girl Method approved products to get started:

Now that you have your Curly Girl Method approved products together, let’s talk about how to do the Curly Girl Method.

How to Do the Curly Girl Method: Step-by-Step

Now I’m sure you’re wondering how to do the Curly Girl Method! Here’s how to do the Curly Girl Method step-by-step.

Step 0: Reset Wash

First up, do a reset cleanse to remove product build-up from your strands. You can either use a sulfate-containing shampoo or exfoliating cleanser like Hairlust Scalp Delight™ Detox Scrub. While Scalp Delight™ Detox Scrub does not contain any sulfates, it does contain rice powder that gently scrubs away build-up from the scalp and hair.

Now that your scalp is fresh and clean, you’re ready to start the Curly Girl Method. How to do the Curly Girl Method:

Step 1: Cleanse

Wash your hair with a co-wash conditioner or a sulfate-free, low-poo shampoo. I use Hairlust Curl Crush™ Shampoo and Curl Crush™ Co-Wash interchangeably. Both are Curly Girl Method approved products that gently cleanse my curls without stripping them. Massage your scalp for at least one minute before rinsing. I love using a Scalp Delight™ Scalp Massage Brush for this part! With soft bristles, a Scalp Massage Brush makes cleansing curls so easy and it feels amazing. Then rinse out, allowing the suds to wash over the rest of your hair.

Step 2: Condition & Detangle

Next, apply a healthy amount of a silicone-free conditioner to your curls. You want to make sure that you saturate your hair with conditioner. It should feel slimy! Then gently detangle your curls with your fingers.

Finally, rinse most (but not all) of the conditioner from your hair. I like Curl Crush™ Conditioner for this step.

Step 3: Style

Now that your hair is detangled and clean, it’s time to apply your curl activator. Some Curly Girl Method fans advocate for hair gel, and some prefer a cream formula like Hairlust Curl Crush™ Defining Cream. Another great option especially for those with fine or thin curls is Curl Crush™ Defining Mousse, which adds bouncy volume while defining the curls. Whichever Curly Girl Method product you choose to style your hair, rake the product through your damp hair or smooth it over curls. Then scrunch your hair to define your curls. You can also layer different styling products according to your preferences and curl type.

Step 4: Plop

Wrap hair in an old cotton t-shirt or a Bamboo Hair Towel Wrap using the “plop” method. Flip your head upside down and wrap your hair towel around the base of your head. Tie in the front, and then flip over to “plop” your curls. I like to keep my hair wrapped while I apply make-up to remove excess moisture. Then I either let my hair air dry, or I dry it with a diffuser on low heat.

Step 5: Repeat

Repeat steps 1-4 any time you get your hair wet. Alternate using a low-poo shampoo for curly hair with co-washing hair (more on that below).

Curly Girl Method Approved Products: What to Avoid

Using Curly Girl Method approved products means avoiding a lot of hair care products and common ingredients. The ones to look out (and avoid) for include:

  • Sulfates, which are harsh detergents often added to shampoos.
  • Silicones, which are polymers added to most conditioners and styling products. Silicones coat the hair and give it a smooth and shiny look. However, silicones do not dissolve easy in water and many can only be removed from hair by using a shampoo containing sulfates. Since sulfates aren’t allowed on the Curly Girl Method, if you continue to use silicones on your hair, they will build up. The result? Your hair will look greasy and flat – not what you want! That’s why it’s so important to avoid silicones when following the Curly Girl Method.
  • Waxes and minerals, which can also only be removed from the hair by the use of sulfates.
  • Alcohols, which can damage and dry out your hair. But note that not all alcohols are bad (like sugar alcohols those are found naturally in plants and they are actually good for your hair), but avoid the ones that can dry out your hair, often found in aerosol products like hairspray and dry shampoo.
  • Traditional shampoos that contain sulfates. Traditional shampoos are too harsh for curls, which tend to be more brittle and dry.

When you’re shopping, always check the ingredient labels to find out which products are Curly Girl Method approved products.

Curl Types

There are also some traditional styling techniques that you should avoid. For one, never use a traditional hair brush on your curls! Hair brushes pull your hair out of its natural curl patterns, which can make your hair look frizzy and unmanageable (if you have curly hair, you know exactly what I mean). However, a special curl defining brush can actually help you get more defined curls! For gentle detangling, you can try using a wide-tooth comb with your conditioner in the shower.

Additionally, you want to avoid heat styling your hair as much as possible. Heat styling dries out and damages curls. Many people notice a drastic Curly Girl Method before and after from this change alone! Occasionally using a diffuser on a low-heat setting is fine.

Finally, skip towel-drying your hair with traditional cotton towels! As I mentioned before, traditional cotton towels have rough fibers that fray delicate curls. Rubbing a cotton towel on your hair further exacerbates the issue.

Some Curly Girl Method advocates say that you should not color your hair. And it’s true, hair color – especially hair bleach – can damage your curls. But some people continue to color their hair and experience great results.

What Are the Best Curly Girl Method Products?

Feeling overwhelmed? That’s okay! That’s how I felt too. If you’re not sure which Curly Girl Method approved products to start out with, these are my recommendations:

Curl Crush™ Shampoo

This low-poo shampoo is a Curly Girl Method product because of its gentle formulation that cleanses hair without stripping it. It contains a mix of hydrating and strengthening ingredients that improve the health of your curls with every wash.

Curl Crush™ Conditioner

I love this hair conditioner for curly hair! It contains moisturizing ingredients like aloe vera that hydrate and define curls without weighing them down. Plus, strengthening vegan micro-proteins promote healthy hair growth.

Curl Crush™ Co-Wash

This co-wash is specifically formulated to cleanse curly hair. Co-washing allows you to wash your hair regularly, while keeping your curls hydrated and defined. A great option for those with extra dry and frizzy curls that want to cleanse their hair without stripping it of its oils. The secret lies in a blend of hydrating botanicals, including organic aloe vera, avocado oil, and mango extract.

Curl Crush™ Hair Mask

If you’re looking for a Curly Girl Method product to deep condition and strengthen your locks, look no further. Curl Crush™ Hair Mask provides a balance of protein and moisturizing ingredients that penetrate the hair shaft, strengthening from the outside in.

Curl Crush™ Defining Cream

This Curly Girl Method approved product defines curls without leaving a crunchy cast. Use Curl Crush™ Defining Cream in wet hair to create frizz-free, bouncy curls, or on dry to hair to reactivate wilted curls.

Curl Crush™ Defining Gel

For those who prefer a stronger hold compared to curl creams, I recommend Curl Crush™ Defining Gel that gives hold, definition and shine, while protecting your curls from heat and frizz inducing humidity. The perfect choice for those who like to dry their hair with a diffuser!

Curl Crush™ Defining Mousse

Do your curls fall flat if you use heavy styling products? Try a lightweight curl mousse. My favorite is Curl Crush™ Defining Mousse, which adds plenty of bounce, body and definition.

Curl Crush™ Fine Mist Spray Bottle

You might not have thought so, but a high-quality fine spray bottle is truly essential for effortless hydration and styling of dry curls in between wash days. The Curl Crush™ Fine Mist Spray Bottle is designed to be filled with either water or a blend of water and your favorite leave-in conditioner. Its fine mist evenly coats your curls without soaking them, rejuvenating your curl pattern and preserving moisture. Next, follow up with a curl-defining product of your choice.

Bamboo Defining Brush

While in general, you should avoid brushing your curls - especially when dry, this brush is an exception. Bamboo Defining Brush glides easily through (damp) hair providing frizz-control, definition, and body. This innovative defining brush helps to form your curls by distributing styling product, giving lift from the roots, and creating defined clumps. Use it together with the Curl Crush™ Defining Cream for best results.

Scalp Delight™ Detox Scrub

I use Hairlust Scalp Delight™ Detox Scrub whenever I accidentally use a product that contains silicones, waxes, or mineral oils. I love Scalp Delight™ Detox Scrub because it gently clarifies my hair and scalp. And since it’s formulated moisturizing aloe vera, I know that it’s not going to dry out my curls.

Scalp Delight™ Scalp Massage Brush

This handy scalp brush is seriously a lifesaver! A minute may not sound like a long time, but your fingers can get very tired when you’re co-washing hair! That’s why I love this simple solution. With an ergonomic grip and soft bristles, it helps me to cleanse my hair and massage my scalp without tiring out my fingers.

Split Fix™ Leave-in Conditioner

To provide additional hydration and nourishment, especially in between wash days, try a silicone-free leave-in conditioner or a hair oil for curls. They are a great addition to your curl refreshing routine alongside a curl cream. Split Fix™ Leave-in Conditioner is formulated with organic aloe vera, coconut water, acai, and apple fruit extract that give an instant boost of hydration to parched curls.

Bamboo Hair Towel Wrap

In my opinion, the Bamboo Hair Towel Wrap is ideal for plopping. Bamboo has smooth fibers that are super-absorbed, which allows your hair to dry much faster. And when you’re always air-drying your hair, that makes a huge difference!

Bamboo Towel Pillowcase

For those of you who prefer to wash your hair before bed, I recommend the Bamboo Towel Pillowcase. Technically sleeping with wet hair isn’t approved by the Curly Girl Method, but I know it’s not always possible to wash and air dry your curls before work! Like the Bamboo Hair Towel Wrap, the Bamboo Towel Pillowcase is made with ultra-smooth, absorbent bamboo fibers that help to dry your curls without causing frizz.

Silky Bamboo Pillowcase

Some Curly Girl Method fans recommend wrapping your hair in a silk or satin scarf before bed. This prevents the rough cotton fibres of a traditional pillowcase from creating frizz. If you don’t want to wear a headscarf to bed, however, swapping out your cotton pillowcase for Silky Bamboo Pillowcase also works nicely. This pillowcase is made with smooth bamboo fibres that don’t tug on hair at night. Wake up in the morning without a bedhead! Tip: try also the matching Silky Bamboo Duvet Cover!

How to Do the Curly Girl Method: FAQs

Now it’s time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about how to do the Curly Girl Method!

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What Does It Mean to Co-Wash Hair?

What does “co-washing hair” mean? To co-wash hair basically means to cleanse it with a conditioner instead of a shampoo.

Learning to co-wash hair is definitely the most awkward part of learning how to do the Curly Girl Method because it goes against so much about what we’ve been taught about hair care! But the main reason why you should co-wash your hair instead of shampooing it is because curly hair is more prone to dryness. Therefore, you don’t need to shampoo it as often to remove excess hair oils.

Instead, you need a conditioner that’s specifically formulated to co-wash hair. Co-washing hair conditioners are different from traditional conditioners because they are more lightweight, which is why they work well for cleansing hair.

To co-wash hair, apply a co-washing hair conditioner to your hair, concentrating on the roots (where oil tends to build up). Using your fingertips or Scalp Delight™ Scalp Massage Brush, scrub your scalp for at least one minute. Why so long? Well, without lathering sulfates, you’ll need to make a little extra effort to get your hair clean. Flip your head upside down to rinse out the product. This allows it to cleanse your lengths. Follow co-washing hair with conditioner and the rest of your routine!

How Often Should I Shampoo My Curls?

You’ll need to alternate co-washing hair and washing hair with low-poo shampoo. But how often you co-wash hair and shampoo depends on your scalp, hair type, and the sorts of styling products you use.

Here’s some general guidelines to get you started:

  • Fine Waves or Curls – Try cleansing your hair with a low-poo shampoo every other day. If you need to wet your hair more often (for example, if your hair gets sweaty from exercise), then try co-washing your hair. Whether you co-wash hair or shampoo it, always follow with a conditioner.
  • Medium-to-Thick Curls – Use a low-poo shampoo once per week. Co-wash hair in between cleansing to refresh your curls.
  • Coily Hair – Co-wash hair with water and conditioner once per week.

Learn more about how to wash curly hair here.

When following the Curly Girl method, understanding your hair type and its porosity is essential to creating a hair care routine that works for you. Your hair type determines which products and techniques work best for your curls. Hair porosity refers to how well your hair retains moisture, and this influences which ingredients and treatments you should try. By learning about your hair type and hair porosity, you can choose products that nourish and moisturize your curls in a way that best suits your personal routine. So experiment and find a routine that works for you!

Do I Need to Deep Condition My Curls?

Even though the Curly Girl Method is a haircare routine designed to maintain hair moisture, sometimes you’ll still need to use a deep moisturizing treatment.

As with how often you cleanse your hair, how often you deep condition your hair will depend on your hair type and health. I recommend that you start with deep conditioning your hair once per week. Use in place of your usual conditioner and leave on for five to ten minutes before continuing on the rest of your Curly Girl Method routine.

Balance Moisture and Protein

Hint: make sure to use a curly girl method approved product to deep condition your hair!

My favorite is Hairlust Curl Crush™ Hair Mask. I like this product because it offers a balance of protein and moisturizing ingredients, which strengthen and hydrate parched curls. If you have curls that have previously been damaged by chemical treatments, hair color, or heat styling, you will especially love this deep conditioning treatment!

As you continue on your Curly Girl Method journey, you may find that once per week is too much or too list moisture for your hair. How do you know if you’re over-moisturizing your hair? Hair that is over-moisturized looks limp and flat and may even lose its curls altogether. Hair that requires more moisture, on the other hand, will feel dry and rough to the touch.

Keep an eye on your curls to help you find an appropriate deep moisturizing schedule for your hair.

The Results: Curly Girl Method Before and After

So how long does it take to see results? Of course when you see all those glorious Curly Girl Method before and after photos (you know, the ones where frizzy lank hair magically transforms into bounce, shiny curls), you begin to wonder when it will be time to take your own Curly Girl Method before and after photos!

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Learning how to do the Curly Girl Method requires much experimentation. You’ll probably try many cleansing methods and styling routines before you land on one that works for your curls. Thus, there is no set timeline when learning how to do the Curly Girl Method.

Also, keep in mind that following the Curly Girl Method will not change the texture of your hair. If you have wavy hair, sticking to the Curly Girl method won’t magically give you curls. It will, however, improve the health of your hair and define your waves. For people with very damaged hair, that can still result in a very dramatic Curly Girl Method before and after photo!

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