So perhaps you were on naturallycurly.com, the de facto headquarters of the method and an absolute treasure trove of information, and you just wanted some product recommendations or a cut that would help you tame your curly hair. Maybe you heard about the Curly Girl method from a friend or coworker. Maybe you eagerly looked at the WikiHow article on how to follow the method or went to your library or bookstore to pick up the book that inspired it all.
No matter how you found out about the Curly Girl method, I guarantee that once you found out about it, you had some mixed feelings. You heard about not shampooing and no silicones, about sulfates and surfactants, and probably got a little overwhelmed unless you happen to have a degree in chemistry. I want to straighten everything out in one place. Read on, and perhaps you'll find out that the Curly Girl method is exactly what you and your curls have been looking for.
WHAT DOES CG MEAN? WHO CAME UP WITH IT?
"CG" is the abbreviation for the Curly Girl method of caring for curly hair. It was developed by Lorraine Massey, owner of Devachan Salon in New York City. She's considered one of the foremost experts in curly hair care. She wrote the book on the method.
WHAT DOES THE METHOD DO TO YOUR HAIR?
CG does not work for everyone, but when it does work, the results are absolutely startling. Check out the Before and After thread on the CurlTalk forum on naturallycurly.com. Many find that when they follow the CG method, their once frizzy, dry damaged curls transform into well hydrated, glossy, soft, bouncy curls that are every bit as healthy as they look.
Here is my own personal before and after comparison.
|On the left, my hair in 2008. On the right, my hair in 2012. The results didn't take that long to show, but I thought these were really great comparison shots since it's roughly the same length and cut shape.|
Here is why the method works so well. It is completely scientifically based.
Most commercial shampoos contain sulfates. Check the ingredient label on your shampoo bottle. Odds are, it contains something like "sodium lauryl sulfate" or "ammonium laurel sulfate."
What you probably don't realize is that if you check the ingredients list on your favorite dish detergent, odds are it also contains one of those ingredients very high on the list.
That's right. One of the primary ingredients in your shampoo is the same as one of the primary ingredients that is in your dish detergent. The same stuff you are putting in your hair is the same stuff you're using to scrub the meatloaf off the dinnerware.
A fun comparison: Here is the shampoo I used before CG, next to a bottle of the dish detergent I use.
Below is a comparison of their ingredient labels. You'll see the first two ingredients are exactly the same. These two ingredients make up most of the product.
So why would they put dish detergent ingredients in shampoo? It's simple: sulfates are surfactants. Surfactants are molecules that can reduce tension between oil and water. To put it simply: they are highly effective grease fighters. They can cut through oil and grime and leave the things they touch oil-free.
Well if it cuts grease, I suppose it's ok for my hair. Wrong. And here's why.
Curly hair is fundamentally different from straight hair. Ever wonder why your friends with straight hair have glossy, shiny hair, while yours is dull and frizzy in comparison? Straight hair is naturally better moisturized. Straight-haired people have a head start on us curlies in terms of moisture! This is because the oil secreted by the sebaceous glands in your scalp can't travel down your spirals as well as it can for straight hair. The results? Straight hair looks glossy and healthy, while curly hair looks dry and frizzy, often with an oily scalp to boot.
The overall result of using sulfate-based shampoos to clean curly hair is that your hair looks dull and dry because it is completely starved for oil and moisture, while those with straight-hair can use sulfates and still look well moisturized because they have a moisture head start and the sulfates have a harder time penetrating the hair shaft.
How can we fix this problem?
HOW CAN YOU GET YOUR HAIR CLEAN WITHOUT DESTROYING IT WITH SULFATES?
There's really good news for curlies. We can simply not shampoo our hair. We still wash it and it still gets clean. It doesn't smell and your scalp won't be oily.
By replacing your harsh sulfate-based shampoo with a gentle conditioner wash, or a "co-wash".
HOW DOES CONDITIONER GET YOUR HAIR CLEAN?
Conditioners contain surfactants, just like shampoo. The difference is that the surfactants in conditioners are not anywhere near as harsh and drying on your hair as sulfate surfactants are. These gentle "secondary surfactants" will lift off dirt, oil, and grime from your hair and scalp and leave them perfectly clean with the use of manual friction. Scrub your scalp and hair with conditioner, and it will get clean.
SO IF GENTLE SURFACTANTS CLEAN YOUR HAIR, WHY DO SHAMPOOS USE SULFATES IN THE FIRST PLACE?
First of all, the harsh sulfates in shampoos and dish detergents are really cheap.
Another reason that shampoo companies put sulfates in their shampoos instead of using more gentle cleansers is that most hair products that you use to condition and style your hair contain molecules called silicones.
Silicones are all around you. They are in cookware, doctor's offices, lubricants, electronics, insulation, and hair care products.
Silicones are used in hair products because they coat the cuticle of the hair, making the layers that compose the cuticle lay flat against the hair shaft. This means that silicones can be effective quick fixes for frizz and flyaways.
WHY ARE SILICONES BAD?
Solving frizz seems like a good thing, right? So why are silicones bad?
They do not dissolve in water. Therefore, just stepping in your shower will not get rid of them. You need to use a sulfate to remove them completely. It's an endless cycle. You wash with sulfates, use silicone to calm the cuticle because the sulfates made your hair dry, then you need to wash with sulfates to get rid of the silicone.
If you simply try to cut out sulfates without cutting silicones, you won't like the result. The silicones, which have sealed your cuticle shut, will result in build up (greasy gunk) and even such extremes as hair loss if you continue to fail to remove the silicone.
ELIMINATE SILICONES SO YOU CAN ELIMINATE SULFATES
Fortunately, there are lots of products for conditioning and styling curly hair that are sulfate free and silicone free.
This is the basis of the CG method. Get rid of sulfates and silicones, moisturize your curls, and see results.
THERE IS NO WAY I CAN WASH MY HAIR WITH CONDITIONER! IT'S TOO GREASY!
Odds are, you're wrong. There are relatively few people who truly have naturally oily scalps to the point where their hair is truly greasy without frequent sulfate cleansing.
The reason that many curly haired people believe that they must wash their hair with shampoo everyday is that their scalps are crying out for help. When your hair is completely stripped of its natural oils by sulfates each and every day, your scalp goes into hyperactive mode. Your cells flip on a switch that says, "Help! The scalp has no oil!" and your glands dutifully respond, producing gobs of oil to compensate. Your glands don't realize that all of the extra oil they put so much effort into making is just going to be stripped again anyway the next time you shampoo.
HOW DO YOU START CG?
Before you do anything else, you must do one last wash with a sulfate-based shampoo to completely cleanse your hair of any silicones and product buildup. If you skip this step, you'll end up with gunky buildup. This step is critical.
After you've washed your hair with a sulfate shampoo for the last time, it's time to do your first cowash. This can be done in the same shower that you do your last sulfate wash in, or you can wait. If you wait however, just remember that you can't put any silicones into your hair.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF A PRODUCT IS CG FRIENDLY?
You read the ingredients label! Silicones are very easy to spot with practice. A silicone ingredient with end with -cone, -conol, or -xane. Examples include: dimethicone, dimethiconol, amodimethicone, cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and trimethicone. None of these are water soluble, so you cannot use them with the CG method.
Make sure you don't confuse silicones with preservatives, which frequently end in -one (rather than -cone). Methylchloroisothiazolinone, while a mouthful, is a water soluble preservative, and is perfectly CG friendly.
Another little complexity about silicones is that scientists can modify their structure to make them water soluble. These 'cones are CG friendly. They can be removed with cowashing. If a silicone ingredient (-cone, -conol, or -xane) is prefaced with PEG or PPG, it is water soluble. So PEG-12 Dimethicone is water soluble, and CG friendly.
Sum up: CG products will be silicone free conditioners, stylers, creams, gels, pomades, sprays, etc. The way to spot a cone is to look for -cone, -conol, or -xane. If there isnt a PEG- or PPG- in front of that cone, it isn't water soluble, and therefore isn't CG friendly.
I DID MY LAST SULFATE SHAMPOO AND I'M READY TO COWASH. NOW WHAT?
Pick a light, silicone free conditioner. The most popular and readily available conditioners to cowash are the Suave Naturals conditioners (many like Suave Naturals Coconut) and the VO5 conditioners (these are lighter than the Suave line). There are plenty of other options, but these are good starter cowashes because they are cheap and easy to obtain. I've got a list at the bottom of this post with conditioner and product recommendations.
Here's how to cowash. Take a large puddle of the conditioner and use the pads of your fingertips (not your nails) and scrub your scalp just as you would have done with shampoo. If you need more conditioner, use it. The amount each person will need will vary. If your hair feels dry, use more. If your hair soaks it all up, use more. Don't be afraid of it. The key is to really scrub. Scrub until your arms are tired. Scrub all over your entire scalp. Enjoy the massage!
After you've scrubbed your whole scalp with conditioner, take another small puddle and scrub the length like you would with shampoo.
When you rinse it out, keep scrubbing. Scrubbing while rinsing ensures that all the grime and oil is being lifted and carried away.
Now you've cowashed and your hair is clean but moisturized!
AFTER COWASHING, NOW WHAT?
After cowashing, you'll want to use a thicker, richer conditioner to moisturize your hair. The key to success of the CG routine is moisture. This conditioner can be either entirely or partially rinsed out (if you partially rinse out, the remainder functions as a leave in).
There are lots and lots of conditioners that are CG friendly. I've listed some links at the bottom of this post with some good stand-bys. You just have to know where to look. More and more stores have organic sections now which carry lines with silicone-free conditioners. Organic stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's also carry several CG conditioners. Sally's Beauty and ULTA carry some. Then, there is the wide world of conditioners available online. Check down below for some starter ideas! Also, most of the users of naturallycurly.com's forum CurlTalk list their favorite products in their signatures, so find a member with hair like yours, and see what they are using!
PUT DOWN THAT BRUSH AND STEP AWAY FROM THE TERRY CLOTH!
Never ever ever ever EVER comb or brush curly hair dry! This is begging for damage and breakage! Bristle brushes and brushes with little balls on the end of the spokes break up your curl pattern and cause frizz. Wide toother combs are more gentle, mimicking your fingers.
Terry cloth causes frizz in curly hair because it takes off so much of that moisture you're working so hard to put into your hair! Many products are much more effective when applied to soaking wet hair, so don't get rid of the extra water! You'll get less frizz if you use things like old t-shirts or microfiber towels on your hair rather than terry cloth because they are absorbent but not super absorbent.
STYLING CG CURLS
Now your hair is conditioned, wet, gently combed with hands or a wide toothed comb, and ready to be styled! I couldn't list all of the CG products on here if I tried, and as the population is starting to demand more natural products, more lines are popping up here and there offering you CG alternatives. There are products of every type for every price range. Do some research on naturallycurly.com, read my reviews, ask questions, and read ingredients labels to find fabulous silicone free products! Experimentation is the name of the game. Everyone's hair is different. Something that gives one curly bouncy, glossy curls, could cause dryness and breakage in another curly. When you are starting CG, I recommend keeping it simple. A leave in and a clear gel should do it for the first month or so.
There are lots of methods for applying products to and styling your hair. Here's a rundown of my favorite tips.
Sometimes no matter how careful you are with avoiding silicones, your hair will get build up and need to be clarified. This could happen because of a product you're are using, which might have an ingredient our hair doesn't like. For example, many avoid castor oil because it builds up. Some people have build up issues with polyquats. When buildup happens, you can use a sulfate wash to nip it in the bud, or you can try a gentler alternative like a sulfate-free shampoo.
There will likely be a time period in which your hair looks worse right after switching to CG. This is caused by your scalp not adjusting to the lack of sulfates as fast as you are changing what you are doing to your hair. Try to keep the routine very simple at first. A cowash, rinse out, leave in, and clear silicone free gel are all you need. The transition period can last anywhere from a couple of days to up to 6 weeks (this is rare). Don't give up hope. Your scalp will likely settle down, and you will see the results you want.
WAVIES AND MODIFIED CG
Wavy hair is in between curly and straight, and so while CG may work for some wavies, it sometimes does not work for others. Wavies are not as porous as curlies, and they often have more moisturized hair to start. This places them at risk for overconditioning, which is where they hair has too much moisture. It becomes impossibly soft and fluffy. Many wavies find that this can be avoided with the occasional or consistent use of a sulfate-free shampoo (low poo).
HOW TO FIND PRODUCTS THAT WORK FOR YOUR HAIR TYPE
I used to have a section here about hair porosity, hair texture, etc, but I wanted to simplify this page a little bit. This info is now contained in my post about finding the right products for your hair. Part 1 and Part 2.
Some Good Starter CG Products:
I have tried and enjoy all of these products!
- Curl Junkie Curl Fix
- Giovanni Tea Triple Treat Invigorating Conditioner
- Suave Tropical Coconut
- Deva Curl No Poo
- Yes to Carrots
- VO5 Moisture Milk
Sulfate Free Shampoo:
- Elucence Moisture Shampoo
- Deva Low Poo
- Shea Moisture Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo
- DermOrganic Conditioning Shampoo
Heavier Conditioners ("Rinse Outs"):
- Deva Curl Daily Conditioner
- Shea Moisture Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner
- Tressemme Naturals Conditioner
- Curl Junkie Deep Fix
- Curl Junkie Argan Daily
- Deva Curl Angel
- Herbal Essence Totally Twisted Gel
- AG Re:Coil Curl Activator
- Jessicurl Confident Coils
- Curl Junkie Curls in a Bottle