CURLY GIRL METHOD UK: A COMPLETE STEP BY STEP GUIDE
Photo by Tim Mossholder
An Easy To Follow Guide With A List Of Approved UK Curly Girl Method Products
If you have found this guide, I bet it’s because you’ve heard your friends rave about the Curly Girl Method or you may have seen inspirational hair transformations online.
The method at first may seem daunting, particularly because there are only certain products which are Curly Girl friendly, and if you live in the UK, how do you know what these are? This is why I have created a detailed step by step guide for UK followers of the Curly Girl Method.
The Curly Girl Method is based on Lorraine Massey’s book Curly Girl – The Handbook which promotes the use of non-alcohol, non-sulphate and non-silicone products to naturally enhance and create incredibly soft and bouncy curls.
The Curly Girl Method also discourages the use of heat styling, brushing or towels which can dry or damage your hair. It is further recommended that you do not use shampoo which can strip your hair of natural oils which are crucial to both hair and scalp health.
Curly Girl Method UK
Let’s have a look at the basic rules:
Things you will need:
- Curly Girl Method approved conditioner
- Microfibre towel or an old T-shirt
- A hairdryer
- A diffuser
- Curly Girl Method approved hair gel
The Curly Girl Method has literally transformed the condition of thousands and thousands of curls and if you are 100% committed to trying the method, you will see incredible results.
However, each curly strand is different, which means that your journey towards healthy hair will be different from everyone else. You will need to invest time in the method as well as find the right products for you and my aim with this guide is to make the process as easy for you as possible.
With that being said, let’s dive right into it!
The Curly Girl Method UK: A Helpful Step By Step Guide
To make it as easy as possible I have divided the guide into two sections. The essential steps and the additional steps. Once you become comfortable with the basics, you can try out the additional steps.
- Gel and Cast
- Drying and Diffusing
- Scrunch Out The Crunch (SOTC)
- Curl activators and Mousse
- Deep Condition
Step 1. Co-Washing
The first step of the Curly Girl Method is co-washing. Co-washing is short for conditioner-only washing and it means that you will wash your hair with conditioner ONLY.
The reason we don’t shampoo on the CGM is because most shampoos contain silicone to make hair look shinier and sulphate detergents to get rid of dirt and build up. Sulphates is essentially what makes shampoo lather and gives it that bubbly effect.
These are harsh chemicals which only provide you with short term solutions (so you keep using shampoo over and over again) and they strip your hair of its natural oils.
By skipping shampoo completely, your hair will no longer be damaged by the use of silicone and sulphates and your curls will come to life like never before!
Many followers of the Curly Girl Method have mistakenly been using low poo shampoos as cleansers. Low poo essentially means a sulphate free shampoo and the market is saturated with them.
The problem with low poo shampoos is that although they are sulphate free, the manufacturers have added additional chemicals to make the product lather. The additional chemicals can be even more harmful than sulphates so you do not want to use any product which lathers. I wrote an entire article about the problem with low poo shampoos.
Should I Do A Final Wash?
You may have heard of doing a final wash with your regular products so that your hair is clean and ready to receive the wondrous effects of the Curly Girl Method.
This is not recommended.
Why? Because you’ll just be delaying your journey by an extra wash. There’s simply no point. Regular shampoo and conditioner will never aid in the repair of your curls so just start right away with a co-wash.
How To Co-Wash
You will need:
- An Curly Girl friendly conditioner
- Scalp massager (optional but really useful)
- A t-shirt or microfibre towel for drying or plopping
1. Step into the shower with your Curly Girl approved conditioner.
2. Completely saturate your hair with water. Water is our friend and curls need constant hydration in order to form.
As mentioned above, one of the key rules for following ‘The Curly Girl Method UK: A Helpful Step By Step Guide’ is no heat styling. However, I would add that I have experienced best results when also using cool water instead of warm. My curls are simply bouncier and form much quicker.
I personally like to shower in quite hot water so I saturate my hair in warm water, flip my hair upside down and rinse through with cool water and then carefully stand up.
I then direct the showerhead back to my body and change the temperature back to warm. Each to their own but that’s how I do it!
3. Squeeze a generous amount of conditioner into your hand and use it to wash your hair as you would with shampoo. You’ll need more than you think so don’t be shy.
You won’t get the lathering effect you get with shampoo and you won’t get that ‘squeaky clean’ feeling, but remember that this is because the natural oils in your hair are retained. You’re basically being kind to your hair.
For a better clean, use a scalp massager to remove build up and grease. I found this one on Amazon which really does the trick. Make sure you spend at least a few minutes cleaning your hair.
‘Squish To Condish’.
‘Squish to condish’ is a termed coiled by Melissa Stites and it basically means that you are ‘squishing’ water and conditioner together in order to hydrate your hair.
By ‘squishing’ your curls using your hands, you’re essentially allowing your hair to drink as much water as possible and locking it in by using the conditioner as a seal.
You can see now that your previous regular routine of applying conditioner for a minute or two and then rinsing it all out seems pointless. We want to force water and product into the hair.
How To Squish To Condish
With your hair flipped over forwards, collect the dripping water and conditioner coming out your hair into the palm of your hands. Use this mixture of goodness to ‘plop’ your curls and squish them back towards your scalp.
Keep adding more water and keep squishing your hair. It should sound very ‘soppy’ and you’ll start to see your curls form and frizz decrease. If your hair feels dry or it is frizzing, add more conditioner.
Keep scrunching your hair until it is no longer dripping and then begin to wash out the conditioner but leave a bit for softness.
How Often Should You Co-Wash?
There are no set rules as to how often you should co-wash on the Curly Girl Method. Some people experience a lot of build-up depending on the products they use, and some find that they can go a full week if not more without having to do a wash.
Step 2. Gel & Cast
One of the key secrets to having soft, bouncy curls is to apply gel to wet hair. It may seem counterproductive at first, but locking in the moisture of each strand is essential if you want non-frizzy hair.
By applying gel to each curl, you’re going to create a cast which will harden once dry and allow the curl to keep its shape whilst still retaining its softness and bounce.
The gel cast will also protect your hair from outside factors such as wind and humidity and if you take care of how you sleep at night, you could keep your curls fresh and lively for up to one week without having to do a co-wash.
After applying gel, you need to let your hair dry completely and then you ‘break’ the cast to unleash your curls.
This is also called ‘Scrunching Out The Crunch’ (SOTC) but more on breaking the cast later, for now let’s focus on the steps you need to follow to correctly gel your hair.
1. Immediately after co-washing and squishing to condish, you’ll want to apply a generous amount of gel to your hair, using the same cupping and squishing technique to form big clumps of curls.
Flip your hair forward and rub the gel between your palms. Try and get big clumps of curls. The bigger the clumps the better!
This ensures lovely soft curls rather than stringy limp strands. Start out by using a small handful of gel and use more if you think it’s not enough. You will need more than you think.
2. Some like to apply gel to dripping wet hair whilst others like to dab their hair first with a t-shirt or micro-fibre towel.
I suggest you try both methods because the wetter the hair, the less frizzy your curls will be at this stage but it will also take a lot longer to dry. The healthier your hair is, the less wet it will need to be when you apply the gel.
3. Once every curl has been generously covered in gel, you can now choose to pin up your curls with clips at the top of your head. The reason why many people choose to do this, is because the gel can weigh the hair down substantially, especially if you have long hair.
Curls thus find it harder to form on top of your scalp and you may not end up with your desired look,
Personally, I rarely use clips as I move straight onto drying but you should do what gives you the best results.
What UK Gels Can I Use On The Curly Girl Method?
Most gels will do the trick as long as they don’t contain drying alcohols. You don’t want your hair to lose moisture.
Like with any other step of this guide, I urge you to experiment with the products you use but my favourite two gels which I get from Amazon are the Umberto Giannini Scrunchy Jelly or the Eco Styler gel.
If you are vegan, check out this post I wrote on the best Curly Girl Method approved vegan gels available to buy in the UK.
You are now ready to move onto the next step of ‘The Curly Girl Method UK: A Helpful Step By Step Guide’.
Step 3. Drying And Diffusing
After applying gel to your hair, it now needs to dry so that your hair will form a hard cast around your curls which you will then break once your hair is dry.
Remember, the goal here is to keep your curls as defined as possible, avoiding outside factors such as heat or blowing air as much as possible.
The less the hair is disturbed, the better the cast will be.
You have two options when it comes to drying – air drying or diffusing. There are pros and cons to each method:
Pros: More defined curls, less frizz
Cons: Longer drying time, Less volume
Pros: Shorter drying time, More volume
Cons: More frizz, Less defined curls
What Exactly Is A Diffuser?
A diffuser is an essential tool when you’re following the Curly Girl Method. It can be cone or a hand shaped and has a lot of small holes throughout to allow for air to disperse whilst gently drying your curls.
It allows your curls to dry much quicker than when air drying and adds a lot more volume.
What Diffuser Should I Use?
Luckily, we UK followers of the Curly Girl Method have plenty of choice when it comes to diffusers.
This cone shaped diffuser from Amazon is a favourite amongst UK Curly Girl Method followers and is great for longer curly hair. This diffuser allows you to cup your hair into the cone and dry your longer curls in much shorter time.
You can also get a hand shaped diffuser from eBay which is lightweight and fits onto your scalp very easily. This is a great tool for creating volume and drying the base of your hair more quickly. It’s a cheap piece of plastic yes, but it really does the trick!
I personally own both diffusers because I like to alternate between the two but it’s completely up to you to decide which one you find most useful. They can both be picked up for less than £20.
How To Diffuse Curly Hair:
1. Make sure your hairdryer setting is set to cool or medium warm. Never use maximum heat.
If using the hand diffuser, gently place the diffuser on top of your hair, cupping your scalp. If using the cone diffuser, hover the diffuser around your scalp to dry this first as much as possible. Avoid touching your curls at this point.
2. Once your scalp feels fairly dry, begin to hover the diffuser around your curly locks. Bend your head down sideways or even upside down. Diffusing can take a fairly long time so be patient.
For best results, use a cool setting. This will prevent your hair from drying out, prevent frizz and loss of curls and although your hair will take longer to dry, the results will be better.
You should never diffuse your hair more than 90%. Let it cool and set before breaking the cast.
You can also use different tools and products to help maximise the effects of a diffuser. I sometimes use Pantene V5 mousse for even more volume on the top of my head, or you can use clips such as these from Amazon to lift the roots.
Step 4. Scrunch Out The Crunch (SOTC)
Once your hair is completely dry, it is time to remove the crunch of the gel cast to release the hair from the protective barrier. Simply flip your hair forwards and break the cast by lightly scrunching upward using either just your hands or a t-shirt for a softer approach.
I usually have to take my finger into my hair to reach my scalp. This helps to release the gel while lifting from the scalp to give my hair height.
You not only end up with softer curls but fully moisturised, frizz-free curls that can give you second, third, or even fourth day hair.
A few tips:
To sort out fly away hairs or frizz, use a water based lube (yes I said it…) to help smooth out your curls. You’ll be surprised at how effective it is! This one I found on Amazon has a nice…erm, fragrance to it!
But that’s it! That’s the basics of the Curly Girl Method. If you can master these steps then you should be absolutely fine to move on to the additional steps I’ve added to the Curly Girl Method UK: A Complete Step By Step Guide.
Curl Activators And Mousse
Many CGM followers use curl activators after co-washing to enhance the bounce of their curls. My personal favourite curl activator is the Cantu Curl Cream which you can buy from Amazon.
You only need a pea sized amount for each application and make sure you rub the product thoroughly between your hands before applying.
The best way to apply the product is to use the praying technique which is to gently cover each curl with the product between your palms as you move from root to ends.
Be gentle and if you see any signs of frizz, try and smooth it out with your hands. You can then squeeze each curl again after using the praying method.
Some followers also like to use mousse instead of gel or even together with gel. It’s really up to you. Mousse can sometimes help with adding more bounce to your curls but it can also be drying.
The only way you’ll find out if it’s for you, is to try for yourself. If you’d like to try a mousse, I would recommend this Pantene which I found on Amazon. It’s a big bottle for not a lot of money and it has a great hold.
Plopping is the process of gently wrapping your hair in a t-shirt or microfiber towel after co-washing to allow your wet curls to keep their bouncy shape.
This can be done before or after you have applied gel to your hair. It can also help lift your curls at the roots which is key on the Curly Girl Method as the products you use can make your hair quite heavy.
But I’ll be honest, I don’t always ‘plop’. I find that the Curly Girl Method can take a lot of time and on days when I just want to get on with it, I co-wash, remove excess moisture from my hair and move straight to styling and diffusing.
Now plopping in itself doesn’t actually take a lot of time but I tend to just wrap up my hair in a microfiber towel for about 5 minutes while I get changed and apply make-up. This is sort of plopping but without technique…and this is the key!
If you do have the time, I definitely recommend that you plop. There is a big difference between wet and dry hair and frizz happens in that crucial ‘in between’ period. Furthermore, the root lift you get from plopping really can be the make or break of your curls.
As mentioned in the beginning, one of the rules of The Curly Girl Method UK: A Complete Step By Step Guide is no towels. Normal towels create frizz and you should be using old t-shirts or invest in a microfiber towel for absolute best results.
The reason for this is that normal cloth towels will remove too much moisture from your hair, and curly hair needs moisture. The fibres of traditional cloth towels can ruin your hair cuticles and you need to be gentle.
How To Plop
1. Lay your t-shirt or microfiber towel on a flat surface (bed/toilet seat/ table) with the sleeve ends closest to you.
2. Place all of your hair at the centre of the towel with your head bent down, so you’re kind of standing over the t-shirt. Begin to wrap your hair in the t-shirt, starting with the fabric at the top of your hair
3. Fold the T-shirt around your hair and use the sleeves of the t-shirt to tie behind your head. All of your hair should now be covered in a sort of turban shape and all of your lovely curls carefully placed on top of your head.
You can now choose to leave your hair like this for as long as you want until you’re ready to use gel or dry. I normally give it 10 minutes while I get changed and do my make-up and then I apply gel. Your hair should still be fairly wet.
Some Curly Girl followers will apply the gel before plopping, but I honestly find that my hair will not dry if it’s not ‘set free’. You can experiment however you like and see what suits you.
The T-shirt is meant to soak up moisture from your hair without any outside interference which means less frizz whilst drying, but I personally think that air drying or diffusing works best. If I use gel before I plop, I also find that the product leaves my hair and I can never get a proper cast.
One of the terms you may have heard when reading about the Curly Girl Method is ‘clarifying’. For some reason, this term got mixed up with the method for a few years, but clarifying is not part of the Curly Girl Method. It means to clear your hair from product build up and general dirt and it has been associated with low poo shampoos for quite a while.
If you are familiar with the CG method, you’ll know that Low Poo shampoos are not CG friendly. They contain lather which is produced by harmful lathering agents and so even though low poo shampoos do not contain sulphates, they are still off limits.
If you do feel that your hair needs a thorough clean and co-washing doesn’t seem to get rid of build-up, consider doing a cleanse with a non-sulphate product.
You must still use a non-lathering product and my favourite is the Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner. This cleanser is specifically formulated for curly hair types and cleanses scalp and hair without stripping moisture and essential oils.
I wrote about more CGM friendly cleansers here.
When you first start out on your Curly Girl journey, you may find that your hair is bad condition. This stems from years of using sulphate shampoos, straighteners, curling irons etc. and your hair simply needs time to repair itself.
I would thoroughly recommend that you deep condition once a week to begin with as you’ll see results much faster. A weekly deep condition will not only invigorate your curls but it will encourage shine, bounce and healthy hair growth.
When Should I Deep Condition?
You can deep condition after doing a co-wash and leave the deep conditioner in for about 30 minutes before moving onto plopping or adding gel.
How To Deep Condition
The first step is of course to find a conditioner that is right for your hair. The key is to figure out whether you need more protein or moisture as the two are very different.
If your hair is protein sensitive, you will most likely experience your hair to feel dry and straw like, no matter how much you condition it.
This could be a sign that you need to switch to a conditioner with no protein. Avoid coconut and ingredients such as keratin or any that start with Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl.
If your hair is overhydrated, you will need more protein. In this case, your hair is likely limp, a bit dry and your curls have stopped forming.
Which UK Deep Conditioners Can I Use On The Curly Girl Method?
You can essentially use any conditioner as a deep conditioner and this is particularly beneficial if you’re looking for a lightweight one.
For a protein rich deep condition I would recommend the XHC conditioners which you can buy from Poundland or savers or the more luxurious Banana Hair Food which you can get from Amazon. This one is a favourite among curly girls and they often fly off the shelves when on offer.
If you’re looking for a non-protein deep conditioner, my favourite is the Garnier Ultimate Blends Argan Oil & Almond Cream.
- Co-wash your hair as per usual.
- Add a handful sized amount of conditioner to your wet hair
- Wrap your hair in a microfiber towel or cling film
- Leave for up to 45 minutes and then rinse your hair and style as per usual
Now, one of the fundamental rules of the Curly Girl Method is of course no heated styling. However, when deep conditioning, heat is actually our friend as it opens up the hair cuticles and lets the product to its magic.
If you want to speed up the process of deep conditioning, I thoroughly recommend that you get yourself a Hot Head Deep Conditioning Cap.
It’s an incredibly useful tool which lets you deep condition without the fuss. I love it so much that I actually wrote a whole post about its benefits here.
A refresh is the process of ‘refreshing’ your curls on day 2, 3, 4 etc. Some curly girls refresh every two days and some can go a week before needing to co-wash.
In the beginning of your curly journey, you may find that you don’t like refreshing as your curls are not yet healthy enough without the whole wash routine. That is certainly how I felt and it took me many months before I attempted a refresh.
However, if you care for your curls correctly, you’ll soon find that you can save an awful lot of time by refreshing and money too since you won’t be washing your hair every day.
There are honestly hundreds of ways to do a refresh, but I will share with you my top 3. These are simple, quick and cheap and all you need is to figure out which one you prefer best.
Refresh method 1
- Mix a small amount of conditioner with water in a spray bottle and shake vigorously.
- Spray your morning curls with the solution until fairly wet.
- Flip your hair upside down and scrunch your curls.
- If you find your curls are not holding well, add a bit of hair gel
- Finally, let air dry or diffuse
Refresh method 2
- Wet your hair so that it feels towel dry
- Apply a small amount of gel to your hands and rub your palms together
- Flip your hair upside down and use the praying method to apply gel
- Scrunch out your curls
- Air dry or diffuse
Refresh method 3
- Wet hair so that it feels towel dry
- Apply a small amount of gel to your hands and rub your palms together
- Flip your hair upside down and use the praying method to apply gel
- Apply a generous amount of mousse to your curls to create better hold
- Air dry or diffuse
And there you have it. This is the very basics of the Curly Girl Method and if you live in the UK, there should be no reason why you can’t find the products just right for you.
Remember: This is a process. There is no perfect Curly Girl Method. It’s your method to adapt and perfect. You may need one handful of conditioner, you may need two.
You may need to squish to condish for four minutes while your best friend only has to do it for 30 seconds. My best advice is simply to start. If it doesn’t feel right, well then you’re only one wash away from trying again!