The Ultimate Guide to the Curly Girl Method

Curly hair routine for beginners

Truth time: The Curly Girl Method (CGM) is the best thing I’ve ever done for my curly hair—and also the most confusing, frustrating, overwhelming thing I’ve ever done for my freakin’ sanity. For me, every article and tutorial seemed to contradict themselves, the steps were too confusing, and I was always left with a zillion questions (what’s the simplest way for beginners? How long does CGM take to work? How often do I do it?!). Which is why I made it my mission to create the easiest, low-stress, step-by-step guide for a mix of curly hair types trying to do CGM.

Below is everything you need to know about the Curly Girl Method rules, including the best CGM curl products (and how to apply them), how to brush and detangle your curls, how to wash (and dry) your hair, and more. So take deep breaths, nestle in for a long read, and get ready to screenshot. Got more questions as you read? Good, because I’ve got answers to quite literally everything you might think of later on. Trust me: You can do this.

What is the Curly Girl Method?

In a nutshell, the Curly Girl Method—originally created by hairstylist and curl expert Lorraine Massey, who wrote Curly Girl: The Handbook—is a guide to getting excellent hair using (and avoiding!) specific products and styling techniques. Although the specifics can differ, the general idea behind the Curly Girl Method is the same: The correct routine can create the best curls. Basically, by figuring out the best products and application methods for your exact hair type, you’ll be able to amp up your natural wave, curl, or coil pattern while reducing dryness, breakage, and frizz (if you’re not a fan).

Will the Curly Girl Method work on my hair?

If you’re not sure who the Curly Girl Method is best for, or if it will work for your hair, let me tell you that type-3 curls tend to see the best results from CGM. That being said, tons of people with 2c and 4a hair have also had amazing success. So it doesn’t mean you can’t experiment if you have straighter or coilier hair, but just know your mileage may vary.

How do you start the Curly Girl Method?

Starting the Curly Girl Method can feel overwhelming because it initially looks like a bunch of impossible, life-changing rules. This is why it’s important to keep an open mind, remember that nobody is forcing you to stick with CGM if it’s too stressful and that you can modify (or stop!) CGM at any point to make it easier (more on that later).

Since there’s already a literal book devoted to answering the question of “how do you do the Curly Girl Method?” along with Facebook groups and, my favorite, Reddit communities—I’m going to keep this easy to understand. Read through my simple CGM steps first, then I’ll walk you through the “don’ts” list below.

What to avoid when doing the Curly Girl Method

At its most basic, beginner level, the Curly Girl Method involves cutting out things that hurt your curls (like anything drying or harsh), and then adding in things that heal, hydrate, and enhance (like moisturizers, proteins, and gentle cleansers). So here are some of the “don’ts” and products to avoid.


  • Shampoo (WHAT!? Don’t freak—you just can’t use traditional drying shampoos, but you can use sulfate-free shampoos. More on this below)
  • Heat tools (like flat-irons, curling irons, etc., though the occasional diffuser on low heat is okay)
  • Sulfates (i.e., harsh detergents found in traditional shampoos that strip your hair of moisture and hardcore dry it out)
  • Silicones (i.e., polymers found in 90 percent of hair products that coat your hair to give it a smooth, shiny finish. Silicones are the #1 enemy of CGM, because most forms of them can build up on your curls, leaving them lank, dry, flat, and greasy)
  • Waxes and mineral oils (just like silicones, most waxes and mineral oils can build up on your hair and can only be removed with heavy-duty sulfates to remove)
  • Towel-drying your hair (towels rough up your hair cuticle and lead to frizz and tangles. Most curly peeps like to plop their hair, but more on how you can dry your hair below)
  • Alcohols (although not all alcohols are bad, many can degrade your hair cuticle and are almost always found in aerosol sprays, like canned hairspray and dry shampoo. Thus, welcome to your new BFFs: alcohol-free dry shampoo and alcohol-free hairspray)

What products do you need for the Curly Girl Method?

Now that you know what not to use, let’s talk about a few of the products you’ll be working with when starting CGM, especially if you’re a beginner. Note: There’s no correct answer or “must-have” product here, because everyone’s hair type is different, and what works for someone’s 4a hair isn’t going to work for your 2b waves. Still, here’s the most basic, basic CGM product routine you’d use after your reset wash:

Simple CGM product routine

Depending on your hair thickness, this may come in the form of a sulfate-free shampoo, or a lightweight conditioner acting as a cleanser, or a rich co-wash. If you’re confused about how a conditioner can be a shampoo, keep reading.

Again, depending on your hair type, this might be a totally separate conditioner, or you might be able to use the same conditioner that you used as a cleanser.

Note: Some people with ultra-fine or wavy-curly hair get better results with mousse, but the vast majority of CGM-ers do well with gel.

Keep in mind that the above products are great options to explore, but it’s going to take a bit of trial and error. As a rule of thumb, all of these products below can be found in super-rich to super-light formulas, depending on what you buy, so this general combo works for the vast majority of beginners starting the Curly Girl Method if you need a place to start.

Can you use shampoo on Curly Girl Method?

Yes, the Curly Girl Method actually calls for two “shampoos”: (1) your one-time-only “reset” shampoo that’s filled with harsh, stripping sulfates to clarify your hair, and (2) your regular sulfate-free cleanser that’s super moisturizing and gentle. Note: Depending on your hair type, this cleanser might be a moisturizing shampoo, or a creamy conditioner that you use as a cleanser (whaa? Yes, keep reading).

“Reset” shampoo
Before starting the Curly Girl Method, you need to strip your hair of all silicone and wax buildup, or you’ll never (ever) get CGM to work for you. Seriously. So the very first shower you take to begin your CGM journey will require a “reset shampoo,” i.e., a sulfate-based clarifying shampoo to give you a clean foundation (I used Suave’s Ocean Breeze Shampoo, FYI). After that? No more sulfates (unless you accidentally use a product filled with unapproved silicones or waxes; then you’ll need to “reset” again with your clarifying shampoo).

Regular cleanser
Once you’ve done your initial reset wash, you’re now officially done using sulfates (unless, again, you accidentally use silicones or waxes). Moving forward, the product you’ll be using to keep your scalp clean is a gentle, moisturizing, sulfate-free cleanser—which, in CGM world, is a conditioner. Yes, a conditioner as a shampoo/cleanser.

How do you wash your hair with conditioner?!
Here’s where people get confused. The Curly Girl Method says to use conditioner—yup, normal conditioner—as your cleanser. I know, it may sound wild, but technically, conditioner has some gentle cleansing agents in it already (which is how you’re able to rinse it from your hair in the first place). Using conditioner to wash your hair isn’t new: It stems from the natural hair community and has historically been known as “cleansing conditioner” or “no-poo” or “co-wash.”

The idea is that curly hair is naturally dry and doesn’t need harsh cleansing agents to get clean, especially if you have coarse, thick, or coily hair. But as someone with super-fine, easily greasy hair, cleansing with conditioner never worked for me—which is where sulfate-free shampoos come in (keep reading).

What to use to wash your hair on Curly Girl Method

Before you blindly stock up on products, check out the two shampoo/cleanser categories below and determine which is best for your hair type:

✔️ Sulfate-free shampoo

  • What: Also called “low-poo,” as in low-shampoo, sulfate-free shampoos contain gentle detergents to break down scalp oils and buildup, without stripping hair.
  • Best for: Thin waves and flat curls that get greasy and oily fast.
  • Note: Some sulfate-free cleansers are still a bit drying, which you can tell by the way your hair feels right after you rinse it out. If your hair feels squeaky instead of slippery, the cleanser is too harsh. If you don’t wanna waste money, try mixing a few squirts of conditioner into your shampoo bottle.

✔️ Cleansing conditioner/regular conditioner

  • What: Also called “co-washes” or “no-poo” and are essentially rinse-out conditioners used as shampoo. Many curl types (and all coil types) don’t do well with drying detergents—they only need water, moisture, and a thorough scalp massage (like, you should be massaging your co-wash into your roots for at least 60 seconds) to get clean.
  • Best for: All coil types and many drier curl types.
  • Note: Most CGM guides will tell you to start with a cleansing conditioner—instead of a sulfate-free shampoo—regardless of your hair type, since people are often surprised by how well their hair (and scalp) adjusts to them after a month.

How often should I wash my hair with Curly Girl Method?

Although many guides will tell you that you should only “shampoo” or cleanse once a week, I fully disagree. Every scalp and hair texture is different, and how frequently you “shampoo” or cleanse is up to you. Plus, the whole idea that you can train your scalp to be less greasy isn’t medically accurate (I should know; I tried it), and can often exacerbate issues like dandruff or scalp inflammation.

As long as you’re using gentle, moisturizing products, how often you cleanse shouldn’t matter. Still, a good rule of thumb: If you have coilier hair, try co-washing once a week; if you have thicker, coarser curls or waves, try cleansing 1-3 times a week; and if you have fine, oil-prone waves or curls, try cleansing every other day.

What is the Curly Girl Method step by step?

No, I’m not going to leave you stranded there with an armload of products and a whimper. Here’s how to put all of your newfound knowledge to use:

STEP 0: Final “reset” wash
Wash your hair with a sulfate-filled clarifying shampoo to remove all silicone buildup. Repeat this step any time you accidentally use a product with silicone or wax.

STEP 1: Co-wash/cleanse
Wash your hair with a CGM-approved cleansing conditioner or sulfate-free shampoo, massaging your scalp for at least 60 seconds (this matters! Count!) with your fingertips or a shampoo brush. Rinse out.

STEP 2: Condition
Squish a large handful of CGM-approved conditioner through the bottom half of your hair until it feels “slimy”—i.e., fully saturated and coated—then detangle with your fingers or a large-tooth comb. Rinse out most or all of the conditioner. Note: Many people use the beloved “squish to condish” technique here.

STEP 3: Style
You can apply your styling products a dozen different ways (more on that below), but most methods involve layering and squishing them into your wet hair. For beginners, start with a CGM-approved gel; scrunch a palmful (more than feels normal) into your sopping-wet hair from roots to tips.

STEP 4: Dry
Either plop your hair for 5-15 minutes, or gently cup and scrunch the excess water from your hair with a cotton T-shirt or microfiber towel. Air-dry (don’t touch!) or diffuse your hair on low. Once your hair is 100 percent dry, gently scrunch your hair with your hands to get rid of the crunchy gel coating.

That’s it. That’s the very basic Curly Girl Method. Not as intimidating as it seems, right? Once you’ve got the basics down and played around with the different application methods, you can try switching up your products for different results.


Does the Curly Girl Method make hair curlier?
The Curly Girl Method will only help enhance your natural curl or wave pattern—it can’t create curls on hair that’s naturally straight or wavy-ish. The whole goal of CGM is to get healthier, fuller, more defined curls—essentially, seeing the max potential of what your hair texture can do—which means you already need a distinct wave or curl pattern to start with (like, at least 2b waves).

What if Curly Girl Method isn’t working for me?
You’re not going to get major hair changes overnight. Give yourself 4 to 6 weeks of using this simplified, three-step routine before making any adjustments. Absolutely positive it’s not working for you? Like, you tried using more or less product, you tried different application techniques, and you tried lighter or richer formulas? Great; now you troubleshoot. Example: If your hair is still feeling dry after a month of following strict CGM, try adding in a leave-in conditioner before your gel, and/or a smoothing on a layer of oil after your gel to seal in moisture. Gel still not working out for your waves or curls? Try switching to a mousse layered on top of a lightweight curl cream.

Can you brush your hair on Curly Girl Method?
This answer is going to differ wildly depending on who you ask. Technically, the Curly Girl Method doesn’t allow for traditional brushing, because it disturbs your curl pattern. The common advice you’ll see is to only brush your hair in the shower with a wide-tooth comb when it’s saturated with conditioner. The only catch? This method doesn’t work for everyone. Tighter curls, for example, will often require a comb to detangle in the shower, yes, but also require a curly hair brush to detangle and distribute products while twisting, braiding, and protective styling. Fine waves and curls, or hair that’s especially prone to tangles, may also be too fragile for wet detangling. Basically, it all comes down to what works for your hair type—which is where the Curly Girl Method can feel both limiting and overwhelming at first. You need to experiment, bend the rules, or throw out the rulebook altogether if it’s not working for you. But! To make it simple, I’d recommend sticking to in-shower combing only for the first six weeks, then re-evaluate and adjust if needed.

How do I know if a product is Curly Girl Method approved?
All of the hair products I’ve included in this guide are Curly Girl Method approved and loved by both myself and the community. As for the rest of your products (and the products you might buy), you can use my favorite go-to website called Is It CG? that’ll tell you if your hair products are Curly Girl Method approved and safe to use. Just copy and paste the ingredients of a product (I copy the ingredients straight from the product’s website to be sure) and Is It CG? will tell you if it’s safe or not. Once you’ve got a list of approved products (recommendations later on), the rest is just playing around with application techniques—which, yes, I also cover in this guide.

How do I apply curl products with CGM?
Okay, so this is arguably the most difficult part of the Curly Girl Method: applying products. There are so many methods, and you’ll need to experiment to find which works best with your curls. To keep yourself from spiraling, though, try testing one method at least five times before moving on to a new method. Each time, make sure to vary up how much product you use, how wet your hair is, etc., to really see if a method does or doesn’t work for you. Check out just a few (!) of the most popular application and styling methods…

…Okay, so the panic you just felt looking at all those options? Yeah, I felt that too at first, but it’s okay. You can explore those options on your own in a few months when everything is less overwhelming. But for now, let’s talk about the easiest, most universally beloved application method.

The easiest way to apply curl products
✔️ Upside-down scrunching

  • What: Scrunching allows you to squish products and moisture into your hair at every step of the process, encouraging clumps (aka defined curls) and healthy hydration. And if you do it upside down, you get the added benefit of volume on finer hair types.
  • How to: After shampooing, flip your head over (bending at the waist), rake all your hair forward, then squish conditioner into the ends. Rinse your hair by squishing in palmfuls of water, then squish in palmfuls of gel. The water in your hair will help dilute and distribute the gel, while all the cupping and scrunching will encourage major curl or wave formation.

How do you dry your hair on Curly Girl Method?
Once you’ve applied your products, you can plop your hair (my preferred method), scrunch out the water with a cotton T-shirt or cotton towel, diffuse it on low heat or let it air-dry if you’re doing a wash and go.

✔️ How to plop curly hair:
✔️ How to scrunch curly hair:
✔️ How to diffuse curly hair:

How long does it take the Curly Girl Method to work?
The Curly Girl Method can take at least six weeks to “work”—mostly because of your learning curve—and the obligatory “transition phase” isn’t always fun. The Curly Girl Method requires a lot of trial-and-error and experimenting; it’s going to make you feel completely inept at the beginning; it’s probably going to make you want to quit CGM a few times (hi! I did!); and you’ll probably have a ton of bad hair days before you finally crack the code—which, for me, took about three months (although, honestly, I’m still learning new tricks years later).

This isn’t to freak you out—it’s just…life. You’re suddenly manipulating your waves and curls in a new way with new products and new drying methods, so it’s inevitable that your hair will rebel a bit in the beginning. But, as you can see by all these before-and-after photos, it works for the vast majority of people who stick with it.

What I wish someone had told me at the beginning:

❌ CGM won’t necessarily change your hair
If your natural hair is wavy, it’s going to stay wavy after the Curly Girl Method—just a healthier, fuller, more defined version of it. CGM can help you enhance your hair texture, but it won’t change it. The reason CGM gives some people such drastic results is because it forces you to cut out damaging habits (heat tools, chemical treatments, coloring, brushing, etc.) and focus on making your hair healthy. For a lot of people who have been ~abusing~ their hair for decades, CGM can bring back the natural texture they haven’t seen since their pre-teen years. Which means…

❌ Healthy hair will see the smallest transformation
I thought my flat hair would turn into corkscrew curls after a few weeks of doing CGM. Nope. Before CGM, my hair was already healthy—I never dyed it, I never heat-styled it, and I already used sulfate-free products. But CGM did teach me that my application technique of 10 years was wrong for my curl type. I was raking products (some of which contained both wax and silicone) through semi-damp hair while standing upright. Perfectly fine styling methods for some curlies, but for me and my fine, flat curls? Not ideal.

Now, I squish my products through my sopping-wet hair, upside down in the shower, then immediately plop my hair for 10 minutes, shake it out, then let air-dry. So for me, my biggest change wasn’t in the health of my hair, but learning the right techniques to help encourage and create those tighter curls when I really want them—which was never possible before CGM.

❌ You don’t always need products
After a few months of obsessively following the Curly Girl Method, I felt tired. I didn’t want to do the whole song-and-dance every single shower—I didn’t want to constantly worry about the state of my hair while I slept, while it dried, while I worked out, etc. And I wish someone had told me that it was fine to just, like, not do your hair sometimes? That it was fine to have bad-looking hair some days? It sounds obvious, but when you’re in the throes of a good-versus-bad hair mentality, breaking the “rules” can feel…hard. But I’m here to tell you that it’s FINE. As long as you’re still using gentle, moisturizing, CGM-approved products, you can do whatever works best for you and your lifestyle without undoing all of the work you’ve put in.

Where can I learn more about the Curly Girl Method?
I, personally, learned everything I currently know about CGM from both Naturally Curly and Reddit’s r/CurlyHair community, and I highly recommend reading their ultimate curly hair guide (though warning: It’s a bit overwhelming). also has a phenomenal quiz on your hair porosity (very, VERY important to your overall curly hair journey) with product recommendations, too. If you wanna spend eternity on IG (and who doesn’t?), I learned a ton from these curl accounts (FYI, not everyone follows strict CGM, so double-check product recommendations):

  • @Hif3licia
  • @Jannelleoshaughnessy
  • @Powerdomi
  • @Ingecurls
  • @Welshiecurlgirl

As you can see, the curl community is a literal community—it kinda takes a village to figure out hair textures, and these are just a few of the zillion resources available out there.

Wow, I feel great and not at all overwhelmed!

Omg, so glad to hear your completely unbiased, totally real response. Glad to be of service, and please DM me your magical hair results in three months (or, realistically, your frantic questions in approximately 24 hours). I shall be waiting.

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Chloe Metzger is the former deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan with nearly 10 years of experience researching, writing, and editing hair stories that range from the Curly Girl Method to cleansing conditioners to hair types. She’s an authority in all hair categories, but is an expert when it comes to curly hair, thanks to her own lifetime of working with her own 2b/3a curly hair. She regularly tests curly hair gels, mousses, and creams for efficacy, and worked with the industry’s top hairstylists and cosmetic chemists to assess new formulas and brands for this story.

The Curly Girl Method is a revolutionary approach to caring for curly hair. With the right products and techniques, you can enhance your natural curl pattern and achieve healthier, more defined curls. Whether you have waves, curls, or coils, the Curly Girl Method can work for you. Get started today and embrace your beautiful curls!