Whether you’re starting your natural hair journey or just dissatisfied with your locks lately, your current routine probably isn’t cutting it anymore. Chances are you’ve heard about the curly hair method but never quite figured out what products you should and shouldn’t use. Thankfully, we tapped a few hairstylists to answer those questions and tell us the do’s and don’ts of the internet’s favorite routine.
What’s the curly hair method?
The term, also known as the no-poo method, was created by Lorraine Massey, the mastermind behind the Devachan salons. She introduced the routine back in 2001 in her book Curly Girl: The Handbook, and it’s been a staple for many curly gals ever since.
“Most curly hair methods follow a general process: 1) co-wash cleansing, 2) conditioning with a leave-in, and 3) using curl clumping products to air-dry or diffuse curls into the desired style,” explains stylist Robin D. Groover, founder of Too Groovy Hair Salons.
The hair care routine treats curls gently by minimizing damage and increasing moisture. But what’s the catch? It avoids shampoo altogether (don’t freak out, we’ll explain) and any heat-styling techniques (so say goodbye to your diffuser, blow-dryer or any other hot tools). Here’s a breakdown of every step to get you started on your new hair routine.
Step 1: Cleansing
While the curly hair method is a favorite, it’s a pretty controversial approach when it comes to cleansing. But there’s a reason for the no-poo approach: Most shampoos contain sulfates, surfactants and silicones that are harsh on curls and take away moisture, causing frizz, dryness and lack of curl definition.
“During this process, curly girls refrain from using shampoos that lather and opt for cream-based cleansers or co-washes, which cleanse the hair and scalp without stripping the hair of its natural oils, leaving the hair clean, moisturized and soft,” explains Ronquet James, a hairstylist at Bloom Beauty Lounge.
We know skipping shampoo feels like a big commitment, so if you truly can’t break away from yours, there are alternatives and safer solutions that can still fit into the method.
Ray Guh, a hairstylist at Hair Craft Studio by Ray, recommends alternating shampoos, using gentle non-stripping ones and clarifying deep cleansers. And always reach for sulfate-free products. Starting with a cleanser can help rinse out any built-up oil, dirt or sweat.
“I always tell my clients to alternate shampoos,” he says. “Since curly hair requires products, you certainly need a deep cleansing shampoo that gives it a good wash, so the scalp and hair can start fresh.”
But if you’re ready to take the no-poo approach head-on, try a co-wash product (or DIY it with a blend of water and your favorite conditioner, apple cider vinegar or baking soda) instead. Shampoo or not, cleanse once or twice a week and focus on the scalp by massaging the product in with your fingers (or a scalp brush) for a little TLC.
Rinse with cold water to help seal the hair cuticle and lock in the moisture before starting the next step.
Shop cleansers: Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Avocado Quinoa Co-Wash ($32); Act + Acre Hair Cleanser ($28); Curlsmith Curl Quenching Conditioning Wash ($25); Pantene Pro-V Gold Series Deep Hydrating Co-Wash ($10); African Pride Moisture Miracle Pre-Shampoo ($8); As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner ($7)
Step 2: Conditioning
After cleansing, you want to start conditioning your hair. Whether you’re using a regular conditioner or deep conditioner, the product can help soften and nourish your curls. This step varies for different hair types and textures.
“People with wavy hair do not need to condition or deep condition like someone who has more coily hair. Wavy-hair clients may also find it necessary to rinse and condition their hair every other day as it may become slightly oily instead of dry,” says James. “Those with tightly curled or coiled hair would find it necessary to deep condition every week to every other week to retain as much moisture as possible.”
Part your hair into sections (this is also a great time to detangle) and work the conditioner into your hair before rinsing. If you’re using a deep conditioner, put the product in your hair before covering it with a shower cap and wait 15 to 30 minutes before rinsing.
Shop conditioners: Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Mask ($36; $29); Carol’s Daughter Curl Quenching Deep Moisture Mask ($12); Aunt Jackie’s Coconut Crème Coco Repair ($10); OGX Damage Remedy + Coconut Miracle Oil Conditioner ($7); Maui Moisture Curl Quench + Coconut Oil Conditioner ($7)
Step 3: Styling
After washing, you’re ready to style your curls to keep them defined for the rest of your day. The styling step involves leave-in conditioner, oil, cream or gel. This step even has its own sub-method, often referred to as the LOC method: leave-in, oil and cream. Depending on your hair type, texture or even the season, you might prefer one product over another.
“Summer styling allows more flexibility with a wash-and-go because it’s hot outside. Winter styling needs more sets with twists, rods and dry styling methods because of obvious health reasons as well as the fret of ‘hair freeze,’ where cold temperatures cause hair moisture to freeze strands, creating an icy hardening effect,” Groover explains. “That’s why it’s important to recognize if your regimen is evergreen or seasonal. I always recommend a regimen that puts just as much importance on cleansing and conditioning as it does on moisturizing, sealing and proper technique.”
No matter the season, start with a leave-in conditioner, a lightweight product that helps nourish curls, hydrate hair and decrease frizz. Whether you’re spritzing it directly onto your hair or using a quarter-size amount for each section, a leave-in can help cleanse your hair and prepare it for the next step. Work the product in from roots to tips, focusing on your ends (because they tend to dry out faster) before moving on to the next step.
Shop leave-in conditioners: Mizani Miracle Milk Leave-In Conditioner ($30); Mixed Chicks Curl Defining & Frizz Eliminating Leave-In Conditioner ($20); It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In Product ($19); Carol’s Daughter Almond Milk Leave-In Conditioner ($11); Aunt Jackie’s Quench Leave-In Conditioner ($7)
After applying the leave-in conditioner, go ahead and give your scalp some TLC with oils. Oils can help seal in moisture, strengthen curls, prevent breakage and increase growth. The oil you choose should be determined by the porosity of your hair. Porosity is your hair’s ability to absorb and hold moisture. Heavy oils like castor oil and olive oil work best on high porous hair, while less porous hair benefits from lighter oils like jojoba, grapeseed or avocado that won’t weigh down curls.
Whether your hair has low or high porosity, work a thin layer of oil into small sections of your hair, adding more oil if you feel like your hair needs it.
Shop oils: Moroccanoil ($34); Olapex No. 7 Bonding Oil ($28); Tropic Isle Living Jamaican Black Castor Oil ($14); Pantene Gold Series Intense Hydrating Oil ($8); Cantu Shea Butter Tea Tree & Jojoba Hair & Scalp Oil ($6)
Once the oils have been massaged into the scalp and through the sections, apply a cream product to close the hair cuticle. A cream product can also be used as a daily moisturizer to revive curls and maintain their softness.
If cream isn’t your thing, a gel or mousse will also hold your curls and keep their definition. When it comes to gel, scrunch the product into your hair toward your scalp (rather than raking through) for maximum definition.
Shop creams and gels: Kinky-Curly Curling Custard ($34); Bumble & Bumble Curl Anti-Humidity Gel-Oil ($30); Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream ($14); Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie ($12); Aunt Jackie’s Don’t Shrink Flaxseed Elongating Curling Gel ($6)
Finally, air-dry your curls or use a diffuser (if swearing off all heat tools just isn’t your thing).
Is it important to stick to such a strict routine?
“Hair texture, type and condition can dictate the frequency of usage, application of product, amount of product and technique,” says Groover. “The truth is hair is as unique as a fingerprint.”
When beginning the curly hair method, track the progress and modify the routine according to your specific hair needs. It might take a few weeks to see any difference, but the end result may surprise you. Don’t feel restricted when it comes to the curly method, especially when it comes to the season.
“Healthy hair regimens are important for consistency. Healthy hair is achieved by a balance of attention, good products and technique,” says Groover. “Example: A good cream means nothing to hair bleached seven levels from the natural color when the goal is length retention. It’s important to find a regimen that suits your healthy hair care needs and fits in with your lifestyle.”
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