What Is the Curly Girl Method? Creator Lorraine Massey Explains All

The plight of curly-haired people is real, as they try to combat stringy curls, flat roots, dry ends and many other issues. Enter the Curly Girl Method (CGM), a system that aims to help achieve greater hair health and allow curls to be the best they can be.

Newsweek spoke to Lorraine Massey, who wrote Curly Girl: The Handbook, about how to get started with the CGM and what it really is—and more importantly, what it is not.

Massey runs CurlyWorld, which sells CG-friendly products and provides advice on Curl By Curl haircuts, which she created.

She is also the author of Curly Kids: The Handbook, which helps parents use the method on their curly-haired children, and Silver Hair: Say Goodbye to the Dye and Let Your Natural Light Shine: A Handbook.

What Is the Curly Girl Method?

The most important thing, according to Massey, is that CGM is not a product, but a lifestyle.

She said: "CGM is a lifestyle and a way of living with a simple three-step curly hair routine, which entails no brushes or combs, using three to four products (max) that must be plant-based, botanically infused, fully water soluble and rich in natural emollients that deliver true hydration when coupled with water.

"Products should be sulfate and silicone free."

Ultimately, the CGM is pretty simple, with just three steps: cleanse, condition and style.

Massey explained the intricacies of this method, and why these steps are crucial.

She says: "The CGM follows three simple steps: cleanse not wash, like laundry this preserves the health and integrity of the curls; condition, protect, hydrate and organize curls; and style, to keep curls groups moisturized and intact to maintain them as you wear them daily."

The Benefits of the Curly Girl Method

Lorraine Massey
Lorraine Massey on June 2, 2011 in New York City. Lorraine wrote "Curly Girl: The Handbook." Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Massey also detailed some of the CGM's benefits, which include helping your hair's natural texture be revealed, as well as obtaining a better hydration and definition for curls.

She said: "The Curly Girl Method brings out the best of your hair's natural texture once you stay in process and consistency—whether that is curly, corkscrew, wavy or swavy, coily, spiraly or anything in between. In other words, what it's meant to be.

"The CGM is a bit like cultivating a botanical garden—the more you tend to it, the more you see results."

For Massey, her journey started when, as a 16-year-old, she sought a new method of haircutting after leaving a salon with uneven hair.

From there, she discovered the benefits of ditching sulfates and silicones, which are often found in regular shampoos and conditioners.

She said: "It took a few unhappy years to grow out, before I could see the corkscrew rotation spiraling its course.

"The only thing was the dryness and frizz caused too much dehydration, as each shampoo sent each curl out to the stratosphere for the rest of the week.

"Over time, I observed right before the next self-inflicted wash cycle, my hair was looking much better."

Before and after the Curly Girl Method
An example of before and after the Curly Girl Method CurlyWorld

Her journey ultimately ended up with giving up shampoo completely and using a silicon-free conditioner.

She continued: "As I continued to get lots of compliments on my unshampooed, bouncy, defined, corkscrew curls, I began deep-dive research on what shampoo really was offering us as a species and why detergent was made."

Massey described how sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)—which acts as what is called a surfactant, used to lower the surface tension between ingredients—dries out naturally curly hair by stripping the scalp of natural, often oily, lipids and sebum.

In layman's terms, a surfactant attracts the dirt from the scalp, allowing it to be washed away. It also acts as a foaming agent that helps create the soapy, bubbly texture of shampoo we are used to.

But Massey pointed out that by using our fingertips and friction, we can remove most dirt particles without the use of SLS.

She added: "Remember our hair is not to be used like washed-up dish rag you throw under a sink, you wear your hair every day of your life, if you have it. Wherever you go, you take it with you. We can see it.

"You should love it like you love your hands and feet and the rest of your body—it's attached until death do us part."

How to Start the Curly Girl Method

Before and after the Curly Girl Method
An example of before and after using the Curly Girl Method. CurlyWorld

Massey has explained the simplicity of the method, but it can still seem an overwhelming prospect for beginners.

But simplicity is one of the most important things to be aware of as a new CGM user. Massey warns new users not to be lured into the idea of a "final wash" before getting started, but instead opt for a sulfate-free cleanser.

Massey said: "Many people talk about the final wash, which is using traditional sulfate-filled shampoo on your hair one last time before starting the CGM.

"But it is important to note that the final wash is NOT part of the Curly Girl Method—this a myth and can be damaging to curls.

"Sudsy, soapy, lather-filled shampoos are super drying. This is bad for all hair types but even worse for curly hair that is already naturally very dry.

"It is the equivalent of drinking salt water when you are thirsty."

Massey also pointed out that frizz is not the enemy many of us think it is, so this should not be a barrier or turn-off to new CG users.

She added: "Traditional shampoo has always been applied to the top layer of hair—called the canopy.

"Ironically, this part of the hair is the most vulnerable to dry frizz. Frizz is not a hair type, frizz is a curl waiting to happen, and a curl is a frizz waiting to happen.

"You can never be cured of frizz. The amount of frizz you have or don't have is a result of how well conditioned the hair is."

Massey added "curl muscle" locks in over time, and hydrated curls are more healthy, bouncy and defined as the hair texture starts to form.

Massey has also written a book called Curly Kids, explaining how vital it is to start children on this method early so they "don't have to go a lifetime hating their curls or not understanding how to care for them."

A woman caring for curly hair
File photo of a woman caring for curly hair Getty Images