Gone spiral! The Curly Girl Method is back, but will it work for the curly haired among us? Created more than 20 years ago, we find out if its teachings still ring true today & where it can be helpful to bend, break & adapt the rules…

Written to empower, educate and help women embrace their natural kinks, the book Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey was first published in 2001. To regain curl control, the handbook rules are simple but strict (and sometimes shocking), including a ban on hair brushing and conventional towel-drying, plus a purge of many ingredients like sulphates and silicones that are found in shampoos and that the method suggests are bad for coils.

Fast forward two+ decades later and #curlygirlmethod has more than 900m views on TikTok, 1.5m Instagram posts, plus dedicated Curly Girl Facebook groups, blogs and even product-ingredient-checker websites to find Curly Girl-approved products. Not to be underestimated, the Curly Girl Method (CGM) community is STRONG! But does Lorraine’s manifesto still hold true today? We live in a far more scientifically advanced world and there’s a level of online frustration about the inflexibility of some of the rules, but hey – rules were made to be broken (or adapted at least), right? With modern advances in products and more education around textured and curly hair, we ask industry experts how to make the Curly Girl Method work in 2023.

‘Good’ vs ‘bad’ ingredients

“I expect Lorraine Massey never intended her helpful method to be taken to the extremes that it has! Yes, gentler handling and care of naturally curly and textured hair is something we certainly support, but remember this was written more than 20 years ago – we’ve come a long way since,” says Claire Shread, co-founder of Umberto Giannini.

However, with naturally curly hair herself, Claire reveals that the book does still have relevance today. “The key CGM principles have some merit for many curl types. Promoting cleansing without sulphates is great advice – curls are naturally drier than straight hair and sulphates dry out the hair cuticle, creating a perfect environment for breakage,” she says.

“Silicones, though, they get a bad rap, yet they do such an amazing job protecting curls from heat damage, humidity and frizz. My advice is, know your products, how to use them and what works for you.

“In my experience, a ‘curl-wardrobe’ for seasons and styles is best.” For Claire, this means using silicone-free products from the brand’s Curl Jelly and Banana Butter ranges in the summer, and reaching for products containing silicone when heat styling or to help her curls keep their shape in the winter.

Confusion with co-washing

Another rule is co-washing (short for conditioning wash), meaning zero shampoo and only using conditioner. Unsurprisingly, it’s a hot topic of frustration on forums for those following the original CGM (which has since been updated as many modern shampoos now omit sulphates).

“Routinely co-washing or skipping cleanser completely doesn’t have great results for most,” says Claire. “Instead, choose a sulphate-free shampoo or a scalp scrub to keep your scalp clean.”

Anabel Kingsley, brand president and trichologist at Philip Kingsley, reinforces the importance of scalp health. “Hair health is intrinsically linked to scalp health. For a balanced, optimal scalp environment, it must be clean to flourish and be healthy,” she says. “If you’re using the correct shampoo for your hair texture, it shouldn’t strip your hair. If it does, then it’s too cleansing and doesn’t contain enough moisturising ingredients for your hair texture.

“If you’re suffering from dryness and breakage, invest in a good pre-shampoo mask, such as Philip Kingsley Elasticizer Deep Conditioning Treatment to moisturise and help strengthen.”

Understanding your curls

Ultimately, your hair has different needs to someone else’s – it’s affected by everything from chemical processes to age. While younger curls may require minimal extra care but maximum freedom to experiment, hair can get more challenging over time – something the original Curly Girl Handbook perhaps overlooked in 2001.

“Hair follicles age. You won’t have the same quality of hair in your 50s, 60s and 70s+ as in your teens, 20s or 30s,” says Anabel. “Texture changes, as does the way it behaves. Many grapple with unmanageability, a different wave or curl pattern and products that used to work, no longer have the same impact. Curly or coiled textures are the most fragile, therefore more susceptible to breakage.

“Due to the actual curl structure, weak points are formed – think of it like a bend in a straw – so extra care is key. Also, porous – which causes frizz – curls absorb moisture quickly, but lose moisture fast. So, keeping them rehydrated is essential.”

Refresh your curl power!

So, what else still holds true from the original handbook? Well, there’s reducing heat styling and opting to air dry, plus ‘plopping’ works (a technique using a cotton T-shirt or pillowcase to ‘plop’ sopping wet hair into a mound, avoiding damage caused by twisting up traditional towels) as does ‘scrunching out the crunch’ (applying gel to soaking wet hair, leaving to dry, then scrunching out the hardened product), which is ASMR-bliss, plus a super-fun way to experiment with spirals.

Getting the right cut for curls and coils is key for enhancing your hair’s natural texture. Thankfully, there’s now a range of salons across the UK that cater for all curl patterns and, importantly, offer dry haircuts that allow stylists to cut curls where they naturally sit. 

Some have even been trained by the CGM queen herself. David & David is a salon based in Plymouth whose stylists use the Deva Cut technique, which was created by Lorraine at her Devachan salon in New York whereby each curl is cut individually, at an angle, to avoid disrupting the curl pattern. “We’re amazed at how far people will travel and how important and life-changing this cut is for so many of our curly hair clients,” they tell us. Other salons that offer the Deva Cut technique are Unruly Curls in London, Curl Truth in Southampton, The Curl Clinic in Leeds and Brave Curls in Scotland.

So, don’t throw in the towel on CGM! Just like curls, bend the rules (a bit) and you’ll find a way that works for you. “As a hairstylist familiar with the method, it’s a brilliant system for those embarking on their natural hair journey,” says Dionne Smith, Cantu natural hair education expert and celebrity stylist. “Research your products well and look out for overly-drying ingredients.

“For a quality shampoo, I recommend sulphate-free Cantu Shea Butter Cleansing Cream Shampoo for gently removing grime and build-up without stripping, paired with Cantu Shea Butter Hydrating Cream Conditioner to help rehydrate.

“Encouraging those with curly, textured hair to adopt a regimen that aims to minimise damage – especially for a hair type that’s been long misunderstood and therefore mistreated – is a great start,” concludes Dionne.

Top curly hair products to add to your routine

Fancy starting a new wave of life? Check out these curl-friendly products.

Shop more great products for textured hair in our full range.

Scrunch out the crunch

Bouclème Curl Defining Gel

• Size: 300ml

• Sulphate and silicone-free

• Medium hold

• Vegan

• Cruelty-free

This curve-enhancing gel smoothes, moisturises and creates the perfect cast around curls.

For textured and thinning hair

Watermans Condition Me Conditioner

• Size: 250ml

• Sulphate-free

• Cruelty-free

After experiencing postpartum hair loss, Gail Waterman – a former hairstylist and salon owner – developed this sulphate-free conditioner, focusing on her textured, mixed-heritage hair needs.

For very dry, frizz-prone hair

John Frieda Frizz Ease Dream Curls Curl-Defining Crème

• Size: 150ml

• Vegan

Vegan-friendly and enriched with rosehip oil, this styling crème can be worked into damp hair to help reduce frizz and bring out those natural curls and waves.

For a soothing hair treatment mask

Umberto Giannini Thirsty Curls Overnight Hydration Curl Treatment Mask

• Size: 200ml

• Silicone-free

• Vegan

• Cruelty-free

Curly hair is often thirsty hair. This reparative treatment mask can be used weekly or overnight for an intense boost of hydration to help nourish parched coils.

Your natural curls and coils will love this

Function of Beauty Coily Hair Shampoo

• Size: 325ml

• Sulphate-free

This silicone-free foam cleanses hair and scalp from root to tip. Its no-sulphate formula means coils are gently bathed, coating every zig-zag for all type 4 hair.

For gentle detangling

Cantu Sturdy Detangling Comb

• Anti-slip handle for extra grip

Rounded teeth help minimise breakage, plus the handy shower hook makes detangling on wash days easy peasy.

To help nourish and strengthen

Mark Hill The Hair Lab Miracle Curl Conditioner

• Size: 300ml

• Silicone-free

• Vegan

Whatever your wave, curl, kink or coil, replenish hair with nourishing moisture with this conditioner that’s free from silicones and artificial fragrances.

To help keep curls in shape

Umberto Giannini Crème de Curl Control Cream

• Size: 150ml

• Vegan

• Cruelty-free

This is a go-to in Claire’s summer ‘curl-wardrobe’ for when she wants to change up her style and use heat for smoothing. In the winter, she reaches for Curl Jelly Shine Leave–In Conditioning Curl Balm. “It helps keep spirals in shape, even in wild weather,” she tells us.