Hi there! I’m Lulu, and I love curly hair. I guess you could say I have loved curly hair my whole life, or at least as long as I can remember. But I haven’t always loved MY curly hair. For years, I thought it was frizzy, uneven, dull and undesirable, so I straightened it. That is, until I found the curly community on Instagram and was introduced to the Curly Girl Method. After seeing countless transition photos and researching the Curly Girl Method, I decided: “hey, maybe I don’t really know my hair’s potential… I’m going to try this method for 6 months and see what happens!” It’s been two years and I couldn’t be happier with my wavy/curly hair. In the photo above, the left photo is August 2017 vs August 2019 on the right.
What is the Curly Girl Method?
It’s a specific way to care for naturally curly hair that comes from Lorraine Massey’s book “Curly Girl: The Handbook” (a must read). To cover the basics, the method is about treating curly hair gently to prevent breakage and maintain a moisture balance. Essentially, that means eliminating ingredients like sulfates and silicones from hair products (more on that below), decreasing friction on the hair by stopping the use of combs/brushes and terry cloth towels, and discontinuing the use of heat tools like straighteners. Kind of a “treat your hair the way you want to be treated” situation.
The Sulfate/Silicone Cycle
Many hair products contain sulfates and silicones - sulfates are often found in shampoos, and silicones are often found in conditioners. I’ll start by saying these ingredients are not “bad” – they have a time and place and many people use these ingredients daily without issue. Sulfates act as detergents and are used to clean the hair/scalp. Silicones are used to coat the strands and lock in moisture. Now, when you leave it at that, these ingredients sound quite normal and even advantageous for hair products, which is why they exist! But it’s important to consider the potential negative side effects of these ingredients, especially when it comes to curly hair. The downside about many silicones, the non-water soluble silicones if you want to get technical, is that they can build up and actually block moisture from getting to the hair. These silicones aren’t easy to remove from the hair so you have to use harsh sulfates to remove the buildup to get moisture back into the hair. However, while sulfates do help to remove the bad things like buildup, debris, excess oil, etc, they can also strip the hair and scalp of sebum - the natural oil your body produces to moisturize your hair and skin. Due to the texture of curly hair, it is already prone to dryness because the bends in the hair shaft can make it difficult for the sebum to reach the ends of the strands. Therefore, using sulfates regularly can be very drying for curly hair. By eliminating those ingredients from my routine, I have found it easier to maintain a moisture balance in the hair that results in healthy, shiny, bouncy waves and curls.
Reading the label
If you’re interested in trying a sulfate/silicone free routine, how do you identify those ingredients on the product labels? The most common harsh sulfates in shampoo are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Very often, you can recognize a sulfate by the “ate” suffix. Not all sulfates are created equal though – some are harsher than others, so research ingredients that you don’t recognize. Some of the most common non-water soluble silicones in conditioners are Dimethicone, Amodimethicone, Dimethiconol, and Ceteraryl Methicone. Very often, you can identify silicones by the “cone” ending. This is just an introduction to ingredients, not an exhaustive list. I recommend doing more research on ingredients to familiarize yourself with what you are using.
Experimentation + Time = Success
Once you start to get the hang of curly hair products and ingredients, you may start to notice that certain things work better for you than others. There are A LOT of variables that will change your results like your hair type/texture/porosity, ingredients and how they work for your hair, when and how you use products, the amounts you use and in what order or combinations, the weather, etc. Plus, your own personal preference for the outcome will impact how you feel. Therefore, it’s very likely that a curly routine that works for one person will not work exactly the same way for another person. It takes time and trial and error to find the combination of products and techniques that yield the results you prefer. On top of that, if you’re coming from years of heat/chemical damage, it will take time for your hair to transition and get healthier. All this to say, don’t give up. Give yourself time and keep experimenting. Along the way, you learn and grow, and I’m not just talking about your hair.