Growing up, I hated my curly hair. One of my earliest memories is of my mother trying to brush out the thick and tangled curls every morning, which more often than not resulted in tears. I envied girls with poker-straight hair, which looked so much better and easier to manage than the ball of frizz on my head. Until fairly recently, I spent a fortune on blow-dries, straightening tools, and protein and keratin treatments in the quest for straight, shiny locks.
At one point, the heat damage began to get to me, so I decided to grow my hair out and wear it au naturel. However, I had ruined the curl pattern with all the straightening – it was somewhere between wavy and semi-curly – and decided to try the Curly Girl Method (CGM) to claim my ringlets back.
CGM was devised by hairstylist Lorraine Massey, and involves cutting out any products that contain harsh sulfates, drying alcohol, mineral oils and waxes. Shampoo isn't recommended, either; instead co-wash (washing your hair with conditioner) is the suggested way to go. Curls are prone to drying, and Massey advises moisturising the hair well and sealing it with a gel. She says you should treat your hair with utmost care ("as you do your best cashmere sweater") – using a soft T-shirt instead of terrycloth towels to dry, and wrapping your tresses in a silk bonnet or scarf before going to sleep on a silk pillowcase.
Massey is also the author of Curly Girl: The Handbook, in which she details how to deal with different types of curls. Facebook groups such as Curly Girl Method UAE & Middle East and Wavy, Kinky, & Curly Girls in Arabia are good sources of information, as are Insta-famous curly girls Manes by Mell, Samantha of BossCurl and Elizabeth Alex. Finding CG-approved products is not too hard, either; websites such as Isitcg.com and Curlsbot.com analyse ingredients and instantly tell you whether or not it is safe to use.
When I first started reading about CGM and watching videos, I was overwhelmed with what felt like a different language – words such as plop, pineapple, cast, roping and pre-poo were freely thrown around, and it took me a while to understand the lingo. The method also seemed to recommend shelves full of products from a large number of brands, and I wasn’t sure what I needed. It came across like a long, tedious, expensive and high-maintenance process, but seeing the results that some girls achieved and my own confused-curl woes, I decided to give it a go.
The first step is identifying your hair type – between 2A and 4C – starting with wavy to very coiled; there are plenty of pictures and videos that can help identify your curl type. Next, you need to identify the porosity of your hair – low, normal or high – to determine what kind and how much product you need. Initially, I found that most were for afro-textured hair, but I bought some products that came highly recommended from brands such as Shea Moisture and Cantu, which turned out to be heavy, weighed my hair down and didn't quite work. It took me a few months (and a lot of trial and error) to find products and a routine that works for me.
It's been about four months since I've been following the method and, truth be told, it's not easy. The best way to retain your sanity is to customise popular methods as per your convenience. For instance, on some days I will pre-poo (intensely moisturise my hair with oil or the Olaplex treatment), using either a sulfate-free shampoo or co-wash (I like the Hask Protein shampoo and Bounce Curl Hydra-Drench Cleansing Conditioner), and follow it up with a deep-conditioning mask (the Maui Moisture Heal & Hydrate Shea Butter Hair Mask is my favourite and I've also been enjoying the Harklinikken Hair Mask lately). How you style your hair makes all the difference, and there are countless techniques, including the bowl method, smooching curls, rake and squeeze, smasting and 123gel.
I am not a fan of using too many products and, honestly, too lazy to follow a complicated routine. What works for me is applying a leave-in conditioner in the roping method while the hair is still soaking wet, which involves working the conditioner through the lengths of the hair and spreading the product using a Denman brush. I rotate the leave-in conditioner I use depending on how dry my hair feels on the day – a heavy option for super-dry days (Bounce Curl Avocado and Rose Oil Clump and Define Cream), or a lighter option that is still hydrating (Harklinikken Leave-In Hair Hydrating Creme or the Curls Blueberry Bliss leave-in conditioner). I then apply a gel to help seal the moisture from the conditioner and help hold the curls for (hopefully) a few days. I rotate between light (Bounce Curl Light Creme Gel, Miss Jessie’s Jelly Soft Curls) and stronghold (cheap and cheerful Enliven yellow gel), or sometimes use both together.
I then plop (tie my hair in a soft T-shirt to help it dry) for half an hour, before letting my tresses air-dry. Some curly girls suggest diffusing for more volume, but since I'm avoiding heat altogether, I let nature take its course. At night, I am quite the vision in my satin bonnet or hair buff, and yes, I've invested in a silk pillowcase. If my hair is a bit rough in the morning, I wet it a little and scrunch again.
I am really enjoying the way my hair is responding to CGM, even though I am still in the transition phase, meaning my curls aren’t quite “popping” yet. Having said that, curls are very temperamental. I can use the same products in the same ratios, and get a different result every time. All I can do is follow the routine and pray the result is fabulous not frizzy.