Once upon a time, a hair stylist wrote a book about how to care for curly hair. The information and guidance in the book were based mostly on her experiences with her own as well as her clients’ hair. The book helped a lot of curlies, including me, and I’m forever grateful to have found it.
But let’s be clear, people. It is a very big mistake to regard this book as some kind of bible.
I say this because it seems that a lot of people go to great pains to “get CG right.” They agonize over whether a product is CG, ask as many CG followers as they can about the “correct” way to apply product, and they think that if they make a mistake, it’s like being an alcoholic who takes a drink–and that they must “start over” again.
My view is that it’s time to relax about being CG.
What is the CG method?
If you were to distill the Curly Girl book down into a few sentences (and believe me, you can), here are its tenets:
1. Avoid sulfates
2. Avoid silicones
3. Treat curly hair gently (no brushes, no rough towels, no blow-dryers)
4. Gel is your friend 5. A good conditioner contains a blend of moisturizers, protein, emollients, and humectants
5. Don’t touch your hair before it’s completely dry
There’s also a bunch of silliness about “typing” one’s hair, none of which is terribly helpful but a delightful little exercise that helps give the book some substance and allows the author to use celebrity photos to demonstrate her points. People love celebrities. So do publishers. Celebrities help make everything sell better.
The book asserts that silicones coat the hair and starve it of moisture. It goes on to say that shampoo (at least the kind that contains sulfates, which is pretty much all that existed when the author wrote the book) is what’s needed to remove the silicones, but the sulfates strip hair of its natural moisture, thereby forcing us all to reach for silicones to give us the shine we crave. And hence, a heinous cycle of interdependency ensues.
And that, along with the hair typing and a plethora of curly confessions, is the sum total of the book.
Points of confusion
Sulfates. Not all of these are created equal. What’s more, not all shampoos have the same amount of them. And finally, there’s not a single silicone in existence that requires the use of sulfates to remove it. Surfactants, no sulfates, are what’s required to remove silicones (and most products in general). (So-called harsher sulfates include sodium laurel sulfate, sodium, laureth sulfate, and ammonium laurel sulfate. Milder surfactants that will do the job for you include sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, and sodium cocoyl isethionate. Still milder are non-sulfate anionic surfactants, including sodium laurel sulfate, sodium, laureth sulfate, and ammonium laurel sulfate. Least harsh are the amphoteric surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, and sodium cocoyl isethionate.)
Silicones. These come in many guises and have many names. Some adhere to hair (dimethicone), some evaporate in a few hours (cyclomethicone), and others are extremely mild (dimethicone copolyol). Not all of them evil. In fact, many would argue that none of them are. In 2009, we have many more cleansing options than were available in 2002 when Curly Girl was written. There is no reason to be draconian in your avoidance of any ingredient ending in “cone” unless you have discovered that your hair really despises all silicones. And even if it does hate silicones, maybe if you found a way to remove them that your hair doesn’t hate, that peaceful coexistence of cleansing and silicone could work for you. You never know unless you try.
Gel. Have you ever tried using the amount of gel recommended in the book? Fuggedabowdit. I use about five times as much gel as the book would have me using. It took me a few months to figure out that the quantities (of conditioner as well as gel) Curly Girl suggests simply are too skimpy for me. And in case you haven’t noticed, amazing advances have been made in the formulation of gels, and now you also need to watch for certain polyquats. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security about a gel just because it doesn’t contain any ‘cones. What’s more, some people’s hair doesn’t respond at all well to some of the most common (and seemingly harmless) gel ingredients such as propylene glycol, PVP, acrylates, and others. Just because something is technically CG doesn’t mean your hair will thrive with it.
Conditioner. Another aspect of CG that required trial and error for me was conditioner selection. First, not everybody likes protein. (The author has done a rather abrupt about-face on this point herself: her products no longer contain protein and she preaches an anti-protein approach to her followers.) I adore protein and need more of it than I ever would have expected, but coarser haired curlies don’t need and don’t want protein. Humectants are good in theory, too, but depending on your hair’s porosity and the climate you live in, you may not need humectants in the same quantities that somebody else would. Excess humectants result in frizz for some of us. So, when you read that a good conditioner must contain all these ingredients, proceed with caution because your hair may not want them all and it may not want them all in equal proportions.
How much conditioner you leave in your hair is also a huge variable among curly-headed people. Some people like to just not rinse it all out. Others like to rinse it all out and then add a bit more so they have more control. Still others use a curl creme instead of a conditioner. Some like no conditioner left in at all. You are the best judge of what your hair likes. The guidance in the book should only be used as a general suggestion about the need for curly hair to have some moisture left on it somehow. You can figure out for yourself what that moisture should look like for your hair. (And yes, figuring that out can take a while. But it’s better to experiment than to blindly follow the advice of one stylist who has never seen your hair.)
Touching and being gentle. This is some of the best advice ever. Make sure your hair is totally dry before you scrunch out your crunch. It does make a world of difference! I have also found that towels with no nap make the best choices (I avoid terrycloth and even microfiber towels, which act like velcro on my hair, even when it’s wet).
The Curly Girl book is a great introduction to the needs of curly hair. After you read it, loiter at the naturallycurly.com discussion boards (do NOT believe everything that’s posted there, however!) to get some new insights, and read some of the blogs I’ve got listed in my favorites. Acquire information.
If there were one right way to handle curly hair, everybody’s curly hair would be perfect and beautiful. But the sad truth is that there is no surefire way that applies to everyone’s hair. All you can do is learn what you can, talk to people, and experiment. And when you experiment, you may discover a trick or two that will help someone else.
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Thanks, all, for the comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the post! (I'm also really glad to know that I'm not the only one who's kind of over this rigid CG stuff….)
And thank you, Nik, for reposting this to your wonderful blog!
@anon, I think the don't touch hair until it's dry thing only applies if you're wearing your hair out, completely unmanipulated (ie a wash and go). It helps the curl pattern to set without frizzing. If you're setting your hair, you're creating the curl pattern by setting it, whether it's it's with twists, braids, bantu knots or rollers.
Also, the not touching when dry applies to your hair once it's styled. Most people who follow the CG method will clean, condition and style their hair while its still wet, than allow it to dry completely before touching it again.
I follow a modified CG routine, using natural soaps/shampoos or a no-poo method like bentonite clay to clean it. I mostly avoid silicones because I prefer to use more natural ingredients. I almost never use gels, preferring creamy moisturizers.
Thanks; this was very helpful. I learned recently that not all cones are bad for me…but I was worried about having to use a sulfate shampoo to get rid of them (sulfates ARE bad for me). It's good to know I can probably get them out with my trusty Dr. Bronner's.
love this article.
there are so many products and so much info online that you really have to just get to know your hair and jump in and experiment.
when i started transitioning, i thought i had to use all high end products but thanks to reading CN, i can get some drugstore products that are affordable and offer my hair some really great results.
Don't touch your hair before it's dry applies to the time after you apply your products if you are doing a wash n go or after you're done setting if you're doing twists/braids/rollers/whatever.
If whatever you're doing is working for your hair, then it's not bad.
Personally, my medium & fine 4 hair is more difficult to detangle the drier it gets. I like my hair very wet for detangling. I also detangle as I do twists on the rare occasions that I do them; but for me that requires keeping a spray bottle handy, cuz like I said I like it wet.
Thank you Jillipoo, I'm really tired of the whole sulfates this and shampoo that. I read CurlyGirl and I knew it wasn't for me when the author suggested getting a relaxer for us coarse haired ladies. I gave the book to a friend who has 3a hair. Thank you for the post. I follow the CG method to a point, I mostly just listen to what my hair wants. Proteins and all!
Ok. This: "Don't touch your hair before it's completely dry" is REALLY hard. What does that mean exactly? I'm willing to try if it will protect my hair 🙂
I have fine 4a coils. My hair is soooo coily that it can tangle and knot and loop around itself easily, so I try to get the knots out when it's moist, not wet, but half dry. I keep my hair in protective styles all the time (one strand & 2-strand twists). I usually detangle when it has conditioner in it or as I'm twisting when it's half dry. Is that a bad thing?
I couldn't agree with you more. I went all gungho on the whole curly girl regimen, avoiding this and that and then I had a ephinany. For many years prior I used all these sulfate shampoos and conditioners and other various hair products and my hair was healthy and thrived. Even when I was chemically relaxed I had bra strap length hair and that was with bi-weekly and sometimes weekly flat iron usage. I wanted to grow out my relaxer not because my hair was falling out but because I wanted the versatility of my natural curls. So now I reach for products that sound good to me, and I don't worry about the cones, and sulfates but more so on how my hair reacts and looks afterward application. I even use heat on occasion with no worries. Looking back over the years I realized my hair grew more and was healthiest when I kept my hands out of it, reduced heat to once per week or biweekly and kept it moisturized. That leaves me three simple rules to follow, rather than all that other jazz. Because please! I'm a mommy with two little one's under five and one teenager, mama has to keep it movin!
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