My curly hair routine has changed a lot over the years.
(Pictured: Me, my niece a million years ago, and my curly hair)
I remember when I was little my mom did all she could, God help her. It was easy when I was little. You know how super easy little kid hair is. It just does its own thing and it’s gorgeous. You can use terrible, cheap kid products and it looks okay for a while.
Then as you get older, get some haircuts and your hair matures into its true form it can get more complicated.
My Childhood Curly Hair Routine (No Routine)
In third grade, I wanted long hair so bad. Of course curly hair can be easier to manage when it’s short. And my mom would make me brush out my hair. “If you don’t brush it, we’re going to have to cut it.” So I brushed out my dry, poofy hair. It was a frizzy mess. Complete with weird bangs and super dry, split ends from abusing dry curly hair.
When I was a kid having curly hair was not “cool.” I wanted long, straight hair so badly. That’s what all the girls had who I saw as “pretty” or “popular.”
It didn’t help that the only people who complimented my hair as a young kid and preteen were little old ladies. “I have to perm my hair to look like yours. I wish my hair did that!” And that is a super nice compliment. But I recognized that the complement never came from my peers.
Trying To Change
At one point my mom paid a million dollars to have my hair professionally straightened at a salon. I remember it took forever, involved a lot of chemicals and…
In the end it did not work. My hair was a little frizzier, but nowhere near straight.
We also tried ceramic heat straighteners. I meet other people with curly hair whose hair is currently straightened and they’ll say, “My hair looks just like your when it’s not straight.” Uhm… not true. Because my hair does NOT straighten. It looks super weird and floofy when I straighten it, and in the Houston humidity starts to curl immediately anyway.
To top it off, I have always been kind of “cheap.” Now I like to say “economical.” That’s a much nicer word. And it reflects a positive attitude instead of a negative one.
But either way, I don’t like to spend my hard earned money on beauty products or hair care. So when I was younger, I used giant $1 bottles of that hair gel that makes your hair shiny and sticky, and a little crunchy.
The “No Hair Cut” Phase
That’s all I used for years. And in the long term it contributed to my damaged curls and split ends. But honestly that crunchy gel was an improved look to the brushed out dry frizz.
I also spent my entire life up until high school keeping my hair pretty short. Never longer than shoulder length. But I always loved the way that long hair looked on other people. So in 10th grade I decided, no more hair cuts.
I started growing my hair out, and I loved the way it looked longer. It also made me want to take care of my hair better. I started using slightly more high quality hair products. At least better than the $1 crunch gel I had been using. I also dyed it blonde and continued to do so for years. I loved the way it looked, but cheap box dye from the grocery store did nothing for the health of my hair.
And again, even the crunch gel was an improvement from what I had done for years before that, which was just brushing it out. I at least figured out by this point that I couldn’t brush my hair dry. It just tore it up.
My Curly Hair Routine After High School
I used a ton of product and a cheap shampoo and conditioner. I think I was just young enough for my hair to look decent with enough hair gel. Never had long hair, so I was just in love with my hair for the first time ever.
And high school was hard. People were cliquey. Graduating and getting out of that environment did a lot for my self esteem.
I remember one night I was out with friends and a stranger, who I would actually consider a peer said, “I like your hair. It’s really cool.” It was the first time in my life that I was actually proud of my own hair.
I kept it long for a while until I went through a bad breakup. You know how us gals like to do stuff to our hair when we’re going through emotional trauma. My sister drive down to see me, and she chopped my hair off per my request.
It looked so healthy after getting chopped.
Changing Things Up
I started discovering some better hair care products. I wasn’t so terribly broke and could afford something better than the $2 shampoo and conditioner.
Huge discovery: Alcohol is pretty much the worst thing for curly hair ever, and so many styling products contain alcohol. I started using creams instead of gels and this improved my hair health immensely.
I continued only brushing my hair when wet. And the less I did, the better. Wearing it up was easy, but keeping it down caused less breakage. I started using a wide toothed comb instead of a brush. And eventually did away with that too and simply unknotted my hair in the shower with conditioner.
The Curly Girl Method
If you have curly hair, you probably already know about this method by now. When I was a kid, this was not a thing, but now it’s pretty popular. Here is a basic overview of the rules you need to follow:
Parabens, sulfates or silicones.
No towels; they frizz and cause damage.
No dyes. Your hair looks best in its natural state, I promise.
Brushes or combs.
And no shampoo.
Use fingers or scalp brush to cleanse in place of shampoo
Natural emollients like coconut oil and shea
Lighter oils like olive and grapeseed
Microfiber towel (if you choose to use one at all)
Steps For The Curly Girl Method
Step 1: Cleanse.
You start the process by using a cleansing shampoo that will strip your hair of all the things. This will be your last shampoo for all time for the rest of your life. Just kidding. You should cleanse occasionally, and condition before and after. General rule of thumb is the curlier your hair, the less you cleanse. IE wavy hair should cleanse once a week, super kinky hair should cleanse as little as possible.
Step 2: Condition.
General rule of thumb is the curlier your hair, the longer you condition. The kinkiest of kink should condition and warp your hair for at least 15 minutes. Wavy hair should not rinse all the way. Kinky should rinse thoroughly to discourage leftover film.
Step 3: Style.
Avoid heat. If you’re going to use a towel, use microfiber to decrease breakage. Wavy and curly hair should flip their hair and scrunch from underneath to avoid frizzing the outside.
My Minimal Curly Hair Routine Today
What I love about the curly girl method is that it is pretty minimal. Less is more. Leave your hair alone. Stop torturing it. Encourage its natural state.
I use shampoo once or twice a month. Conditioner, and if I shampoo then I will condition twice.
I do NOT use products in my hair anymore. I tried a leave in conditioner for a while, but what I was using was pricey.
So I got a regular conditioner that has argan oil in it and have been using it after a shower as a “styler.” And it works great. It’s also only $5 a bottle. Sweet.
Products I have Tried
I tried DevaCurl. It is a super trendy product for curly hair right now. I only ever tried their styling product and didn’t really like it that much. I’m sure they would suggest that it works best alongside their other products and to be fair I have never tried their shampoo, conditioner or anything else other than the styling cream.
I loved Wen. I have super dry skin, and the sweet almond mint formula they have was really great to decrease itchiness on my scalp. It is NOT curly girl method approved but it worked for me. I used it to cleanse and as a leave in product.
I have nothing bad to say about Wen. They also have amazing customer support and are always adding value and giving away free stuff.
But it is super expensive. And at the time I was getting it, you had to get a subscription which I didn’t really like. Now I think you can only order online and it’s more pricey without the subscription service.
So when I was paring down financially my Wen had to go.
Paul Mitchell leave in conditioner is great. I still use it in small amounts for my 5 year old son because he has long, curly hair and he only needs a tiny bit for his hair to look amazing.
OGX Argan Oil Conditioner is what I currently use as a leave in product. It is super economical and works really well to hydrate my curls after showering. At his point I don’t think I would spend so much money on curly hair styling products again when regular conditioners are working for me as a leave in and tend to come with a more friendly price tag.
I’m pretty sure this product is NOT curly girl hair method approved. But I like it and it works for me.
Curly Hair Routine Wrap Up
Here are my top tips for taking care of curly hair based off of my personal experience.
Tip #1 Cleanse Minimally. Shampoo really does dry your hair out.
Tip #2 Skip the alcohol.
Tip #3 Don’t brush your hair ever again. Only get the knots out when your hair it wet. Use conditioner to detangle. Don’t even use a comb if you can avoid it.
Tip #4 Overall rule of thumb: The less, the better. The list of No’s is longer than the list of Yes’s.
Tip #5 Your hair in its natural state is the best that it can be. Skip the straightening and dying. Natural hair color will also bring out your other natural features best, like your eyes.
Tip #6 Skip the product. Conditioners are going to make your hair look better. And consider using a regular conditioner instead of a designated leave in.
I wash my hair a couple times a month, use conditioner, scrunch with a microfiber towel to dry and use a conditioner to leave in as a “styling” product. Super minimal and affordable.
One Last Tip:
Experiment. Don’t get stuck on something that you think is “supposed” to work but doesn’t for your curly hair routine. Your hair may not respond like everyone else’s. If you try something and it doesn’t work, move on. If you’ve been using something for a while and it suddenly isn’t doing it for you anymore, switch it up.
The curly girl method is a great place to start. I love how minimal it is and it has saved thousands of girls from the brush-the-dry-frizz phase I endured for years. But use it as a starting point and not a bible and figure out what makes your hair happy.
If you have been abusing your hair with products for years, consider making the chop and starting off with a clean slate. I always want my hair to be long, but some of my best hair moments in the past have been when I made the cut and let my hair start off in the healthiest way possible. Cut out the dye and the $1 hair gel damaged threads and start off with a clean slate.