Lorraine Massey, the woman behind the Curly Girl Method, has been in the hair world since she was 13, when she started working as the shampoo girl at a salon. Over the years, she gathered observations about hair, like what it does when it’s wet, how it dries, how it responds to hydration, and the way it looks naturally. She especially loved seeing her clients’ hair after cleansing it and working with their natural curls.
Even though Massey kept her own hair natural, her job was to prep her clients for blowouts and, when she was older, to do the blowouts herself. Everything in her stylist training told her to go with the agenda that “curly” meant “bad.” As she sees it, “the only people in these blowout bars are curly girls that haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that they’re curly.”
“I was doing all this stuff I was programmed to do as a stylist,” Massey recalls of her training. “They walk in and you actually you have to say, ‘Oh, you don’t want what you have, do you? You don’t like what you have, we’re going to change you.'”
Eventually, Massey decided she couldn’t blow out another person’s curls, and while many of her clients were upset, some of them admired her natural curls and even asked for advice that they could apply to their own hair. One of them noticed how much knowledge Massey had about curls and encouraged her to write a book. That book—Curly Girl: The Handbook, which was first published in 2001 and has been updated since—started a curly-haired movement.
The Curly Girl Method, a routine detailed by Massey in the book, has gained a cult following of people (like myself) looking for better ways to care for their hair. Massey says she loves the grassroots nature in which the information has spread. But, as with anything that goes viral, she feels that the original messaging got lost in translation. So we asked Massey to tell us about the most frequent mistakes she sees people make when using the Curly Girl Method.
Common mistakes people make when trying out the Curly Girl Method:
1 Overinterpreting the method.
One of the main things Massey sees is not that people are misinterpreting the method, but that they’re overinterpreting it. By this, she means that people are simply doing too much.
“You see the influencers’ [videos] and you see them get in the shower and then they wet their hair, put a condition on, and their hair looks beautiful,” Massey says. “But then they go and they part it, section it and then put another product on it. And then they part it again and put another product on it and they they go and get a brush… whereas if they had just left it, their hair would have been amazing.”
She’s not against post-shower styling altogether, but she likes to keep things simple. “I’m the minimalist of [the Curly Girl Method] because I do feel like if you stay in the process you will get consistency back,” Massey says.
2 Accidentally using silicones.
Most everyone who has dipped their toes into the Curly Girl Method knows that silicones are on the blacklist. However, Massey explains that silicones can sometimes be hidden in the ingredients list, especially within the vague term “fragrance.”
Here’s her advice at how to know if you may be using a product with silicones present: “If you notice the fragrance of your product is strong, overbearing, and/or lingers far too long after it is rinsed off the hair, it’s not a good sign. Avoid products that leave the hair with a plastic-like odor. Usually, the stronger the perfume, the more hidden chemical components there can be. If you notice your hair has too much shine, gets weighed down easily, or leaves a slickness on your hands that does not dissipate easily, it’s definitely a sign there is silicone present.”
“Try this,” she continues: “Add whatever product you are using to water. If it mixes well and doesn’t leave any weird residue, you’re good. If it separates and doesn’t mix together, more times than not, the product is not water-soluble.”
3 Overusing synthetic proteins.
Another part of the Curly Girl Method involves understanding your hair’s protein level to see if your hair has too much or not enough. For those worried that their hair has too little protein, there are endless recommendations out there for protein treatments and products with proteins to use. Massey, however, warns people to be wary.
“Hair is a natural protein in and of itself, so instead of adding more synthetic protein to your hair, look after the protein you already have,” she says. For the safest route, “try products that are plant based and contain vegan ingredients.”
She adds some more helpful perspective: “If you need to ask if your hair is getting enough protein, chances are, you just need a little more hydration.”
Try one of these hydrating plant-based treatments:
4 Using shampoo.
Massey notes that most shampoo contains sodium lauryl sulfate, an ingredient commonly found in dish soap, laundry detergent, and other cleaning agents. This creates a lather, which can strip the hair of oils.
“The CG Method was built on the foundation of no shampoo,” she says. “Our hair is an organic fiber; we don’t need to use inorganic soaps and chemicals that strip our hair to consider it clean. We have been brainwashed to believe we need shampoo.”
Some hair forums and groups advise using shampoo in moderation or using a low-poo (a sulfate-free shampoo), but Massey says this isn’t necessary. “The truth is, curly hair is naturally dry; we don’t have any oils to strip in the first place,” she explains. “The natural oils we do have contain antibodies that have protected us through the beginning of time. It’s only been in the last 50 years that oils have been considered dirty, greasy, or gross. It’s not dirt! Anything that hasn’t moved becomes stagnant and that’s when odors and bacterias start to arise.”
If you’re concerned about odor, she adds, “Try gently cleansing with a pH-balanced product on a consistent basis—this is all we need to stay balanced.”
Apple cider vinegar rinses are one of the most common ways Curly Girl followers balance their pH levels. This just involves mixing one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with one cup of water, massaging the mixture into the hair, then rinsing it out.
5 Addressing buildup.
As Massey explains above, you shouldn’t need shampoo to truly cleanse the hair. “If you have buildup concerns, then you are using the wrong products,” she says. “Non water-soluble products are called occlusive agents, which physically prevent water loss. The products that you put in your hair should naturally evaporate by the time you are ready for your next cleanse or co-wash. The most used occlusives are petrolatum, lanolin, mineral oil, and silicones, such as dimethicone.”
6 Categorizing curls.
There are a lot of charts out there for figuring out your hair type, often starting with 2A for the slightest wave and going up to 4C for the tightest coils. Categorizing your curls isn’t going to make or break your hair, but it’s something that Massey says is just unnecessary. “This is a marketing gimmick,” she explains. “People have always been trying to understand curly hair, and by labeling them via numbers and letters, it only further confuses the curly girl. You draw consumers in by saying, ‘If you have XYZ, then this is for you.’ But the thing is, it’s not so black and white.”
Instead, she encourages people to think of their curls organically. “We should name curls like we name flowers,” she says. She prefers more illustrative descriptors like, “s-waves, corkscrew, zig zag, spirals, fractals, macro spirals,” and the list goes on. This way, she adds, “we give them personality rather than trying to ID them by assigning them a number and letter.”