Curly Confession–The Curly Girl Method


Yesterday I picked up the expanded 2nd edition of Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey.  I read the entire book in one sitting and truly enjoyed it from cover to cover.  What was a complete and shocking surprise was that almost every curly girl in the book no matter what race or ethnicity pretty much had the same frustrating story of growing up hating their hair, forcing it to lay down with blow driers, flat irons, or chemical straighteners, while praying that it would just behave to have a normal straight existence in life.

I will never forget the billboards for Gap the fall of 2000 in New York City with this beautiful model with long dark curly hair.  It was the first time I really saw a curly model who was a woman of color embraced in the industry.  At the time my hair was no longer than an inch or two all over.  Short and curly is how I wore my hair for years.  Now that my hair is much longer sometimes I still get frustrated especially walking away from chemical laden hair care products.  Two years ago it was only a few inches long, so having longer hair now is still very new to me.

Over the summer I did a job where there were three African American hair stylists on set.  All during rehearsals I had worn my hair big and curly.  No one mentioned that our hair needed to be slicked back in a bun for the actual taping.  Luckily I had aloe vera gel in my handbag the day of the taping.  I could already see the annoyance in one of the hair stylist’s eyes when he saw me in the makeup chair.  Before I went to hair, I left to go to the bathroom and started slicking my hair back with water and aloe vera gel with my hands.  By the time I sat in the hair stylist’s chair, I had already started the process.

The male hair stylist who had rolled his eyes earlier had one of the other female stylists do my hair saying under his breath that he wasn’t touching my nappy hair.  Wow!  I was actually kind of shocked because my hair is a bit wild and free, but isn’t anything but thick and curly.  The female stylist was about to comb through all of my hair dry, a big curly hair no-no, just to put it in a bun.  I had to stop her and talk her through how to put my hair up.  Because my hair was air dried curly versus slicked back when freshly washed, it was extremely thick in volume.  She broke two or three hair elastics trying to make a ponytail before deciding to use a rubber band which I wasn’t happy with.  Next time I will have a satin ribbon in my handbag along with the aloe vera gel.  We successfully put my hair up in a sleek bun no combing or brushing.  She was surprised that my hair wasn’t as difficult to do as all three of them thought.

One major lesson I learned reading Curly Girl–The Handbook is that hair stylists are not trained to cut, style, or care for curly hair.  The only way they know to treat curls is to straighten them.  In the case of being on set with three African American hair stylists, most hair stylists are trained the same way no matter what your background is.  Curly hair is looked at as something that needs to be cured in the hair industry.

A week and a half ago I had this long dance audition.  I went to the audition with my usual braid-out curl compressed hair style like my photo below, and left with my hair three times the size no exaggeration!  Now I love big hair.  The problem was that my hair looked a hot mess by the end because it wasn’t set with my natural curl pattern.  It isn’t until the end of the audition that you are usually put on tape for the producer or director, and I looked a frizzy mess.  After that experience I knew I’d be making another change to my hair regimen.  I had to because having your hair grow into a hot air balloon can’t happen especially in my business.


Reading Curly Girl–The Handbook was exactly what I needed.  I wanted to learn from a professional hair stylist who has curly hair what the best curly hair care method could look like.  With all of the information that I already have about hair care, I can say that I still learned a lot.  No collection of YouTube videos can make up for all of the information in this one book.  I have a new perspective on how hair stylists are trained, how to condition wash my hair so that I’m not wasting conditioner, and how to care for my hair after swimming in a pool or at the beach.  This is truly a wonderful guide for anyone with curly hair especially if you are growing out a chemical straightener, have always heat straightened your wavy or curly hair, and want to finally embrace your natural hair texture.

If you have been following my hair care articles, I started growing out my hair two years ago using a simple aloe vera based leave-in conditioner recipe which works wonders for two strand twists and re-moisturizing curly hair in between washes.  I formulated a curl conditioning serum which is fabulous for dry parched curls.  I’ve used ayurvedic herbs such as amla and hibiscus petals, made herbal infused oils, done weekly or monthly henna treatments, fell in love with coconut milk for deep conditioning, learned the power of ceramide oils, and even began using herbs, teas, and clays to cleanse and condition my hair instead of traditional store bought shampoos and conditioners on my own no-poo hair care process.  I haven’t been crazy about nor used shampoos or shampoo bars for about a year thus beginning my curl care with the condition only method.

During the past two years my hair has grown out pretty nicely, although I’ve had a few setbacks along the way.  I can honestly say that after blow drying my hair straight in December, I saw tiny holes in more than a few hair strands, and experienced a bit of breakage from the heat drying out my hair.  I had just bought a new blow dryer which I was very excited with at the time.  I won’t be using that blow dryer any more if I can help it, meaning straightening my hair for work purposes.  It’s not a complete waste since blow drying your pointe shoes after dance classes helps them to last longer.

So now what?  I’m back to using conditioner again, I’m not going to use any hair grooming tools (no combs or brushes), and I’m going to try the Curly Girl Method my way chemical free.  When I was in love with the Tightly Curly Method a year ago, the down fall for me was using the Denman brush with a “combing conditioner” as Terri LaFlesh recommended.  My hair looked amazing, yet the Denman brush shredded my fine hair strands leaving me with broken damaged hair.  Knowing now that I can go comb and brush free gives me another new insight with my hair care.

I stopped using store bought hair conditioners because so many including my favorite one at the time contained phenoxyethanol.  Yesterday I made my very first conditioner which came out much better than I expected.  I hope to master it in the next few months.  If I do master this hair conditioner, you may even see it in my store Azuha along with the other beauty products that I plan to start selling this year.  This conditioner is completely chemical free and is a wonderful emulsion of aloe vera, vegetable glycerin, nourishing oils, and herbs.

For those who are curious how my hair care routine will change, here’s is what I will be doing.  I will be conditioner washing my hair two to three times per week.  If I do need to cleanse my hair further, there is always the simple yet effective soapwort root cleanser, a natural herb which gently cleanses hair, and is of course sulfate free which is a requirement with The Curly Girl Method.  Rhassoul clay is another great option as well.  A sugar scrub is recommended in the book for cleansing and exfoliating the scalp.

I will use my favorite coconut milk deep conditioner once a week or once every other week.  My leave-in will be my home made conditioner with a bit of oil on my ends as needed.  I do plan to smooth each curl as I learned in the Tighly Curly Method with my fingers only, which usually takes me about 30-40 minutes.  A total of 50-60 minutes max two or three times a week is not a lot of time.  That’s it!  I’m still no-poo, but a bit different than before.

I plan to try this out for the month in hopes of never experiencing hot air balloon hair again.  This is pretty much the same regimen I used a year ago without the combing and brushing, using a purer conditioner, and adding gentle cleansers.  I will give an update in about a month or so.

You can see my most recent hair routine in my beauty regimen.

(Image of my curly coils by

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  1. says

    AAAAAAGH!!! How can women with curly hair hate it? I don’t get it??? Mine is straight. Limp. Anemic. Sigh.

    I always wished to have curly hair. Have abused what I have with perms, teasing, curling irons, I laughed the first time my daughter brought a flat iron home. Why would ANYONE want to make their hair straighter. Ridiculous!!!

  2. Dawn Michelle says

    Hi Cathy,
    It is so important for all of us to embrace every aspect of ourselves although it can be so challenging at times. Hair is just one way that women seem to focus and fuss at themselves. I used to have my hair straightened with a hot comb as a child then curled up. Looking back now it really doesn’t make any sense. The issue with curly hair for me is just never learning how to take care of it in a healthy way so that it could look beautiful. I actually never knew that it was curly until I first cut off my relaxer and it started to grow in chemical free at 19. Hair stories can be crazy!
    Hope you are enjoying your day!
    Dawn Michelle

  3. says

    Your site is FULL of information. I’m adding it to my Google reader :-)

    In Teri’s book she does mention however that you don’t need to use the Denman. You can smooth with your hands. It just may take a little longer. I’m on the fence about the Denman. when I’m really really careful, it seems to be ok. But there are times when I get a little impatient and you are right…it can rip the hair.

  4. Dawn Michelle says

    Hi Michelle, I only smooth my hair wih my hands. I have yet to read Teri’s book so that in next on my list. Curly Girl The Method was a wonderful book to start wih for me. Glad you are enjoying my blog 😉

  5. says

    It’s so funny that I came across this article from CurlyNikki, I’ve been experimenting with a combined Curly Girl/Tightly Curly method, but partially because I wanted to wash my hair more frequently, partially because I’m not sure if it’s my damaged hair pre Tightly Curly or the Denman, but I’ve been noticing a lot of strands with holes. I will try your method of doing the detangling a little later in the process, I usually detangle in the shower.

  6. Dawn Michelle says

    Hi Kamilah,
    I’ve experienced hair strands with holes after using a blow dryer on my hair this past December. I cut as many of those hairs strand by strand that I could find. I also did another trim/curl reshaping this past February which has really helped out. I learned a new method of curl cutting from Curly Girl The Handbook. It is worth getting the book if you don’t already have it. I hope that this new method of detangling later in the process works out for you.
    Peace and Sunshine,
    Dawn Michelle

  7. Mia says

    Wow this is really cool. I’m 18, and I’ve been natural for almost a year,my hair is already a few inches past my shoulders. My hair grows really quickly. I only shampoo my hair once a month, and I co-wash every day. Your eyes are beautiful, btw.

  8. Sarah says

    Hi Dawn Michelle,
    Did you ever master your conditioner recipe for the curly girl method. I looked on your Etsy shop and it isn’t there. Have you shared the recipe? I’ve found your cleansing conditioner recipe with aloe vera- would you use that as a semi-leave in conditioner as the Curly Girl book suggests? Thank you! :)

  9. Dawn Michelle says

    Hi Sarah,

    My hair regimen has changed so much since I first wrote this article and was doing the Curly Girl Method. I no longer use the Curly Girl Method, yet I did learn a lot from it. You can see my most updated hair regimen here.

    I am currently using simple herbal and oil/butter ingredients instead of traditional hair care products. I am not making conditioners with any synthetic conditioner ingredients. I stopped using even “natural” conditioners January 2013 because it pollutes the water supply and is not biodegradable. I also wrote this natural hair care series on 100% chemical free hair care which may interest you and explains everything. You will also see many options for natural hair conditioners and leave-ins in that series that I’ve found to be better than synthetic conditioners. let me know what you think.

    Best wishes!

  10. Kate says

    I am looking for stylist that will not burn my hair. Many stylist do not want to do my hair. It is headache finding someone who uses decent products. I will be ordering wholesale oils and butters to make my own facial and hair products. It’s cheaper that way. I need to cut my hair off or get a relaxer. My hair is very damaged.

  11. Dawn Michelle says

    Hi Kate,

    Hope all is well with you and thanks for your comment. It is actually so empowering to learn how to care for your own hair versus rely on stylists. Many stylists are more concerned with the style versus the health of your hair. There are a few gems out there though.

    If your hair is damaged then this article may help. If you are dealing with hair breakage then this article may help. Be patient as it takes time to find exactly what is best for you. I’ve done years of experimenting and trying new things. I am still learning things to this day myself.

    Best wishes!

  12. Kate says

    Yes thanks for the advice, I will learn to do my own hair. You also have inspired me to make my own products for my hair and will learn to do it myself. The only style I could is two strand twist but I will learn more.

  13. Dawn Michelle says

    Hi Kate,
    Two strand twists were my main hairstyle when my hair was shorter. I would pin them up into updos. I honestly don’t do a ton of styles. My hair is either loose, pinned to the side, in a bun/rolled updo, or in a ponytail. Enjoy the process! <3

  14. Linda says

    I have had curly hair all my life (boticelli/s’wavy) and my mom neverknew how to handle it since everyone in my family has straight at best a bit wavy hair, needless to say it was a disaster with years of me misunderstanding & getting frustrated at my hair, envying my sister for her straight hair & spending hours straightening it …
    Then my sister stumbled upon the curly girl book and I nearly cried reading it because I was so happy to finally read from people who have been through their own hair horror stories and who I could learn how to manage curls from.
    Two years later my hair & me are still not 100% happy since I am desperately trying to make about ribcage-long hair & curls work, but I’m getting there and blogs like yours and Youtube help TONS !! So a big thank you from a fellow curly girl (:

  15. Dawn Michelle says

    Hi Linda,
    Thanks so much for sharing this and for the kind words. Learning to embrace the curls on our heads is so empowering. Reading Curly Girl was such a help for me too. I wish you the best of everything!

  16. April says

    Thanks so much for all your chemical free information. I am a straight-haired mom with a curly haired little girl trying to find ways to care for both of our hair without chemicals. I discovered the Curly Girl book and was blown away. I bought some products and my daughter especially loves the one condition but I am excited to get away from bottles. Although I am not sure how she will handle the amount of time to do her hair even if it is once a week. :-)
    Thank you for sharing

  17. Dawn Michelle says

    Hi April,
    Thanks for your comment and I’m glad this info is helpful to you. Transitioning from store bought products is a learning curve and there is a transition period but it is worth it and so much healthier to be chemical-free. I’m not sure if you saw this hair care series but it offers a ton of ideas. Best wishes to you both!