The Complete Curly Girl Transition Survival Guide

If you have been thinking about starting the Curly Girl Method, you have probably heard about the dreaded transition phase. A 2-4 week period where your hair might feel worse than ever before. You may experience more frizz, limp curls, or even get an itchy scalp. Is the Curly Girl Method worth it then? Absolutely!

Woman with curly hair outside

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A transition period has to be expected when following the Curly Girl Method. Your hair needs time and the right care to adapt to a new routine.

Luckily, with the correct guidance and a few tips along the way, you’ll get through your transition phase much easier. Promise!

What is The Curly Girl Method?

The Curly Girl Method was developed by Lorraine Massey, the author of the book Curly Girl, The Handbook. The method recommends that you only use conditioner to wash your hair and that you avoid harsh chemicals as well as heat styling.

The ‘rules’ of the Curly Girl Method are as follows:

  • No sulphates, silicones, parabens and drying alcohols
  • No heat
  • No brushing
  • No towels

The theory behind the Curly Girl Method is that there are certain chemicals used in regular shampoos and conditioners which cause damage and breakage to your hair.

These kind of products are generally referred to Curly Girl friendly products.

Sulfate, which is the main culprit in shampoos, strip your hair of its natural oils.

You know that squeaky clean feeling your hair gets after using shampoo? Yup, that’s sulfates.

You’ll also have noticed that your hair might feel dry, coarse and definitely not smooth. And that is where conditioner comes in.

Most regular conditioners contain silicones which turn your hair silky smooth but at a price.

When you use a heat-styler like a straightening iron, you’re actually ‘sealing’ the silicone into your hair, making it almost impossible to remove.

This alongside pollution and other styling products creates grease and build-up. This can cause your scalp to become dry or oily.

And yes, then we shampoo again using sulfates and the circle of shampoo/conditioner continues.

The Curly Girl Routine:

  1. Co-washing
  2. Conditioning
  3. Styling
  4. Cold dry

Co-washing means that you will wash your hair with a conditioner or a cleansing co-washing product.

You cannot use shampoo on the Curly Girl Method. In fact, you may have heard of low-poo shampoos. These are shampoos that do not contain sulfates but instead contain chemicals that can be even more harmful than sulfates.

I wrote an article about why low-poo shampoos should never be used on the Curly Girl Method and what you should do instead.

After co-washing, you would then condition your hair as per usual, style with a gel and then dry your hair naturally or use a diffuser. My favorite diffuser is the Harizon universal diffuser which I bought from Amazon. It is sturdy, fits all hairdryers and provides an even distribution of air.

If you haven’t quite yet mastered your technique, I also wrote a complete step-by-step guide on the Curly Girl Method which should hopefully help makes things a lot easier to understand.

The method is simple BUT it can take a lot of time getting used to, particularly in regards to the products you’re allowed to use and the lengthy drying time.

Most curlies become frustrated with the transition phase as they expect results straight away. It’s just not going to happen.

You WILL experience some bad hair days and you’ll feel as if it’s not worth it. But if you can get through the initial four weeks, I promise it will pay off.

Just power through and follow the tips below to make it as easy as possible.

What To Expect During The Curly Girl Transition Phase

Greasy Hair

One thing to note is that you’ll be washing your hair a lot less on the Curly Girl Method.

The reason for this is that a) washing takes ages and b) the point is to create healthy curly locks which won’t need washing nearly as much.

Some curly girls wash their hair twice a week whilst others can go for ten days! However, it is not a competition.

Don’t try and postpone wash days if you have an itchy scalp or oily/greasy hair. In the beginning, you’ll find that your hair becomes much more greasy, much quicker.

The reason for this is that you’re no longer using shampoo and the build-up caused by your products and conditioner will take longer to cleanse.

Don’t worry, it is just a phase. This too shall pass!

Tangles and Knots

When you start your curly girl journey, you may find that you get more tangles and knots during the transition phase.

This is perfectly normal. As you begin to experiment with different products and layering with gel or mousse, your hair is bound to rebel. Be careful about leaving gel in your hair overnight for too long periods at a time.

Your scalp needs to breathe and gel can easily block your hair follicles.

General brushing is not recommended on the Curly Girl Method, however, a wide-tooth comb will do wonders for you when co-washing.

Focus on smoothing out your hair whilst it’s wet and create big juicy lumps to form before adding your preferred styling product.

Split Ends

A lot of curlies give up on the CG method too quickly as their hair will sometimes look more damaged than before. Don’t give up!

Yes you may be looking at your hair thinking ‘why did I do this?’, but if you give it enough time, your scalp and hair will heal from years of heat styling.

The most important thing you can do is deep condition and stop brushing. Don’t go cutting off a big chunk of your hair. Give it a chance to improve before taking any radical steps.

Dry Scalp

A flaky dry scalp can be one of the side effects of the curly girl method. Not everyone experiences this, but if you do, then your best bet is the almighty scalp brush. Even if you don’t have a dry scalp, this is the tool you NEED to buy.

It helps with oily scalps as well of course from product build-up, but most importantly, it massages the scalp to encourage the flow of oxygen to let your roots breathe.

Awkward Curls

Yes, this is called the curly girl method, so curls are going to happen but unfortunately you can’t decide how and where they’ll pop up. In the beginning, you may find that your curls just don’t look nice.

Maybe the inner part of your hair is super curly, but the hair on your crown is still one big frizz ball. Give it time.

The inner part of your hair is less damaged and as time goes by, your curls will start to evolve and work with each other.

Curly Girl Transition Survival Guide

So what can you do to make your Curly Girl transition period less stressful? Well, my number one tip is to just not worry about it!

I know this is a website about curls, but at the end of the day, it is just hair. If you don’t get it right straight away, wash it and try again tomorrow.

Follow this guide to breeze through the transition phase and find the pot of bouncy curly locks at the end of the rainbow!

1 Understand Your Hair Type

If you can understand the way in which your hair reacts to moisture and protein, you’re already on your way.

Now there used to be a test that was widely circulated online in which you took a hair strand and placed it in a cup of water. If your hair floated, your hair was low porosity. If it sank to the bottom, your hair was very porous.

This test has however been debunked by Lorna Casse from as it was revealed that high porosity hair would float on water if it was covered in oily hair products.

Lorna says:

“You can tell that your hair is porous if it absorbs water quickly in the shower even when it has products on it, but then also dries up very fast.  

Based on this knowledge you should use products that can seal the moisture before the hair starts to dry completely.  Low porosity is harder to tell.

If your hair doesn’t soak in the shower very fast.  It could be of low porosity or it could be so well coated with products such that they repel the water.

Either way, low porosity means that the hair takes longer to absorb moisture but it also retains moisture for a longer time which in the end is not a bad thing.”

Hair Porosity

Therefore, take a shower and try to figure out the porosity of your hair.

If you have low porosity hair, I would recommend the Pantene Cleanse and Reconstruct conditioner which smells divine!

You can also try a lighter co-washing product such as the As I Am Coconut Co-washing conditioner which is a Curly Girl favorite.

If you have highly porous hair, I would recommend the Ultime Blends Almond Milk conditioner from Garnier. This conditioner is made from 98% natural ingredients.

The next step is to work out whether or not you have protein-sensitive hair OR if your hair is over moisturized.

If you have protein sensitive hair you may experience the following:

  • Dry and brittle hair
  • Hair breaks easily
  • Curls don’t stretch
  • Hair feels like straw
  • Curls won’t clump together

Here is a before and after photo of my hair which was protein sensitive:

Curly Girl Transition before and after

Apple Cider Vinegar

In order to fix this, I used an apple cider vinegar rinse to rectify the imbalance. I simply added a few spoonfuls of ACV to some water and applied to soaking wet hair.

I let it sit for about five minutes and then rinsed it with a conditioner.

The results were instant but this might not happen to you. If you suspect you have protein-sensitive hair, try this protein-free conditioner from Novex.

If you suffer from moisture overload or hygral fatigue, your hair might feel limp, soft, and stretchy. Your curls may also have stopped forming.

This happens when hair cuticles become swollen due to water retention and then deflate once water is removed from the hair.

If you think you suffer from moisture overload, you will need more protein-rich products in your daily routine. For this, I would recommend the Sheamoisture Restorative Conditioner or the Giovanni Smooth as Silk conditioner.

If you want to look at more products that are Curly Girl approved, click here.

2 Use Cold Water

Unless you’re a fan of cold showers, this one is a drag.

You will get your absolute best curls if you finish off your routine with cold water so try to find a way that’s most comfortable to do this when having a shower.

I find that the best way is to co-wash, condition and scalp massage with warm water, and then for the final bit, I hold the shower handle between my legs, flip my hair upside down in front of me, and turn the water to cold.

I then squish, scrunch and form big juicy lumps of curls with water and a bit of conditioner.

Then I turn the water warm again and wash myself off. I add gel or mousse to my curls and plop with a microfibre towel whilst getting dressed.

3 Deep Condition

Make sure you deep condition once a week when you’re starting out.

This will help moisturize your curls and help heal damaged hair much quicker. My favorite deep conditioner is the Bouclème Intensive Moisture Treatment.

I have protein sensitive and low porosity hair but even though this product contains some protein, it’s so lightweight that it really does the trick.

I would also recommend getting a deep conditioning hair cap. A heat cap seals in the heat and allows the product to work much better. I got mine from Amazon and it’s really useful as well as pretty darn cute!

4 Tie Up Your Hair During Your Curly Girl Transition Phase

This may be controversial, but if you really don’t like the way your hair is behaving during your first few weeks (or even months) when going through your curly girl transition phase…just tie it up.

You don’t have to spend hours every day trying to make it look just right.

Who has the time? The whole purpose of the method is to get healthy hair. You can do this without trying to look amazing every single day.

I’ll admit that for my first six months on the CG method, I had my hair down only once a week!

It just didn’t work with my schedule to wash and dry every morning and I couldn’t get a good refresh for months.

So, I followed the method, co-wash and conditioned, and then I just tied up my hair. The result? Much healthier hair without the stress of having to ‘look good’ every day.

Oh and you can also look the bomb with your hair tied up, it doesn’t have to be flowing bouncy locks every single day.

5 Don’t Switch Between Products Too Much

I see so many curly girls using a tonne of products when they first start out. I bought loads too but I only used a few of them. Forget the curl activators, the mists and the creams for now.

Just buy one or two lightweight conditioners and a creamier one for deep conditioning. Then buy a gel, a mousse and you’re on your way.

You can check out my post on Curly Girl approved products in which you’ll find lots of products to choose from. However, if I had to start over again, these are the products I would buy:

  1. Pantene Biology Cleanse and Reconstruct
  2. Bouclème Intensive Moisture Treatment
  3. Umberto Giannini Scrunching Jelly
  4. Pantene Pro V Defined Curls Level 5

6 Experiment During Your Curly Girl Transition Phase

All hair is different so of course, you might want to try different products. I completely understand the need to try different gels and conditioners and I would encourage you to try a product for 7-12 days.

If you don’t feel that it works for you, try something else.

You may find that coconut makes your hair frizzy and unmanageable and this could be a sign that you’re protein sensitive.

You might also find that your hair starts to feel worse than when you started, and then it’s time to try something else. Just try to use what you have.

It’s good to try things for longer than a few days and of course, it’s better for the environment to avoid too much plastic waste.

7 Diffuse

One of the key tools of the CG method is a diffuser. It’s simply a must-have. A diffuser can cut down drying time significantly. You just need to ensure that you’re using low heat and that you don’t disturb the curls too much.

Check out Manes by Mel’s diffusing tutorial on YouTube!

8 Find Your Perfect Refresh Method

You should always wash your hair whenever you feel there is a need for it. However, one of the benefits of the Curly Girl Method is that you won’t need to wash your hair as frequently as before.

It’s therefore important to master a refresh method so that you can keep your beautiful curls for as long as possible with minimal maintenance.

Experiment with wet refreshes as well as dry. A wet refresh for some actually produces a lot of frizz but it’s entirely individual.

Try a wet refresh method by mixing some of your preferred conditioner with water or a dry refresh could simply be adding some mousse to liven up your curls.

9 Commit

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Commit to the method for at least four weeks before thinking of doing something else.

It’s OK to feel frustrated when following the Curly Girl Method but it really is worth it if you can get past the transition phase.

It can take months or even years to get your hair back to its optimal health.

You’ll find that if you do, you won’t need nearly as many products in the long run and your hair will naturally find its curly shape even without the use of styling products.

10 Don’t Compare Yourself To Others

It’s easy to say but harder to do. Do not compare your results to other curlies. We all have different hair types and the condition of your hair is entirely individual.

It’s also important to note that you may have type 2A hair which will never curl the same way as someone with type 3b.

Focus on yourself and you’ll get through the curly girl transition phase with much less stress.

11 Document Your Journey

Take progress photos once a week. Document your hair journey both with products as well as without.

I have found that now, twelve months after starting, my hair in its natural state is much more curly than it ever was before.

I have days when I don’t even need to add anything except a small handful of mousse!

Much more manageable than my early days of using curl activator, creams, and gels.

Above all, the most important thing to do on the curly girl method is to be patient during the transition phase.

You might not be able to make it go quicker, but you’ll find it a lot less stressful if you see it as a marathon and not a race.

As with any changes we make, whether it be weight loss or perhaps learning a new skill, you won’t see results overnight. Commit, stay on track, and don’t compare yourself to others.

I wish you all the best on your curly hair journey!

Curly Girl Transition Survival Guide

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