I’ve spent half of my life doing everything possible to coax my rowdy curls into smooth, straight hair—a story many curlies around the world can relate to.
But things changed for me in 2019, when the CROWN Act, legislation that banned workplace discrimination based on natural hair, was enacted in California. If you’re a person of color, these kinds of stories are not new: we live in a society where hair is just one thing on the long list of determining factors of a person’s race or ethnicity—and historically, whether they were considered a second-class citizen or not. Hair remains, to this day, an envoy for race. In a show of support, and in protest of over a decade of unsolicited commentary and rude micro-aggressions about my hair, I embarked on my own journey to embrace my naturally curly hair. No heat, no problem.
Fast-forward one year, and I was incredibly frustrated with my limp, tired curls. Why wasn’t my hair cooperating with me? I scoured the Internet for advice, and only came across suggestions that scared me: “The Big Chop,” thousands of homemade hair mask recipes with questionable results (and ingredients). I typed the keywords “curly haircut,” “haircut specifically for 3A to 3C curls,” and “curly hair stylists in New York for coily kinky curls,” into Google, and I was provided with answers that would go on to shape my hair journey. The results guided me to Lorraine Massey and her salon, Spiral (x,y,z), in Tribeca. She’s also the creator of the Curly Girl Method, a holistic approach to hair care for natural hair that has become a go-to hair ethos for curlies worldwide. The CGM calls for choosing the right cleansers and conditioners and ditching damaging habits, like using harsh shampoos and heat styling. I knew instantly that I needed to visit her, and the rest is hair history.
I sat down with the Curly Girl Method creator to discuss how she keeps her curls happy and healthy, how to cut your hair at home in-between salon visits, and why she suggests skipping a hair mask.
How did your hair care journey begin, and when did your career in curls start?
I started working as a shampoo girl when I was 13 years old in Leicester, England. The shampoo was so harsh that, by the end of the day, my hands would bleed from the detergent. I remember washing peoples hair and witnessing a sink full of tangles matted in the suds.
I grew to despise shampooing hair. There was no artistry in washing, brushing, straightening, and insulting the hair with the same blowdried, straightened, one-dimensional template everyone else was doing. The bubbles from the sodium sulfate sucked out any remnants of moisture, and it dried out the scalp, too—which left people thinking they had dandruff when in reality, it was just dried skin from the salty shampoo residue. After blasting the hair with blistering heat, it would frizz after converging with the ever-present water molecules in the atmosphere. It could take up to an hour to straighten, and 10 minutes to frizz if it was raining or humid.
One afternoon, I finally had enough and walked out of the salon, leaving a client in the chair, half blowdried and half beautifully curly. I’ve never blowdried anyone’s hair since that day.
Funnily enough, I saw the same client five years later, when she was ready to embrace her natural curls. I finally came to the realization that only curly-haired people straighten their hair. Naturally straight-haired people never think about straightening their hair. Wherever there is straightening implemented, there are curls waiting to happen.
There are not many hairstylists that want to speak the curly language: it’s easier to just smooth us out. That’s why I look at my craft very differently now. Curls are dynamic, shapeshifting forms, and we are a global, mixed-race species, and natural hair is an incredible medium to be a part of. There are truly no two curls alike.
When you wake up in the morning, how do you refresh your curls? Describe your morning hair care routine.
To start, I remove my silk scrunchie from my pineapple bun and allow my curls to open. Then, I lightly spritz my curls with a homemade infused lavender water, or I put a little in my hands and graze over the canopy and allow to settle for a few minutes.
Then, I assess the whole situation, and refresh select curls that have dispersed. I will then take CurlyWorld’s non-silicone conditioner, Terms & Conditions, and apply it to targeted strands that need a little extra hydration. Sometimes, I’ll take a dollop of the conditioner in the palm of my hands and add a little bit of water to make it milky.
Finally, I will put CurlyWorld’s Leave-in Lover gel on the prongs of CurlyWorld’s Pik Me Up, and place them at the roots for extra lift.
What about your evening routine? How do you protect your curls while you sleep?
A simple pineapple bun keeps my curls polarized and stationary as you sleep. When you wake, slide off the scrunchie and let the hair settle like a Christmas tree set free from the mesh casing.
What’s your go-to product in-between washes?
It’s always a non-silicone conditioner mixed with water to make a milky refreshment. I can go a few days without cleansing my hair, and on those in-between days, I target select curls that have dispersed, and spot co-wash. This makes the curls defined again with no crunch. I liken this to spilling something on a dress and wiping that area only. You don’t need to take the whole dress off to clean that one spot. When you start to become comfortable with your curls, a quick refresh really does the trick.
What about in-between haircuts?
Many curlies like to keep the length they have, and will often go up to 6 months or more without cutting their hair in fear of losing the length, despite the fact that the hair gets knotty as the ends branch out, and fuse with the neighboring strand like velcro.
I highly suggest an at-home trim to oxygenate the very ends of the ends—this little dusting of a trim has big results. It’s instantly effective, and you can see a difference immediately. It reboots the entire hair strand, and the whole mass of curls will look refreshed. Simply visit the very tip of each curl at its furthest point, in between the index finger and thumb, and with a sharp scissor, cut the frayed ends. This is what I do for many of my clients, and for myself. It is subtle, but effective.
With curls, an inch is like a mile, and shrinkage can be up to 10 inches. You can always take more off, but you can’t put it back.
How does your summer haircare routine compare to your winter haircare routine?
In the summer, I put the Leave in Lover gel in the fridge. The cool gel helps the hair cuticles on hot, balmy days. I have ready-made spray bottles with ¾ clean, boiled water (cooled) and ¼ of my Terms and Conditions conditioner. I put the milky conditioning mix in the fridge and target certain strands for an overall refreshment when I need it. This mixture is great to take to the beach and pool, and apply after getting out of the water. I tend to leave more conditioner in my hair in the summer depending on the weather. I always say, a frizz is just a curl looking for a drink of conditioner.
In the winter, as the environment fluctuates from indoors to outdoors, you’ll find that your hair is rubbing up against wool, high collars, and scarves, which can cause friction and dryer ends. Because of the low humidity factor, I find I can go longer without cleansing, so I’ll spot cleanse instead. This consists of targeting certain areas where the curls are dispersed and undefined. I wet them first, and apply conditioner to co-wash those areas only.
Because of the clash of the two wet and dry areas, it looks odd for an hour, but it dries renewed and refreshed. This is great for time-crunch moments and on those freezing cold days.
What about using hair treatments like masks?
No more masks, please! Many mask ingredients are the same ingredients from which you want to detox. If you have a true conditioning product, that should work as well as any so-called treatment or mask.
When we get in the shower, we tend to rush, and our biggest mistake is rinsing the conditioner out too soon and too fast. The cuticle is thirsty and needs to absorb the conditioner. When I want a deeper treat, I will leave CurlyWorld’s Sham-Free and/or Terms and Conditions on for an extra hour before slowly rinsing it out. Slow rinsing is a game changer because it savors and pushes the conditioning elements deeper into the cuticle layer, penetrating the cortex and the medulla.
Sham-Free Hair & Scalp Cleanser® is a 100% sulfate free, Curl-by-Curl Method® detangling conditioning cleanser, generously infused with plant based botanicals, starring the Resurrection Plant. Sham-Free detangles and detoxifies as it nourishes and moisturizes, resulting in a refreshingly clean scalp and hydrated hair.
Who is your curly-haired beauty icon?
Zendaya, when she wears her hair curly.
What is the best bit of hair advice you've ever received, and who was it from?
This was before silicones became rampant fillers in most haircare products, but a dearly beloved hairdresser friend in Hong Kong saw how self-conscious I was with the fact my hair took up all the empty space in the room, and suggested trying to leave more conditioner in my hair to add more weight, which would help to stop my curls from becoming a weightless, helium balloon. That was my “amen” moment, and I have never used shampoo since that day. My curls and I started to become besties. My curls taught me a lot about self acceptance and to be okay with some of the obvious uncertainties that every day brings you. It’s almost comical and sad at the same time that we still have to tackle these ridiculous “one size fits all” unattainable beauty standards that don’t really exist.
What’s the biggest haircare rule you think everyone should abide by?
Disclaimer: when I suggest not shampooing, I’m not suggesting you don’t clean your hair. You can still clean, but without harsh detergents that strip your natural hair fiber.
You need to understand what clean means: remember you’re not that dirty. Shampoo’s silicones, raw oils, and butters are not reciprocal. Salt strips makes things dryer and thirstier, giving you nothing in return. Over time, silicones, oils, and butters hang around in the hair too long, and they build up, stunt, and impede natural hair fibers from being their most healthy. If you still straighten your curls, the heat embeds these attached residues, and will laminate the silicone into the hair.
What is the backstory of Curl by Curl cut, and what does the process look like?
My last wet haircut was when I was 16 and it was traumatic. It was cut wet, and when it dried, one side shrank back to chin length, and the other to ear length. I asked the stylist why it was so uneven, and all he could say was, “When it’s wet, it’s even.” I responded that I don’t wear my hair wet, and began to sob. No exaggeration, it took over 5 years for me to grow it out to a length where my corkscrews self-organized and fell into their rightful place. I began to trim each curl at its furthest point in its natural resting state, and over time, others asked if I could cut their hair that way, too.
We observe and respond to the hair in its most natural state, without imposing. Gently examining where each curl and wave forms, and where it lives on the head is most important. What you see is what it is. It’s like tailoring a fitted dress or suit for your body—it would be designed on dry fabric because wet fiber expands, and then shrinks when it dries.
Hair is a fiber too, so it makes sense to cut the hair dry (because we wear our hair dry, not wet). Some curls can have a spring factor of up to 10 inches or more when it’s wet—shrinking back and resembling nothing of what it will look like when it’s fully dry. This is why so many curlies are misunderstood.
What is the one thing you’d tell someone toying with the idea of embracing their natural hair?
Remember, it’s embedded deep in your DNA—till death do you part. Your curls aren’t going anywhere, and fighting them will be a daily, exhausting commitment. My suggested starter routine is to get in the shower and connect to your hair like it’s the most priceless fabric you have ever owned.
Instead of working up a lather, replace shampoo with a sulfate-free cleanser, like Sham-Free. Massage the scalp to remove particles. By doing this, you will have less tangles and frizz-free hair.
Rinse and apply a silicone-free conditioner and begin to glide, detangle, and organize your hair with your fingers, simultaneously scrunching upwards to encourage curl formation. Then, slowly rinse or leave some in, depending on your curl type. Blot or scrunch using a t-shirt or a reusable paper towel, and apply your Leave in Lover gel. Allow the hair to air dry or diffuse. The more committed and consistent you become with the hair you have, the more consistent it will be back to you.