Curly Girl Method not working? Here’s how to adjust the Curly Girl Method for You

if the curly girl method is not working for you adjust it

If the Curly Girl Method is not working for you, don’t panic!

Sometimes following a set of rules to the letter is not easy. 

‘Tell me what to do and I’ll do it’. That’s how I felt at the beginning of my Curly Girl Method journey.

These 3 habits gave me the waves and curls I’ve always wanted.

When you have decided to make the transition to curly hair the Curly Girl Method is a fantastic place to start. The rules make sense, the ingredients that you have to avoid seem reasonable enough.

But what do you do if you don’t feel like you are getting the results you deserve from all this attention to detail, time and effort?

A few months following CGM can feel like a long time. While it is worth giving the method some time, what if it just doesn’t suit your hair? Or what if there are other adjustments that you can make while predominantly sticking to the rules..

Having followed it myself, I know how frustrating it is when someone comes along with amazing, perfect curls and they use regular shampoo, brush their hair and use a styling product that contains silicones. 

While it is worth noting that everyone’s curls are different, might it also be worth investigating whether some of the rules can be bent..just a bit?

After all, our curls are different and respond to different things.

We frequently have different skincare needs and dietary needs to others so maybe we can apply this to hair too.

In this post I’m going to outline some of the areas of the Curly Girl Method that might not be working for you and how to tweak them.

One quick tip before we start –

I would recommend making changes one at a time.

There is nothing more frustrating than doing a wash day where you do everything differently and then not knowing which bits worked!

If you make one change at a time it is much easier to track what’s working and which CGM rules you can continue with.

I have a handy Wash Day Planner which I made up for myself to do just that! It’s fillable too so you can download it to your phone and write straight onto it.

plan your curly girl method wash days

I find it really helpful as I am still always experimenting with different products and combinations. It will help record your successes so that you can repeat them!

This post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you buy any of the products through the links provided. It doesn’t affect the price you pay and helps to run this website. Thank you x

The Curly Girl Method

Here’s a quick breakdown of the rules

  • no sulphates
  • no silicones
  • drying alcohols
  • no heat-styling
  • use gel as your styler
  • no brushing when dry
  • no wet cutting

First of all, what are some common problems? These are some possible reason’s why it might seem like the Curly Girl Method is not working.

My curls aren’t clumping together

My hair is still frizzy

Air-drying is taking too long!

My hair doesn’t feel clean/ my scalp is flaky

Gel isn’t working for me

My hair is getting tangled

Let’s take each of these in turn. I’ll suggest some adjustments that you can consider making if you feel that the Curly Girl Method isn’t working for you

My Curls Aren’t Clumping

Clumps are the essence of curls.

Healthy curly hair will clump together to form the spirals that we associate with curly hair.

not getting clumps with the curly girl method?

If you are finding that your hair isn’t clumping, it would be reasonable to assume that the Curly Girl Method is not working for your hair.

Let’s go a little deeper.

Let’s start with products. A silicone-free gel is the CGM way to start but even within gel there is huge variety.

There are strong hold gels such as Eco Styler Styling Gel With Moroccan Argan Oil and more lightweight gels such as Bouclème Curl Defining Gel. If your hair is fine and your curls are low porosity (they don’t absorb much moisture) you may find that a strong hold gel is just too much and weigh them down. Equally, if your hair is thicker a lightweight gel may not clump your hair together. Experiment with different gel types. 

Water could be the key

Using more water can be a game-changer in two ways.

Firstly, applying products on hair that has started to dry can lead to disrupted clumps.

When your hair is soaking wet the clumps are likely to form on their own. These wet clumps can then be ‘captured’ by gel and in turn lead to dry clumps. When hair has started to dry, the clumps may not be in place and this is one way that frizz can start to form.

Secondly, many curl styling products react to water.

If you are layering products, consider spraying a layer of water on your hair in between each product application. This is one of my personal favourites! I add one layer of product, then spray with water, then add the next. This also helps to keep curls clumped while you apply stylers. 

Distribution is also very important.

Make sure that the product is distributed evenly over your hair. Don’t just squeeze gel onto your hands and scrunch, hoping for the best (I was guilty of this for quite some time). Make sure the product is on your fingers, not just your palms and ensure you are working it all the way through, right from the roots.

This is where brushes can help.

While the Curly Girl Method advises against using brushes on dry hair, it might be worth considering a brush on wet hair. Brushes such as this Denman brush can help to distribute products and can also be used itself to help form clumps. You may also find that you use less product by distributing it in this way.

Have you been curl training?

There’s a lot of information out there that implies curls just form on their own as soon as you start using the right products.

This can work but it isn’t always that simple. If you feel that the Curly Girl Method is not working and your curls still aren’t forming, curl training can be the answer.

This simply means taking sections of your hair when it is wet and twisting them with your fingers in the direction that they would naturally curl.

This can be done as you apply products or while deep conditioning. Repeatedly ‘training’ your curls will help them to form in the future when you are styling them. Curl memory is a thing!

curly girl method not working have you tried curl training

My Hair Is Still Frizzy

Clump-formation can help with frizz but what if that doesn’t seem to be the whole story?

I have a confession to make here..I’m a silicone fan.

The argument against silicones goes like this… They are found in hair products as emollients. They provide slip and put a coating on your air strands which reduces the appearance of frizz. Trouble is , they can build up and this is damaging to your curls. They prevent moisture from getting to your strands and can frequently require sulphates to remove them. All bad. 

I realised fairly quickly into my Curly Girl Method journey that my hair missed silicones.

My hair tangles very easily and is high porosity, always dry. Those silicones were the thing that made my hair feel nice. There’s no better way of putting it. I had stopped using my shampoo and conditioner because they contained silicones and also my favourite oil. I quickly realised that I missed  some elements of my old hair routine so I started researching.

Not all silicones are created equal

Maybe some silicones are ok. They will still provide us with the conditioning benefits, the smoothing, frizz reduction and shine but without the build-up.

There are non-soluble silicones and water soluble silicones.

The names say it all. The water soluble ones break down in water and can be washed away. This means that they won’t build up on your hair.

Non-soluble silicones have a higher molecular weight and these are the ones to look out for. 

Manufacturers are increasingly using water soluble silicones as we become more aware of their benefits.

At the same time many products are now labelled as ‘silicone-free’.

In the place of silicones we are often given oils and butters. These are also emollients and provide conditioning benefits. However, these oils and butters can build up on your hair too!

Just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it is ‘better’. 

I have read advice that if you are going to opt for silicones, they should ideally be in styling products and not in your conditioner. The conditioner should hydrate your hair and then the silicones in your styling products should seal it in. 

Water Soluble Silicones

  • Dimethicone Copolyol
  • Lauryl Methicone Copolyol
  • Any silicone with PEG as a prefix

Non Soluble Silicones

  • Dimethicone
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Amodimethicone
  • Pheryl Trimethicone
  • Ceteraryl Methicone
  • Dimethiconol
  • Stearyl Dimethicone
  • Amodimethicone 
  • Ingredients ending with “-cone”

Air Drying Is Taking Too Long!

I hear you. 

The Curly Girl Method says we shouldn’t be using heat. Heat can be drying and can lead to damaged, brittle hair. 

I would agree that at the beginning of your curl journey it is a good idea to stay away from heat. It is good to know how curly your hair is when it dries naturally.

Curly hair has a tendency to be dry and heat can exacerbate this if used without care.

Frequently a change towards curly hair can be triggered by damaged hair and a desire to leave it in its natural state. In this instance a ‘heat-holiday’ will do your hair a lot of good.

Once you are into your curly journey, it is usually ok to reintroduce some heat. 

Diffusing curly hair tends to add volume and also increases curl definition.

As you push your hair up towards your scalp with the diffuser you are encouraging the curls to form. If you move your hair around as you diffuse you are also going to increase volume. 

diffusing hair in line with the curly girl method

By its nature diffusing is less damaging to your hair than using heated tools.

The intense heat of heated tools is generally concentrated on small areas of your hair as you style. Diffusing, by definition, diffuses the heat and spreads it out over larger areas of your hair. 

It is recommended that you diffuse your hair on a low heat setting to minimise the chance of heat damage. 

What about heat protection?

Heat-protection is ideal, but here we hit another potential problem. We are heading back into the world of silicones. 

Most ingredients used for heat protection are silicones.

In the right formula silicones can create an effective barrier to heat. They remain strong and flexible when exposed to high temperatures. 

The silicones create a coating around hair strands and prevent the cuticle from being damaged by exposure to direct heat whilst also allowing enough heat through to enable styling and drying. 

Are the silicones that provide heat protection water soluble?

Unfortunately not 😟 I’ve searched and searched but I cannot track down a single heat protector containing water-soluble silicones.

Oils can provide a degree of heat protection by acting in a similar way. Heavier oils such as Jojoba oil are unable to penetrate the cuticle and will also form a protective coating around the strand.

The problem is that these oils are often so heavy that they are undesirable. Having these heavy oils on hair can weigh it down. 

Having said this, there are some CGM approved heat-protectors available

Aveda Heat Relief Thermal Protector and Conditioning Mist

Living Proof Restore Instant Heat Protection

My Hair Doesn’t Feel Clean Or My Scalp Is Flaky

This is a common problem, and is frequently related to co-washing.

I have a post dedicated to deciding whether co-washing is best for your hair or whether a low-poo or shampoo might be better suited. 

co wash, low poo or shampoo

The Curly Girl Method recommends co-washing only.

This is because the sulphates in shampoo, and even the surfactants (detergents) which replace sulphates in low-poo products can be too harsh for curly hair. 

Washing with a conditioning cleanser is recommended, but what if you feel that this part of the Curly Girl Method isn’t working for you?

If you find that your hair is feeling greasy, not clean and/or you have build up on your scalp it might be from one of two factors relating to co-washing


‘Shampooing’ with a co-wash is different to using a normal shampoo.

I’ve been there. I put a fair bit of conditioner into my hands, worked it through my hair like I usually would and then rinsed. Hmm.. something’s not quite right. Is this how my hair is supposed to feel?!

Co-washing requires more work.

This is because you aren’t getting the lather from the conditioner which would usually help to remove dirt from your hair and scalp. In order to combat this you need to scrub, a lot! Work the conditioner right into the roots and rub it with your hand to loosen dirt.

Product choice

Don’t just use your usual conditioner.

I did this – it’s just too tempting to reach for the product that’s already on the shelf.

The trouble is that a regular conditioner doesn’t have the necessary cleansing agents and so you really are just conditioning your hair again.

This can lead to a build up of the conditioning agents found in conditioners such as shea butter, for example, as they are never being fully cleansed off the hair and scalp. The same can be said for styling products. 

There is a tendency to overuse some of the more natural hair products.

‘It’s natural so it must be ok!’

In truth, some natural ingredients such as oils and butters that you find in conditioning products and styling products can be very heavy. This can be absolutely fine but if you aren’t cleansing your hair well, these are difficult to remove.

You are piling butters, oils and other conditioning agents on your hair without ever fully cleansing it.

This build up is what can lead to greasy hair, and also a flaky scalp. Products that aren’t being cleansed away are sitting on the scalp. Sometimes the ‘dandruff’ is actually just product build-up.

A fully fledged co-wash will contain cleansing agents. It is just a gentler way of cleansing than using shampoo.

This means that with the proper scrubbing technique, these products will still remove dirt, grease and styling products.

Having said this, a co-wash may still be too heavy for your hair. Lots of people with finer curly hair find that co-washing is too heavy and will still lead to an excess of conditioning products on your hair and scalp. 

If this is the case, it might be worth experimenting with a gentle low-poo cleanser every other time you wash, or even just co-wash occasionally.

An alternative would be to use a clarifying shampoo once a month. You will know how frequently you need to shampoo or use a low poo by the way your hair feels. Your hair should always feel clean after a wash. 

Gel Isn’t Working For Me

While gel seems to work well for most types of curly hair, you might find that this part of the Curly Girl Method is not working for your curls.

First, it is worth making sure that gel is doing its absolute best for you before moving on. 

It is recommended that you apply gel onto soaking wet hair, this to make sure you ‘grab’ the curl clumps early on, before they have had a chance to disperse or frizz. Applying it to soaking hair also has the advantage of retaining moisture in your hair. 

Once you have applied it in a scrunching motion, your hair should be left to dry (or diffused) with minimal disruption.

This means trying not to touch it too much, however tempting!

As your hair dries a cast should form. This crunchy cast is what keeps the curl clumps in place. When your hair is 100% dry you can scrunch this cast away using your fingers. The curls underneath should be soft and defined.

What if you don’t get a cast?

what to do if you are not getting a curly gel cast

Some gels don’t form one. This is ok and if the gel still forms defined clumps this isn’t a problem. This can. however, be a sign that you haven’t applied enough gel and it might be worth experimenting with a little more on the next wash.

In addition to this, gel clings best to clean hair, so any build up of products on your hair can affect this. Be sure to apply the gel to clean hair. 

If you still aren’t getting on with gel, there are plenty of other product types available. 

The Curly Girl method recommends gel because it has a lot of benefits, but most brands also produce creams and mousses and many of these are also CGM friendly. You can check the ingredients of any of these products by finding them online and copying and pasting them into curlsbot

curly girl method products

Everyone has their favourites and different products will help achieve different results. I find, for example, that I get more volume, but less definition from a cream.

My favourite mousse gives good definition with slightly less hold than a gel. 

These are my current favourite hair products 💕

You can also layer products. I frequently layer a mousse underneath a gel, or sometimes gel, then mousse, then gel again! Experimentation is key and it is a good idea to keep track of your wash days so you can remind yourself which technique you have used.

My Hair Feels Tangled

This is an interesting one that relates back to some of the earlier points.

Not everyone will struggle with tangled hair, but I know that I have. It is common amongst those with finer hair. 

Giving up silicones (which provide slip and aid detangling in washing and styling) and  brushing left me with very tangled hair.

I was trying to be ‘good’ and used my fingers to detangle in the shower but it was difficult and I was also pulling at my wet hair, encouraging hair fall and possibly breakage. 

As I mentioned earlier, water soluble silicones can suit some curly hair types.

Silicones in shampoo or conditioner can help to detangle in the shower without much or any effort. The ‘slip’ that they provide means that your hair won’t tangle when wet. 

If you want to stick with the no-silicone plan there are other options! A pre-poo treatment with a light oil can work well.

Argan oil is great for this. 

Work a small amount of argan oil through your hair with your fingers the night before you wash your hair. Detangle with your fingers as you go. If you want to use a brush after you have applied the oil, the oil will provide slip meaning that, yes, your hair will still go frizzy, but you won’t be pulling at any knots. There are great detangling brushes which work well on wet and dry hair.

You can also detangle before applying styling products with a wet detangling brush. This means that you have a good canvas to begin your product application. 

This is the one I use – it detangles brilliantly

Tangle Teezer Wet Detangling Brush Large Black Gloss

A cycle of tangled curls being washed again and again can lead to knots and unmanageable hair.

In Conclusion

Experimentation is essential.

Is it worth persevering with a strict routine if it isn’t working? 

The Curly Girl Method can yield amazing results, but what if you encounter bumps along the way?

There are areas that you can modify or abandon completely if your hair is on board with the changes!

The desired results also differ from person to person. Some people want defined ringlets, some prefer a looser curl or how about a bit of frizz to add volume?

You know your hair better than anyone, and if you want to brush it all out when it’s dry or use silicones or heat, you can.

Experiment with your curls. You will find that if you still want to follow CGM closely, you can with a few small adjustments. 

I hope that these tips and ideas are useful for your curly journey!

Lauren xx

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