I used to have a complicated relationship with my hair. Somewhere in my teenage years, it decided to go from half-curly and half-wavy to 100% frizzy. This year, I finally realized that the hair routine handed down to me by my mother (whose hair is straight) all but squashed my curls. Then, thankfully, I found the Curly Girl Method — or CGM, as we curly girls call it.
While whole books and even glossaries exist about this method, the basics boil down to:
- Stop damaging your hair with heat, silicone, sulfate, shampoo, and rough materials like terry towels and cotton bed linen.
- Wash your hair with conditioner instead of shampoo. Ideally twice.
- Only comb or brush your hair while it’s wet.
As you might have noticed, my list does not include any pricey “must-have” products. I wanted to spare you the confusion I felt when I realized how many products I could buy and try. After 10 minutes of research, I felt like I’d have to spend hundreds of dollars on my curls. Fortunately, I resisted the allure of “quick-fix” promises and decided to dive deeper.
Now, I use these hacks to follow the Curly Girl Method for less than $20 a month:
1. Ditch the “final wash shampoo.”
The “final wash” is the first step of the Curly Girl Method. It’s also the last time you wash your hair with shampoo to get rid of residues like silicones or oils. Don’t fall into the trap of buying a new bottle of “clarifying shampoo” just for this one-time step. You do not need another bottle to ditch. Instead, wash your hair with leftover shampoo, one tablespoon of baking soda mixed with one cup of water, or a tablespoon of dishwashing liquid. While I recommend none of these products for long-term use, they are well suited to clarify your hair one last time. Just make sure to condition generously afterward.
2. Use fine rye flour as shampoo.
If you don’t want to quit shampoo entirely, there’s a simple, cheap, and effective alternative that can last for over a year: A pack of rye flour. Rye is rich in minerals, amino acids, and vitamins that help nourish and strengthen your hair. My DIY rye shampoo gave me fluffy, almost weightless curls, and even calmed my irritated scalp.
For the recipe: Mix 2 to 5 tablespoons of fine rye flour with lukewarm water until the consistency resembles shampoo. Work the rye shampoo into your wet hair and gently massage it into your scalp. Let your rye-covered hair soak up the nutrients for two to five minutes. Then, rinse it thoroughly and proceed with the rest of your routine.
3. Use apple cider vinegar as a conditioner.
Apple cider vinegar rinse is a great way to make your hair shiny and soft. The rinse is especially helpful for those who live in hard water areas because the vinegar breaks down mineral deposits that leave your hair dull and dry. For the recipe, mix three to five tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into two cups of cold or lukewarm water and pour the rinse over your head at the end of your washing routine. Use the rinse as a leave-in conditioner, and don’t worry about smelling like a glass of pickles. The smell evaporates within minutes.
4. Use your hand as a natural comb.
New combs or brushes are popular items on the shopping lists of aspiring curly girls. If you are among them, reconsider if you genuinely need one. I discovered that my fingers are the best tool to detangle my hair after conditioning. Going without a brush or comb might not work for all hair types, however. I’m somewhere between 2C and 3A.
5. Make curl gel with two ingredients (one of which is water).
Generous amounts of curl gel have been a gamechanger for me when it comes to taming my frizz. Commercial curl gels easily cost $25, so DIY curl gel is one of the most effective ways to save money in the long run. Fortunately, I discovered a savvy recipe at the very beginning of my curly girl journey. It has provided me with bucket loads of curl gel ever since.
For the recipe, bring one cup of water to boil and add two tablespoons of whole flaxseeds. Stir the boiling mix and let the gel thicken. When a foam starts to form, reduce to the heat. Let the mix simmer until the gel begins clinging to your spoon. Pour the gel through a fine sieve into a container and let it cool before you use it on your hair.
6. Use old t-shirts as new towels.
Yes, I toyed with the idea of buying ultra fluffy microfiber hair dry towels on Amazon. Yes, I might have given in to this one allure. But I soon realized that soft old t-shirts are doing just as excellent a job, if not a better one. If you have a stretchy longsleeved shirt to spare, I recommend you use it to plop and scrunch your hair. Drying your hair upside down like this is another almost costless way to make your curls extra bouncy.
7. Keep your old blowdryer.
Yes, I also went out and bought a new blowdryer with a diffuser. Then I discovered that I find diffuser blowdryers awkward to handle and heavy on my wrists. Now I tie one of my t-shirt towels around my head and dry my hair through the fabric with a standard dryer. I wait until my hair is about 80 percent dry. Then, I remove the t-shirt and let the remaining 20 percent air dry.
The result is just the same for me: Super soft and shiny curls.
Caroline is a freelance journalist and communication professional based in Germany. She loves cats, plant-based burgers, and defying consumerism by doing stuff herself.
Image via Unsplash