The Ultimate Guide to Curly Girl Method Shampoo

The Ultimate Guide to Curly Girl Method Shampoo is here! Understanding how these different shampoo ingredients affect your natural hair is a huge factor in knowing how to effectively use the Curly Girl Method!

My Beautiful #RedCarpetCurlsRoyalty,

Today’s article is a much-needed one. Cleansing is by far, in my humble opinion, the most important part of the Curly Girl Method. Healthy hair is only produced by a healthy scalp. In order for the scalp to produce healthy hair, it must be balanced and clean of build up.

The original Curly Girl Method, tells curlies to remove all shampoo from their regime, in favor of co-washing and other alternate forms of cleansing. Over time many curlies, like myself, came to realize co-washing only does not work for everyone. Conditioners do not contain surfactants strong enough to remove all sebum and products from the scalp and hair. By nature, conditioners “deposit” moisture into the hair. When the hair and scalp are not properly cleaned with stronger surfactants regularly the scalp and hair begin to experience build-up, which ultimately leads to itchy, flaky, or dry scalps. It can even lead to irritation of the scalp.

That is why I always recommend the use of sulfate-free shampoos when following the Curly Girl Method. I know it seems overwhelming when looking through the products on shelves when shopping. Not only that, not all shampoos are created equal! There are different categories of shampoos for different occasions. Below I explain the differences, and even give you example ingredients to look for on labels! Hopefully, this makes both your Curly Girl Method experience and your shopping experience a bit easier!

Clarifying Shampoo (Also Known as Chelating Shampoo) 

Clarifying shampoos are sulfate-free cleansers that contain one or more surfactants to remove product build-up, dirt, debris, etc.

The detergents in the shampoo are amphiphilic meaning the detergent molecule possesses both lipophilic ( oil attracting) and hydrophilic (water attracting)  sites.  The lipophilic site binds(attaches) to the sebum(your scalp’s natural oil), while the hydrophilic site binds to water, allowing removal of the sebum with water rinsing.

Clarifying shampoos (also known as deep cleansing) are designed to thoroughly remove sebum from the hair shaft but are typically used to remove retained styling products, such as hair spray, gel, and mousse. Everyday shampoos and dry hair shampoos are not good at removing the polymer film created by hair care products designed to keep the hair in place. These polymers can build up on the hair shaft after seven days use and leave the hair feeling harsh and appearing dull. In order to remove the polymer, a strong detergent in the form of a deep cleaning shampoo is used. (Draelos)

Clarifying shampoos will contain surfactants(sometimes several)  that will work together to remove all product-build up, this includes silicone build up when starting the method. Clarifying shampoos will also remove hard water buildup, oil, minerals, and chlorine (for pool and beach visits).

Clarifying shampoos can be used twice a month (I personally choose to clarify twice a month since I am a big fan of oils and butter in my styling routines). One thing to remember is that ALL hair types should be clarified at least once a month. Clarifying Shampoos can be used to remove hard water build up, mineral build-up, and chlorine from the pool or beach days during the summer.

When choosing a clarifying shampoo to choose one with several (multiple) surfactants. Sulfates (while not safe to use while following the curly girl method) are the most common forms of surfactants since they are so cheap for manufacturers to use, but there are other surfactants that will remove sebum and products the way sulfates will. Sulfosuccinates are a class of strong detergents useful in removing sebum from oily hair. For this reason, they are a common secondary surfactant in oily hair shampoos. Examples of ingredients that fit into this class are disodium oleamine sulfosuccinate and sodium dioctyl sulfosuccinate. (Draelos) The most common sulfate free clarifying ingredient to look for in your shampoo is Sodium Olefin Sulfonate. 

Also try to look for ingredients like Tea Tree Oil, Eucalyptus, or Lemongrass, as these have natural antiseptic properties to help cleanse your hair thoroughly.

My favorite clarifying shampoo is Inahsi Naturals Soothing Mint Sulfate-Free Clarifying Shampoo.

Final Wash

The final wash is basically using a shampoo that contains sulfates one last time, in an attempt to remove silicone build up from pre-cgm products.

Starting the curly girl method requires a clean canvas a.k.a deeply cleansed hair in order for the new products and routines to take effect. You cannot expect great results when the new products are applied on top of layers of silicone build up. Since sulfates are so deep cleansing, the logic behind the final wash is using this bad ingredient one last time to remove the silicones and start fresh.

When we look at the science behind cleansing and surfactants, we learn that sulfates are not the only thing that removes silicone and sebum(your’s skins natural oil). Turns out sulfates are part of a group of strong surfactants. This group of surfactants is called Anionic Surfactants. Although very good in removing sebum and dirt, anionic surfactants are strong cleaners and may cause an increase the frizz and friction. In order to minimize damage, other surfactants called secondary surfactants such as nonionic and amphoteric surfactants are added to the formulation. If you are a bit confused on surfactants and what to look for, stay tuned for an in-depth article focusing on the science behind surfactants, coming soon. I even include specific ingredients to look for on your labels.

Gentle Cleansing (Weekly Cleansing) 

Regular sulfate free shampoos contain a mixture of surfactants, conditioning agents, and other specialized ingredients to care for specific scalp issues such as dandruff. This is considered a much gentler clean that can be done every week.

Cleansers will be separated into three categories:

  • Low Poo: The consistency of this gentle cleansing shampoo will produce a mild lather (foam) when worked through wet hair. Most shampoos contain foaming agents to introduce gas bubbles into the water. The foam, is important, as it functions to spread the detergent over the hair and scalp, but it does not participate in the cleaning. We associate a lather with a deep clean. That is because sulfates produce a lot of later, and pre-CG we always used sulfates, since it’s such a powerful and inexpensive surfactant. My favorite low poo to use is Tailored Beauty Coconut Creme Shampoo. 
  • No Poo: The consistency of a conditioner. This gentle weekly cleanser will look and feel like a conditioner upon application. It will not produce any lather, this is to infuse the hair with moisture to gently cleanse and retain moisture in the hair. One my favorite No Poo to use is Hydratherma Naturals SLS Free Moisture Plus Hair Cleanser
  • Cowash: The consistency of a conditioner because it is a conditioner. For those who follow the “strict” curly girl method and solely co-wash, or even for those who just want a light cleanse and more moisture, co-washing is normally the choice. These are conditioners that contain mild cationic and nonionic (mild) surfactants for a very gentle cleanse. Co-washes are not strong enough to properly cleanse all sebum, product, and excess oils from the hair, that is why an apple cider vinegar or lemon rinse is recommended in the Curly Girl Method Handbook.

So, that is about it when it comes to the differences in your cleansing options. Stay tuned for the upcoming in-depth article on the science of surfactants, to help you understand ingredients and your product selections better. The more you know my beautiful Queens, the better your results!

If you are looking for a shopping guide while in-store shopping makes sure to check out the extensive exclusive lists of all the Curly Girl Method approved products in Walgreen and Sally Beauty. The lists even contain hyperlinks to purchase the products directly from the company websites! You will only find these lists right here on the Red Carpet Curls website. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss upcoming shopping lists like Ulta Beauty, Target, Walmart, and more!

Happy Shopping and Happy Cleansing!


Draelos, Zoe D. “Essentials of Hair Care often Neglected: Hair Cleansing.” International journal of trichology vol. 2,1 (2010): 24-9. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.66909

Queen Monroe

Queen Monroe

Curly Girl Method enthusiast and educator. I have been on my own CGM journey for a bit over three years now. I take a scientific approach to the Curly Girl Method. I believe by learning Trichology (the study of hair and scalp) you can better understand your hair's needs and behaviors. This will help when you need to learn ingredients to read product labels. I research and write each and every article in this site. The information used and referenced on this website come from open access, peer-reviewed journal articles from publications such as the Journal of Cosmetic Science and the International Journal of Trichology.

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About Adrienne Monroe and Red Carpet Curls : In this section you’ll get to meet your guide…me! I’ll tell you more about my Curly Girl Method Journey along with all the resources you can expect to find on this website. You will also find out exactly what makes Red Carpet Curls different from any other Curly Girl Method Website.

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