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!

Every step of the Curly Girl Method is all about replacing potentially harmful or damaging practices and ingredients with all-natural ones to improve the overall health of your Naturally Textured Hair. 

This is especially true when it comes to the fundamental step of cleansing. Before any of us heard of the Curly Girl Method or even asked How to Start the Curly Girl Method, we all used sulfate-filled cleansers. Believe it or not, these sulfates were doing more harm than good to your delicate hair strands. 

If you are just beginning your Healthy Hair Journey/Transition then this article is exactly what you need to understand:

  1. The purpose/function of shampoo
  2. Why you should never co-wash exclusively
  3. The difference between clarifying and gentle cleansing
  4. The difference between Low-Poo and No-Poo
  5. The gentlest cleansing option- co-wash

Yep, I am giving you all the science-based information including tips and product recommendations so you can get started on your journey the RIGHT way. This will save you so much time Curly Girls before you had to waste in order to get you the truth behind the myths. So, let’s get started, shall we?

The Purpose/Function of Shampoo

The purpose of a shampoo has always been the same since its inception, to remove sebum and other build-up without drying the hair out so much that it becomes unmanageable. 

The actual process of cleansing dates back to 4000 B.C when cosmetic routines started to emerge for higher society. From 3000 B.C. to the middle ages soap was made by harvesting flowers, animal/plant fats, and essential oils. They were heated and then left out to dry and solidify. 

In 1800 A.D, Early colonial traders in India discovered hair and body massage, called champo, and introduced “champing” to Europe – and the origin of the word “shampoo.”

It wasn’t until 1927, when Berlin Chemist Hans Schwarzkoph created the first liquid soap. This liquid shampoo was created with sulfates. Sulfates are the strongest known Detergent (or Surfactant) used in cosmetic products. These harsh cleansing ingredients remove absolutely everything from your hair including Sebum build-up, product build-up, and silicone build-up. While they completely clean the scalp, it is just too strong for our already moisture-disadvantaged strands. 

According to, “Sulfates are considered safe in concentrations below 1 percent or when used for short periods of time, according to the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, although any concentration over 2 percent will cause some degree of skin irritation. But, a shampoo that contains sulfates typically has a concentration of around 15 percent, and is packed with conditioning agents to buffer the drying effects.” 

You read that right, while sulfates would be safer in lower concentrations most shampoo companies contain a concentration of 15% which is FAR too abrasive for delicate hair strands.

From the 1930s to around the 2000s, sulfates were standard in shampoos as they cleaned the hair often in one wash thanks to the huge concentration of harsh and damaging sulfates. Once the Natural Hair Movement started gaining mainstream success, consumers (like us) became much more concerned about ingredients and how they affected us in the long run. This led to the sulfate-free change in the shampoo industry. 

That is how today, we have our sulfate-free clarifying options available to us. Don’t worry, I’ll link my favorite products below for each category. This should help you out when it comes time to purchase your first Clarifying Shampoo. 

  Sulfate-Free Clarifying Shampoo

I like to consider a clarifying shampoo as the “big boy on the block.” 


Because when you bust this out, you can be assured, it’s going to clean house so to speak. 

Clarifying shampoos are formulated with the strongest class of surfactants known as Anionic Surfactants. This class of surfactants contains both sulfate and sulfate-free options. When you choose to follow the Curly Girl Method, you remove all sulfate options from your routine immediately, there is never a need for them again. This means you will NEVER need a Final Wash (washing with sulfates one final time to remove silicones and start hair care journey)

Sulfate-free Clarifying shampoos are just as effective as our pre-cgm shampoos because they are made from the same class of surfactants. We simply utilize the non-sulfate anionic surfactant options like Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate

Anionic Surfactants are negatively charged particles, similar to our hair. This negative charge with a hydrophilic tail (water loving) the negative charge allows the surfactant to lift the hair cuticle to remove dirt and oil build-up. 

Now, remember, just because you are using a sulfate-free option does not mean that it cannot be frequently. Clarifying shampoos are meant to be used AT LEAST once a month.

 If you have fine textured hair or a looser curl pattern, you might encounter build-up a bit more frequently and may need to clarify twice a month. But if you are just starting out, have a much tighter curl pattern, or coarse dry hair, then start with just once a month and work your way up to your ideal routine. 

Between clarifying washes, you are meant to use more gentle cleansing options such as low-poo, no-poo, and co-wash. These gentler cleansing options focus more on imparting moisture than they do on heavy cleansing. This will help create a balanced hair care routine. We will get into more detail on these options in a moment. 

When it comes to shopping in-store for clarifying shampoos, please remember, just because a product is labeled as “sulfate-free” doesn’t always mean it’s true. No matter what product you pick up, always, and I mean ALWAYS read the labels. 

If you are new to reading product labels and need some help check out my article on How to Read Product Labels.

Looking for Clarifying Shampoo Recommendations? Then check out my two favorite options:

  1. Inahsi Naturals Soothing Mint Sulfate-Free Clarifying Shampoo (Discount Code: REDCARPETCURLS)
  2. Miche Beauty Detox Clarifying & Detoxifying Shampoo
  3. Kinky Curly Come Clean 


The subsequent washes between clarifying washes should be focused on more moisture. That is why besides the clarifying shampoo, the Curly Girl Method has alternate options for this purpose.

A low-poo is a gentle cleansing sulfate-free shampoo that can be used weekly since it is so gentle. A low-poo is formulated with a gentler class of surfactants known as Cationic Surfactants.

Cationic surfactants are a milder form of surfactant, often you can find these surfactants present in your conditioner as well. Here’s why…

The hair is naturally negatively charged, Cationic Surfactants are positively charged molecules. We all know from our childhood science classes that opposites attract. The positively charged particles attach to the negatively charged hair, smoothing down the cuticle layer. This quenches frizz and increases manageability. 

Low-poos use positively charged molecules to moisturize the hair, seal the cuticle, and allow for shine and definition. 

The main difference between Anionic and Cationic Surfactants is that anionic surfactants are negatively charged and lift the cuticle. While Cationic surfactants are positively charged and seal the cuticle.

Low-poos are named after the foamy suds it produces. A clarifying shampoo and a low-poo will always foam up, spreading the detergent around the hair more quickly. The foam itself does nothing in the actual cleansing process except spread the detergent around, but it is not crucial to the cleansing process. We are just conditioned to think this because our past sulfate-filled shampoos all foamed up. 

A low-poo is a great weekly use option as it will moisturize the hair and give it a light clean. This is perfect to use a couple times a week, especially after working out.

Looking for Low-Poo Recommendations? Check out my favorites below:

  1. Inahsi Naturals Soothing Mint Gentle Cleansing Shampoo (Discount Code: REDCARPETCURLS)
  2. Tailored Beauty Coconut Creme Moisturizing Shampoo
  3. Shiny Leaf Castor Oil Shampoo (Discount Code REDCARPET15)
  4. Bourn Beautiful Naturals Moisture Silk  Sulfate-Free Shampoo
  5. Elaine Beaute High Porosity Shampoo


Now, if we know Low-Poo gets its name from the fact that it produces suds upon application, what do we think a No-Poo does?


A No-Poo is a gentle cleansing (weekly) shampoo that does not produce any foam. Instead the formula pours out of the bottle looking more like a conditioner than it does a shampoo. The reason it doesn’t foam up is to allow for maximum moisture. At first, it will feel more like co-washing than shampooing. 

No-Poo is essentially a moisture boost. Since clarifying and even frequent low-poo washes can excessively strip hair of it’s natural oils (Sebum) sometimes, a very gentle, moisture-based cleansing option is just what you need for the day.

In my opinion, no-poos are great to use during the driest winter months, since they impart extra moisture. It’s also fantastic during the hottest summer months for the same reason. 

Please remember no-poos and low-poos are gentle forms of cleansing and should be used between clarifying washes. 

Looking for No-Poo Recommendations? Check out my favorite below:

  1. Veracious Curls Shampoo (Discount Code: REDCARPETCURLS)


Co-washing is the physical act of washing your hair with a conditioner instead of a shampoo. This is because of the reasons we discussed earlier. Most conditioners are formulated with cationic surfactants, so they offer gentle cleansing while providing more moisture. This was actually the foundation of the Original Curly Girl Method presented by Lorraine Massey. The goal being to protect natural moisture. 

As time has gone on, companies came out with a special conditioner to gently cleanse but most importantly infuse new moisture into the strands. This can be incredibly beneficial if you have dry or frizzy hair. Especially during the winters and summers. 

A co-wash works by imparting moisture to the strand in the form of an invisible flexible barrier to seal in all the goodness. If you choose to exclusively co-wash you will encounter issues with frizz and definition. That is because everytime you co-wash you add another layer of moisture, over time this causes build-up and creates the need for a clarifying shampoo.

A co-wash, similar to a no-poo, is fantastic to use during the week especially after the gym. Paired with a scalp brush, you will get a clean scalp feeling everytime without sacrificing moisture.

You can alternate between low-poo, no-poo, and co-wash between your clarifying days.

Looking for Co-Wash Recommendations? Check out my all-time favorite co-wash below:

1)Inahsi Naturals Tropical Escape Co-Wash (Discount Code: REDCARPETCURLS)


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

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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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