Here Are the Top 8 Mistakes Wavies Make When Starting the Curly Girl Method

Nov 8, 2023

By Alyson Lupo

Originally published by on 5.16.19 at 

Updated for on 11.1.23

It’s true: Wavy hair isn’t the same as curly hair. Of course, we wavies do still want to give our hair the TLC it deserves (so keep visiting my website for all kinds of great info about your gorgeous waves)! But because of the nature of our loose curls, a.k.a. waves, we have a separate set of needs from our curly sisters.

I personally believe the reason behind these differences mostly has to do with how easily the natural oil from our scalp is able to travel the lengths of our strands. For wavies, having fewer loops in the way makes it much easier for that oil, also known as sebum, to naturally moisturize our hair from root to tip. So when we read a guiding book like Curly Girl: The Handbook, where author Lorraine Massey, who has ‘type 3’ curls, is adamant that we don’t need to use shampoo, we think maybe we should give up shampoo, too, and just conditioner-wash (co-wash). But what if that’s a mistake for us wavy girls? 

What other mistakes could we be making we haven’t even considered?
If your hair is acting ‘off’, or you’re consistently unhappy with your wavy locks, maybe you, too, have been making one—or more—of these mistakes I often see my wavy friends making.

1) The Mistake: Exclusively Co-Washing

Unless your hair and scalp are exceedingly dry, in my experience, using a conditioner to wash the hair has massive buildup potential for wavies. In 2019, before Hairstory New Wash cleansing conditioner existed, I found wavy success with a consistent cycle of co-washing one day, then using a low-lathering, sulfate-free shampoo the next washday. 

My Solution:

Today, I can’t recommend Hairstory New Wash Original heartily enough. My stylist sisters (and brothers), you even get a free one to try it out, and to that I say GO FOR IT! 

But in 2019, I found hair harmony by co-washing some of the time. It’s a great way to preserve moisture, but you may experience buildup over time as your sebum plus the ingredients of your conditioner add up. Then, I saw the most benefit from a consistent washday rotation/schedule of:

  1. cowash
  2. cowash
  3. low-poo
  4. cowash
  5. cowash
  6. low-poo

And I usually wash every 2-3 days.
But let’s not forget about the need to clarify (we’ll talk about this next), as there are some Curly Girl friendly ingredients that even a gentle cleanser can’t easily remove (e.g., behentrimonium methosulfate, polyquaterniums, castor oil, shea butter, etc.).

My favorite co-wash:

As I Am Coconut Cowash is a great co-wash, and I still recommend it today as a budget friendly (albeint less effective) alternative to New Wash. It’s more cleansing than using a runny conditioner, but less stripping than a sulfate free shampoo. It contains cetrimonium chloride, a gentle cleansing agent. It also contains castor oil which is very moisturizing but can build up on the hair, so this product should be used in tandem with regular clarifying.

2) The Mistake: Not Clarifying

This is probably the number one mistake I see wavies new to CG making when they reach out to me via Instagram, YouTube or Facebook, or in my own studio, seeking help. The good news is that it’s a really quick fix! As I mentioned above the buildup is inevitable, truly for most wavies, following Lorraine Massey’s Curly Girl Method, closely or loosely.

The solution:

Get the gunk off! I keep a reminder on my calendar to clarify, meaning to cleanse with a higher lathering shampoo, once a month. And should I decide to skip clarifying once or twice, deviating from my regular schedule, I’ve almost always made the wrong decision. How do I know? When I’m faced with buildup frizz..see photo for illustration.

Frizz has SO many causes, and product buildup is absolutely one of them. (Interested in diagnosing your own frizz? Take my frizz quiz and download my frizz flow chart)

Just as important as staying on a regular schedule of clarifying (which should always be followed up by a deep conditioner, but more on that, next) is also choosing the right clarifying shampoo. If you’re someone who uses a lot of heavier cream stylers, or you just feel like everything ‘sticks’ to your hair, lathering up twice with a gentle but higher lathering shampoo should do the trick. 

If that doesn’t do the trick, it’s time to bring out the big guys. In this case, a sulfate-free shampoo isn’t going to cut it. It takes specific surfactants, e.g. sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) or a sulfate free alternative like sodium c14-c16 olefin sulfonate, to remove certain ingredients that cling tightly to our hair—and those surfactants should be listed at the top of the ingredients list, if you’re looking at a bottle. If they’re listed near the middle to end of the list on your bottle of shampoo, the likelihood is that it won’t be strong enough to remove those polyquats or conditioning agents. I have some wavy-curly friends that choose to rotate their clarifying sessions between stronger and gentler clarifying shampoos such as Kinky Curly Come Clean, but I prefer to play it consistent and use the same one every time. In my own studio, I reach for AG Curl Fresh, detailed below, when the need arises to clarify a client’s hair before deep treating.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mistakes_2.jpeg

My favorite clarifiers, listed in order of gentlest to most cleansing are:

3. The Mistake: Skipping Deep Conditioning Sessions

While we wavies may not need as frequent or intense deep conditioning as our curly-headed friends, regular deep conditioning will lend our hair greater softness, bounce, manageability, and curl retention. I’d also like to offer a giant THANK YOU to our Black friends, our curliest sisters, who have led the way in hair care, such as deep treatments, for so many, many years before we wavies knew anything about true textured hair care.

The solution:

Monthly treatments are essential for ‘feeding’ our waves; bi-weekly treatments are a good idea if your hair is on the very long side, is damaged from color sessions, or tangles easily. If you are new to wearing your waves and curls, and you have a lot of heat or color damage, you might even consider a weekly treatment to really amp up your hair health and progress. All in all? Experiment to find what your hair responds best to. 

The most important components of deep conditioning are TIME and QUALITY. And it doesn’t have to be expensive! In lieu of a labeled ‘deep conditioner’, just combine a scoop of your favorite conditioner in a little bowl with 1 tbsp each of honey and your favorite oil (olive oil is my favorite) to make any conditioner more intense. Smooth your concoction onto freshly washed, wet hair, leave it for 30 minutes up to 4 hours (NOT overnight), then rinse completely before styling as usual. 

Says Wendy, scientist and author behind The Science-y Hairblog, in a two-part post on deep conditioning: “When lipids (oily ingredients) are present in a conditioner formula (or when you add them), you get even more conditioning goodness adhering to your hair—more cationic conditioning and more softness and flexibility from the lipid…for an even better end result.” In part 2, she adds: “Leaving a cationic conditioning ingredient or protein treatment on longer can lead to greater adherence (adsorption) of conditioning ingredients on your hair. Thirty minutes of deep conditioning can give you twice as much conditioning for your hair as 5 minutes can.” But me? I totally skimped on the time aspect for months. Because who wants to get wet again after being out of the shower for 30 minutes?? But I sucked it up, and here’s how. My hack: Once I got my hands on a handheld showerhead, deep conditioning became less of a chore. I was able to apply my deep conditioner in the shower, put on my shower cap, dry off and get dressed. Once my 30 minutes timer went DING, I just leaned my head back into the shower, and used my handheld showerhead to rinse it all out, then styled as usual. Voila. Doable.

To this day, my favorite deep conditioners continue to be: Curl Junkie Curl Rehab and Jessicurl Deep Treatment. Unlike other conditioners I’ve tried, they don’t lead to build-up frizz. And I adore my Hot Head by Thermal Haircare to increase treatment intensity. It has cut my deep conditioning time in half while still maintaining maximum effectiveness. Work smarter not harder, right??


All right, moving right along to technique! Wavy hair, in my experience, just doesn’t naturally clump the same way curly hair does. I’m not saying curly girls have it easy! But if a Denman brush could whip my wavy clumps into shape like it does for my curly friends, I’d feel like I won the lottery. Instead, it leaves me with stringy, 80’s perm-looking hair.

The solution:

Waves require different techniques. First, I start with the super soaker method, then squish to condish to lay a great foundation for juicy curl families. Lots of water is key. Remember, lots of water = lots of definition. IF that’s your goal! For product application, my go-to is smooth-and-scrunch. I rub/emulsify every product between my hands, smooth it over in just a few sections, and then squish/scrunch on dripping-wet hair until I can no longer feel the product on my hands. If raking is essential for you, for getting your waves in order, another technique—praying hands—is an excellent way to bring all that clumpiness back together. And maybe I’m over the top here, but I’m also usually pretty careful to not stretch out my waves too much, as my goal is enhancement rather than elongation.

To sum it all up…

Cleanse your waves gently, but not at the expense of your hair and scalp’s cleanliness. Clarifying and deep conditioning are one of the most important ways you can ‘feed’ your hair. And the way you apply styling products-—raking vs. smooth-and-scrunch—is one of the biggest contributors to your washday dry ‘look.’ 

What are the techniques you’ve learned over the years that work best for your waves? How have you changed techniques as styles have evolved? I can’t wait to hear what’s working for you..

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