Maintaining curly hair can be exhausting. My 3A curls can only thrive when they're deeply hydrated, which means nourishing them with ultra-moisturizing conditioners, leave-in treatments, and styling creams to help maintain my texture. While I’ve found a product lineup that has helped my curls stand the test of time (or at least, the test of sweat and humidity), TikTok introduced me to a new way to apply them that promises to take their moisturizing abilities to the next level.
The “bowl method,” which went viral on social media earlier this year, involves slathering your hair with a leave-in conditioner or curl cream and dipping it section by section into a bowl of water. As you dip, you’re meant to scrunch each individual section and let the water run back into the bowl. Recently, I decided to find out for myself if this trick was really as game-changing as TikTok promised, but first, I chatted with some experts to understand the science behind it.
@curlyzia.xo Still get messages daily of people saying how much this helped. Makes me smile so much ??? #ziasbowlmethod #bowlmethod #curlclumps ♬ Home - Edith Whiskers
How the bowl method works
Most people with a naturally curly texture, like mine, have what's called "high porosity hair." The more porous your hair is, the more difficult it is for strands to hold onto moisture, which explains why curly girls tend to be more prone to dryness, breakage, and frizz. Because of this, it's extra important to saturate them with as much moisture as possible, which is where the bowl method comes in.
“The reality is with any hair texture, the more moisturized and hydrated your hair is, the better your curls/waves will look," says Sophie Rose Gutterman, a Los Angeles-based hairstylist.
While no one can quite seem to agree on why the bowl method is more effective for hydration than simply washing your hair in the shower, there are a few theories. Celebrity hairstylist and textured hair specialist Michelle Sultan (who has achieved great results using the method on her own hair) thinks it's because dipping your hair in water encourages the curls to clump together to enhance definition and control frizz, while Gutterman believes it can help deepen hydration and product penetration.
One thing's for sure, though: The bowl method really only works on hair that has at least a little bit of natural curl to it. “Think of this method as a hair bath. While it may work for others, it may not work for everyone,” says Gutterman. Sultan explains that it likely won't turn your stick-straight strands into ringlets, and Gutterman notes that because the curl-enhancing products are diluted with water, "it may not be as effective for those that really need the hold, definition, and control from frizz."
What happened when I tried it
With all of that in mind, it makes sense that TikTok's reviews of the bowl method have been mixed—curly-haired folks seem to have found success, while those with straight hair have either seen short-term results or no results at all. Based on the stylists' advice, though, my hair should be the ideal texture to reap the full benefits from the process.
Once I found a bowl that was large enough to fit my hair (which was more of a struggle than you’d expect), I filled it up with water, got my favorite curl-defining cream and gel from Living Proof, and patiently dipped my hair back and forth. Then, I carefully scrunched my hair with a cotton t-shirt (another trick pros recommend for fighting frizz) and let it air dry. In the end, my curls looked bouncy and defined, so much so that I felt like my hair had just come out of the salon. It was perfectly frizz-less, with S-shaped ringlets, and once it was dry it felt super lightweight. More importantly, my hair wasn't as crunchy as it normally is when I scrunch it with product sans bowl.
As amazing as my hair looked, though, the whole thing was kind of a production. It left me with a very messy bathroom (there was water everywhere), my neck felt strained and tired, and my hair took three hours to dry after being soaked with so much water. Plus, when I tried the bowl method for a second time a few days later, I noticed it left behind a heavy product build-up on my hair that weighed down my curls.
So while the bowl method technically "worked" for my hair, it isn't going to replace my current curly-hair routine—honestly, I don't have the energy to go through the process regularly. If you're looking for a less time-intensive way to up your own hair's hydration, both stylists recommend using a moisturizing mask. For best results, apply it in the shower and let it sit for a few minutes in the steam. “Similar to the bowl method, the heat from the steam opens the hair’s cuticle and allows all the protein of the mask to penetrate the hair’s cortex,” she says. When it's time to rinse, use cold water to close the cuticle and really lock in the moisture.
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