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Anyone with curly hair knows that the right styling products can mean the difference between dry, frizzy curls and soft, bouncy ringlets. One of the key products that will help you achieve the curls of your dreams: curl cream.
“A curl cream is a styling cream that helps to define your natural curls,” explains Annagjid “Kee” Taylor, celebrity hairstylist and owner of Deeper Than Hair in Philadelphia. “Not only will it give curls definition, but it will provide them with moisture you need to eliminate frizz.”
Beyond frizz control, curl creams enhance and encourage your hair’s natural curl formation, says Irinel de León, celebrity hairstylist and brand ambassador for Ouidad. “In addition, curl creams are often more moisturizing and contain conditioning properties to help curls be the best version of themselves.”
Of course, the curl cream that works best for you won’t necessarily be the right product for someone else’s spirals—it all depends on your curl pattern and your individual hair’s specific needs. To help you find your perfect match, we rounded up the best curl creams for a variety of textures and concerns.
Here, the best curl creams on the market right now.
Best Overall: Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Featherlight Styling Cream
Enhances curl shape
Light floral scent
This curl cream from the curl experts at Ouidad is a winner. It adds major definition to curls while keeping them feeling super-soft, touchable, and frizz-free without ever weighing hair down. That’s thanks to the combo of meadowfoam seed, olive, and soybean oils and humectants in the formula.
Plus, as de León points out, “It works really well in humid climates as well.” Users rave about how moisturized their curls feel when they apply this cream—and how their curls last for days and days.
Active Ingredients: Amodimethicone, glycerin, hydrolyzed vegetable protein | Dosage: Nickel-size amount | Free of: Parabens, phthalates | Size: 6 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Budget: Cantu Moisturizing Curl Activator Cream
Gives great hold
Perky curls don’t have to come with an expensive price tag. This budget curl cream gets the job done well for about the cost of a frappucino. The formula contains shea butter and essential oils for a serious dose of moisture and frizz control. All you need is a little bit for the ideal amount of nourishment. Users with type 3 and 4 curl patterns rave about the formula, which defines curls without weighing them down.
Active Ingredients: Shea butter, soybean oil | Free of: Parabens, phthalates | Size: 12 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Thick Hair: Amika Curl Corps Defining Cream
Contains strengthening ingredients
Won't weigh down hair
Thick hair can be difficult to manage—but it doesn’t have to be. Enter this curl cream, a must-have for anyone with thick, curly hair. The smoothing formula, which is chock full of antioxidants, protects hair against environmental aggressors that cause color fade and damage and contains humidity-blocking ingredients to tame frizz. Users report shiny, bouncy curls that never feel weighed down.
Active Ingredients: Tapioca starch, sea buckthorn oil, oat peptide | Free of: Parabens, phthalates | Size: 6.7 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Thin Hair: Mizani True Textures Curl Enhancing Lotion
Keeps hair soft
When it comes to caring for thin, curly hair, it’s all about finding products that won’t weigh your hair down. This curl cream, which has the consistency of a lotion rather than a super-thick cream, fits the bill perfectly. Coconut, marula, and olive oils offer lightweight hydration, shine, and frizz control. Users say this curl cream adds definition to curls without ever making hair look greasy.
Active Ingredients: Dimethicone, olive oil, coconut oil | Free of: Parabens, phthalates | Size: 5.1 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Frizzy Hair: DevaCurl SuperCream Coconut Curl Styler
Helps create versatile curl styles
Has great hold
Jojoba oil is a natural oil produced from the seed of the Chinensis plant, a drought-resistant shrub native to southern Arizona, California, and Mexico. Jojoba oil mimics natural sebum and seals moisture in the skin, without clogging pores or exacerbating acne, according to Y. Claire Chang, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City.
One of the biggest challenges people with curly hair face is frizz. Luckily, this curl cream is here to work its magic, delivering smooth, frizz-free curls with every use. Coconut oil pumps up the shine, while cornstarch eliminates frizz and jojoba protein adds bounce. Many users call this curl cream their “holy grail,” noting how soft and defined their curls look when they use it.
Active Ingredients: Coconut oil, glycerin, hydrolyzed jojoba protein | Free of: Silicones, parabens, phthalates | Size: 5.1 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Type 2 Hair: Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
Lots of product
Type 2 hair runs the spectrum of waves—from looser waves to coarser, S-shaped ones. With its lightweight, frizz-fighting formula, this curl cream is ideal for anyone with type 2 wavy hair. Formulated with argan oil and hydrolyzed vegetable protein, it smooths waves while helping mend split ends. Apply to wet hair and air dry for gorgeous, defined waves.
Active Ingredients: Argan oil, polyquaternium-11, hydrolyzed vegetable protein | Free of: Parabens, phthalates | Size: 2.5 / 8.5 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
"I think for those with wavy to loose curly hair types this product is worth a try." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
Best for Type 3 Hair: Marc Anthony Strictly Curls 3X Moisture Moisturizing Smoothie
Has great hold
Shea butter is a plant lipid that comes from African shea tree nuts and is rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. It's used to help moisturize, nourish, and soothe the skin.
Type 3 hair can range anywhere from light to tight curls—and it requires special care to help keep spirals in the best condition. This curl cream has a ridiculously moisturizing formula that is just the ticket for type 3 hair. Marula oil repairs damage, coconut cream deeply nourishes, and shea butter protects your hair’s cuticle for extra smoothness and shininess. Users rave about how soft and defined it leaves curls, without any stiffness or crunchiness.
Active Ingredients: Coconut oil, shea butter | Free of: Parabens, phthalates | Size: 10 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Type 4 Hair: African Pride Moisture Miracle Shea Butter & Flaxseed Oil Curling Cream
Oil-rich formula hydrates
Type 4 hair, or coily hair, is often very fragile, meaning using moisturizing products is an absolute must. This curl cream is a favorite of Taylor. Shea butter provides the moisture type 4 hair craves, while also helping to strengthen hair. Flaxseed oil, meanwhile, offers hold and shine. Users with type 4 hair note how soft, shiny, and defined their curls look after using this product, highlighting the fact that it leaves no residue in the hair.
Active Ingredients: Grape seed oil, shea butter, coconut oil | Free of: Parabens, phthalates | Size: 12 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Dry Hair: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Leave-in Defining Crème
Hydration and curl definition
A tightly sealable bottle
Value could be better
Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins and have a role in virtually all the biological processes that occur in our bodies, including the reparation of skin.
Curly hair is often dry, so it’s a good idea to look for styling products that pack a moisturizing punch, like this curl cream. The blend of rice amino acids, avocado oil, and Mollis leaf extract work together to hydrate dry hair, smooth frizz, and create bounciness that lasts all day. The curl cream is free of silicones and artificial dyes, making it safe for color- and chemically-treated hair.
Active Ingredients: Glycerin, soybean oil, hydrolyzed quinoa | Free of: Parabens, phthalates | Size: 6 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
"My curls were not only soft to the touch but defined, and the moisture lasted all week." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
Best for Damaged Hair: SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie
Can be a little heavy
Show damaged hair who’s boss with this reparative curl cream made especially for thick, curly hair. The formula is unbelievably rich, with ultra-nourishing ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, neem oil, and silk protein. Slather on this cream to protect against breakage—it’s a particularly good pick for those transitioning from permed to natural hair.
Active Ingredients: Shea butter, coconut oil, mango seed butter | Free of: Silicones, alcohol, parabens, phthalates | Size: 12 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Drugstore: Miss Jessie's Quick Curls
Accessible at many drugstores
Not Byrdie Clean
This lightweight cream is a drugstore favorite for a reason—its conditioning formula, which contains ginger flower essence and lime fruit, helps you score smooth, frizz-free curls. It's also great for a variety of hair types (from wavy to tight curly), as well as those who are transitioning from permed to natural hair.
Active Ingredients: Mineral oil, glycerin | Free of: Silicones, parabens, phthalates | Size: 6.7 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Runner-Up, Best Drugstore: Not Your Mother's Curl Talk Defining Cream
Accessible at many drugstores
Boosts shine and definition
Contains mineral oil
If you have curly hair, then head straight for this product the next time you shop the drugstore. It’s formulated with a complex of curl-enhancing, frizz-fighting ingredients—including rice, keratin amino acids, and enzymes—for shiny, defined curls. Users like how lightweight this curl cream is, while still providing plenty of moisture.
Active Ingredients: Shea butter ethylesters, tomato extract, rice extract | Free of: Silicones, parabens, phthalates | Size: 6 / 9.7 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Splurge: Oribe Styling Butter Curl Enhancing Creme
Rich, hydrating feel
Go ahead and treat yourself to this luxurious curl cream, a favorite of Leigh Hargdes, a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, for good reason. “It’s just a beautiful product,” she says. “It’s rich, like crème brulee, so it completely eradicates frizz. It breaks down in your hands so the application process is a breeze.”
Key ingredients include watermelon, lychee, and edelweiss flower extracts to defend against color fade, murumuru, mango, and cocoa seed butter to strengthen hair, and olive and avocado oils to deeply nourish. Hargdes also notes the “heavenly” scent—a signature of all of Oribe’s products.
Active Ingredients: Watermelon fruit extract, cocoa seed butter, shea butter | Free of: Silicones, parabens, phthalates | Size: 6.8 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Color-Treated Hair: Verb Curl Cream
Great for color-treated hair
Keep colored hair looking vibrant with this curl cream made for wavy, curly, and coily curl patterns. It’s formulated with sunflower seed extract, a natural UV protectant that shields hair from color fade, brassiness, and dryness. What’s more, olive oil helps manage frizz and flyaways for a sleek head of curls. Users love the definition this cream gives curls and how it tames frizz even in humid conditions.
Active Ingredients: Sunflower seed extract, glycerin, olive oil | Free of: Silicones, parabens, phthalates | Size: 5.3 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Long-Lasting Hold: Aunt Jackie's Curl La La Defining Curl Custard
Ideal for coils
Not Byrdie Clean
This favorite of Taylor’s is a great option for those in search of a long-lasting hold. The shea butter formula does an incredible job of moisturizing hair while also adding definition and shine. You can expect curls that stay bouncy all day without any flakes or buildup.
Active Ingredients: Shea butter, soybean oil, olive oil | Free of: Parabens, phthalates | Size: 15 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Twist-Outs: Curls Blueberry Bliss Twist-N-Shout Cream
Contains organic ingredients
Hydrates and adds shine
Ideal for coils
Can be too heavy for some
A classic protective style for natural hair, twist-outs can be hard to achieve without the right products to help. That's where this curl cream comes in. Its formula delivers the perfect combo of definition, hydration, and shine—plus, it's free of sulfates, silicones, parabens, artificial oils, colors, and fragrances. To style, apply it to clean wet hair, twist your strands, allow your hair to dry, undo the twists, and voilà.
Active Ingredients: Blueberry extract, coconut oil, safflower oil | Free of: Silicones, parabens, phthalates | Size: 8 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Runner-Up, Best for Twist-Outs: TGIN Twist & Define Cream
This curl cream is another favorite for twist-outs. With ingredients like coconut and Vitamin E oils, it helps you style smooth, shiny, and well-defined curls while fighting frizz and taming any pesky flyaways. Plus, it contains no parabens, sulfates, petrolatum, lanolin, or artificial colors.
Active Ingredients: Coconut oil, soybean oil | Free of: Silicones, parabens, phthalates | Size: 12 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What to Look for in a Curl Cream
Keep an eye out for ingredients like argan, avocado, and coconut oils or aloe vera, as well as mango or shea butter to help hydrate and nourish your curls. “It’s important that the cream includes hydrating and moisturizing properties, as well as an element of hold,” says Marlisa Sears, artistic director for Marc Anthony hair care. “It’s difficult to achieve great curls without moisture, as your curls will be both dry and frizzy.”
The Right Consistency
Depending on the porosity of your hair, you may need either a heavier or lighter curl cream. Determine how well your hair can retain and absorb moisture, and choose a formula accordingly.
Slip basically refers to how slick your hair feels after applying product. The more slip a product has, the easier it is to spread and distribute over your strands. You'll want to choose a product that gives slip so detangling and styling is easier.
What does a curl cream do?
Curl creams create a protective film around the hair shaft, which helps to smooth the cuticle and make curls more manageable. Most formulas include nourishing ingredients that can help boost moisture or impart a shiny finish.
How should curl cream be applied?
Start with clean, wet hair. Use your hands to evenly distribute the product over your curls. Allow your hair to air dry, or blow dry using a diffuser attachment to ensure the heat is evenly distributed. It’s best to start with a little bit of product and add more curl cream or water accordingly.
Can I mix different curl creams?
Most curl creams aren’t meant to be mixed and matched with one another, but they can play well with other leave-in creams and oils. Make sure you allow each product to set in before applying the next.
To apply curl cream, start at the back of your head, working one section at a time and using one hand, suggests Hargdes. “I rake through the curls and gently squeeze at the ends,” she says. “Stay at least one inch from the scalp as creams can weigh hair down and create buildup on the scalp.”