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Wearing your hair au naturel has never been cooler, but those of us with curly or wavy strands know that letting our kinks loose with abandon is easier said than done. Our curls can only be as good as the products we use—defined, gorgeous curls and healthy, hydrated strands go hand in hand, after all.
For starters, when choosing the right product for your strands, it’s important to remember that curly hair is fundamentally different from straight hair. “The follicles on the scalp that house the strand as it grows are flat and elliptical, which causes the hair strand to curl as it grows,” explains Leigh Hardges, stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. Further, that difference in shape is largely why curly hair needs more moisture and hydration; it makes it harder for the scalp’s naturally moisturizing oils to travel all the way down the hair shaft.
Meet the Expert
Leigh Hardges is a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. She has been trained in hair-cutting at Vidal Sassoon Academy, and has over 15 years of professional experience.
The bottom line: Look for products that help you embrace your natural texture, and are specially formulated to give your curls what they need. From styling creams to smoothing oils to leave-in conditioners, we've got you—and your curls—covered.
Here are the best hair products for curly hair.
Best Overall: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Leave-in Defining Crème
Lasting hydration and curl definition
96% naturally-derived ingredients
Bottle could be larger for the price
Define and humidity-proof your curls with this leave-in cream. The formula, with rice amino acids and avocado oil, can help your hair retain moisture and reduce frizz. This cream is made with 96% naturally-derived ingredients and contains no dyes or silicones, so it's safe to use on all types of hair.
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 Budget: AG Hair Curl Re:Coil Curl Activator
Moisturizes and controls frizz, even in high humidity
No sticky or stiff residue
Can be slightly heavy on finer hair types
As the name suggests, this curl-friendly formula helps define, strengthen, and moisturize coils so they look and feel their best. To use, apply a small amount through damp hair and dry your hair as usual.
Best Cream: Ouidad Curl Quencher Hydrafusion Intense Curl Cream
Hydrates with milk thistle and sweet almond extract
Helps define curls
Formula includes frizz-fighting silk proteins
Not heavy enough to prevent shrinkage
Think of this curl cream like nutrient-rich food for your curly hair. It coats every last coil with intense moisture to eliminate frizz and dryness. Instead, your curls will look instantly defined and feel insanely soft.
What Our Testers Say
"It had a pretty good slip and glided onto my coils with ease. I loved my curls’ definition, especially at the front of my head, where my curls are loosest." —Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
Best Co-Wash: As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner
Non-stripping formula removes residue and impurities
Revives curls with coconut and castor oils
Formula has great slip
May weigh down fine hair
If you're struggling to find a solution to dry, brittle curls, the right co-wash might be just what your routine is missing. Instead of using shampoo for every wash, try this hydrating formula to remove product residue and impurities without sacrificing moisture. While some shampoos strain and strip your hair, this formula uses ingredients like coconut oil, castor oil, and citrus extract to revive your curls for more manageable hair.
We also love that it has lots of slip, making it ideal for detangling.
Best Deep Treatment: NaturAll Club Ice Cream Treatment Deep Conditioner
Contains reparative protein, fatty acids, and avocado
Pricey for a one-time treatment
Give your hair some TLC with this all-natural deep conditioning treatment. With three different formulas to hydrate, repair, or define your curls, you can think of this product as a frozen treat for your tresses. Apply it to clean hair for 20 to 40 minutes under a plastic cap and your hair will thank you for the fresh fruit, protein, and transformative fatty acids.
For hair that retains moisture and length, experts recommend deep conditioning at least biweekly.
Best Diffuser: DevaCurl DevaDryer & DevaFuser
Unique shape scrunches and defines curls
Ceramic core and heat resistant material reduces frizz
Fits most commercial hair dryers
Large and clunky
When you have curly hair, you may find the hairdryer can be your enemy. Too much heat and you get frizz. But now there's an entire industry around maintaining healthy curls, resulting in products like this diffuser, which attaches to the end of your hairdryer (try ionic dryers to cut drying time in half) and coaxes the perfect ringlets out of hair.
Best for Fine Hair: Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
Featherweight formula doesn’t leave hair greasy
Defines curls and fights frizz
Restores hair elasticity
Having fine hair and curls can be tough since many defining creams can weigh them down. But not this gem from Moroccanoil. The featherweight formula is infused with argan oil to calm frizz and refine ringlets, all without ever feeling greasy or sticky. It works its magic to bring on the bounce for all curl types, from waves to tight coils. Plus, it restores elasticity, making hair more manageable.
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 Oil: Pattern Argan Oil Hair Serum
Moisturizes and strengthens strands
Promotes hair elasticity
Can be used wet or dry
Heavy for thin/fine hair
Argan oil is tough to top when it comes to oils that hydrate your hair, and this serum packs plenty of it along with sunflower, castor, sweet almond, apricot, and shea oils. A little of this serum goes a long way to keep strands moisturized and elastic. Made specifically for curly hair, PATTERN is a haircare company created by actress Tracee Ellis Ross.
Best Leave-In Conditioner: Kristin Ess Weightless Shine Leave-In Conditioner
Provides weightless shine
Detangles, smoothes, and softens
Strengthens split ends and weak spots
Too light for thick or very damaged hair
Celebrity hairstylist Kristin Ess (known for her work with Lauren Conrad, Lucy Hale, and more) has a line of affordable, high-quality hair products that you need to try ASAP. Those with curly hair know what a tangled mess your tresses can be when you first get out of the shower. Spray this leave-in conditioner all over your wet hair up to 10 times—seriously, it's so weightless, there's no need to be frugal—and it will leave your hair soft and shiny. Bonus: This conditioner smells amazing (think tropical breezes and piña coladas).
Best Natural: SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Style Milk
Strengthens with silk proteins
Great for thick, curly hair
Sustainably produced formula with ethically traded ingredients
Hard to get product out of bottle
Coconut oil is this leave-in conditioner’s secret ingredient, which works to detangle and hydrate. Ideal for letting your hair air dry, it’s a major time saver. Curls are left soft and swingy, protected from frizz, and humidity. The natural formula includes ethically traded ingredients that are also sustainably produced.
What Our Editors Say
"This is a tried and true styling product that never disappoints me. Creamy styling milks always leave my curls ultra-hydrated and defined. And this one does just that." — Olivia Hancock, Associate Editor
Best Gel: CURLS Blueberry Bliss Curl Control Jelly
Defines, defrizzes, and holds curls
Nourishes with blueberry extract, argan oil, aloe leaf juice, and castor oil
Very thick formula
A gel that defines your curls without leaving it dry and flaky? Yes, please! This hydrating curl control jelly eliminates frizz and elongates curls while leaving it soft to the touch — making it the ultimate styler. Raw castor oil nourishes your hair to promote growth and the blueberry extract smells amazing. This non-sticky gel gets extra props for delivering results to those with loose curls and waves to those with thick, kinky hair.
Best Relaxing Balm: Phyto Botanical Straightening Balm
Tames coarse hair and flyaways with humidity protection
Moisturizes, smoothes, and softens with natural botanicals
Lightweight, non-greasy texture
Still requires heat styling to straighten
Another great way to tame coarse, flyaway hair is to use a relaxing balm. You'll love the lightweight texture that won't leave hair feeling greasy.
Best Serum: Vernon Francois Pure For Hold and Shine Serum
Encourages healthy growth
Nourishes with six botanical oils
Holds curls without sticky or greasy feeling
May leave thinner hair slightly greasy
If you’ve embraced your natural texture, this is the product for you. And Vernon Francois knows natural hair. Made for kinky hair or tight coils, this serum encourages healthy hair growth by nourishing strands with a mix of six botanical oils. It holds curls in place without ever feeling or looking sticky or stiff. Grapefruit and ginseng give it a crisp, invigorating fragrance.
Best Shampoo: Kerastase Discipline Smoothing Shampoo
Softens coarse, curly hair
Eliminates frizz with humidity protection
Detangles and leaves hair easier to manage
May be slightly drying
Kerastase makes some of the best products for curly hair. Their Bain Fluidealiste Nutritive Bain Elasto-Curl Shampoo is praised by beauty experts for its intense moisturizing properties. It will soften coarse, curly hair while enhancing your natural curls and eliminating frizz.
Best Detangler: Kinky Curly Knot Today Detangler
Detangles with organic herbal ingredients
Doubles as a leave-in or rinse-out product
Has great slip
Not super conditioning
Say goodbye to knots that lead to breakage and grow your hair longer and stronger with this herbal conditioner, which is formulated with organic ingredients like slippery elm, marshmallow root, lemongrass, and mango fruit extract. The name says it all: Those with kinky curly hair know that wash day can be a time-consuming task, but the slip in this moisturizing product makes detangling a breeze by smoothing the cuticle and removing knots. Use it as a traditional rinse-out conditioner for those with waves and loose curls, or try it as a leave-in for those with tighter textures.
To avoid breakage in curly hair, always detangle hair while wet and drenched with product.
Curly-haired gals and guys have no shortage of products to choose from, but we think the best product for curly hair is Briogeo's Curl Charisma Rice Amino Avocado Leave-In Defining Cream. The rice amino acids and avocado oil will help your hair retain moisture, which reduces the risk of frizz and damage. To refresh second or third-day curls, try Miss Jessie's Curls So Fresh. The water and glycerin combo will rehydrate your hair and bring your curls right back to life.
What to Look For in a Product for Curly Hair
Make Sure It’s Curly Hair-Specific
First and foremost, make sure you choose a product that’s specifically formulated for curly hair. It sounds obvious, but because curly hair is so different, using curl-specific products is paramount.
Hydrating ingredients are your curls’ best friend (think glycerin, shea butter, and natural oils). Because curly hair is naturally more prone to dryness than straight hair, the more hydration you can pack into your hair, the better. That being said, while curls do need a little extra TLC, they also need some downtime. “Curly hair needs lots of attention, but it also needs to just be left alone. It thrives with the least amount of styling and manipulation,” notes Hardges. In other words, style them and then leave them alone—the less you touch and mess with them, the better.
No Drying Ingredients
Similarly, you’ll also want to make sure that any products you’re using are free of ingredients that can dry out your strands. That means things such as alcohol and sulfates are a no-go since the last thing you want to do is strip your curls of the moisture they do have.
How should you layer hair products for curly hair?
According to hairstylist Larry King, it’s crucial for those with curly hair to apply products while the hair is still wet. Frizz begins as the hair dries, so keeping your products in the shower will give you the most defined results. Start with a curl cream, then scrunch a blob of mousse through the lengths.
How many products should you use on curly hair?
Curly hair only needs a few key products to thrive; don’t overdo it, or you might weigh your natural texture down. Other than shampoo and conditioner (or co-washing, or whichever method works best for you), all you need is the aforementioned curl cream and mousse, as well as a refreshing spray to keep definition and bounce between washes, and hairspray to hold any styling. Any other products are up to your individual needs.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While her hair is fine and straight, she has many friends and family with curly hair, who she relies on to be her trusty product testers for anything and everything curly hair-related.