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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
Define and humidity-proof your curls with this leave-in cream. Rice amino acids and avocado oil will help your hair retain moisture, which prevents frizz and damage. 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
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
Think of this curl cream like nutrient-rich food for your curly hair. It coats every last coil with intense moisture to instantly 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
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 yummy 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
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 like 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
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
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
Argan oil is unbeatable 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
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
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 Butter: Carol's Daughter Healthy Hair Butter
This hair butter will leave your hair nourished and hydrated without weighing it down or leaving it greasy. Made without petroleum and mineral oil, this butter is packed with natural ingredients and seven key essential oils. Keep your hair healthy and manageable with this best-selling formula.
Best Gel: CURLS Blueberry Bliss Curl Control Jelly
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
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
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 greasy. Grapefruit and ginseng give it a crisp, invigorating fragrance.
Best Shampoo: Kerastase Discipline Smoothing Shampoo
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
Say goodbye to knots that lead to breakage and grow your hair longer and stronger with this herbal conditioner. 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.
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.