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As any curly-haired girl will tell you, this type of texture requires an entirely different set of products and styling techniques than the straight-haired contingent needs. At the risk of getting overly complex, straight hair has hair follicles that are symmetrical, while curly hair follicles are asymmetrical. And then, even within curly hair, the number of bonds between the keratin (protein) within the hair shaft affect exactly what type of curl pattern you end up with. All of this is a fancy way of saying that curly hair is totally different—and, as such, also has different issues and needs.
First and foremost, there’s the issue of dryness. “Due to the shape of the strands, curly hair tends to be much drier than straight hair,” explains Emily Burns, a Product Development Haircare Specialist for Hask. Essentially, she explains, natural oils from the scalp cannot travel throughout the hair strand and distribute moisture evenly, resulting in dry and fragile hair. For this reason, it’s a good idea to go a few days in between washes—and, when it is time to wash, using a gentle, hydrating, and non-stripping shampoo is paramount.
Ready to get sudsing? Read on for the best shampoos for curly hair.
Best Overall: Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Defrizzing Shampoo
Humidity is to curls what Kryptonite is to Superman—the arch-nemesis of all arch-nemeses. When humidity gets into your curls, the hair cuticles swell and expand, which makes them look undefined. Enter this sudser, which touts a unique anti-frizz nanotechnology that uses silk protein to lock out humidity and lock in your hair’s natural moisture. Couple that with plenty of hydrating ingredients—shea butter, murumuru butter, ceramides—to keep the cuticle smooth, and you’ve got a surefire way to ensure smooth curls, no matter how humid it gets. Even better, this shampoo also has a UV filter to protect your hair from sun damage.
Best Budget: Garnier Fructis Curl Nourish Shampoo
At just a few bucks, the price tag on this drugstore standout can’t be beaten. But despite the wallet-friendly price, you still get all of the same benefits of many other pricier shampoos. Think a sulfate-free, silicone-free, paraben-free formula that has conditioning coconut, jojoba, and macadamia oils, plus strengthening proteins and B vitamins to keep your curls healthy.
Best for Detangling: Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Moisturizing & Detangling Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Even the healthiest of curly hair needs to be detangled from time to time, and this ultra-nourishing, sulfate-free shampoo makes it a breeze. The almond and avocado oil formula penetrates hair to leave it softer, more manageable, and noticeably hydrated. Natural hair blogger Courtney Danielle Bryant cites this shampoo as one of her favorites of all time. She highly recommends it, saying, "It's extremely moisturizing and you can actually finger detangle with it in your hair. It leaves my hair feeling very soft."
Best Cleansing Conditioner: DevaCurl No-Poo Original Zero Lather Conditioning Cleanser
To be fair, this may not actually be a shampoo, but few other curly-haired products have as much of a cult-following as this one. (Fun fact: The brand also coined the unique DevaCut hair-cutting technique, a special kind of dry cutting technique to best enhance all kinds of natural textures.) The brand’s best-selling original cleanser, it cleans and moisturizes your scalp and hair without removing any natural oils. Peppermint oil and Turkish rose make for an invigorating and refreshing scent, too. Like all of the brand’s products, this is also cruelty-free, vegan, and 100 percent silicone- paraben- and sulfate-free.
Best Foamy Shampoo: Redken Curvaceous High Foam Lightweight Shampoo
Although it's very gentle on curls, especially those wrought with heat damage, Redken's shampoo still manages to be satisfyingly foamy, even without sulfates. You might want to do a couple of lather-rinse-repeats to get rid of excessive product build up, though.
If you have curly hair, your shampooing technique matters just as much as your shampoo. “Curly hair is extremely fragile and more prone to breakage when wet, so it’s important to be very gentle with your hair," explains Burns. "Start by massaging the shampoo into your scalp and roots, keeping your fingers under the top layer of hair, since too much friction on that top layer may cause breakages." Finish by gently working the lather down your lengths and remember to rinse well after.
Best for Bounce: Aloxxi Hydrating Shampoo
Enriched with olive oil and 10 antioxidant extracts, this shampoo gives a luxurious lather that protects your hair from UV rays and coats each curl to restore it to its original bouncy, youthful state. "With a large dose of moisture, you can keep your frizz at bay and hair shiny for days," says hairstylist Michael Dueñas. Anyone with curly hair can attest to this—this shampoo leaves your curls in better shape than they've ever been before."
Best for Colored Hair: L'Oréal Paris Evercurl HydraCharge Shampoo
Not only is this shampoo sulfate free, it’s also free of harsh salts and surfactants that can wreak havoc on both your color and your curls. Coconut oil adds the hydration your hair needs, though the vegan formula is still light enough that it won’t weigh your hair down; it also smooths down frizz and increases shine. But perhaps most impressive of all? When used with the accompanying conditioner and treatment, the trio will keep your curls defined for 48 hours…yes, as in two full days.
Best Natural: Aveda Be Curly Shampoo
One of the brand’s best-sellers, this classic remains a consistent standout in the curly shampoo world. It gently—yet effectively—cleanses both curls and waves and defines them, too. Credit a combination of wheat protein and organic aloe; both of these expand when the hair is wet, then contract when it’s dry, helping to define your curl pattern. It has the signature Aveda scent (a mix of refreshing citrus notes). Plus, you’ll be doing good for both your hair and the environment; the bottle is made of 100% recycled plastic, and the company manufactures with 100% wind power.
Best for Dry Strands: Mizani True Textures Moisture Replenish Shampoo
Curly hair is naturally drier than other textures, which is why it's so important to find a shampoo that will infuse moisture into your hair. Mizani's formula is sulfate-, paraben-, and silicone-free and contains coconut, olive, and marula oils to retain moisture and restore the natural pattern of your hair.
Best for Volume: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Hydrating Shampoo
No matter whether your hair is wavy, curly, kinky, or coiled, you can use this shampoo. The sulfate-free formula gently cleanses, while tomato fruit ferment seals the hair cuticle to ensure that hair dries consistently, the secret to maintaining a uniform curl shape. But to the point of volume, it’s the addition of hydrating shea butter and avocado oil that increases volume and body, without ever weighing the hair down. (Because while curly hair can often look big, it can also easily go limp and fall flat.) It’s also made of 98 percent naturally-derived ingredients, and without gluten, silicones, or artificial dyes, and good to use on color-treated or chemically-treated hair.
Best Purifying: Herbal Essences Coconut Milk Shampoo
Herbal Essences' signature mix of essential antioxidants, aloe, and sea kelp makes up a formula that boasts results in less than a month. It is designed to purify hair while removing any impurities, and the added layer of moisture is what keeps your curls frizz-free and intact.
Best Splurge: Leonor Greyl Paris Shampooing Reviviscence
Sometimes you have to just have to treat yourself (and your hair) and splurge on a great product. Such is the case with Leonor Greyl's shampoo. It repairs your hair from within, reconditioning and restructuring your curls and helping each one to strength and manageability. Hairstylist Michael Dueñas says, "This will keep your curls tight and fight frizz all day."
Best Sulfate-Free: SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine Shampoo
Sulfates are the detergents found in all kinds of your beauty products, from shampoo to soap to face wash. They’re used for cleansing purposes and are why things lather and foam up, but they can admittedly be harsh and stripping, especially for curly hair, which is already more prone to dryness to begin with. Many shampoos for curly hair are sulfate-free; this is a top pick given the addition of strengthening silk protein, plus hydrating coconut and neem oils. Not only does it gently cleanse, it also adds back moisture and shine, while helping fight frizz, too. Not to mention that the ingredients are ethically traded and sustainably produced.
Best Vitamin-Rich Formula: Vernon François Curl Command Shampoo
Vernon François—a go-to stylist for naturally curly girls like Lupita Nyong'o and Solange—created his own product line to take the guesswork out of caring for your curls. This formula is sulfate-free and "packed with ingredients that nourish and moisturize hair, like mongongo oil (known for its sun-protection properties), coconut oil to soften, baobab oil (for a dose of vitamins A, D, and E for healthy hair growth), and 'MiruStyle CP,' a styling agent that encourages curls' spring-factor," says François. "It works to repair your hair while simultaneously protecting and nourishing your curls from scalp to root."
The best shampoo for curly hair is Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Defrizzing Shampoo. It touts unique anti-frizz nanotechnology that uses silk protein to lock out humidity and lock in your hair’s natural moisture. For voluminous, defined curls, we recommend Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Hydrating Shampoo. The sulfate-free formula gently cleanses, while tomato fruit ferment seals the hair cuticle to ensure that hair dries consistently, maintaining a uniform curl shape. And finally, color-treated hair needs its own TLC. Try L'Oréal Paris EverCurl HydraCharge Shampoo. Not only is it sulfate-free, but it’s also free of harsh salts and surfactants that can wreak havoc on both your color and your curls.
What to Look For In a Shampoo for Curly Hair
Because curly hair is innately drier than straight hair, it’s important to pick a formula that contains hydrators such as natural oils, butters, and glycerin. One ingredient that might be worth avoiding, however? Silicones. While these are often used as a conditioning ingredient to help add slip and shine to the hair, they tend to build-up on the hair strands over time, says Burns. This can be particularly problematic for curls, as it can cause them to become heavy and lose their shape.
No Sulfates or Harsh Detergents
Per the dryness part, it’s best to avoid shampoos that contain harsh surfactants or detergents, sulfates being the most common, explains Burns. They can be very drying and stripping, which is the last thing your curls need.