Please hug yourself and prepare for the knowledge I’m about to drop on you: There’s no such thing as “the best” curly hair product. I know—shock, horror, surprise, etc. But seriously; when you’ve got so many different curl types, all with their own unique levels of health/damage, or thinness/thickness, it’s impossible to pretend that a single curl cream or styler will work as well for your 4a hair as it will for my 2c/3a curls (that are also fine, thin, and easily weighed down). I mean, let’s be honest—even the products I use every day still give me different results each time (IYKYK).
Which is why I’m a firm believer in having an arsenal of curly hair products on hand at all times, just to make the curl overlords happy. But since there are approximately six-trillion curl products on the market right now—and probably only a few dozen that work for your actual hair type—I’m here to make the process easier for you with 23 of the best masks, serums, mousses, gels, creams, and conditioners for curly hair, guaranteed to give you really excellent curls.
But first, a little 101 on what to look for when choosing the right curly hair product for your curl type, plus a quick look at our top picks of 2022, below:
The biggest turning point in my hair journey wasn’t a product, but figuring out my curl porosity. Your curl porosity, FYI, is how porous your curls are (i.e., how much water they can absorb and repel). Curls with low porosity require lightweight products and heat treatments to look their best, while curls with high porosity need butters, oils, and proteins to keep them healthy. The quickest way to find out your type is with a porosity quiz, and then come back here to find your best product lineup.
Silicones (like dimethicone) are polymers that give your hair a slippery-smooth feel—which, on some hair types, is totally fine and dandy. But on curly hair? Potential trouble-makers. Because most silicones don’t dissolve in water, they can quickly build up on your hair cuticle and repel water, leaving your curls dry, tangled, and limp until you strip them away with a clarifying shampoo (which, you know, is also not great). Many of of the products on this list are silicone-free (and Curly Girl Method-approved), but just to be safe, always make sure to run the ingredients list through a formula checker before using.
Now, onto the full breakdown of the very best curly hair products for all different curl types, below. Happy experimenting.
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Best Overall Curl Styler
Lus All-in-One Fragrance-Free Styler: Curly
Okay, Lus has been one of my favorite curly-hair brands for years. Their products are simple, pared down, free of all the blah stuff (like silicones, sulfates, mineral oils), and exactly what I would make if I could formulate my own products. My newest fav? This all-in-one styler that’s basically a happy medium between a leave-in conditioner and a curl cream, using moringa oil and shea butter to lightly moisturize and define curls. And it’s hella customizable: Try the fragrance-free version (here) or the original version. Need a lighter or heavier formula? Go for the wavy-hair version or the “kinky-coily” version. Told you—so good.
Best Curl-Defining Cream
Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
There’s a reason this cream has more than 900 glowing reviews on Amazon alone: This stuff works. While most creams tend to weigh down finer curl types, this lightweight formula has just a touch of argan oil that works to smooth frizz and define waves and curls without ever feeling greasy, heavy, or sticky.
Best Drugstore Serum for Curly Hair
Dove Advanced Hair Series Supreme Crème Serum
This drugstore curl serum with buriti oil is basically a moisturizing dream for your curly hair. It moisturizes curls without weighing them down—plus, it leaves your hair soft and shiny. Just warm two to three pumps of the product in your hands and work it evenly through dry or damp hair.
Best Shine Serum for Curly Hair
Vernon François Pure Fro Hold and Shine Serum
Not only will this smoothing serum add shine to dull curls, it’ll also help coils clump together as they dry. With a blend of botanical oils (like apricot kernel and baobab), this mid-weight formula hardcore moisturizes and shines, whether you rake it through wet or dry hair. Or, you know, both.
Best Hair Mask for Frizzy Curls
Living Proof No Frizz Intense Moisture Mask
Wanna say this louder for the people in the back: There is nothing wrong with frizz, and it doesn’t need to be contained or controlled. HOWEVER, if you’re not a fan of your own flyaways and want some smoother curls, try this moisture mask. It’s formulated with a proprietary molecule (OFPMA) that wraps around each strand of hair to shut out moisture and reduce surface friction. Translation: It completely prevents frizz while defining your curls.
Best Co-Wash for Curly Hair
Pantene Gold Series Deep Hydrating Co-Wash
The MVP in this formula? Argan oil, which adds shine and hydration to coarse, dry curls without weighing them down. Apply this co-wash (a cleansing conditioner) in place of a shampoo and a conditioner when you’re between washes.
Best Gel for Curly Hair
Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel
I hate it when I put gel in my hair and it ends up leaving my curls feeling sticky and crunchy. Thankfully, I stopped having to deal with that when I switched to this curly hair gel. It’s filled with wheat proteins and styling polymers that seal your curls in place (even against heat and humidity)—but without hair feeling stiff or getting flaky.
Best Leave-In Cream for Curly Hair
Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Leave-In Defining Crème
If your nightmare is crunchy, stiff curls, try this ultra-hydrating leave-in cream. It has avocado oil (to smooth and seal the hair cuticle to help keep out humidity) and rice amino acids (to add shine and retain moisture). Smooth it over your damp curls, from root to tip, for soft definition and hold.
Best Curl Cream
Ouai Fragrance Free Curl Creme
I. LOVE. THIS. CURL. CREAM. Omg. Not only is it free of fragrance, silicones, and waxes, but it’s also weirdly customizable depending on your curl type. Although it’s filled with coconut oil, which would usually leave my fine hair greasy, a dime-size dollop squished through my sopping-wet hair leaves my 3a curls defined, smooth, and bouncy. Have tighter/coarser curls? Just layer it on with a heavy hand (think: Rake it through your coils before a gel or pudding) for a moisturized, defined base.
Best Refreshing Spray for Curly Hair
Curlsmith Moisture Memory Reactivator
If your second- or third-day curls are usually relegated to a bun, twist, or braid because they’re so dry and undefined, may I introduce you to your new BFF? This refreshing spray is filled with water and oils (olive! coconut! avocado!) to rehydrate and re-clump curls on contact, while adding a bit of definition and shine as soon as you spritz it on.
Best Balm for Curly Hair
Qhemet Biologics Olive & Honey Hydrating Balm
This totally clear balm uses a mix of olive oil, grapeseed oil, and wildflower honey to deeply moisturize hair and seal in hydration. Just comb a scoop through your damp hair, or mix it with your favorite leave-in before your wash-and-go or twist-out, and your coils and kinks will stay defined, shrink-free, and shiny, all day long.
Best Scalp Scrub for Curly Hair
Kristin Ess Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub
Here’s the thing about curls: They need a ton of moisture. But by the time you slap on the deep conditioners, the leave-ins, the creams, and the oils, your coils might look great, but your scalp? Gunked-up and stressed out. Which is where a scalp scrub comes in. This gritty formula uses natural sugars to gently slough away flakes and buildup, along with sweet almond, sunflower, and avocado oils to moisturize your skin and mitigate irritation. Massage it over your scalp in tiny circles, then rinse and shampoo/condition as usual.
Best Heat-Protectant Spray for Curly Hair
Cantu Shea Butter Thermal Shield Heat Protectant
If you’re using heat on your hair, you need to be using a heat protectant, period. This spray will protect your curls from temperatures up to 425 degrees and prevent long-term damage. It also has shea butter to help condition your hair and reduce frizz and flyaways while you style. Just mist it throughout damp hair before you pull out your hot tools.
Best Lightweight Curl Gel
Kinky-Curly Original Curling Custard
I mean, you can’t talk about the best-ever curl products without including the cult-favorite Kinky-Curly Curling Custard. This stuff is like the Traveling Pants of curl gels, since it helps define and smooth both wavy-curly types and tightly coiled types, all without flakes, grease, or stickiness. Shingle it through your wet coils or scrunch it through your damp waves for light hold and shine.
Best Creamy Gel for Curly Hair
Adwoa Beauty Baomint Moisturizing Curl Defining Gel
Fact: Not all gels are created equal. Some can be super lightweight and a lil bit drying, while others (like this one!) can be surprisingly moisturizing—which is exactly what you want for type-4 hair. This creamy formula is filled with shea butter and sweet almond oil to give your twist-outs or wash and gos the hold of a gel and the moisture of a leave-in.
Complete Hydrating Air Dry Cream
Technically, any curl cream can work as an air-dry hair cream. But, if you have ultra-fine curls like mine, you already know how hard it is to find a curl-specific formula that isn’t super heavy. My new fav? This silicone-free cream from JVN (Jonathan Van Ness, ahem), which uses lightweight moringa seed oil and a touch of shea butter to keep curls smooth and defined as they dry. Bonus: This one is also Curly Girl Method-approved (!).
Best Mousse for Curly Hair
Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curl Boosting Mousse
If you have fine, easily pulled-out curls (hi, me), you need this mousse. Just rake a golfball-size puff through your damp hair, lightly scrunching as you work. Then Keep. Your. Hands. Off. until your hair completely dries. The mousse will keep your curls bouncy and voluminous all day long, while also protecting against frizz (without any stiffness).
Bread Beauty Hair Oil Everyday Gloss
If your curls are in a perpetual state of dryness, please try this (silicone-free!) hair oil. It’s filled with a mix of oils (like safflower, sweet almond, argan, and castor) to smooth and define your hair without feeling as heavy as classic coconut oil-based formulas. Massage it into your scalp as a pre-poo treatment, or smooth it over your wet and dry ends to lock in moisture and add shine.
Best Detangling Moisturizing Spray
Sunday II Sunday Revive Me Daily Moisturizing Spray
Detangling your curls can be the biggest pain in the butt (and also hella damaging), but this conditioning leave-in spray will make your life 10 times easier. Mist it all over your damp or dry curls, then finger-comb them to gently detangle your hair while adding a touch of moisture with the formula’s argan oil. Or, just use it as a curl-refreshing spray after you wake up or work out.
Best Deep Conditioner for 4c Curls
Mielle Organics Babassu & Mint Deep Conditioner
Unlike some deep conditioners that are overly packed with protein (which, FYI, can be too much of a good thing), this formula uses lightweight amino acids to help repair your dry, damaged curls without making them stiff or brittle, along with a dose of plant oils—hi, babassu, spearmint, peppermint, and sunflower—to lock in hydration long after you rinse it out.
Best Dry Shampoo for Curly Hair
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Biotin Dry Shampoo
Classic aerosol dry shampoos can be drying, thanks to the hefty dose of alcohol in their formula. This dry shampoo powder, though, is not only CGM (curly girl method) approved—meaning no sulfates, silicones, waxes, or alcohols—making it killer for soaking up excess oil without irritating your scalp. Just pump it into your roots, massage it in, and live your best curl life.
Best Conditioner for Curly Hair
DevaCurl Fragrance-Free One Condition Original Conditioner
As someone who is allergic to ~everything~, truly nothing gets me more excited than seeing the fragrance-free trend grow. But even if you’re not into scentless products, you’ll still love this curl conditioner (which, FYI, comes in a scented variety too), since it uses coconut oil and glycerin to deeply moisturize coarse and dry curls—without any silicones or essential oils.
Best Soothing Scalp Serum for Curly Hair
Fable & Mane SahaScalp Amla Soothing Serum
If dry scalp season is year-round for you, try this soothing scalp serum that uses a bajillion plant oils and natural extracts (see: sunflower oil, turmeric, amla fruit extract, and bakuchi) to lightly hydrate and calm your scalp without feeling greasy or heavy.
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