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Curls can be a challenge, and they come by that reputation honestly. A rainy day or the introduction of one new product can throw the whole look off, but now that more of us are shelving our hot tools in favor of rocking our natural hair textures, it can be difficult to know where to start — especially because no two curls, even on the same head, are identical.
“What’s interesting about curls is that there’s an inconsistency a lot of times,” says Larry Sims, celebrity hairstylist and co-founder of Flawless by Gabrielle Union. “They can be so in between — straight here, wavy there, curly here — and going with the natural texture, it looks fuller a lot of times and just healthier. Don’t be afraid to lean into natural hair, because a lot of people, for the longest, tried to fight what they were born with.”
The trick is to style your natural texture with the best curly hair products in the right way to keep your hair nourished and curls defined. “I agree that curly hair has a reputation,” says Maeva Heim, founder and CEO of the revolutionary curl-focused brand Bread Beauty Supply. “However, I don’t agree that it’s true. Or rather, it’s only true if you have misaligned expectations, or the wrong products and routine knowledge.”
And to know what curly hair products you need, you first need to know what hair type you have.
“Hair type refers to your hair’s curl pattern,” explains celebrity hairstylist and natural hair YouTuber Annagjid “Kee ” Taylor, adding that hair type is categorized by numbers and letters. “The numbers — 1 to 4 — refer to curl families, and the letters — A to C — indicate how tightly wound the actual curls are. So, type 1 hair has basically no curls or is straight, type 2 has waves, while type 3 includes spiraled curls and 4s have kinks and coils.”
Top Curly Hair Products of 2023
- Ouai Curl Créme
- Living Proof No Frizz Conditioner
- Davines All-In-One Hair Milk
- Flawless by Gabrielle Union Exotic Oil
- Ouidad Coil Infusion Drink Up Cleansing Conditioner
- Moroccanoil Perfect Defense Heat Protectant
- Olaplex No. 6 Bond Smoother
- Nunzio Saviano Anti-Frizz Sheets
- Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo
- Oribe Curl Gloss Hydration & Hold
- Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross Wide Tooth Comb
- Bumble and bumble BB Curl Defining Cream
- Playa Super Seed Curl Defining Cream
- Shu Uemura Essence Absolue Nourishing Protective Hair Oil
- Ouidad Coil Infusion Triple Treat Deep Conditioner
- Bread Beauty Supply Hair Wash Gentle Milky Hair Cleanser
- Drybar Edge Control Gelée
- Kérastase Curl Manifesto Nourishing Mask for Curly Hair
- Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Super Moisture Conditioner for Dry + Damaged Hair
- Bread Beauty Supply Bread Puff: Hair & Wrist Scrunchie
The different types of curly hair
Type 1: This hair type is pin-straight, without any bend or movement. But as you move from hair types 1A to 1C, you can begin to see a whisper of movement.
Type 2: “In type 2, you’ll see a slight disconnect from straight hair to a light, very loose curl,” says Sims. “It’ll start from a soft, sort of beachy, natural wave to almost a loose curl.” And his favorite part? “You have the versatility of being able to go from straight to curly without really damaging the integrity of the natural curl.” This hair type benefits most from light products, like curl, salt or texture sprays, but not heavy creams, which can weigh down the delicate wave.
Type 3: Ranging from a medium curl to a tighter corkscrew, Sims says that type 3 hair has “great definition” if you work with it correctly. “It tends to be a bit thicker, especially at the root, than type 2,” he says. “Think more volume, a thicker root and a cleaner, S-shaped curl.” With type 3, you can move into products that feel a little heavier, like leave-in conditioners and creams, plus a biweekly moisturizing hair mask, recommends Sims.
Type 4: Often coarse and coily, Sims says type 4 hair is “way more thick, and you’ll feel the coarseness in the hair versus a tight type.” A looser type 4 — 4a — is still super tight, but can be defined with a curl cream, says Sims, while 4B and 4C are the coiliest styles and traditionally set weekly with rods or curlers, or Sims’ favorite approach: “rock it fro-y” style. “The biggest challenge for type 4 hair is moisture,” he says. “The kinkier the hair, the drier it is. And the tighter the curl, the drier it becomes.”
Armed with the above guidelines, look for products that embrace and enhance your natural texture. When you start working with your natural hair and not against it, you may be surprised that it’ll start working for you, too.
The different types of curly products
Those of us with curly hair deeply understand the strife and struggle that comes along with trying to manage our curly hair. But the truth is, there’s a range of great curly hair products designed specifically for curly hair that can help us in our fight against frizz.
- Shampoos: This important first step is often overlooked, but the key to getting curly hair to cooperate and look gorgeous is to start off on the right foot with the best shampoo for curly hair, especially for your hair type.
- Conditioners: A creamy conditioner is crucial to make your hair silky smooth, healthy and hydrated. From waves to tight coils, dryness is a common problem and the right conditioner for curly hair will set you up for success by creating a strong foundation to style and manage.
- Combs: No tool is more important than a comb to keep curls intact and evenly distribute shampoo, conditioner and styling products. Curlies need to be careful when brushing or combing our hair, using only brushes and combs for curly hair to keep curls the curl pattern intact and frizz and split ends at bay.
- Hair dryers + diffusers: Many of us with curly hair believed we needed to air dry our locks and stay far away from hair dryers, but as long as we’re using a really great diffuser designed specifically for curls, we’re in a safe space.
- Styling creams + gels: Using the right styling product and applying it correctly is often where curly haired folks trip. Dousing hair in product is a one-way ticket to starting over, so it’s important to remember to start with a small amount — you can always add more later.
Ouai Curl Créme
“In the winter months, I would recommend swapping out any hair products that include alcohol in the ingredient list, which can cause dryness and static,” says Chicago-based stylist Alex Brown, who counts Hailey Bieber and the Hadid sisters as clients. “Try replacing them with a moisturizing, defining cream instead, like one of my favorites: the Ouai Curl Créme.” This cream is “excellent for people who are chemically sensitive,” writes one Amazon reviewer. “Best fragrance-free product for smoothing frizzy hair. I use it to blow out with a brush and it’s made my hair very soft and touchable rather than dry and crunchy.”
Word to the wise: Those with type 2 hair should skip the creams, says Sims, because the heavier formulation will not only weigh down the curl and minimize definition, but also make hair look greasier faster.
Living Proof No Frizz Conditioner
Lightweight in texture but mighty in efficacy, this multi-functional conditioner is powered by Living Proof’s patented healthy hair molecule that helps block humidity, smooth flyaways and repel grime so that your hair stays fresh — letting you push off wash day one more time. More than 1,700 Amazon reviewers agree: Say farewell to frizz forever, even in tropical locales, with one superfan saying that it “passed the ‘August in the South Florida’ test’.”
Davines All-In-One Hair Milk
One of Sims’ favorite curly hair products is a protective leave-in conditioner. This creamy but surprisingly feather-light hair milk from Davines softens strands to make brushing a breeze. It also protects hair from heat styling tools and amps up the shine factor. Sims cautions to avoid over-saturating the hair with this product, however, especially for finer type 2 hair, who should focus application from the ears down. “Just make hair a little damp with it,” he says. To use a leave-in conditioner for styling type 2 or 3 hair, he suggests making a couple thick plaits around your head and sleeping in them. In the morning, let them out and glide a bit of oil through the ends for a “very cool, very New York girl vibe,” he notes. One of the 7,500+ positive reviewers on Amazon gushed, “this stuff is literal magic,” letting her wear her “coarse wavy/curly hair naturally and beautifully.”
Flawless by Gabrielle Union Exotic Oil
“Hair oils are great for throughout the hair, not just on the ends,” says Sims, adding that less is more when it comes to product here, and that lighter hair types especially should err on the conservative side. “This oil from Flawless is amazing because it’s so light and super absorbent with all-natural ingredients. You really can get in there, with a modest amount of product, to give the hair shine and moisture every few days when the hair starts looking sad.” Many of the reviewers on Amazon — more than 2,000! — love not only the added hydration, but also the cooling effect it has on their scalp to calm itchiness.
Ouidad Coil Infusion Drink Up Cleansing Conditioner
“Washing hair too much will deplete natural oils that help your hair grow and retain its shine,” explains de León, adding that she doesn’t recommend washing your hair every day, but loves a good co-wash, like Ouidad’s Coil Infusion option. “Not only does it remove impurities but it also conditions for softness, preventing tangles.”
Moroccanoil Perfect Defense Heat Protectant
“Always, always, always use a heat protectant,” says Heim. “It’s such boring advice, but it’s really important if you don’t want to damage the cuticles and inner layers of your hair.” And an oil isn’t a sub for a heat protectant, she warns, as heat protectants, like Moroccanoil’s Perfect Defense, are specifically engineered to protect against certain heat settings. “It’s always best to find one that matches the heat setting on your styling tools,” she adds. Bonus: 2,725 reviewers on Amazon gave it 5-stars, with one fan saying that she’s become “absolutely addicted” to the product for “its ability to protect my hair with very high heat tools” and “wonderful fragrance.”
Olaplex No. 6 Bond Smoother
Olaplex is famous for their highly concentrated treatments, and their leave-in styler, No. 6, will help your hair get ready for its best frizz-free life by smoothing flyaways without weighing it down with lightweight ingredients like vitamin E and coconut oil, which will also diminish frizz for up to 72 hours (!). With more than 33,855 positive ratings on Amazon, it’s safe to say that this beloved product is on its way to hitting cult-classic status.
Nunzio Saviano Anti-Frizz Sheets
One of the latest buzzy products for curly hair are anti-frizz sheets, which are perfect for a second-day touch up. These sheets are slightly damp, thanks to the coconut oil molecules, which are small enough to penetrate the hair shaft to instantly add moisture to dull curls. They also add a serious dose of shine and glamour, with one Amazon reviewer sharing that she “takes these with me for my jacket and hair” to “take static down tremendously” while another notes that they “work immediately!”
Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo
Boasting more than 90 awards in both the beauty world and academia, Living Proof’s revolutionary shampoo is driven by the brand’s patented Healthy Hair Molecule. From flyaways to frizz, it promises to block humidity and smooth unruly wisps. One fan on Amazon swears that it’s “the best stuff ever.”
Oribe Curl Gloss Hydration & Hold
For dramatic style, reach for Oribe’s shine-boosting cream to define curls without leaving hair with the dreaded crunch. Unlike other creams, this innovation is easy to use — we recommend rubbing a quarter size amount into hands, rubbing together and scrunching upward — and will hold definition, according to one Amazon reviewer, “for days on end.” Plus, the lychee, edelweiss and watermelon ingredients protect your strands from environmental damage.
Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross Wide Tooth Comb
Don’t let your hairstyle hit a snag, instead use this wide tooth comb from Pattern with a lovely long handle and let it work its magic. Remember to start at the ends and work your way up — no tugging! “Detangle hair in the shower with a wide-tooth comb while the conditioner is still on the hair to reduce breakage,” advises New York City salon owner, Nunzio Saviano.
Bumble and bumble Bb Curl Defining Cream
“Go into your creams for type 3 texture, because the hair porosity is going to be a little more absorbent,” explains Sims, adding that a cream “locks in the smoothness, so the curl won’t swell as easily.” His go-to technique is the “scrunch-and-go,” which means you take a dollop of Bumble and bumble’s frizz-reducing, moisturizing curl cream and scrunch up from the ends toward the root, then let hair air dry. This cream works for wavy and curly types to add hydration, define curls and reduce frizz. Take this tip from a Sephora reviewer: “Put it on while hair is wet at night, put it up in two buns and the next morning, it’ll look amazing, defined and very soft.”
Playa Super Seed Curl Defining Creme
Playa’s ultra rich, moisturizing cream created specifically for types 3 and 4 will fight dryness and frizz, thanks to a trio of hydrating heros — murumuru seed butter, chia and flaxseed gels — without leaving a residue or crunchy finish behind. Instead, curls will be silky soft and the hold will last all day long. “This is the only product I need to use for my African American and Asian curly hair, and a little goes a long way,” writes one Sephora reviewer who’s keen to “simplify” her beauty routine.
Shu Uemura Essence Absolue Nourishing Protective Hair Oil
“Add a nourishing oil to your daily routine,” Brown recommends, particularly for types 2 through 4 who can benefit from this extra dose of moisture. Brown counts Shu Uemura’s Essence Absolue as one of her go-to options. “Apply hair oil to your ends before blow drying, but also add a half pump throughout the day to tame static and hydrate the hair — just as you would do with lotion on your hands,” she says. Meanwhile, Sims says people with type 3 and 4 hair can use hair oils from root to end to “give moisture without weighing it down and make it look refreshed and polished.” What’s more, this cult classic oil is gaining admirers left and right, as evidenced by the glowing Sephora reviews. “This is my holy grail,” one writes. “I have super thick, coarse, wavy/curly hair and this product smoothes all my frizzies and moisturizes my dry ends. I’m not sure I could live without it.”
Ouidad Coil Infusion Triple Treat Deep Conditioner
One curly hair product that is a non-negotiable for coily and kinky type 4 hair is a weekly conditioning treatment, says celebrity stylist, curl expert and Ouidad Brand Ambassador, Irinel de León. “Deep conditioners are great for your hair,” she says. “This Ouidad deep conditioner has nourishing ingredients, like black castor oil to strengthen the strands against breakage and avocado and grapeseed oils for moisture.” One Ulta reviewer loved this “phenomenal” conditioner so much that she already purchased several more for her sister and mom so they can have “soft, frizz-free, shiny and manageable” coils, too.
Bread Beauty Supply Hair Wash Gentle Milky Hair Cleanser
Heim wants to redefine what it means to have “good” curls, and she counts a good hair cleanser — like the version from her label — as a crucial first step to curl heaven. “That sounds kind of boring, but honestly, your shampoo sets the tone for your entire wash day,” she cautions. “If you use one that strips too much, you’ll probably be disappointed with your conditioner results, or if you use one that doesn’t clean properly, you’ll have to start all over again.” And despite its no-glory status, she argues that a shampoo is “one of the most important steps of your routine, so find a really good one that works for you.” For many Sephora reviewers, this cleanser is exactly that, including one who raved that the wash is “extremely gentle, doesn’t foam up and leaves my hair feeling the softest it ever has.”
Drybar Edge Control Gelée
One of the latest products from Drybar, the Gin Twist collection is designed specifically for waves, curls and coils. It’s brimming with vitamin-based hydrating oils, like coconut, indica and amla seeds, along with keratin protein to strengthen hair and a curl-enhancing polymer to support and hold the hair’s natural curl pattern. A standout product from the collection, the Edge Control Gelée is a flexible balm that moisturizes, tames and styles baby hairs.
Kérastase Curl Manifesto Nourishing Mask for Curly Hair
All hair is different, especially curls. But even if your hair type is 1, never skip a biweekly deep conditioning treatment, says Sims. According to the hairstylist, thick hair and coils require mega moisture and types 3 and 4 should ramp up to weekly masking. “Look for creams and be consistent with masking and treatment to maintain your hair’s moisture and elasticity,” suggests Taylor. Kérastase’s mask nourishes strands and smooths the cuticle with manuka honey and ceramides to revive and refresh dull, dehydrated hair. One Sephora reviewer says: “I can really see a difference after using it and I didn’t have to pile it on.” She continued, saying that “a little went a long way,” which for this price tag, is exactly what we want to hear.
Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Super Moisture Conditioner for Dry + Damaged Hair
“Over-processing, color damage, heat damage and sun damage can all contribute to dryness or frizziness to your hair,” explains Sims. “You really want to make sure that you’re moisturizing your hair and rebuilding it from any of those damaging elements.”
Enter Briogeo’s insanely effective and cleanly formulated conditioner that’s clinically shown to decrease hair breakage after just two uses. Loaded with algae extract, argan oil, panthenol and other natural ingredients like minerals and amino acids (95% of the composition is naturally-derived!), your hair will become healthier and stronger so fast you may get whiplash. But take it from this reviewer, who shares that they are “always looking for extra conditioning and hydration without weighing down my fine hair” and that this product is “so good and super conditioning,” plus it “smells so light and fresh.”
Bread Beauty Supply Bread Puff: Hair & Wrist Scrunchie
“I love a good satin scrunchie, and I opt for satin over silk since it’s vegan friendly,” says Heim. “The amount of snagging and snapping that you avoid on a daily basis accumulates over time and makes a huge difference.” Try this luxe style from Bread Beauty that is “so silky soft,” according to one Sephora reviewer. “It doesn’t snag my hair and keeps everything in place, whether I put it up in a bun or ponytail.”