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The Best Curly Hair Products That We'll Never Stop Buying
These are the products that CNET staffers use to keep their curly locks looking great.
Sarah MitroffManaging Editor
Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. Throughout her career, she's written about mobile tech, consumer tech, business and startups for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.
In the 10-plus years I've been wearing my hair natural, I've tried damn near every product on the market to keep my curls looking shiny, full and, most importantly, defined. Ten years ago, there were just a few product lines dedicated to curly hair and today there are more than I can count, with more popping up every year.
With more options than ever before, the chances you'll find the right product to give your curls shine, bounce and frizz control are better than ever. But where to start? I've polled the curly folks of CNET for their favorite products and included a few of my "holy grail" products too.
Remember that no head of hair -- and especially no head of curly hair -- is the same. Curls come in many unique textures, with various porosity levels (how easily your hair absorbs water), densities and individual needs that all factor into what types of products and ingredients will give you the results you want. Hopefully one or more of these products will work for you as well as they do for us.
If I were dropped onto a desert island and told I could only bring five possessions, you'd better believe I'd fill three of those slots with the LUS 3-step system.
Listen. For the first 21 years of my life, I truly believed I was just cursed with bad hair. It sat, drooping, in an unflattering state between curly and straight. Brushing somehow made it worse. I thought the only way I could ever make my hair presentable was by scorching it with a flat iron each morning. (See my author profile photo.)
But one fateful day over quarantine, I learned from a beauty TikToker that I do, in fact, have waves -- I just never learned to nurture them properly. I jumped into trying out new conditioners and creams and mousses, and this brand is the one that finally coaxed out my natural waves.
I barely have to style my hair anymore; I just run it under some water, use the quick scrunch method LUS recommends and head out the door. Note: With my 2b hair, I use the Wavy version of the system, but it also comes in Kinky-Coily and Curly options for different curl types.
The Camille Rose Sweet Ginger Cleansing Rinse is very good at cleaning your hair and scalp without stripping everything, good and bad, from your hair. This rinse smells nice with ginger and lemon notes, and leaves your hair and scalp feeling light and refreshed.
I found that this product also made my 4a hair easier to detangle and helped reduce breakage dramatically, all while stimulating hair growth.
Any of As I Am's products are great for one's natural hair journey. However, the Long and Luxe series in particular is exquisite. These products leave my hair feeling moisturized and looking vibrant at the same time.
I use the Long and Luxe Strengthening Shampoo ($11) and Conditioner ($11) to revitalize my curls, then I finish the process off with the Long and Luxe Curl Enhancing Smoothie. The Smoothie brings a shine and bounce to my curls that I have not found with other products; it's a full body look that I love.
Lastly, I add the ($11) for my edges. If you want a sleek look for your edges, this is definitely for you. The Long and Luxe series has not left my hair feeling dry or brittle, nor does it cause flakiness when applying it to my hair.
Kiehl's Formula 133 is the only conditioner I've found that helps my fine, wavy curls stay chunky and glossy -- every time I try a different one, I'm disappointed by frizz/loss of curl.
My technique is to shampoo, then condition with Formula 133. After I rinse, I add a few drops more to my hair before plopping my curls, sopping wet, upside-down into a long-sleeve cotton T-shirt, which I tie around my head to let the curls set. Fifteen minutes later (or longer if it's the weekend), I unfurl my hair to let it air dry.
Kiehl's Formula 133 is the only product I ever use in my hair -- no gel, mousse or additional cream needed. My 19-year-old son, who has much curlier and thicker hair than I do, also swears by this one and buys a new bottle every time he's home from college. One bottle goes a long way and last me about six months.
Olaplex has made a name for itself by not just moisturizing your hair, but repairing it with its patented ingredient Bis-Aminopropyl Diglycol Dimaleate. Once only available in salons, the company now has several products you can use at home.
I've struggled with frizz for so much of my life, and this is the first product I've used that's actually made a significant difference.
I put it in after I get out of the shower, and it keeps my hair tame and super soft. A little bit goes a long way, and it doesn't feel heavy or greasy at all. Just rub a small amount in your hands and smooth it over your hair, focusing on the middle/ends. Hopefully you'll see the same results I did!
I love Kinky Curly's leave-in conditioner. It's lightweight so I can use it even if I used regular conditioner on wash day. I also appreciate that a little product goes a long way, so one bottle lasts for ages.
Miss Jessie, please never stop making this. I've tried so many other leave-ins and nothing can hold a candle to this for my hair.
Leave in conditioner plays a crucial role in my hair care routine because my hair is often desperate for moisture. Without it, I can't get my curls to clump together and form ringlets.
The formula is thick, but it doesn't weigh my hair down -- it gives it just enough of a coating to encourage the curls to form and not get frizzy, and it leaves my hair soft when it dries. It's got a cologne-like scent that I like, but I'll warn you that it is a bit strong.
I love Cake's products, but I use their curl cream every wash day after my leave-in conditioner. When I'm styling my hair on wash day, it's a battle of taming frizz and getting my curls defined without overworking them. Cake's curl cream is a nice foundation-style product before I add gel.
I cannot recommend the entire family of Shea Moisture products for curly hair enough. I have mixed hair with curl patterns that range from 2c-3b, so finding a product line that works with my hair has been a challenge.
Using Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie on my damp hair when I get out of the shower has been a game-changer. The styling cream keeps my curl pattern intact without needing to do more than apply, brush it through and scrunch (or if I have time and am feeling fancy, diffuse). My curls stay bouncy and shiny, without the crunchy or greasy texture that sometimes comes with curl products.
Beyond the Smoothie, Shea Moisture's entire line of hair care products is easily accessible and affordable, sold at most online and brick and mortar retailers for a reasonable price. Talk about a win-win-win!
– Sophia Fox-Sowell, Podcast Production Strategist
Let me be upfront: I do not use this product. My wife does though, and she loves this stuff.
According to her, it dries quickly, is inexpensive, smells great, defines her curl pattern well and helps her braid outs and twists outs last about a week at a time. She said it's very easy to use and uses it by itself without any other products. Overall, she's happy with the way her hair turns out when she uses this product.
Curl creams typically have properties of a leave-in and a gel combined. They help add moisture and softness while also adding definition, something all curls can benefit from.
DevaCurl's Styling Cream is damn near perfect because the formula has a lot of slip, it's not too heavy and it smells like fruity candy in the best way. My curls always look flawless with this product -- shiny, well defined and soft.
The only downsides of the product is that it's pricey and the bottle is small. I'd also be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that the company has also faced a scandal in recent years of customers reporting significant hair loss from using its products. All that said, I can't find anything that gives the same results, so I keep coming back to it.
Don't confuse this with the DevaCurl SuperCream -- they aren't the same and I don't get the same results with the SuperCream.
I am forever grateful to the stylist who recommended this product when I began accepting my natural curls. First, it smells like you've bathed in fresh coconut. Second, it grabs curls without weighing the rest of your hair down or making it too oily. It has the perfect balance of bounce and definition.
For my particular hair type, I found the trick to generously apply the cream when my hair is wet in a scrunching motion. It also works great to reapply it when my hair is dry or unwashed (though I don't put as much the second time) to refresh my curls.
Moroccan Oil also makes an Intense Curl Cream that is very good and also smells delightful, but I find the Curl Defining Cream preferable and more effective. If you don't want to commit to the big size, there are travel sizes available. Plus, it's very easy to find online or in local salons and Sephora.
I like to use Curls Botanical Gel when I refresh after wash day. I usually spray my hair down with water and use gel as a light glaze to help with reshaping. I feel like the gel helps keep my curls tight all week, especially if I use a diffuser to dry them after styling.
My hair naturally dries frizzy and if I don't keep perfectly still for two hours immediately after getting out of the shower, it dries in very loose curls. Throughout the winter months, when my willingness to use hair products was at an all time low, I thought that maybe my hair actually wasn't curly anymore. Not so.
I first used the ($12) which is pink and really satisfying to goop into your hands. This light hold gel is perfect for defined, frizz-free curls. It dries with a cast that is really satisfying to scrunch and leaves soft, glossy curls that stay smooth all day. As a note, the Gelee is great but doesn't do its best work the day after I wash my hair, as it can look oily on my hair.
While I love the Gelee, I also need a product that keeps my hair looking good past wash day. Enter the ($15). This dries with a very light cast if you apply on wet hair but shakes out into really light, bouncy curls. The definition and frizz control is slightly less than with the Gelee, but it gives that perfectly effortless natural look and stays fresh for several days.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a lifestyle and beauty writer who wrote a ton of articles about curly hair. Translation: I've tried dozens of gels, creams, oils and other styling products over the years, and there was once a time when I couldn't walk into a CVS or Walgreens without checking the hair care aisle, just in case. Now all of those old products are sitting on a bathroom shelf gathering dust, because I only ever use one styling product now: The Doux Mousse Def.
I discovered this product when I attended a workshop by professional hair stylists who specialize in curly hair. Many of them swear by this product, which is somewhere between a mousse and a styling foam. I won't pretend to know exactly why this formula is so dang effective, but it just is.
It's easy to apply (you really can't mess it up), it dries quickly and it leaves my hair perfectly defined but not crunchy. It even smells good! I use it on all my wash-and-gos, but other people love using it for twist-outs and braid-outs. My girlfriend even regularly steals it to style her waves. I'd bring it to a desert island with me.
– Kim Wong-Shing, Senior Associate Editor, Wellness
For me, gel's one job is to form a "cast" around my curls, holding them in place while my hair dries so that I minimize frizz and flyaways. The problem with a lot of gels out there is that they often suck out all of the moisture I've worked so hard to put in my hair during my wash and styling routine.
Jessicurl's Spiralicious Gel provides that hard hold I need, while also helping it stay soft when it dries thanks to jojoba oil in the formula. Once my hair is completely dry, I break up the crunchy cast on my curls to reveal soft, but defined curls.
As an added bonus, it comes in three scent options; Island Fantasy (my fave), Citrus Lavender and Unscented. I appreciate that Jessicurl offers a fragrance-free option for folks who can't tolerate scents in their products.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.