If you have curly hair, you’ll likely already know that it sometimes takes some work to achieve hydrated, defined curls, and to keep frizz at bay. But with so many products out there suited to a variety of different curly hair types, it can be hard to know which ones will be best for you. To do this, it will help to know which hair type you are — from 2A to 4C, the hair types are categorised by how tight, coil-y, or kinky your curls are. Curly hair expert Leal Alexander (a.k.a. @curlygallal), who has a mix of 3C and 4A curls, defines her 3C curls as “much like the diameter of a pencil, with the shape of a corkscrew,” while her 4A curls are “tighter, and more spring-like in appearance.” It may also help to know whether your hair has high porosity or low porosity. A test you can do to find out is to take a strand or two of hair from your brush, drop it into a glass of water, and wait for a couple of minutes — if the strand floats on the top, it’s low porosity, but if it sinks, you have high porosity.
To make shopping for curly hair products easier, we spoke to six curly hair experts — including beauty writers, influencers, and businesses owners — and asked them to recommend their favourite products for different types of curly hair. Read on for their picks of the best shampoo, leave-in conditioners, mousses, curl creams, gels, masks, and hair dryers.
Best shampoo for all curly hair types
Rhea Cartwright, beauty journalist and founder of editorial platform @nahfemme, has 3B hair, with curls which she defines as “typically well-defined and vary from bouncy ringlets to tighter corkscrews,” but she tells me that this shampoo is great for all curly hair types. She calls Dizziak, (a Black-owned, British brand that we featured here) a “universal crowd-pleaser suitable for anyone with hair, let alone just curly hair.” Cartwright recommends Dizziak’s Hydration Wash, which she calls “the perfect shampoo,” as it “efficiently removes product buildup and cleanses the scalp, without stripping sulphates.” She also loves the smell; she says the “zingy tea tree and rosemary scent will definitely wake you up in the morning.”
Best oil for all curly hair types
As Akesha Reid, contributing beauty writer at Cosmopolitan and digital editor of HJI magazine, says, “Charlotte Mensah is a natural-hair-care queen, so of course her oil would become a staple!” Indeed, Mensah is an award-winning stylist with 26 years of experience, whose natural hair products are well-known in the curly hair world. Reid says this oil “gives my hair a lovely shine that doesn’t look artificial, just megahealthy. Reid, who has 4A/4B hair, uses the Manketti Hair Oil “to take down my braid-outs and twist-outs, and the slip it creates helps my curls stay defined.” While this product would work for all thick, curly hair types, from 3A to 4C, she advises that those with finer curly hair should use the oil “sparingly when your hair is wet, after you have put in your leave-in — so it dries in with the product and you don’t feel it sitting on your hair.”
Best (less-expensive) oil for all curly hair types
Korantema Anyimadu, founder of the Black Hair Stories project and Afro hair zine “The Salon,” loves this plant-based hair oil, as it “makes my hair feel really soft when I use it on wash day,” and she buys it for friends and family members as birthday presents (“it goes down a treat!”). The Afro Skin and Hair Company’s ‘Bloom’ Omega Healthy Hair Oil is made from organic, vegan ingredients, including thistle oil, sweet almond oil, and lavender flower oil, making it very hydrating. Anyimadu loves the fact that this product is vegan-friendly and organic, and claims “it’s great on natural hair.”
Reid, who has 4A/4B hair, admits that when it comes to this Jamaican Black Castor Oil Water from As I Am, “I’m a bit obsessed with it to be honest.” “It has vitamins C and E, ceramides and castor oil, which seem to work together to nourish hair as you prep it for styling,” she says. The product’s page recommends JBCO to rewet and style the hair, and as a replacement for regular water. “I have just run out of this, and my curls are not popping as much now,” Reid says.
Best mask for all curly hair types
This mask has a higher price point, but as Cartwright says, “There’s a time and a place for bougie hair care and the Oribe Moisture & Control range ticks all the boxes for curls and coils.” She continues, “The mask, with a nourishing blend of exotic butters, is superthick, saturates hair in hydration and leaves it feeling soft and silky. A far cry from typical curly hair products that smell like synthetic tropical fruits, if you’ve never smelled expensive hair, you will after you use this.” The Moisture & Control Deep Treatment Masque features a blend of ingredients such as illipe nut butter, shea and cupuacu butters, coconut, sweet almond oil, watermelon, lychee, and hydrolyzed baobab seed extract; it’s also vegan, gluten-free, and free from parabens or sulphates. In short, it’s a product that’s worth the price tag, and it’s suitable for all curly hair types … As naturals know, it may say leave on for 30 minutes, but we’ll probably sleep in it!”
Best (less-expensive) mask for all curly hair types
Shannon Fitzsimmons, a.k.a. @ukcurlygirl, influencer, and founder of natural-hair-care company O So Curly, recommends this “cheap and cheerful” Noughty ‘To The Rescue’ Mask, which is suitable for all hair types and curl patterns. “It’s so lightweight but leaves your hair feeling extra soft, smooth, and moisturised after rinsing out,” she tells me. Fitzsimmons uses a generous amount on her hair, leaving it in for 20 to 30 minutes under a shower cap “to really let it sink into my strands.”
Best mousse for all curly hair types
Cartwright says that “mousse is often overlooked component for creating definition and I panic when I run low on this particular one. Not only is often cheaper than an oat-milk latte from your local coffee shop, it leaves hair soft without a hint of crunchiness.” She’s recommended this mousse to people with all hair types — “with 2B to 4B hair and they’ve [all] become fans, just make sure your products underneath are really tailored for your curl type.” Cartwright advises to apply the mousse “after all your leave-ins and curl creams, as the final product on your wash day”; she also suggests “really scrunch[ing] hair to create the curls.”
Best hair-care set for all curly hair types
Anyimadu recommends the Full Set from Afrocenchix, “if you have a bit of money to spend,” or if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for a curly-haired friend. At £85, it includes the ‘Swish’ shampoo, ‘Swirl conditioner’, ‘Sheen’ moisturising spray, ‘Smooth’ moisturising cream, ‘Seal’ hair oil, and ‘Soothe’ scalp oil; all products are natural and vegan-friendly. Anyimadu says, “Afrocenchix’s products are great for people with more sensitive skin/scalps,” and she also loves “the story of how the Afrocenchix business has grown” — a female, Black-owned sustainable business that began from selling products at a North London community fair, and which has now won multiple awards and was the first British brand for Afro hair to be available in a major retailer.
Best hair-care set for fine-textured curls
Author and Strategist contributor Louise Hare is a Bouclème convert. She found this set especially handy for fine-textured curls, where the roots “want to hang straight” not long after wash day. This set comes with four products and a guide that helps you get to know your curl type and behaviour over a month. This kit is a safe option if you suffer with oily hair at the roots, but not the lower shafts. But Bouclème offers heavier choices for curls that need it, like “30 Days to Curls” and “30 Days to Coily.”
Best shampoo for curly hair with high porosity
If your hair is highly porous, it will absorb moisture much easier than those with low-porosity hair (and will likely take a longer time to dry). We featured Birmingham-based business Afrocenchix in our Black businesses story, and Jay-Ann Lopez, the co-founder of empowerment platform Curlture and co-author of Kink — has high-porosity hair, recommends the brand’s ‘Swish’ sulphate-free shampoo, as it “has 97 percent natural ingredients with a refreshing smell that doesn’t strip my hair … “it has coconut-based cleansers, environmentally friendly preservatives, and lemongrass, which gives it its super-enticing fresh scent.”
Best leave-in conditioners for curly hair with high porosity
Another characteristic of hair with high porosity is that it may tangle easier, and also be prone to dryness between washes. Lopez uses this leave-in conditioner from Equi Botanics, which she claims “is great for moisture but also detangling. It really moisturises your hair for a long time.” The Marula Oil leave-in is described as a three-in-one on the Equi Botanics site, as it works “as a leave-in, is based on an oil but in a cream, saving you time and money.” Lopez stresses that this product could be used on any and all curly hair types, and loves the ingredients, includes “marula oil and is high in antioxidants, fatty acids, and amino acids.”
Contributor Dawn Kofie was recommended this conditioner by Ebuni Ajiduah — a London-based trichologist. Though it’s expensive, this vegan, quinoa-based remedy by Black-owned British company Trepadora worked wonderfully for her fine but dry curls, moisturising without weighing them down.
Best mask for hair with high porosity
Lopez also recommends the DevaCurl Melt Into Moisture Mask, an intensive, moisture-rich mask with matcha green tea butter, almond oil, and beetroot extract, among other nourishing ingredients. “Green tea is full of antioxidantss, and the mask itself is super-moisturising and restores bounce. It smells great and leaves your hair extremely soft, which is probably because of the almond oil,” says Lopez.
Best curl cream for curly hair with low porosity
If you have low-porosity hair, it struggles to retain moisture, meaning that some oils, gels, or cream may sit on the surface of your hair rather than being absorbed fully. Fitzsimmons recommends this Bouclème curl cream for hair with low porosity, and says that it’s “the only product my hair takes form to.” She continues, “I can finger-comb the product in and be left with beautiful ringlets.” She applies the curl cream on top of a leave-in conditioner (she recommends SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil leave-in conditioner) and loves the citrusy scent. Fitzsimmons stresses that those with finer curls should use less of this product at a time, and those with thicker hair should use a larger amount.
Best leave-in conditioner for kinky hair
Fitzsimmons has 3C/4A hair with low porosity. She recommends this SheaMoisture leave-in conditioner for those with “kinky hair types,” which usually includes hair types 4A–4C. “This leave-in is great for both moisturising and strengthening your curls at the same time,” she says. “It comes packaged in a great-sized tub perfect for those who aren’t shy when applying product.” Fitzsimmons uses this leave-in conditioner before applying Boucléme curl cream with her fingers, and claims that the combination “sets the tone for my second and third-day curls.” Those with low-porosity hair, like Fitzsimmons, may be more prone to dryness, because it struggles to retain and absorb moisture. “If you suffer with breakage and dry hair, this will be great for you,” Fitzsimmons explains. “I’ve used this for over five years now and am still in love with it.” [Editor’s note: This price does not include shipping costs.]
Anyimadu has “thick, very kinky and soft Afro hair, prone to dryness.” She loves Big Hair and Beauty’s ‘Milk’ leave-in moisturiser, which the brand recommends for “low-porosity hair, or thicker, thirstier kinks and curls.” “This works as a regular, daily conditioner when my hair is feeling a bit dry,” says Anyimadu. “It’s lightweight and after applying, I seal in the moisture with a bit of organic shea butter.” Ingredients include aloe vera, shea butter, and meadowfoam seed oil.
Best curl cream for kinky hair
“The Camille Rose Moisture Milk has been one of the products that I consistently reach for,” says Leal Alexander, digital creator and curly hair influencer, of this curl cream. She has a mix of 3C and 4A curls. “I like to use this leave-in cream on wet hair with a gel on top, and I prefer to pair it with the curl maker [curling jelly] from the same brand,” she tells me. “This pairing has given me lasting results for up to nine days.”
Best gel for kinky hair
While this Big Hair and Beauty Curl Defining Créme Gel is suitable for all curly, kinky, and coil-y hair types, Alexander says that “the divine concoction of flaxseed, mango butter, and broccoli seed oil” makes this product “especially great for type 4 hair.” You can use this gel on damp or wet hair, but Leal applies it “on days when my hair is dry and needs more moisture, because it is a thicker product.” An added bonus: “It also smells like warm lemon biscuits!”
Best gel for kinky hair and looser curls
This Imbue Curl Empowering Crème Gel 200ml is recommended by the product’s site as “best for 3A to 4C curl types,” and Alexander loves “that it moisturises my hair but also provides the definition and hold of a gel, and in one product which makes styling super-quick.” This is something of a two-in-one product, being a cream and a gel, with ingredients such as jojoba oil, almond oil, coconut oil, and cupuaçu fruit.
Best blow-dryer and styler combo for curls
You’ll want this in your hair kit if you ever fancy going from curls to a straight look, without the stress. Contributor Christine Ochefu said her “before-Revlon” blow-dry routine needed at least three pairs of hands, meticulous sectioning of the hair, and a hefty time input. Now, though, her hair is fresh and completely dry within 25 minutes using this dryer-styler, all without snagging bits of her hair. It even works well at lower temperatures. Purchased in lockdown’s take one, once she was able to visit her family again, she showed up ready to convert her sisters (along with a large amount of other Black women from YouTube and Amazon’s comments sections). Turns out her sister had already purchased it, too. Great minds.
Best hair dryer for all curly hair types
For those with more to spend, Reid recommends the Dyson Supersonic, which includes a diffuser attachment. “If I lost mine tomorrow I would, without doubt, buy a new one,” she says. Diffusers are popular among those with curly and/or Afro-textured hair. While a typical hair dryer can break and damage hair or cause it to frizz, a diffuser sits close to the scalp and essentially scrunches up segments of hair, but with heat. “It’s got a great diffuser that cups curls well and dries quickly,” Reid confirms. She also recommends the wide-tooth comb attachment, which, for an extra £30, “is great for teasing out the roots for volume.”
Best (less expensive) hair dryer for all curly hair types
Award-winning hair stylist and educator Charlotte Mensah says the ghd Air’s sonic technology reduces frizz and flyaway hairs, resulting in a smoother, salon-style finish in about half the time. She also points out that it “delivers high-pressure air flow for superfast drying,” too.
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