The Best Products for Curly Hair to Thrive

Briogeo's Curl Charisma Rice Amino Avocado Leave-In Defining Cream is the best

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moroccanoil curl defining cream

Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

While wearing your hair au naturel has never been cooler, those of us with curly or wavy hair know that letting our kinks loose with abandon is easier said than done. Our curls can only be as good as the products we use, after all.

Byrdie Researched & Approved

We’re giving top honors to Briogeo's Curl Charisma Rice Amino Avocado Leave-In Defining Cream, a nourishing leave-in infused with rice amino acids and avocado oil to reduce the risk of frizz and damage. For a budget-friendly styling product, you can trust SheaMoisture’s Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Style Milk to leave curls soft, bouncy, and frizz-free.

The bottom line: Look for products that help you embrace your natural texture and are specially formulated to give your curls what they need. To help narrow down your search, we tried out some of the highest-rated curl products—from styling creams to smoothing oils and leave-in conditioners—that cater to a range of curl types, hair concerns, and budgets. Our testers rated how well these products lived up to their claims, and we combined these results with our thorough product research to compile this list.

Here are the best hair products for curly hair.

Best Overall: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Leave-in Defining Crème

5
Curl Charisma™ rice amino + avocado leave-in defining crème

Courtesy of Briogeo

What We Like
  • Moisturizing

  • Helps define curls

  • Long-lasting results

  • Natural formula

  • No flaking

What We Don't Like
  • Bottle could be larger for the price

Coming in at the top of our list is this leave-in cream from Briogeo, which works double duty to both define and humidity-proof your curls. The formula is infused with rice amino acids and avocado oil to help your hair retain moisture and reduce frizz, and the creamy texture is lightweight and doesn’t ever flake or feel sticky. Also nice? This cream is made with 96 percent naturally-derived ingredients and contains no dyes or silicones, so it’s safe to use on all hair types.

Byrdie contributor Bianca Lambert took it for a spin and gave it a perfect five-star rating. “My curls were not only soft to the touch but defined, and the moisture lasted all week,” she writes. Needless to say, she was impressed.

Hair Type: Wavy, curly, coily | Size: 6 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

briogeo curl charisma leave-in defining cream

Byrdie / Bianca Lambert 

What Our Testers Say

"My curls were not only soft to the touch but defined, and the moisture lasted all week." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester

Best Budget: SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Style Milk

Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Style Milk

Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Strengthens

  • Sustainably produced formula with ethically-traded ingredients

  • Detangles

What We Don't Like
  • Hard to get product out of bottle

Coconut oil is this leave-in conditioner’s secret ingredient, which works to detangle and hydrate. Ideal for letting your hair air dry, it’s a major time saver. Curls are left soft and swingy, protected from frizz and humidity. The natural formula includes ethically-traded ingredients that are also sustainably produced.

Hair Type: Curly, coily | Size: 8 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

What Our Editors Say

"This is a tried and true styling product that never disappoints me. Creamy styling milks always leave my curls ultra-hydrated and defined. And this one does just that." Olivia Hancock, Associate Editor

Best Gel: AG Hair Curl Re:Coil Curl Activator

4.5
ag hair curl re:coil curl activator
What We Like
  • Moisturizing

  • Reduces frizz

  • No sticky or stiff residue

What We Don't Like
  • May weigh down finer hair types



As the name suggests, this curl-friendly formula helps define, strengthen, and moisturize coils so they look and feel their best. When your curls are happy, you're happy. To use, apply a small amount through damp hair and dry your hair as usual. Then, wait for the compliments to roll in.

Hair Type: Curly, coily | Size: 6, 12 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

AG Hair Curl Re:Coil Curl Activator

Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

What Our Testers Say

"I really loved how my curls looked after I finished drying my hair, but this isn't a product I could use solo since it didn't hold my 4C coils and may have contributed to flakes. But I think for wavy, curly hair types, the AG Hair Curl Re:Coil Curl Activator would give the perfect amount of hold and hydration." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester

Runner-Up, Best Gel: Alodia Haircare Moisturize & Define Curling Cream Gel

Alodia Haircare Moisturize & Define Curling Cream Gel

Alodia Haircare

What We Like
  • Naturally-derived fragrance

  • Non-sticky

What We Don’t Like
  • Best results when paired with product line

A gel that defines your curls without leaving them dry and flaky? Yes, please! This hydrating cream-gel hybrid adds shine, moisture, and hold without any of the stickiness or stiffness associated with gels. It’s great when you want to wash-and-go or for styles, such as buns and ponies. It works equally well on wavy, curly, and coily textures.

Hair Type: Curly | Size: 8 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Cream: Ouidad Curl Quencher Hydrafusion Intense Curl Cream

4
ouidad curl quencher intense curl cream
What We Like
  • Moisturizing

  • Helps define curls

  • Reduces frizz

What We Don't Like
  • Not heavy enough to prevent shrinkage

Think of this curl cream as nutrient-rich food for your curly hair. It coats every last coil with intense moisture to eliminate frizz and dryness. Instead, your curls will look instantly defined and feel super soft.

Hair Type: Coily | Size: 5 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

ouidad curl quencher intense curl cream

Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

What Our Testers Say

"It had a pretty good slip and glided onto my coils with ease. I loved my curls’ definition, especially at the front of my head, where my curls are loosest." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester

Best for Fine Hair: Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream

3.8
Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream

 Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Helps define curls

  • Restores hair elasticity

  • Reduces frizz

What We Don't Like
  • Minimal slip

Having fine hair and curls can be ​tough since many defining creams can weigh them down. But not this gem from Moroccanoil. The featherweight formula is infused with argan oil to calm frizz and refine ringlets, all without ever feeling greasy or sticky. It works its magic to bring on the bounce for all curl types, from waves to tight coils. Plus, it restores elasticity, making hair more manageable. 

Hair Type: All | Size: 2.5, 8.5 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

moroccanoil curl defining cream

Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

What Our Testers Say

"I think for those with wavy to loose curly hair types, this product is worth a try." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester

Best Diffuser: DevaCurl DEVADRYER and DEVAFUSER

DevaCurl DevaDryer and DevaFuser Dryer and Diffuser Combo
What We Like
  • Helps define curls

  • Reduces frizz

  • Fits most commercial hair dryers

What We Don't Like
  • Large and clunky

When you have curly hair, you may find that the hair dryer can be your enemy. For instance, too much heat and you get frizz. But now there's an entire industry around maintaining healthy curls, resulting in products like this diffuser. It attaches to the end of your hairdryer (try ionic dryers to cut drying time in half) and coaxes stunning ringlets out of hair.

Hair Type: Wavy, curly, coily

Best Detangler: Kinky Curly Knot Today Detangler

Kinky Curly Knot Today Detangler

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Detangles

  • Doubles as a leave-in or rinse-out product

  • Has great slip

What We Don't Like
  • Not super conditioning

Say goodbye to knots that lead to breakage and grow your hair longer and stronger with this herbal conditioner, which is formulated with organic ingredients like slippery elm, marshmallow root, lemongrass, and mango fruit extract. The name says it all: Those with kinky curly hair know that wash day can be a time-consuming task, but the slip in this moisturizing product makes detangling a breeze by smoothing the cuticle and removing knots. Use it as a traditional rinse-out conditioner for those with waves and loose curls, or try it as a leave-in for those with tighter textures.

Hair Type: Wavy, curly, coily | Size: 8 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

To avoid breakage in curly hair, always detangle hair while wet and drenched with product.

Best Relaxing Balm: Phyto Botanical Straightening Balm

Phyto PhytoDefrisant Botanical Hair Relaxing Balm

Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Reduces frizz

  • Moisturizing

  • Lightweight

What We Don't Like
  • Still requires heat styling to straighten

Another great way to tame coarse, flyaway hair is to use a relaxing balm. This one by PHYTO helps to loosen the curls so they start to straighten. You'll love the lightweight texture that won't leave hair feeling greasy.

Hair Type: All | Size: 4.4 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Co-Wash: Kristin Ess Frizz Management Cleansing Co-Wash

Kristin Ess Frizz Management Cleansing Co-Wash

Ulta

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Multi-tasking formula

  • Doesn't strip hair

What We Don't Like
  • May leave hair looking greasy

Celebrity hairstylist Kristin Ess (known for her work with Lauren Conrad, Lucy Hale, and more) has a line of affordable, high-quality hair products that you need to try ASAP. Add this co-wash to the top of the list. Rather than using traditional shampoo, this hydrating formula cleanses, detangles, and softens—all without stripping curls of their natural moisture. (Oh, and it’s choice for combating frizz, too.) And while it’s ideal for curly girls, this is a great option for anyone whose hair is on the drier side.

Hair Type: All | Size: 8.45 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes 

Best Deep Treatment: Bounce Curl Ayurvedic Deep Conditioner

Bounce Curl Ayurvedic Deep Conditioner
What We Like
  • Nice scent

  • Natural formula

  • Lightweight

What We Don’t Like
  • Pricey

Give your hair some TLC with this deep conditioning treatment, which boasts a clean formula filled with natural and plant-based ingredients. The stars of the show are oils (sunflower seed and baobab seed) that add a hefty dose of moisture but are still lightweight enough that they won’t weigh down your hair. Also nice: Leave it on for five to 10 minutes to reap those deep conditioning benefits. If you’re in a rush, you can also use it as a traditional conditioner. Bonus points for the light, peach scent, which is naturally derived.

Hair Type: Curly | Size: 8 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes 

Best Leave-In: Pattern Leave-In Conditioner

Pattern Beauty Leave-In Conditioner

 Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Nice scent

  • Multi-tasking formula

What We Don’t Like
  • Pricey

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross created Pattern specifically to fulfill the unique needs of those with curly hair. All of the products consistently pull in rave reviews, but, if you’re going to try just one, make it this leave-in, a true hero SKU. It hydrates, seals in moisture, and detangles, while also helping to enhance curl definition. Top tip: Apply it all over while hair is still soaking wet.

Hair Type: Curly | Size: 9.8 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes 

Best Pre-Wash Treatment: Nexxus Curl Define Ultra-8 Pre-Wash Treatment

Nexxus Curl Define Ultra-8 Pre-Wash Treatment
What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Multi-tasking formula

What We Don’t Like
  • Extra step in your haircare routine

Okay, so you don’t need to use a pre-wash treatment, but it can be a good way to give your curls a little extra TLC. What’s unique about this one is a proprietary blend of proteins specifically meant to target the needs of curly hair (which, FYI, has a different composition of proteins than straight hair). Work this into wet hair and let it sit for five to 10 minutes to do its thing—namely strengthen, moisturize, soften, detangle, and elongate your curls—then shampoo and condition as usual.

Hair Type: Curly | Size: 8 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Oil: Living Proof Curl Moisturizing Shine Oil

Living Proof Curl Moisturizing Shine Oil

Ulta

What We Like
  • Adds shine

  • Moisturizing

  • Lightweight

What We Don’t Like
  • Pricey

Make this fast-absorbing finishing oil the final step of your styling routine. Just a few drops smooth and fight frizz while also adding mirror-like shine—for all curl types. Credit a blend of five different oils, plus the fact that the formula is silicone-free, so you don’t ever have to worry about it weighing down your hair.

Hair Type: Curly | Size: 1.7 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Shampoo: Kérastase Curl Manifesto Shampoo

Kerastase Curl Manifesto Bain Hydratation

Amazon

What We Like
  • Gentle

  • Nice scent

  • Sulfate-free

What We Don’t Like
  • Pricey

This sudser checks all of the curly hair shampoo boxes. It’s sulfate-free, first and foremost, so you don’t have to worry about it stripping out your natural moisture. The creamy formula cleanses super gently, and it contains hydrating ingredients (manuka honey and ceramides) to keep your curls in tip-top shape. Plus, it’s a good option for wavy, curly, or very curly hair.

Hair Type: Curly | Size: 8.5 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Final Verdict

Curly-haired gals and guys have no shortage of products to choose from, but we think the best product for curly hair is Briogeo's Curl Charisma Rice Amino Avocado Leave-In Defining Cream. The rice amino acids and avocado oil will help your hair retain moisture, which reduces the risk of frizz and damage. The Pattern Leave-In Conditioner is another choice leave-in for curly hair, while the Bounce Curl Ayurvedic Deep Conditioner is our favorite deep conditioner to reach for when your curls need some serious TLC. For a budget-friendly pick you can snag at the drugstore, the SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Style Milk is a major time saver when it comes to air drying. Infused with coconut oil, it leaves curls soft, bouncy, and frizz-free.

Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream

Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

Meet the Expert

What to Look For in a Product for Curly Hair

Make Sure It’s Curly Hair-Specific

First and foremost, make sure you choose a product that’s specifically formulated for curly hair. It sounds obvious but because curly hair is so different, using curl-specific products is paramount.

Moisturizing Ingredients

Hydrating ingredients are your curls’ best friend (think glycerin, shea butter, and natural oils). Because curly hair is naturally more prone to dryness than straight hair, the more hydration you can pack into your hair, the better. That being said, while curls do need a little extra TLC, they also need some downtime.

“Curly hair needs lots of attention, but it also needs to just be left alone. It thrives with the least amount of styling and manipulation,” notes Hardges. In other words, style them and then leave them alone—the less you touch and mess with them, the better.

No Drying Ingredients

Similarly, you’ll also want to make sure that any products you’re using are free of ingredients that can dry out your hair. This means things such as alcohol and sulfates are a no-go since the last thing you want to do is strip your curls of the moisture they do have.

ouidad curl quencher intense curl cream

Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

FAQ
  • How does curly hair grow compared to straight hair?

    “The follicles on the scalp that house the strand as it grows are flat and elliptical, which causes the hair strand to curl as it grows,” explains Leigh Hardges, stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. Further, that difference in shape is largely why curly hair needs more moisture and hydration; it makes it harder for the scalp’s naturally moisturizing oils to travel down the hair shaft.

  • How should you layer hair products for curly hair?

    According to hairstylist Larry King, those with curly hair must apply products while the hair is still wet. Frizz begins as the hair dries, so keeping your products in the shower will give you the most defined results. Start with a curl cream, then scrunch a blob of mousse through the lengths.

  • How many products should you use on curly hair?

    Curly hair only needs a few key products to thrive; don’t overdo it, or you might weigh your natural texture down. Other than shampoo and conditioner (or co-washing or whichever method works best for you), all you need is the aforementioned curl cream and mousse, as well as a refreshing spray to keep definition and bounce between washes and hairspray to hold any styling. Any other products are up to your individual needs.

Why Trust Byrdie?

Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While her hair is fine and straight, she has many friends and family with curly hair, who she relies on to be her trusty product testers for anything and everything curly hair-related.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: An overviewInt J Trichol. 2015;7(1):2. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.153450

  2. Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: An overviewInt J Trichol. 2015;7(1):2. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.153450

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