Here’s a fast (sad, unfortunate, annoying) fact: There’s no “best” curly hair product. I get DMs all the time from curly-haired folks asking for my favorite curl product, and the reality is that what works for my fine 3a curl type isn’t necessarily going to work for, say, your 4a hair. I mean, let’s be honest—even the products I use regularly still give me different results depending on the day (a plight anyone with curly or curly hair knows too well).
Which is why I’m a firm believer in having an arsenal of products on hand at all times, just to make the curl overlords happy on an hourly basis. But—but!—where the hell to start? There are approximately six-trillion (don’t quote me) curl products on the market, and probably only a few dozen that work for your actual hair type.
Which is why I narrowed down the 23 best of the best masks, serums, mousses, gels, creams, and conditioners for curly hair, guaranteed to give you really excellent curls. Pick your new favorite lineup, below.
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BUT FIRST: A word on curl products
OH, HEY—IT’S ME. See those curls? They took about a decade to get right (and still look like trash 30 percent of the time, because curls are temperamental and ~*love*~ to be inconsistent). But I’m here to say that 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. It 100 percent matters, and it was a full game-changer for me when I figured mine out.
So my best advice? Take this porosity quiz (I didn’t create this—I just love it), then come back here and stock up on the products that actually make sense for your curl type, starting with…
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.
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 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.
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 Curl Shampoo for Fine Hair
Curls Creamy Curl Cleanser
My curls get weighed down by…virtually everything. But this sulfate-free shampoo (which is legit sitting in my shower right now) is not only supremely lightweight (no heavy oils or butters), but also incredibly gentle, using two oil-dissolving cleansers to leave my fine, oil-prone curls light, bouncy, and hydrated. Bonus: It’s CGM approved.
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 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 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 Curl-Defining Cream
Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
There’s a reason this cream has more than 900 glowing reviews on Amazon alone: This shit 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 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 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).
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 Curl Cream for Type 4 Hair
Oribe Styling Butter Curl Enhancing Crème
This cream, specifically designed for type 4 hair, contains shea butter and avocado oil to give your dry coils a boost of hydration, without any of icky heaviness. With your fingers or a comb, work a palmful of cream through your damp hair, coating every single section to soften and define your coils.
Best Detangling Spray for Curly Hair
DevaCurl No-Comb Detangling Spray
Detangling your curls can be the biggest pain in the ass (and also hella damaging), but this conditioning leave-in spray will make your life 10 times easier. Mist it all over your wet curls, then finger-comb them to gently detangle your hair while adding a touch of moisture.
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 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 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 Hair Mask for Curly Hair
SheaMoisture Silicone Free Conditioning Masque
If your curls need a little extra TLC, try this cult-favorite hair mask. With meadowfoam-seed oil and marshmallow-root extract, this ultra-hydrating formula will moisturize your scalp and curls while doing away with the frizz. It’s also super easy to use—just scoop out a dollop of cream and finger-rake it through your damp hair, letting it sit for five minutes before rinsing it out.
Best Shampoo for Oily Curly Hair
Redken Curvaceous High-Foam Cleanser
Not all curl shampoos are created equal, and Redken gets that. Which is why they designed a very specific, customized line of three different shampoos—a high-foam cleanser for waves and fine curls, a low-foam cleanser for thicker curls, and a no-foam cleansing conditioner for tighter, coarser curls. All three are sulfate-free and perfectly formulated to leave your hair clean, moisturized, and not at all stripped.
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 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.
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