Curly, coily and wavy tresses need a little extra care – add moisture, shine and bounce with the best haircare products for curly hair
If you have natural curls (or a perm) then you will already know that curly and coily hair can present a special set of challenges. As a result of the spiral shape of the hair that opens the cuticle as it bends, curly locks can tend towards dryness and dullness, and can also tangle and frizz far more readily than straight hair.
The good news is that the right products will care for and enhance your curls. Shampoos, conditioners and styling products designed for curly hair typically contain gentle cleansing and moisturising ingredients that reduce frizz, keep curly hair nourished and hydrated, and enhance your natural curl pattern – whether that’s a coil, a curl or a wave.
Here you will find our guide to the best curl-care products on the market, with a range of budgets in mind. We will explain how you go about choosing the best products for curly hair, while further down you will find our favourite shampoos, conditioners and treatments to help your curly hair live its best life.
How to choose the best products for curly hair for you
What are the essential curl-friendly products I need to buy?
The key thing to look for in any curl-friendly product is moisture. To start, search for shampoos that comprise gentle cleansing ingredients that won’t strip hair of its own natural oils. Frequent culprits are sulphates such as sodium laureth sulphate, added to shampoos as a lathering ingredient, or parabens, which are often used as preservatives. Our picks of the best sulphate-free shampoos won’t strip your hair of its vital oils.
Cleansing, conditioning and styling products that are enriched with natural oils will help introduce moisture back into hair and spring into your curls. A good, hydrating conditioner will do the work of sealing in moisture, warding off tangles and defining the shape of your gorgeous curls. Look for a formulation that suits your texture and your lifestyle – a heavy conditioner will penetrate dense curls, but will be far less suitable for finer hair, weighing it down. Our recommendations below include nourishing and hydrating conditioners and treatments for all hair textures and curl types.
The best leave-in conditioners or curl creams are great for busy lifestyles and can be applied and forgotten about while you get on with your day. Even better, a good curl cream will help to define curls and hold your style in place while it also conditions your tresses.
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Are there any other products I should consider?
It’s worth investing in a good repairing hair treatment for use once a week (or more frequently, if your hair is suffering). Hot oils, treatment masques and overnight leave-in products will soften and nourish curly hair, and make for a lovely Sunday night bathroom ritual, too.
Also think about the tools you choose to work alongside any products: the best combs and detangling brushes will enable you to comb your chosen treatment products through your hair, while using a wide-toothed detangling comb will ensure you don’t snag or break your delicate curls.
Styling products that promise to smooth can be a godsend for frizzy hair – but resist the temptation to layer too many products at once. Pick one serum, balm, mousse or styling wax suitable for your hair type and use it sparingly to promote bouncy ringlets while controlling frizz and flyaway hair.
How else can I care for curly hair?
Just as curly and coily hair benefits from a gentle formula of shampoo, it will also benefit from gentle handling when washing. Use the fingertips to massage shampoo into the scalp and avoid rubbing hair roughly. Wash curly hair every few days to minimise frizz and help keep your cuticle and curl structure intact; if you need to wash more frequently (in hot and humid weather, or after exercise, for example), try washing with conditioner only in-between wash days to gently cleanse hair without removing moisture.
Keep towelling to a minimum after washing – it’s best to wrap the hair in a towel or clean t-shirt to absorb excess water. Curly hair prefers to air-dry naturally; but if you want to achieve a more structured style (or are in a hurry to get your locks dry before work), then look for a curl-friendly hair dryer with cooler heat settings and ionic technology to preserve as much moisture in the hair as possible. A diffuser attachment can also be useful for blow-drying curly hair gently.
How we test products for curly hair
At Expert Reviews, we know that the best way to test a product is to use it ourselves. As such, we test all the products for curly hair in our roundup by using each formula on our own Type 3 hair – and, where possible, we also test on a second hair type.
We start by considering the active ingredients included in each product, whether it’s a cleansing, conditioning or styling product; and note whether a product is free of silicones and parabens, which may be drying to curly hair. We then use the products following the directions for use on the packaging, and assess the feel of the hair immediately after use, paying particular attention to hydration and bounce, and how well the product reduces frizz. We note the amount of product required for one use, and the look and feel of our hair on the day of use and the day after. Finally, we review the scent and overall pleasantness of each formula.
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The best products for curly hair to buy in 2023
1. Paul Mitchell Spring Loaded Frizz-Fighting Shampoo: Best moisturising shampoo for curly hair
Price when reviewed: £17 | Check price at LookfantasticThis hydrating shampoo protects against frizz and dryness as it cleanses and softens curls, too. Paraben- and sulphate-free, Spring Loaded gently lifts away dirt and oil with a rich lather that won’t cause frizz by roughening the cuticle. Like all Paul Mitchell products, it smells fantastic in the bottle and in the shower. Part of the Curls range of shampoos, conditioners and treatment products, this is your first step to smooth, shiny, healthy-looking locks.
Key details – Bottle size: 250ml
2. Creme of Nature Honey Moisture Dry Defence Shampoo: Best budget shampoo for curly hair
Price when reviewed: £5.39 | Check price at BootsHoney is a great natural moisturiser, and this delicious-smelling shampoo with natural extracts of honey will gently cleanse, detangle and soften the hair with its nourishing blend that also includes shea butter and coconut oil. The sulphate-free formula is ideal for Type 3 and Type 4 curls following the Curly Girl method, and the creamy shampoo works easily into dry hair with a rich lather that feels good in the shower and leaves hair looking shiny and healthy. A great alternative to the Paul Mitchell shampoo if you’re on a budget.
Key details – Bottle size: 340ml
3. Aveda Be Curly Conditioner: Best hydrating conditioner for curly hair
Price when reviewed: £32 | Check price at John LewisAveda’s Be Curly conditioner is a nourishing cream that includes wheat protein and aloe vera to dramatically reduce frizz, leaving your curls feeling soft and looking bouncy. Light enough to use every day, a little of Aveda’s conditioner goes a long way – so although it isn’t the cheapest on the market, you will find a 200ml tube will last you a while. Rich and strengthening, Be Curly has a pleasant, refreshing citrus scent that’s lovely to use in the morning.
Key details – Bottle size: 200ml
4. Cantu Avocado Hydrating Conditioner: Best budget conditioner for curly hair
Price when reviewed: £5 | Check price at Amazon
Cantu’s naturally derived cleansing, conditioning and styling products are formulated to care for naturally curly hair, and this yummy avocado conditioner is perfect if your locks are on the dry and delicate side. Curly hair can tend to lose moisture and strength where the hair’s cuticle bends; this richly conditioning cream with hydrating avocado oil will put moisture back where it belongs, reviving your hair’s softness and bounce. The conditioner smells great and adds moisture without feeling greasy – perfect if your hair is feeling dehydrated and brittle. Cantu’s conditioner can be used daily, or left in for a few minutes once or twice a week as a deep conditioning treatment.
Key details – Bottle size: 400ml
5. Curlsmith Multitasking Conditioner: Best leave-in conditioner for very dry curly hair
Price when reviewed: £24 | Check price at Amazon
This protein-rich conditioner is full of nourishing and hydrating ingredients: babassu, jojoba and castor oils to smooth the cuticle; rice protein for strength; and shea butter to moisturise hair from the inside out. The hardworking cream can be used in three ways: simply massage in and rinse out as you would normally after washing; leave a good dollop in the hair for 30 minutes to use as a deep conditioning treatment; or smooth through a smaller quantity as a leave-in conditioner.
Curlsmith’s rich but lightweight cream works well in all three ways, and is especially good for replenishing parched or chemically damaged hair. It leaves hair feeling exceptionally soft and shiny – and smelling absolutely gorgeous, too. To seal in shine and bounce, finish with the Weightless Air Dry Cream in the same range.
Key details – Bottle size: 237ml
6. Kérastase Discipline Maskeratine: Best weekly use hair treatment for curly hair
Price when reviewed: £46 | Check price at LookfantasticKérastase is the hairdresser’s brand of choice for dealing with dry, coarse and rebellious hair, and this salon-style masque brings intense nourishing hair care to your bathroom. Once a week, massage this rich cream through washed and towel-dried hair and leave for 10 minutes (or, if you’re like us, the duration of a short Sunday nap) before rinsing out. The inclusion of keratin and wheat protein makes this a great product for strengthening and de-frizzing brittle, damaged hair, and the smoothing action makes blow-drying a breeze.
Key specs – Bottle size: 200ml
7. Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie: Best drugstore hair mask for curly hair
Price when reviewed: £13 | Check price at LookfantasticLike a green smoothie for hair, this Shea Moisture treatment uses a coconut-rich formula to treat dry and dehydrated locks. Trust silk protein and neem oil to condition and add definition to your curls without weighing them down, while the coconut oil helps your strands to lock in moisture and deliver dazzling shine. What’s better, this coil-boosting smoothie is formulated without the nasties that can damage our natural curls – that means no sulphates, no parabens, and no mineral oils. For a drugstore option, this Shea Moisture hair mask packs a real punch for a great price.
Key specs – Bottle size: 326ml
8. Moroccanoil Treatment Oil Original: Best hair oil for dry locks
Price when reviewed: £26 | Check price at AmazonNowadays, every second product on the shelves now seems to contain argan oil in some concentration – but Moroccanoil remains the original and best brand using this traditional product. The Original Treatment Oil (also available in a light variant for those with fine hair) is a fantastically versatile all-in-one product: you can apply it to damp hair after washing for a conditioning treatment, or apply it as a finishing product to dry hair after styling. For a weekly treatment, you can even wrap a hot towel around your head for 20 minutes to intensify the effect on damp hair.
Key specs – Bottle size: 50ml
9. Bouclème Curl Cream – Best curl cream for Type 4 hair
Price when reviewed: £16 | Check price at AmazonThis super-hydrating and nourishing curl cream from curl-care specialist Bouclème is perfect for tighter curls and coils. Formulated with moisturising shea butter, coconut and kukui nut oils, this cream will easily penetrate even more dense coils to pep up your curl pattern and protect against humidity and frizz. The cream smells fresh, light and citrusy, resulting in soft, bouncy and touchable curls that remained defined all day, without any stickiness or crunchiness.
Key specs – Bottle size: 300ml