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Best curl cream 2023: Hydrate your wavy hair

Define your curls with softness, not stiffness

If you’re wearing your curly or wavy hair in its natural pattern, chances are you need something to help define the curls and hold them in place. Gels and mousses may do the job of defining shape but can tend to give a rather crisp finish; for defined structure that still allows natural bounce and movement, a curl cream (or creme) is a great alternative. Lighter than a wax, thicker than a serum and softer than a gel, curl creams are usually formulated with hydrating ingredients to help encourage curls and tame frizz while holding the hair softly in place.

Curl creams can be used on damp hair prior to plopping, diffuser drying or air-drying; they can also be added sparingly to dry hair to add shape and shine to your finished style. Read on for our guide to choosing the best curl cream for you, and below for our favourite curl creams for all hair types and budgets.

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Best curl cream: At a glance

How to buy the best curl cream for you

What is a curl cream?

In its simplest terms, a curl cream is created by suspending an oil of some type in water, to produce a soft emulsion that adds moisture and shine to the hair. By hydrating the hair, curl creams softly define the ringlet patterns of all curl types. The cream also smooths down the cuticle with its creamy texture, so curl creams are a great choice for hair that tends to frizz. Curl creams can be used to smooth and define any curl, from Type 2 waves to Type 4 coils.

What ingredients will my curl cream contain?

All curl creams are based on some combination of oils to moisturise and nourish hair. Coconut oil, argan oil and shea butter are all popular choices, as are hydrators such as aloe vera gel. Ingredients such as wheat protein, keratin or silk protein add strength to the hair and help to structure and define curls. Curly hair tends to prefer products formulated without sulfates, which can further dehydrate hair that tends to dryness.

Depending on your hair thickness and curl type, you may prefer a denser cream containing heavier oils to penetrate and moisturise thick curls, or a lighter weight cream for fine hair or looser waves. We’ve included options for all hair textures in our picks below.

How to use a curl cream

After washing with your favourite shampoo and conditioner combination, wrap the hair in a low-friction towel or t-shirt and leave until damp. Take a marble-sized dollop of curl cream in one hand and rub your palms together.

Work the cream evenly through the hair from just below the root towards the ends, spreading it through like a conditioner. If you have very long or thick hair, dividing the hair into four sections will help you to distribute the product evenly. Massage the cream into your tresses and finish by smoothing down the hair with both hands from root to tip to seal the cuticle. Allow the hair to dry naturally, or gently blow dry with a diffuser on a cool setting.

Once your hair is dry, you may want to take a very small amount through the ends of the hair to add moisture and shine to dry tips, and to seal down any flyaway ends. Now wear your bouncy curls with pride.

How we test curl creams

At Expert Reviews, we know that the best way to test a product is to use it ourselves. As such, we test all the curl creams we review by using the product as directed on our own Type 3 hair, noting the effects of the product on hair softness, smoothness and shine, on curl separation and bounce, and on ease of styling after use. Where possible we also test on a second hair type.

As well as evaluating the effects of the curl cream on hair style and condition, we also consider how the product feels in use and whether it presents any stickiness or greasiness on hair after application. We examine the quantity of product required for a single application, and how long the effects last; how easy the product is to use and whether it’s designed for use on damp or dry hair. We also take note of the scent and overall pleasantness of the product.

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The best curl creams to buy in 2023

1. Briogeo Curl Charisma Leave-In Defining Cream: The best moisturising curl cream

Price when reviewed: £21 | Check price at Space NK

If your curls are a little on the parched side, they may feel brittle and appear dull, frizzy and generally lacklustre. This moisturising curl cream from New York brand Briogeo is formulated with intensely hydrating avocado oil to bring thirsty locks back to life. Amino acids derived from rice meanwhile lock in moisture and seal the cuticle, helping to reduce frizz and promote shine. Curl Charisma feels soft and not sticky on the hair and has a lovely fresh scent. Simply squeeze a blob or two from the tube and massage through hair for sleek, soft, defined curls with plenty of bounce and movement.

Key specs – Pack size: 177ml

Check price at Space NK

2. Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream: The best for heat-styled curls

Price when reviewed: £26 | Check price at Look Fantastic

Moroccanoil is the brand that made vitamin-rich argan oil a go-to ingredient for a wide range of hair and beauty products, and this rich, dense curl cream is a good styling option for wavy and curly hair. In addition to the brand’s signature pure Mediterranean argan oil, Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream contains heat-activated ingredients, so is particularly suitable for those who prefer to blow dry or heat-style curly hair. With rich oil to nourish hair and define curl structure, this cream is also good at fighting frizz on hot and humid days.

Key specs – Pack size: 250ml

Check price at Look Fantastic

3. Bouclème Curl Cream: The best for Type 4 hair

Price when reviewed: £21 | Check price at Amazon

This 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 denser coils to pep up your curl pattern and protect against humidity and frizz. The cream smells fresh, light and citrussy, and results in soft, bouncy and touchable curls that stay defined all day, without stickiness or crunchiness.

Key specs – Pack size: 300ml

4. Curlsmith Weightless Air Dry Cream: The best for fine curls

Price when reviewed: £22 | Check price at Amazon

If you have fine curls, you’ll be looking for lightweight moisture that keeps them soft and bouncy without weighing them down. Curlsmith’s Weightless Air Dry Cream is perfect for this curl type; the combination of lightweight oils, including Jojoba and Babassu oils, sinks easily into hair without leaving a sticky residue. The cream feels silky and smooth on the hair, and seals the cuticle to boost shine and reduce frizz and flyaways. To use, simply massage into damp hair and leave to air dry. Nature will look after the rest.

Key specs – Pack size: 237ml

5. SheaMoisture Coconut and Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie: The best high street curl cream

Price when reviewed: £13 | Check price at Superdrug

This heavenly smelling organic curl cream has nourishing shea butter, coconut oil and silk protein to strengthen hair, is suitable for use on wet or dry hair, and will make all curl types pop. The thick cream is paraben- and sulfate-free, so suitable for moisture-hungry hair, and a little applied to the mids and ends of hair will go a very long way. It’s a great product at a great price for waves, curls or coils.

Key specs – Pack size: 326ml

Check price at Superdrug

6. Kérastase Curl Manifesto Crème De Jour: The best for reviving brittle curls

Price when reviewed: £27 | Check price at Sephora

An intensely hydrating curl cream, Kérastase Curl Manifesto Crème De Jour is formulated with natural Manuka honey and strengthening ceramides to lock moisture into the hair shaft. If your curls are very dry and brittle and in need of repair, this gentle smoothing formula (part of a range for curly to very curly hair) will help banish frizz and nourish curls back to life. Use a generous handful on damp hair and leave to air-dry for best results.

Key specs – Pack size: 150ml

Check price at Look Fantastic

7. Cantu Care for Kids Styling Custard: The best for curly kids

Price when reviewed: £5.50 | Check price at Boots

Encourage little ones to wear their curls with pride with this lightweight and all-natural styling cream from Cantu. A lovely blend of shea butter, coconut oil and honey, this styling cream smells delicious in the bottle and separates curls well without adding weight. The Styling Custard’s light, fluid texture is quick and easy to apply through hair of all types, which is essential when the hair may be attached to a small owner on the move. Simply apply with fingers to damp or dry hair before school for gorgeous natural curls that will last through the school day and beyond.

Key specs – Pack size: 227g

Check price at Boots

8. Aveda Be Curly curl enhancer: The best natural curl cream

Price when reviewed: £24 | Check price at Look Fantastic

Part of organic brand Aveda’s Be Curly range, this frizz-taming curl cream with natural aloe and marshmallow will help your curls recover their juicy bounce and shine. Wheat protein helps strengthen hair and reduce breakage while defining curl structure and shape, and aloe is an excellent natural hydrator. The cream has a fresh, floral smell and holds curls well without stickiness. Scrunch into damp hair and air dry or diffuser dry for all-day bounce.

Key specs – Pack size: 200ml

Check price at Look Fantastic

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