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Best styling mousse for curly hair 2023: Soft waves without any crunch

Our pick of the best styling mousse for curly hair will achieve gentle style and shape without leaving your hair crisp

You might think of styling mousse as something of a retro product – a staple for creating the 1980s’ looks of backcombed fringes and big, scrunchy curls with a distinctively crunchy finish. However, mousses are making a bit of a comeback, but the difference is that these modern formulas with their conditioning ingredients create a softer finish and are ideal for smoothing down flyaways and giving your curls gentle hold.

A good, modern mousse can be the perfect styling product to add a little definition and bounce to naturally curly hair if you’re wearing it in its natural pattern. It’s also great for bringing out the shape of a permanent wave. Plus, if you’re wearing your hair in braids, mousse is an excellent product for keeping them and cornrows in place without adding too much weight or stickiness. Mousse can also be layered with other products such as gel or conditioning oils for extra hold or softness.

Below, we offer guidance on how to choose the best mousse for your hair type, texture and style; and thereafter you’ll find our pick of the best styling mousses currently available for every budget.

Best styling mousse for curly hair: At a glance

How to choose the best styling mousse for your curly hair

What is styling mousse good for?

First introduced in the 1980s, styling mousse is an aerated foam containing ingredients that define and add hold to hair. Thanks to its consistency, a mousse is lighter in weight than either gel or styling cream, and is particularly good for defining and adding bounce and movement to curls without weighing down the ends. Since it’s lighter than other styling products, mousse is a superb option for refreshing curls and adding definition in between washes – useful if your curly hair doesn’t like to be washed every day.

Earlier versions of mousse tended to be rather stickier compared to today’s formulations, and often resulted in giving hair a crunchy finish. Modern mousses contain moisturising ingredients – such as coconut, avocado or argan oils or shea butter – to condition the hair and achieve a softer finish without stiffness. Look for moisturising mousses with defrizzing benefits for gentle hold and volume that won’t leave your hair crackling.

READ NEXT: The best shampoo and conditioner to buy

How should I use my styling mousse?

Mousse is a super-versatile product that can be used in multiple ways. If you’re looking to smooth frizz and define curls, start with freshly washed, towel-dried hair. Take a pump of mousse (the size of a golf ball is a good guide) and apply through the hair from roots to ends. Unlike a serum or curl cream, which is usually applied from midway to the ends of the hair, spread a mousse evenly from the roots downwards, so you can lift and add volume throughout the hair. If you have very long or thick hair, you may want to tip your head forwards to get your mousse into the roots at the back of the scalp.

Comb through the mousse with a wide-toothed comb or just using your fingers, gently separating your curls as you go, then lightly scrunch the lengths and ends for a bouncy finish. You can let your moussed curls air-dry, or use a diffuser attachment on your hairdryer with a low heat setting. If you’re wearing your hair in cornrows or box braids, smoothing over a little mousse can help hold the braids in place, reduce frizz, and prevent flyaways and loose ends from escaping. Apply a handful of mousse after braiding, and refresh as you need to while wearing your braids.

For a firmer hold, mousse can be layered with gel. Once you’ve finished scrunching the hair with mousse, rub a small amount of gel between palms and smooth over the hair, focusing on any areas that need more definition such as flyaways or baby hairs. To soften the finished look and remove any gel cast, rub a pump of conditioning styling oil or curl cream between the hands and lightly rub over the ends of the hair once dried, giving a final scrunch for added bounce.

Can I use styling mousse with the Curly Girl method?

If you’re using the Curly Girl method to care for your natural curls, you can use a sulphate-free mousse to style curls after washing. In fact, if you’ve reduced the frequency of hair washes to avoid stripping natural hydration from your hair, mousse can be an excellent way to refresh and revive curls in between wash days, since it helps to separate curls and reduce frizz, as well as pepping up the bounce in natural curls.

To use mousse as a refresher between wash days, simply dampen the hair slightly with a mister or a handful of water, then rake through with the fingers and scrunch as above. All the mousses we’ve listed below are sulphate-free and suitable for the CG method of haircare.

How we test hair mousse

At Expert Reviews, we know that the best way to test a product is to use it ourselves. As such, we test all the hair mousses we review by using the product as directed on our own Type 3 hair, noting the effects of the product 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 hair mousse on styling, we also consider how the product feels in use on the hands and in the hair, and whether it creates any stickiness after application or crunch after drying. 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 the scent and overall pleasantness of the product.

READ NEXT: The best natural shampoo to buy

Best styling mousse for curly hair in 2023

1. Moroccanoil Curl Control Mousse: Best styling mousse for dry curly hair

Price: £16 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

Curly hair can tend toward dryness; the spiral shape of each hair opens the cuticle, which can lead to dehydration and frizz. A conditioning curling mousse can be a great solution: the mousse will help to hydrate the hair and seal the cuticle for a shiny finish. Moroccanoil’s Curl Control Mousse uses its signature argan oil formula to deeply moisturise the hair within a lightweight styling mousse to add body and bounce that doesn’t add weight or crunch to the hair.

The pleasant-smelling mousse holds well without stickiness and is particularly ideal when air-drying, which is good if you’re healing and nourishing dehydrated hair. The sulphate-free formula smooths and defines curls while adding a good amount of volume when scrunched in from the roots. Optionally pair with Moroccanoil’s curl cream or styling oil for a super-soft finish.

Key details – Pack size: 150ml; Sulphate-free?: Yes

Buy now from Lookfantastic

2. Curlsmith Bouncy Strength Volume Foam: Best styling mousse for fine curly hair

Price: £22 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

If your curly hair is also fine and tends to fall a little flat after styling, this volumising mousse from curl specialist Curlsmith might just be what you need. Fortified with strengthening rice protein, moisturising castor oil and nourishing plant extracts, Bouncy Strength Volume Foam adds texture to the hair without weighing down the ends. The hydrating ingredients are great for plumping up fine hair, and the mousse delivers a light hold with plenty of movement and a soft, rather than stiff, finish.

To use, start by giving the bottle a good shake – this will make sure the product foams when dispensing; then simply stroke through damp hair. Scrunch in from the ends to the roots, adding lift wherever your hair looks a little flat. The mousse works well on its own, and can also be layered with a styling cream or curl soufflé for extra definition.

Key details – Pack size: 222ml; Sulphate-free?: Yes

Buy now from Lookfantastic

3. Pureology Weightless Volume Mousse: Best styling mousse for long curly hair

Price: £21 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

Long curly hair needs a lightweight mousse that won’t pull the curl pattern out of shape. This hydrating and volumising mousse from Pureology is an excellent choice for lengthier curly hair – the vegan formula includes conditioning sunflower seed oil and vitamin E to nourish and strengthen the dryer ends of long hair, along with heat-protective Xylose.

The mousse really does feel weightless in the hair, and smells gorgeous – it has a light, floral scent. Heat protection means this is a great product to use with a diffuser dryer (ideal for those who don’t have time to air-dry longer hair in the mornings), and locks are left feeling silky soft and full of bounce.

Key details – Pack size: 290ml; Sulphate-free?: Yes

Buy now from Lookfantastic

4. Umberto Giannini Curl Whip Curl Activating Mousse: Best styling mousse for thick curly hair

Price: £7.75 | Buy now from Boots

Thick hair needs a little extra definition, and this curl-activating mousse from hairstylist Umberto Giannini soothes frizz and adds flexible hold to even thicker, coarser and heavier curly hair. The flake-free formula dries without stickiness or crunch, and is colour-safe for bleached or colour-treated curls.

The vegan formula can be used with a diffuser or for plopping and air-drying, and leaves hair feeling beautifully soft with a medium hold that defines but still allows plenty of movement. For extra hold and definition, finish with the scrunching curl jelly from the same range.

Key details – Pack size: 200ml; Sulphate-free?: Yes

Buy now from Boots

5. Cantu Shea Butter Wave Whip Curling Mousse: Best styling mousse for afro-textured hair

Price: £7.50 | Buy now from Boots

We love Cantu’s products for natural coily and afro-textured hair, and this richly moisturising styling mousse with castor oil and shea butter smells delicious and adds shine and hold to textured hair all day long. The smoothing formula reduces frizz and gently defines curls with a beautifully soft finish and no crispiness.

Cantu’s mousse is free from sulphates, parabens and silicone, so ideal if you’re following the Curly Girl haircare method. It’s ideal for Type 4 hair, but also a great option if your Type 3 curls are on the dry side and need a little extra moisture. For added shine, add a spritz of the Coconut Oil Shine & Hold Mist from the same range after scrunching.

Key details – Pack size: 248ml; Sulphate-free?: Yes

Buy now from Boots

6. John Frieda Frizz Ease Dream Curls Curl Reviving Mousse: Best value mousse for curly hair

Price: £6.99 | Buy now from Boots

Part of the Frizz Ease range that’s been a godsend to curly hair since its launch in 1990, John Frieda’s Dream Curls mousse is one of the best all-round styling mousses for curly hair – and at under £10 for 200ml, it’s also an absolute bargain. The frizz-fighting formula contains smoothing silicone and rosehip oil to tame and define curls, achieving a flexible finish and plenty of bounce.

The vegan-friendly mousse also protects hair when heat-styling, so it’s ideal for use with a diffuser. Scrunch in a handful and curls will stay in place from dawn to dusk.

Dream Curls Curl Reviving Mousse is also lightweight and non-sticky, perfect for use in between wash days for pepping up drooping curls.

Key details – Pack size: 200ml; Sulphate-free?: Yes

Buy now from Boots

7. Oribe Curl Shaping Mousse: Best luxury styling mousse for curly hair

Price: £41 | Buy now from Harrods

This rich, curl-defining mousse from the iconic Oribe brand is a great way to treat yourself to a really luxurious scrunch. Sunflower seed and sweet almond oils nourish the hair and add shine, while amaranth and wheat proteins strengthen and thicken each strand. The hydrating mousse adds plenty of bounce and reduces frizz by sealing in moisture.

Oribe’s styling mousse isn’t cheap, but a little goes a very long way; rake a little through towel-dried hair, scrunch and leave to air-dry. The weightless mousse does the rest, creating shiny, natural-looking curls that last all day.

Key details – Pack size: 175ml; Sulphate-free?: Yes

Buy now from Harrods

8. Kérastase Styling Mousse Bouffant: Best styling mousse for adding volume to curls

Price: £30 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

If you’re after a really voluminous look, Kérastase’s Mousse Bouffant offers the boost you’re after with its firm hold to lift roots and maximise curls. The light foam is also formulated with thermal protecting polymers and plumping hydrators to thicken each strand of hair for a bouffant look.

The fibre-building formula means Mousse Bouffant is a little stickier than some of the other mousses on our list when air-drying; the mousse seems to work best when hair is rough-dried gently, with the mouse scrunched in with a diffuser. Applied this way, Mousse Bouffant gives a flexible firm hold and lots of fluffy volume. A good option for finer hair, or if you want to create a modern take on classic 80s big hair.

Key details – Pack size: 150ml; Sulphate-free?: Yes

Buy now from Lookfantastic

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