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The best shampoos for curly hair in 2021

Lise Smith
30 Nov 2021
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Take extra care of curly hair to keep it looking its glorious best with these curl-care shampoos

Healthy curls, full of moisture and bounce, can be a thing of great beauty. If you have curly or coily hair, however, you’ll already know that it needs gentle care to keep it looking its best. Curly hair can tend to dryness if not looked after properly, so it’s important to choose gentle cleansers without drying ingredients that will strip away moisture. You’ll also want to look out for curl-friendly nourishing ingredients that put moisture back into hair, encouraging shine and reducing frizz.

Here, we’ve tested shampoos designed to care for curly hair, to keep your crowning glory looking and feeling its best. Read on for our guide to choosing curl-friendly shampoos, followed by our picks of the best curl-care shampoos for all textures, hair concerns and budgets.

How to choose the best shampoo for curly hair

What should I look for in a shampoo for curly hair?

The first and most important thing to look for in a curl-care shampoo is a blend of gentle cleansing ingredients that won’t strip hair of its own natural oils. Sulfates (such as sodium laureth sulfate) are a common ingredient that help shampoo to lather up and lift grease and dirt from the scalp. However, they can also take away the good oils that keep hair in its best condition, which can result in dryer locks. Look for sulfate-free options that use mild cleansing ingredients instead, to prevent the dehydration which can lead to dullness and frizz.

As well as hunting for formulations that won’t strip oils out, look for shampoos with added nourishing ingredients that will help restore and lock in moisture. Coconut, shea and black castor oils are often used to add softness and shine to dry hair and keep moisture inside the hair shaft.

A ruffled cuticle (where the outer layer of the hair stands up, away from the shaft) will cause dullness and frizz on any hair type, but can be particularly noticeable on curly hair. Ingredients that help seal the cuticle will reduce frizziness and give a smoother, glossier look. Vitamins E and B5 (panthenol) are known for their smoothing and healing effects, and hydrating ingredients such as argan oil and honey will also help to reduce frizz.

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How should I wash my hair?

In much the same way that curly and coily hair benefits from a gentle shampoo formula, it will also benefit from gentle treatment when washing. Use the fingertips to massage shampoo into the scalp and avoid rubbing the tresses roughly. Curly hair generally prefers not to be washed daily, so instead wash every few days to minimise frizz and help keep your cuticle and curl structure intact. If you’re a keen swimmer or gym bunny, consider co-washing with conditioner only in between wash days to rinse sweat or chlorine out of hair without removing moisture.

After washing, use a good, hydrating conditioner to seal in moisture, ward off tangles and define curls. Look for a formulation that suits your texture and lifestyle. A heavy conditioner is good for very dry hair and will penetrate thick curls, but will weigh down finer hair. Leave-in conditioners can be an excellent option, conditioning the hair as you go about your day and helping to add a bit of structure to your style.

Keep towelling to a minimum after washing curly hair. To dry, wrap the hair in a towel without rubbing. You might want to invest in a low-friction plopping towel, specially designed to absorb water from wet curls without ruffling the cuticle – or simply use a clean t-shirt to wrap the hair after washing. Curly hair prefers to air-dry naturally, but if you want to blow in 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.

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What other products are good for curly hair?

Hair repair treatment is a good option if you want to give your hair a little extra TLC every week or two. Hot oil, treatment masques and overnight leave-in products will all help soften and nourish curly hair, and make for a lovely Sunday night bathroom ritual. A wide-toothed detangling comb is also the best option for combining conditioners and treatments through damp hair without pulling and damaging delicate curls.

Smoothing styling products such as serums or waxes can be a godsend for frizzy hair – but resist the temptation to slap on too much, or to layer up too many products at once, which can weigh curls down and leave them looking limp. Pick one product suitable for your hair type and use it sparingly to promote bouncy ringlets and control frizz and flyaways.

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The best shampoos for curly hair

1. Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Extra-Moisture Retention Shampoo: Best for moisturising dry curls

Price: £11 | Buy now from Boots

Curly hair loves moisture, which keeps the coils from looking dull and dry. This shampoo with nourishing shea butter and sea kelp is a great way to cleanse without stripping natural oils from the hair, while putting back vital moisture.

Specially formulated to improve strength and elasticity, Shea Moisture’s natural shea butter formula lathers up well and has a pleasant, clean fragrance. Great for curly hair that has lost its bounce, this shampoo will help dry hair regain its shape and lustre.

Key specs – Bottle size: 384ml

Buy now from Boots


2. John Frieda Weightless Wonder shampoo: Best for fine curly hair

Price: £4 | Buy now from Amazon

Curly hair that’s also fine can have its own unique set of challenges. The apparent volume comes from the coils rather than the thickness of the hair itself, and fine curls can tend to have flyaway ends. This hair type needs hydration without heaviness, which can weigh fine hair down and leave it looking limp. Enter John Frieda’s Weightless Wonder range, with its lightweight whipped foam formula containing aloe vera for gentle cleansing and non-oily hydration. The shampoo smells fresh and makes light work of cleansing finer hair. Follow with the conditioner and smoothing creme in the same range for frizz-free hair that won’t sag.

Key specs – Bottle size: 250ml

3. Kérastase Discipline Fluidealiste Shampoo: Best for taming unruly curls

Price: £24 | Buy now from Feel Unique

If your hair is prone to tangles, frizz and flyaways (especially in humid weather) you need a nourishing shampoo that will moisturise and strengthen hair, helping to seal the cuticle to keep hair smooth, shiny and frizz-free. The shampoo is sulfate-free and contains pro-keratin to strengthen hair from the inside out. With its gentle, creamy lather and pleasant floral scent, this is a great option for curly hair that’s been colour-treated.

Key specs – Bottle size: 250ml

Buy now from Feel Unique


4. Paul Mitchell Spring Loaded Frizz-Fighting Shampoo: Best for smoothing frizz

Price: £19 | Buy now from Amazon

If your curls tend to frizz, this hydrating and softening shampoo from Paul Mitchell, which is part of the brand’s Curls range, will help smooth the hair without weighing it down.

Spring Loaded gently cleans the hair without drying sulfates or parabens, which ruffled the cuticle, leaving hair soft, shiny and full of natural bounce. The shampoo works up to a rich lather that smells wonderful in the shower, and feels nice and soft on the hair as it washes. Look out for other products in the Paul Mitchell Curls range to help nourish and condition your curls and keep them looking great.

Key specs – Bottle size: 250ml

5. Curlsmith Quenching Conditioning Wash: Best for co-washing

Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon

You may have heard about the “no-poo” or “co-washing” method of cleansing the hair and scalp without traditional shampoos, which can be very beneficial for bringing moisture and structure back to tired and dehydrated curls.

To avoid greasy buildup and ensure that washing with conditioner still cleanses the hair and scalp, it’s best to choose a cleansing conditioner made for that purpose. Curlsmith’s Quenching Conditioning Wash is just such a product, formulated with natural avocado and coconut oils, and shea butter to nourish and moisturise curls, with a small quantity of no-foam cleanser to remove unwanted oils and dirt from the scalp. Sulfate, paraben and silicone-free, this is a great-smelling conditioning wash that will leave hair feeling clean, soft and full of life.

Key specs – Bottle size: 64g

6. Boucleme Curl Cleanser: Best for afro hair

Price: £15 | Buy now from Amazon

Formulated specifically for Type 3 and 4 coils, Boucleme’s all-natural sulfate-free hair cleanser is made with nourishing coconut and argan oils and hydrating aloe vera water to gently cleanse without drying out curly hair’s natural oils. Creamy and non-foaming like a co-wash, Boucleme’s hair cleanser refreshes the scalp and leaves hair feeling soft and tangle-free without stickiness. Follow with Boucleme’s curl conditioner and curl cream for maximally hydrated, bouncy results.

Key specs – Bottle size: 300ml

Image of Bouclème Curl Cleanser

Bouclème Curl Cleanser

£12.80 (£42.67 / l) Buy now

7. Aveda Be Curly shampoo: Best natural shampoo for curls

Price: £21.50 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

This delicious-smelling shampoo from natural beauty brand Aveda helps moisturise and define curls and reduce frizz thanks to gentle cleansing aloe vera and strengthening wheat protein. The shampoo is made with a blend of lime, lemon, bergamot and orange that smells fantastically zingy in the shower, and leaves the scalp feeling fresh and the hair soft and shiny. It’s part of a range of curl-defining products from Aveda that will help you wear your natural curls with pride.

Key specs – Bottle size: 250ml

Image of Aveda Be Curly Shampoo 250ml

Aveda Be Curly Shampoo 250ml

£21.48 (£8.59 / 100 ml) Buy now

8. OGX Weightless Hydration Coconut Water Shampoo: Best budget shampoo for curly hair

Price: £6.99 | Buy now from Superdrug

Coconut is a popular ingredient in curly hair products as it adds vital moisture without weighing delicate curls down. This budget-friendly hydrating shampoo lathers up well and leaves curls soft and silky, with a wonderful fresh coconut fragrance. It’s an excellent budget choice for dehydrated hair in need of some extra care. Follow with the conditioner in the same range for a nourishing coconut boost.

Key specs – Bottle size: 385ml

Buy now from Superdrug

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