If this year's quarantine has taught me one thing, it's that my curly hair hasn't gotten the love and attention it deserves from me over the years. Up until recently (April, to be exact), I had never even let my type 4 coils dry into their natural, springy shape. I was devoted to blow-drying and flat-ironing them bone straight every week like clockwork. Now, there's nothing wrong with straightening your hair, but I began to realize that I was only doing it because I'd always considered my hair texture too wild, unmanageable, and, dare I say, unattractive to let it thrive in its natural state. (Don't worry. I'm dedicated to unlearning that internalized racism!)
Growing to love my hair has been an enlightening experience, but I also recognize that it can be stressful figuring out where to start. Those with type 2, 3, and 4 curl patterns can attest that embracing your curls is a process that can take a lot of time, patience, and trial and error. But learning what does and doesn't work for our hair really is a fun and self-actualizing journey that offers more clarity and healing than you might think. And while everyone is different, it really does help to hear about the best curly hair products that have worked for others.
So here I am, a curly girl on a mission to spread some love with a list of the products I've found to be indispensable in my haircare routine. Whether you're just starting to learn about your curly hair (good for you!) or are simply looking for some tried-and-true products to add to your routine, there's something for everyone. Keep scrolling to check out the washday, styling, and maintenance essentials that have made my natural hair journey a breeze.
1. Sulfate-Free Shampoos
Sulfates are cleansing detergents often found in products that lather up like shampoos, bodywashes, and facial cleansers. They're super stripping, though, so those with curly hair should avoid them as to not deplete the natural oils necessary to keep our locks from becoming dehydrated. This one from Briogeo is a crowd-pleaser because it effectively removes product buildup and debris without harsh additives and infuses moisture into the hair via ingredients such as tomato fruit ferment, shea butter, and avocado oil.
SheaMoisture is a holy-grail curl brand and for good reason. Its products are gentle and super effective at helping curls across the spectrum reach their full potential. I love this hydrating shampoo for many reasons, chief among them being its frizz-fighting benefits. It has coconut oil in it, which might give some folks a little pause, but it doesn't weigh the hair down.
2. Deep Conditioners
I can't remember the last time I let conditioner sit in my hair for fewer than 15 minutes or without a plastic cap on top to lock in heat and really get the stuff marinating. It's a curly thing! I've yet to try Bread Beauty Supply for myself, but early reviews of the line are super complimentary. This hair mask has Australian kakadu plum to support collagen and elastin in your hair and scalp as well as strengthening starflower oil. Plus, how cool is this sustainable packaging?
I am deeply in love with this conditioner. A little goes a long way, which is a huge plus for those with long, thick hair. (Accidentally using half a bottle of conditioner is a struggle every curly queen knows all too well.) This one has some of my favorite hair-loving ingredients, including aloe vera juice and Jamaican black castor oil to strengthen every strand and encourage serious growth. Plus, it smells so good.
3. Protein Treatments
For those with mid-to-high-porosity hair, protein treatments are an excellent way to help fill in and smooth those openings in the hair shaft to prevent breakage. Olaplex is a hairstylist favorite for strengthening hair compromised by all kinds of factors—from chemical damage to natural porousness.
Who else remembers seeing this bottle in their mom's bathroom growing up? It's a miracle worker on hair that's showing signs of structural compromise like stretching, breaking, and loss of curl definition. Buy this.
4. Leave-In Conditioners
Ouidad is one of those legendary brands that everyone across the curl spectrum knows about, and the Moisture Lock Leave-In Conditioner is certainly one of its most popular offerings. It's meant to balance the moisture foundation in the hair to help it respond better to any products you layer on top during styling. It's packed with hair-loving botanicals like arnica and prickly pear along with green tea and vitamin B5 for even more protection.
I was apprehensive about the hype surrounding this product until I tried it for myself. Suddenly, the thousands of five-star reviews made all the sense in the world. This stuff is crazy good. It's the perfect styling prep since it's lightweight but still has the ability to coat every single hair on my head in its soybean and aloe-based goodness. I stan.
5. Curl Creams
When Oribe dropped its curly-hair line a couple of years back, I was seriously curious to see how the luxury hair brand would approach this niche category. To my surprise, the line is great! The only pain point is the price. This stuff is so expensive, and as someone who can be heavy-handed with products, that's trouble. But for those with more self-control in their product application, this could be a winner.
I'm a firm believer that this cream is solely responsible for the A-plus results of all my best twist-outs to date. It's a moisturizing blend of coconut, rose water, vitamin E, avocado, and monoi oil, and when I tell you this stuff is thick with a capital T, I mean it. It's not for everyone, but for those with type 4 curls looking to create super-juicy twists, braids, and the like, look no further.
I never thought I'd grow to love a hair oil as much as I adore this one. It's so soft and luxe but also lightweight. It's not marketed as a curly-hair product since it can be used by anyone as a pre-shampoo moisture treatment, but if your hair can handle oils, use it at any step in your haircare routine where you'd typically oil up.
If, like me, you spend your Saturdays mixing your own oil concoctions for deep conditioning, you'll love this dreamy oil. It has baobab oil, argan oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, sage oil, geranium oil, and vitamin E to seriously penetrate your strands and leave lasting hydration.
7. Low-Heat Styling Tools
This hair-drying contraption is huge and expensive, but I promise it will change your life if you like to stretch your curls. It uses patented technology to pull excess moisture out of the hair via a powerful downward whirlwind of air. It dries the hair so fast and can be set to use little to no heat, which I love. After using it, my hair always looks and feels healthy and shiny—never parched or frizzy.
The round version of this Revlon brush gets a lot of shine (check out our official review of it here), but it's come to my attention that this paddle brush version offers more control and better access to curly and coily roots, making it the superior option for folks with textured hair types. For added protection, be sure to use a heat protectant and to use the tool's low-heat setting.
Wide-tooth combs are the only kind that should come into contact with curly and coily hair (save for rattails for sectioning). Not only is this one absolutely gorgeous, but it's size and shape also fit perfectly in the palm of your hand to make detangling much easier.
This brush is life. It's got stiff, sturdy bristles that stand up to even the tightest coils out there, but the prongs are situated in flexible columns that separate and move to work with your hair, not against it. Developed by veteran celebrity hairstylist Felicia Leatherwood, it really is the shower staple we all need to achieve even product distribution and knot-free hair.
The new-ish styling products from Tracee Ellis Ross's Pattern Beauty are all lovely, but this styling gel is a must-have for anyone who likes to use gel for curl definition or who likes to slick their kinks down into sleek styles.
This gel is meant to be used to enhance curls rather than stick them down, so if you're a fan of wash-and-go styles or use gels as part of your no-heat styling, this is a solid option with tons of loyal fans.
10. Silk and Satin Hair Protectors
The curly community isn't the only one that's adopted the silk pillowcase life, but it's definitely of the utmost importance to those who want to shield their curls from the hydration-zapping friction that results from sleeping on cotton pillowcases.
A satin bonnet is another proven way to protect your curls and keep them from getting frizzy as you sleep. It takes some getting used to, but the results are well worth it.
11. Hair Ties
Where have these been all my life? I'm completely obsessed with these stretchy hair ties that snap open and closed to reduce friction on the hair. They're perfect for scooping thick hair into ponytails, buns, and puffs without the heavy manipulation of wrapping a traditional hair tie over and over again. The best part is that they're customizable. You can snap multiple fasteners together to create the perfect size for your hair needs.
Scenarios like workouts call for hair ties with a more secure hold, and these stretchy rings do a beautiful job at keeping hair in place without causing massive breakage.
Perm-rod sets are a wonderful solution for people with all different hair types looking to create sleek, uniform curls. I'm still working on my technique, but I've found that using a styling mousse before wrapping my hair over these plastic formers really improves the results.
If you've ever used old-school rice- or bead-filled heating pads for cramps or sore muscles, you're already familiar with the technology at play with this deep-conditioning cap. Just pop it in the microwave for about a minute, and it stays nice and toasty for up to 30 minutes to help your conditioner or hair treatment seep deeper into your strands. Be sure to wear a disposable plastic cap underneath so that your product doesn't ruin the material.
If you put your hair up at night, you should consider using satin scrunchies to do so. They're low-friction and won't suck out all those juicy products you've layered on for styling.
Water is the number one hydrator and is essential for keeping curly and coily hair healthy and happy. I love that this bottle sprays a fine mist and doesn't completely soak the hair. It has continuous spray functionality for even and easy distribution. If you've got any water left in the bottle, go ahead and spray your houseplants, too!
Regular bath towels just don't cut it for curly hair. They create unnecessary friction and actually draw too much moisture out of the hair. There are a couple of other alternatives available, but microfiber towels are widely considered the key to drying frizz-free curls. Just remember to pat and squeeze—never rub!