As anyone with curly hair can likely attest to, curls are a constant journey of trial and error. Though everyone’s journey to embracing their natural texture is as varied as curl patterns themselves, the one thing that remains constant is that finding the perfect styling products can be a challenge. Sure, there are specific products that help make the transition to natural hair easier, but once you’ve ditched your flat iron, the question becomes what products should you be using for styling? In search of that answer, we decided to reach out to women with curly hair to share what products they swear by for keeping their curls in top shape. Ahead, you’ll find which product works best for them, their curl types, and of course their tips for using their holy-grail product that makes styling a breeze.
For wash days…
WHO: Aysha Sow
WHAT: 4A/3C curls
There are so many different conditioners that claim to be the best for curly hair, but according to Sow, the best is from Maui Moisture. As she told us, "I love it so much to condition my curls with! It provides so much slip and moisture to my curls.”
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How much should you use this product for optimal results? Sow confessed, "I use it every three days to condition my hair in the shower!”
WHO: Renia Jaz
WHAT: 3C/3B curl type
Jaz told us, "I wash my hair every two days, and during the week, I use a number of products on my hair. This shampoo is my lifesaver. It removes any dead skin cells and product buildup, leaving my hair fresh and lighter and making my curls looking healthy and bouncy. I also noticed that after using it, my hair is a lot easier to style!”
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Her tip for using this shampoo? She suggested, "Use this product once a week. It’s the perfect detox for curly hair. I also put a generous amount of moisturizing conditioner on my hair after I use this shampoo just to make sure that my hair is well-nourished.”
For when you need a deep-conditioning hair mask…
WHO: Melody Acevedo
WHAT: 3C/3B curl type
"My absolute favorite product is definitely the NYM Curl Talk Deep Conditioning Curl Masque. I can't skip a week where I don't deep condition. This product is super hydrating and moisturizing, which is the most important thing when you have curly hair,” Acevedo told us.
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For getting the most out of this product, Acevedo swears by her hack. She said, "Apply your hair mask before going to bed. I know sometimes we just don't have the time to take care of our hair, but washing your hair, applying a hair mask, and going to sleep is the best lifesaver hack I know.”
WHO: Tennille Murphy
WHAT: 3B curl type with high porosity
Murphy told us, "I am so impressed with the consistent salon-style results I achieve with this product. This deep conditioner is made with clean, curl friendly ingredients that nourish my hair from scalp to tip. Infused with spearmint and peppermint, I find that this formula is so soothing on my scalp. Meanwhile, the creamy, rich, nourishing ingredients like omega-3, -6, and -9, leave my silver curls soft, defined, and moisturized.”
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Murphy’s hack for getting the most out of this product? She shared, "I apply the treatment to my hair before my at-home workout. I generously saturate the product into my hair, twist it up, and then cover with a plastic cap, and I’m ready for my workout. The heat from my workout helps the product penetrate my hair, and the results are always AMAZING!”
For when you need a leave-in conditioner…
WHAT: 3C/3B curl type
"Wow, only one?!” Mairaly said. "Okay, if my curls had to choose one product, I’d say this leave-in cream. I don’t like heavy or crunchy gels on my hair, and this is the lightweight product I use to style and refresh my hair when I need to. I love to run some water on the section of curls I'm styling then apply some product and directly single out a curl or two and run the product through it, letting the curl bounce back. When it dries, it dries so defined and looks like it did when it was wet except a little shorter because of shrinkage. Leave it in, and it's like five bucks!”
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Want to make the most of this product? Mairaly suggested, "If you have the extra time, and your hair is a little bit on the thinner side or where you don't have the amazing volume on day one, leave your hair in the fiber towel a little longer, maybe like a couple of minutes longer. Normally for me, the roots dry the fastest, so leaving my roots to dry allows my hair to have volume toward the roots area. When it comes to styling, if you find yourself wetting and styling your hair, wet everything else except the roots. When everything finally dries, you'll notice you won't have to pick your hair as much or at all to get volume on first-day hair.”
WHO: Oriane Adjibi
WHAT: 4C crl type
As Adjibi told us, "My hair really can't handle too many products at the same time, like no more than two at the same time, and I still need to be cautious about the amount of product I use. That being said, I’m obsessed with Not Your Mother's leave-in conditioner to style my hair. It's my favorite because it’s not only plant-derived, but it also makes [my hair] so much more manageable and ready to style. Plus, this leave-in gives hydration to my hair, which is mandatory for natural hair, and it also works on natural or semi-natural hair add-ons and wigs, which is everything.”
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What’s Adjibi’s tip for effectively using this product? As she told us, "It's more efficient to use it on damp hair after you wash your hair, but I also like to use it to refresh and restyle my hair a few days after my shampoo when I need to manage my hair for another hairstyle. It just makes the styling process easier, and I love that it doesn't make your hair look dirty, which is the case with a lot of leave-ins.”
WHO: Alanna Doherty
WHAT: 3C curl type
Doherty professed, "I LOVE this product for styling curly hair! I’ve been using Shea Moisture products for over six years now, and its leave-ins are the only products that consistently moisturize my hair. I started using this one in particular after I dyed my hair blonde, and I’m positive that it's done wonders for the health of my fro!”
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In addition to investing in a leave-in conditioner, Doherty revealed her curly hair hack: "I’ve found that doing an apple cider vinegar rinse in the shower before conditioning helps my hair a ton! I only shampoo once a month because it strips my hair, so the ACV rinse is a perfect substitute that also helps with product buildup and hair growth.”
For daily styling…
WHO: Yvette Corinne
WHAT: 4C curl type
Why this styling product? Corinne shared, "I love this product because I have low porosity, and it adds a lot of moisture in my dry strands. Also, it pairs well with gel if you're looking for a more defined look.”
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Her tip for getting the most out of this product? She shared, "It looks great if you wet your hair first, add the product, and then seal it with some oil. I like to use avocado oil. If you're looking for more of a defined look, add gel after the product, and your twist out will be poppin‘!”
WHO: Eni Popoola
WHAT: 4C curly type
Popoola shared, "To get my natural curls more defined, I love to use the Camille Rose Naturals Curl Maker. I love it because it works wonders for defining my tight 4C curls, but it also works just as well on any clip-ins or ponytails that I wear as well. It defines my curls without weighing them down or giving that unwanted crunchy feel.”
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Popoola shared, "This product works best on wet hair, so it’s perfect after a wash or co-wash.”
WHAT: 4A/3C curl type
Why this product? Lal shared, "I truly swear by the Imbue Crème Gel for curls and kinky hair like mine. It is a true one-and-done product, which means you can use it by itself, as it is a cream and a gel combined in one! It gives my hair a good base of moisture with lasting definition and volume. It is the only product I own that styles my hair in one. It is also CG-friendly, vegan, cruelty-free, and very affordable, which are all really important to me, as my mantra is to make curl care and education accessible for all!”
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Her hack for styling with the Crème Gel? She told us, "For curly hair, make sure to apply the product on freshly cleansed hair, and for drier types like mine, I like to leave a little of the conditioner I’m using in the shower before I style. When using the Imbue Crème Gel, I section my hair in four and use a two-finger scoop of product per section, rub it between the palm of my hands, and finger-rake it through wet curls until the hair is as defined as I like. Scrunch upward to encourage curl clumping and leave to air-dry or diffuse until dry!”
WHO: Janibell Rosanne
WHAT: 4A/3C curl type
Skeptical? So was Rosanne, as she told us, "I never looked to Pantene for curly hair products, so I was skeptical at first, but this stuff is great! Whenever I use it, my curls are super soft and moisturized. I have a lot of hair, but it's very fine, so I like that this doesn’t weigh my hair down.”
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WHO: Tacha John
WHAT: 3B/3C curl type
John confessed, "I'm obsessed with Bumble and Bumble's curl products, but I think my one holy grail is its HIO primer because it's so versatile. It works as a leave-in, heat protectant, and the base for just about every style I do. It's also super lightweight without sacrificing moisture, which is important for my fine hair.”
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Her tip that may make styling your curly hair a breeze? She said, "I find that applying products to wet hair and letting my curls air-dry a bit before going in with my diffuser is the best way to get defined but voluminous hair. Try it!”
WHO: Ashley Reuben
WHAT: 3A/2C curl type
Reuben mused, "It's really hard to pick just one, but I would have to choose the Aussie Scrunch Mousse + Leave-In. This mousse has been my go-to for such a long time, and I love it because it is so versatile. I've used it as a one-and-done styler, a refresh for those days I don't feel like washing my hair, and to give me some texture when I just braid my hair if I'm too lazy to fully style it. In all scenarios, my hair has turned out great! It's perfect for fine-normal hair curlies who struggle to get volume, but it also provides great definition and hold.”
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When it comes to using products to style your curls, Reuben declared, "It's a really easy product to work with. Don't be afraid of applying too much because this never leaves your hair crunchy. I go in with a lot of this mousse. Be sure to diffuse your hair if you want extra volume as I always do!”
For when you need an oil…
WHO: Vic Styles
WHAT: 3C curl type with low porosity
Styles shared, "I’ve been using this for about four years now and can’t live without it. It’s helped with breakage, growth, and to lock in moisture. I specifically love this brand because it’s Black-owned, AND castor oil typically has a strong odor, but they mix their oil with essential oils so it smells AMAZING.”
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To make the most of this castor oil, Styles explained, "I like to use Kreyòl’s oil after my styling products to lock in moisture. I also massage it onto my scalp three to four times a week to help with growth.”
For when those edges need some love…
WHO: Anneliese Nicole
WHAT: 3B curl type
Fellow WWW editor Anneliese has quite a few favorite curly hair products. But when I slid into her Slack messages, she professed her love for two products, the first being Olaplex’s miracle leave-in cream, and the second being Carol’s Daughter Edge Control. Per the Slack receipts, she stated, "I wear my hair in a snatched ponytail basically any time I go out, and this gel keeps all my flyaways from trying to ruin my look.”
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For when you’re not sure where to start…
WHAT: 2C/3A curl type
Formulas aren’t the only thing you need in your curly hair styling arsenal, and frankly, if you get nothing else from this story, investing in a good brush can make all the difference for styling your curls. As Kristy contested, "I swear by using a Wet Brush! First, I love using this brush to gently detangle my hair while dry to prevent breakage while detangling. I then use it in the shower to distribute conditioner and form curl clumps. Whether I’m using a mousse, gel, or any styling product, using this brush to distribute everything evenly throughout my hair is key to having bouncy ringlet curls!”
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To use this brush properly, Kristy advises, "Section your wet hair while applying your styling product(s). Brush through your sections with the Wet Brush to evenly distribute your product and apply light tension along the edge of the brush, as if you’re curling a ribbon! Then I give it a scrunch, and I’m left with gorgeous ringlets.”
WHO: Jasmine Fox-Suliaman
WHAT: 3C/3B curl type high porosity
I’ll admit gathering everyone’s favorite curly hair products made me realize a few things, the first being that finding the best products for styling curly hair is all about trial and error and learning about your hair texture.
The second is that, no matter which products or brands work for you, there are seven essential styling products in general that every curly headed person should have in their arsenal. Here are the essentials that I not only love but noticed were a common thread within this story. Consider this a great starting-point list for shopping the best styling products for your curls.
#1: A shampoo (that actually works for you)
Styling curly hair is all about having a good base and knowing which shampoos are dehydrating your curls versus actually cleaning them. This shampoo isn’t for everyone, but I’ve loved DevaCurl’s Build Up Buster, as it’s great for when I want to eliminate scalp buildup without stripping my hair of its nutrients.
#2: A trusted hair mask
Hair masks are essential for curly textures because we’re more prone to dryness and they promote hair growth. I’d recommend trying a few different masks to figure out which one works for your hair texture and doesn’t weigh it down. After going natural, I found this masque became the savior for my heat-damaged curls.
#3: Hair oil (to lock in the moisture)
If you’re wondering why your hair isn’t locking in moisture, especially after deep-conditioning, it’s probably because you’re not using hair oil. I’ll admit even I was skeptical about oils, but since starting a quarantine hair routine that includes hair oil, I have found it's been a game changer in keeping my hair moisturized and for hair growth. Typically after washing my hair, I’ll rub my scalp with Cantu’s Tea Tree & Jojoba Oil to my ends and then braid my hair to sleep in to lock in the moisture. Just try it!
#4: A daily styling product
No matter what curl type you have, it’s essential to invest in a product you can use for styling daily. (I recommend you determine the porosity of your hair to inform this decision.) Since I have high porosity, my daily product is a heavier curl-styling cream from Shea Moisture (and sometimes I’ll add in The Good Stuff’s Curl Hydration Butter on them extra-dry days).
#5: An in-between conditioner
Do you know when you’re not going to do a full hair mask but also need to freshen up your curls? I recommend everyone have an in-between conditioner to keep your hair moisturized. Sachajuan’s curl conditioner is great for keeping your hair moisturized in between your bigger wash days, and it smells delightful.
#6: A little something for the baby hairs
On the days I don’t feel bothered to style my curls, I’ll opt for a sleek mid-part bun or pigtails. To make sure it looks its best, I recommend you invest in a good edge gel and a baby hairbrush. My personal favorite is Design Essentials' edge gel because it keeps everything in place and smells like heaven on Earth. At the end of the day, we want our curly hair products to be heavenly, no?
#7: A reliable comb
And finally, no curly hair styling arsenal is complete without a good comb! After all, the foundational key to a great curl day is ditching the knots so you can enjoy each ringlet in peace.
Jasmine Fox-Suliaman is a fashion editor living in New York City. What began as a hobby (blogging on Tumblr) transformed into a career dedicated to storytelling through various forms of digital media. She started her career at the print publication 303 Magazine, where she wrote stories, helped produce photo shoots, and planned Denver Fashion Week. After moving to Los Angeles, she worked as MyDomaine's social media editor until she was promoted to work across all of Clique's publications (MyDomaine, Byrdie, and Who What Wear) as the community manager. Over the past few years, Jasmine has worked on Who What Wear's editorial team, using her extensive background to champion rising BIPOC designers, weigh in on viral trends, and profile stars such as Janet Mock and Victoria Monét. She is especially interested in exploring how art, fashion, and pop culture intersect online and IRL.
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