This Low-Maintenance Treatment Is the Secret to Ultra-Soft Curls

Best pre-shampoo treatments for curly hair



Curls (especially tighter ones) can be somewhat of a needy hair type. They dry out easier than other hair types (curse that winter weather) so regularly scheduled deep-conditioning treatments are a requirement—not an option. 

But there may be something else you can do to keep curls soft, hydrated, and full of luster. I've used plenty of deep conditioning treatments in my life that claim to moisturize like nobody's business and stop breakage in its tracks, but I'd notice a few days after using it, my hair would feel as dry as the Sahara again. That's why I decided to do some digging. I knew there had to be a solution that didn't require a full-on salon visit.

Behold, the pre-shampoo treatment. No, it's not a new hair care item by any means, but it's often overlooked (and skipped) in a wash routine. Consider this your friendly reminder to make it a regular occurance—trust me, your curls will thank you. A pre-poo is essentially a treatment that you apply to your curls before shampooing that helps detangle, strengthen, and deeply hydrate them. The best thing about a treatment like this is that it requires very little extra time, but delivers incredible results. Take a look below at the pre-shampoo treatments I know and love, plus a few other highly-rated options for every curl type.

1. African Pride Moisture Miracle Aloe & Coconut Water Pre-Shampoo

For coily hair types, this coconut-water infused treatment is an absolute dream. The addition of aloe vera helps protect against breakage—a necessaary feat if your curls err on the dry side.

2. Shaz & Kiks Scalp + Hair Prewash for Curly Hair

This pre-wash was formulated specifically for those with tighter, thicker curls—so basically, yours truly. It's plant-based with a high dose of essential vitamins to support healthy hair growth. It also contains anti-bacterial ingredients like neem and turmeric oil to help clarify the scalp. It's hands-down one of the most nourishing treatments I've ever used. 

3. Nessa's Crowning Glory Hair + Scalp Oil

For deeper hydration and stronger strands, you'll definitely want to try this scalp oil. Natural collagen, vitamins, and omega 3's help promote hair growth after hair loss so it's a great option for thinning locks or finer curl textures.

4. Dr. Miracle's Strong & Healthy Detangling Pre-Shampoo Treatment

Realistically, thicker curls need some extra help in the detangling department. Dr. Miracle's Strong & Healthy Detangling Treatment does all that and then some. It also features marshmallow root and aloe vera to help prevent future breakage and split ends. 

5. Curlsmith Super Slip Pre-Biotic Primer

Yeah, your hair needs primer, too, so why not make it one loaded with prebiotics and energizing herbs?

6. Nexxus Curl Define Ultra-8 Pre-Wash Treatment

Soft, hydrated, and ultra-defined curls are a pre-wash away with this Nexxus treatment. It has silk protein, castor oil, and shea butter—all ingredients that are majorly beneficial to tighter coils.

7. Not Your Mother's Activated Charcoal & Purple Moonstone Restore & Reclaim Scalp Scrub

For more of a scrub-like texture, opt for Not Your Mother's Activated Charcoal Scrub. It will fully detox and exfoliate your scalp to get rid of any debris that could be causing hair to lose its luster.

8. Prose Custom Pre-Shampoo Hair Mask

Everyone's curls are unique. That's why it could also be a good idea to invest in your own custom pre-shampoo treatment. Prose helps you out with this by allowing you to take a quiz that narrows down your hair type. They then create a formula to match your specific needs.

9. René Furterer Complexe 5 Stimulating Plant Concentrate

Containing a blend of essential oils, this concentrate strengthens curls and even helps boost the efficacy of the other products you use in your routine.

10. Olaplex No. 0 Intense Bond Building Hair Treatment

We all know by now that Olaplex products are the holy grail for heat and chemically damaged hair. If you fall into that camp or simply want to keep your strands from breaking off, try the No. 0 Intense Bond Building Hair Treatment.

11. Aquis Prime Water Defense Pre-Wash

If an oil or mask isn't really your thing, this pre-wash spray is a great option. It helps protect from moisture loss during the wash process (switch to sulfate-free products, please) and restores luster to damaged curls.

12. Virtue Healing Oil

I truly can't get enough of this oil. I recently started using it to help keep winter dryness at bay and it works like a charm. I also used it as a pre-wash treatment and left it on for about 10 minutes before shampooing and loved the results. It provided just the right amount of extra moisture I was looking for without being too greasy (which can happen when you have super thick hair). 

13. Pattern Beauty Jojoba Oil Hair Serum Self-Heating Packs

Although these handy hydration packs can be used after a shampoo or on dry hair, they work absurdly well as a pre-poo, too. They're formulated for tighter curl types to offer deeper moisture and to rejuvenate a dry scalp.

14. Amika Fadeblock Pre-Shampoo Color Seal

For those who have color-treated curls, try Amika's Fadeblock Pre-Shampoo Color Seal. It seals up your hair cuticle and balances your scalp's pH to help protect color from wash-induced damage. 

15. Bread Beauty Supply Mud-Mask: Hair & Scalp Detoxifying Pre-Wash Clay Treatment

This new offering from curl care heroes, Bread Beauty Supply, is a detox treatment that got added to my cart the minute it hit the market. I basically can't live without the brand's Gentle Milky Hair Wash ($20) and Creamy Hair Mask ($28) so I knew its clay pre-wash would fit right into my current routine.

16. Fable & Mane Holiroots Pre-wash Hair Treatment Oil

I can't even tell you how many people told me I needed to get my hands on this treatment oil before I took the plunge and bought it. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. It contains the powerful adaptogen ashwagandha which is beneficial for your overall health, but also works its magic on extremely dry strands.

17. JVN Complete Pre-Wash Scalp & Hair Treatment Oil

As discussed earlier, curls can become brittle real quick, especially during the winter. But if your scalp also gets pretty dry, it's truly an undesired double whammy. Luckily, this JVN pre-wash oil is formulated to soothe the scalp and rejuvenate even the tightest of curls.  

18. Phyto Phytoelixir Subtle Oil Intense Nutrition

If your curls have seen their fair share of hot tool damage (no judgement because, same), this oil-based pre-poo is what you need. With ingredients like egg yolk, camellia, and karanja oil, you'll be able to whip your curls back into shape in no time.

19. Davines The Restless Circle

This is my absolute favorite pre-wash treatment that was recommended to me by my stylist. A little goes a long way and it works wonders for my thick, dry curls. My hair always feels incredibly soft, even after rinsing it out and shampooing like normal. Not to mention the crazy low price tag—I'll take five, please.

20. Kérastase Resistance Pre-Shampoo Conditioner

Your curls will look instantly healthier when you use this fiber-renewing pre-wash. It forms a protective shield around hair fibers to repel wash damage. Although it's not necessarily made for thick hair types, it works well for fine and thinning hair.

21. Leonor Greyl L'Huile De Leonor Greyl Pre-Shampoo Oil Treatment

A protective pre-shampoo oil treatment that also makes you feel incredibly French is always a good idea in my book. Chemically damaged hair will benefit nicely from its potent blend of nourishing botanical oils including jojoba, coconut, sunflower, and sesame seed.