Curls often get lumped into one broad category when it comes to products, but they vary so much from head to head and deserve more careful categorisation. Whether your curls are fine, thick, kinky, coily or damaged, we’ve tried every one of these hero hair products for every curl concern.
By now, it’s common knowledge that what might work miracles on that curly influencer’s coils might not automatically create the same effect on your own strands. As the natural hair movement gains traction and plays an instrumental part in completely changing the curly and afro haired landscape across the globe, our knowledge of hair products has also expanded. Thanks to YouTube tutorials, celebrities flaunting texture, diverse fashion and beauty campaigns, the rise in black female beauty entrepreneurs, and more representative beauty journalism, it’s a pretty good time to celebrate yourself and your heritage.
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With this knowledge comes the privilege to discern what works best for us individually. Gone are the days of slathering on thick concoctions (marketed as an umbrella remedy for any type and texture), or using up half a bottle of flimsy conditioner that would serve a better purpose as fabric softener. Quite often, being mixed heritage brings its own cocktail of attributes, from skin tone to upbringing, and especially when it comes to hair texture.
Many of us have had to discover what works for our hair the hard way – copying our straight-haired friends’ choices or reaching for whatever’s on offer at black hair shops. Even when we spend our hard earned coins on something just because a YouTuber recommended it, it still might not be the right fit because we haven’t considered how different their hair type, density, and texture is to ours.
Yes, curly hair products often get lumped in the same boat – but one size doesn’t fit all. Even one head can be host to various different textures. Venture onwards for our pick of the most effective products for every kind of mixed race curly hair, and insights into how to categorise your own.
Best products for damaged curly hair
Heat, chemicals, bleach, and even just friction – there’s a lot that can mess up curls. The coily structure of each individual strand means there are more corners, meaning more points of potential breakage, plus natural oils from the scalp can’t slide their way down to the ends as smoothly as they can with straight strands.
Add any (or a combo – shudder) of the aforementioned sins to an already weak-ish foundation, and hair just can’t cope. Luckily, giving up/reducing them and a good product routine really can reverse damage.
Dizziak Deep Conditioner
Dye-damaged hair desperately needs protein (the process breaks the hair’s own down), and this buttery mask is rich in the quinoa kind. A blend of plant oils leaves hair silky and repaired, making it the best remedy for bleached hair.
Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strength & Restore Leave In
All natural and in a hefty tub, this leave-in conditioner can be diluted for finer hair, used straight, or really dolloped on as a lightweight mask. Castor oil’s heralded for its follicle-stimulating powers; combined with tingly peppermint and clarifying apple cider vinegar, it’s like a daily supplement for frazzled strands.
Olaplex No 3 Hair Perfector
If you suspect your damaged hair has stopped growing, it probably hasn’t – breakage is to blame. The salon favourite can be used at home as a pre-shampoo treatment or leave-in, and seeks out broken bonds in the hair and repair them from the inside out. The results aren’t immediately obvious, but trust us – it’s working wonders.
Best products for fine curly hair
If you struggle with flat roots, fragile lengths, or your curls keep dropping, then your texture is most likely fine. You can truly gage its density by gathering it into a plait or ponytail, and seeing if it loses a lot of its volume. Fine curls get weighed down by thick conditioners, oils, and creamy shampoos, but it doesn’t mean these need to be cut from the line-up – dilute them with water to help them penetrate each strand and lessen their weight.
Maui Moisture Nourish & Moisture Coconut Shampoo & Conditioner
Lightweight nurturers aloe vera and coconut milk and water give finer textures much needed hydration, without weighing them down. Using a matching shampoo and conditioner isn’t always a must, but it truly is in this case – the pair are a total dream team.
Herbivore Sea Mist Texturising Coconut Salt Spray
If the tropical coconut, lime and vanilla scent doesn’t get you hooked on this, then the plumping powers it lends to your curls will complete the addiction. A few spritzes on roots and lengths adds hydration with aloe, and a bit of grit and texture with Pacific sea salt. Plus, you can use it on your body too.
Only Curls Enhancing Curl Gel
Gels of the past equalled crispy curls that didn’t move – but today’s formulas are a total necessity for hold and volume, even for fine strands. This one nurtures with avocado and kukui oil, but doesn’t weigh hair down at all. For best results, apply to soaking wet hair and scrunch out excess product and water with a microfiber towel/T-shirt.
Best products for thick curly hair
Thick hair’s coveted by everyone, but those blessed with it can get frustrated with the amount of products needed to cover all bases. Formulas that go the extra mile and save those coins are key, as is a nourishing plant oil – your plentiful strands can handle the weight.
Equi Botanics Marula Oil Leave In Conditioner
Having abundant locks can mean products run out quicker than loo roll, but everything in Equi’s range is highly concentrated and a little goes such a long way. Mixed with some water or used straight, the leave-in coats strands and really feeds them. Everything in the range is pure magic and sells out fast, so it’s best to get in there sooner rather than later.
Nylah Super Seed Hair Oil
This blend of eleven cold-pressed (for max potency) plant oils is really something. Warm a couple of tablespoons up for a hot oil pre-shampoo hair and scalp treatment (the longer it stays in, the better), or apply over your styling products to seal in moisture.
Best products for kinky curly hair
If your curls are tighter and closer to that lustrous afro texture than looser curls, then they can be classified under this umbrella. Look for a really trusty leave-in to add moisture and definition, and take care when cleansing – the density of the curls means shampoo takes longer to rinse out properly.
Jim + Henry Eight Leave-in Conditioner
Organic Ghanaian shea butter and vitamin E supercharge this creamy leave-in, while rosemary oil ensures the scalp stays healthy. The generous helping and not-too-thick texture mean you get your money’s worth, plus it spreads over coils beautifully.
Keracare Twist & Define Cream
Ayurvedic amla oil is said to be the ultimate hair food, and this buttery cream takes advantage of its powers. Used best with twist outs or just throughout lengths, it moisturises and lends a soft hold.
As I Am Coconut Cowash Cleansing Conditioner
A walnut-sized dollop of this cleanses scalp and strands while delivering a dose of hair-loving oils, making it a true two-in-one. Also, the blend of tangerine and coconut lingers in your hair and bathroom for days after use.
Best products for dry curly hair
Curls are naturally drier by nature, and damaging practices can worsen this like nothing else (along with cold weather, sun exposure, and hard water). Asides from putting away the straighteners, the best way to tackle dryness is to feed strands lots of nourishing products, both in and out of the shower, and avoid harsh sulphate shampoos at all costs. Lock it all in with a lightweight oil to make sure those hardworking products don’t evaporate.
Boucleme Cream Cleanser
Just because this cream cleanser doesn’t foam, doesn’t mean it’s not doing its job. Gentle enough for daily use and formulated with argan oil and aloe vera, it lifts dirt and product build-up from both scalp and strands while conditioning with maximum hydration.
Skimdo Original Cream
This revolutionary gel-cream lends a soft hold to curls while dousing them with nourishing jojoba and sunflower oils. Scrunch into wet hair and prepare for perfect coils for up to a week – we can attest.
OGX Coconut Curls Conditioner
There’s something about this conditioner that guarantees soft, bouncy, shiny curls after every use. Maybe it’s the coconut oil, honey and citrus oil blend, or maybe it’s the fact that it also works great as a leave-in (only rinse about 75% of it out with cold water). It’s probably the combination of both that makes it a guaranteed good hair day in a bottle.
Best products for frizzy curly hair
Frizz can be caused by a number of things, but the main culprits are a) lack of moisture and damage, and b) how you’re drying your hair and sleeping on it. If your frizz is down to the former, scroll up for our damage-reversing heroes. If you’ve been using a common towel and a cotton pillowcase, then switch to an old t-shirt/microfiber towel and a silk or satin turban or pillowcase – the smoother fibres won’t aggravate the hair cuticle, meaning less tangles, moisture loss, and frizz.
Briogeo Farewell Frizz Rosehip, Argan and Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is one of the few that can fit into the hair shaft, rather than coat it, thanks to its tiny molecular structure. Blended with lightweight rosehip and nourishing argan oil, this cocktail is perfect for adding just enough hydration to fluffy strands without weighing them down – add to damp hair at the final stage of your routine, or sparingly to dry hair if it’s on the finer side.
Bounce Curl Light Crème Gel with Aloe
Beloved by so many curly girls, this gel weightlessly gives shape to coils and seals in moisture and other products, avoiding frizz and keeping curls intact for up to five days. Apply to soaking wet hair, raking through and scrunching with a microfiber towel/t-shirt to avoid roughing up the hair cuticle.
Silke Hair Wrap
The less freedom hair has to move around and rub up against your pillow in the night, the better. This 100% silk hair wrap preserves and protects curls, and makes anyone feel like a svelte retro screen siren – the perfect way to compliment faded tracksuit bottoms and a stained T-shirt. Tip: slather on a hair mask, a disposable shower cap, then the silk wrap for a proper night time nourishment session without messing up your sheets.
Images: Getty/Courtesy of brands
Ava Welsing-Kitcher is Stylist’s junior beauty writer and resident curly girl. She’s addicted to lip balm (who isn’t?!), wearing eyeshadow as blush and lipstick and all things hair.