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The 16 best products for curly hair

Confused by creams, mists and gels? We break it down

curly hair
Harper's Bazaar

If you’ve been thinking about breaking up with the hair straighteners for a while now, the events of the past couple of years have surely sealed the deal. Suddenly, anything more laborious than a simple air-dry seems superfluous – especially when a silk scrunchie will pull you together well enough for that morning Zoom meeting.

Whether you're hoping to break the keratin blow-dry cycle, revive long-suppressed texture or simply give your hair a break as we navigate the new normal, embracing your natural curls comes with myriad benefits. Just think – less faff in the mornings and healthier, stronger hair. (Not to mention the style-refreshing powers a voluminous cloud of curls can bring.)

It seems we’re not alone in our desire to embrace the curl, either. "Since the first lockdown hit, I’ve definitely seen a growth in people accepting their natural texture and wanting to know how to manage their own natural hair," says Antonio Corral Calero, global creative director at Moroccanoil.

At Space NK, on-site searches related to curly hair increased 277 per cent during the lockdown period, and a whole host of brands are investing further in specialised offerings. Where finding the best products for curly hair once required serious commitment, the shelves are now packed with formulas to cleanse, define and energise.

If natural is new to you, Corral Calero recommends first looking to your hairdresser for guidance. "Let them teach you how to manage your individual hair texture and how to make your curls last – not just when they’re fresh but throughout the week too."

Of course, styling curls can be a trickier affair than glossing over a poker-straight look, and the huge range of products out there all deliver widely varying results. So, how do you know whether to try a gel, cream, milk or mist? On the road to reviving our own long-neglected curls, we’ve tried countless products – here, discover our thoughts on the very best.

The best products for curly hair

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Best shampoo, conditioner and co-wash for curly hair
Be Curly
Look Fantastic
Aveda lookfantastic.com

Aveda's vegan curly-hair line is still one of the best on the market, whether you prefer a traditional shampoo and conditioner duo, or a conditioning co-wash.

The citrussy aroma is a beautiful bonus, but it's the way each babassu-oil boosted formula encourages softer, springier curls that'll have you quickly converted.

Best hair mask for fine curly hair
Love Curl Mask
Davines feelunique.com

Davines makes some of the best hair masks around, this one included. The secret to its success? The sustainably sourced Italian almond extracts, which deliver moisture deep enough to tame flyaways and coax hair into tighter, more defined curls.

Use it in place of your conditioner once a week – the difference will be remarkable. Even better, the low-plastic tub is easily and entirely recyclable.

Best hair mask for thick curly hair
3-in-1 Hair Mask with Cupuaçu Butter
KLORANE lookfantastic.com

A high concentration of pure cupuaçu butter makes this a satisfyingly rich treatment for the driest of hair. The star of Klorane's excellent new cupuaçu line, it's 96 per cent natural and rich enough to revive the most heat-ravaged curls in time. For hydration that really goes the distance, let it soak in overnight, or apply a tiny amount to dry ends after styling.

Best curl refreshing spray
Curl Manifesto Refresh Absolu
Kérastase feelunique.com

Really, every product from Kérastase's brilliant curly-hair line is worth trying, but this second-day refreshing spray is a highlight as it's unlike anything else on the market.

Lightweight yet milky, it makes curls feel fresh and soft – rather than sticky or crunchy. It's formulated with strengthening ceramides and moisturising honey, so is brilliant on drier hair, and fragranced with a sweet, fruity scent. Try the butter-thick hair mask, too.

Best cleanser for type 3 and 4 curls
Hair-Wash: Gentle Milky Hair Cleanser
Cult Beauty
BREAD BEAUTY SUPPLY cultbeauty.co.uk

Like its namesake, new brand Bread Beauty Supply is designed to provide the everyday basics for textured and curly hair. Created with type 3 and 4 curls in mind, this lemon-scented cleanser replaces your shampoo to sweep away oils and build-up without stripping strands of moisture.

There's a touch of lathering action – just enough to make your scalp feel satisfyingly clean – but nothing so overzealous that curls are dried out. In fact, the slip this hair wash delivers is outstanding, making laborious detangling truly a thing of the past.

With aloe vera, coconut and argan oil ranking high on the ingredients list, you can be sure of springy, shiny curls that last for days.

Best leave-in cream
Curl Leave-in Butter
space nk
Virtue lookfantastic.com

Curly hair can really benefit from a heavy-duty leave-in conditioner, and Virtue's specialist formula fits the bill perfectly. Containing the brand's signature hair-identical keratin, it's as much a treatment as it is a styling aid, delivering strong, shinier hair over time.
Try using it to twist your damp curls into place before air-drying: it's incredibly rich, so a little goes a long way.

Best curl gel
Curl Gloss
Space NK
Oribe spacenk.com.uk

It might be a gel, but this luxurious product is 100 per cent crunch-free and worlds apart from the sticky formulas of old. Smooth it into wet hair, scrunch gently, then leave your lengths to air-dry for strong, uniform curls with light, bouncy hold and supreme shine.

Best curl-defining cream
Curl Crème - Fragranced
Cult Beauty
OUAI Haircare cultbeauty.co.uk

This mega-hydrating curl cream is a new launch for Ouai, and finding the winning formulation was a real labour of love. In an effort to better understand the demands of curly-haired women, the brand enlisted a team of testers with a spectrum of hair textures, responding to their honest feedback.

This buttery, balm-like cream melts into hair, no matter how thick, defining and holding curls without adding crunch or stiffness. Thoughtfully, it also comes in an unfragranced version, so those that need to layer with a gel can avoid scent overload.

Best oil
No.7 Bonding Oil
Olaplex lookfantastic.com

Olaplex's revolutionary oil is the best way to turn around the damage on over-processed hair, be it a keen keratin-straightening habit or a heavy-duty bleach job.

Rather than simply glossing over thirsty ends, this clever formula penetrates each stand, strengthening the bonds that have been pushed to breaking point.

Best scalp serum
Scalp Serum
This Hair Of Mine
T.H.O.M thishairofmine.world

Bringing some much-needed luxury to the textured-hair space, T.H.O.M (which stands for 'this hair of mine') is the debut brand from renowned session stylist Cyndia Harvey.

Her first product is a universal scalp serum designed to encourage a healthy, balanced scalp and optimal follicle growth. It's a brilliant one to massage in in-between wash days, and works beautifully with protective styles as well as natural lengths. Peptides encourage strong growth, while a natural enzyme works to exfoliate the scalp, eliminating discomfort and dryness.

Best leave-in conditioner
Avocado Hydrating Leave-In Conditioner
Beauty Bay
Cantu beautybay.com £8

Loaded with nourishing oils, this leave-in conditioner is a heavy hitter for hair that's damaged or prone to breakage. Apply it to damp (not soaking wet) hair before combing through to ensure an even distribution.

Best anti frizz spray
No Frizz Instant De-Frizzer
Space NK
Living Proof spacenk.com.uk

If you want to settle a halo of flyaways without disrupting your curls, this light-as-water mist is the best product for the job. When sprayed over a dry, finished style, it'll smooth fluffy patches and reduce humidity-induced volume.

Best finishing mist
Manketti Oil Finishing Mist
Space NK
Charlotte Mensah spacenk.com.uk

Charlotte Mensah has scooped three trophies at the British Hairdresser of the Year awards so far – just one indication of her immense talent when it comes to styling textured hair. Her eponymous product line seamlessly blends effectivity with pure luxury: this weightless mist is infused with African manketti nut oil, which imparts nourishment, shine and a sublime scent.

Best mousse
Curl Control Mousse
Moroccanoil feelunique.com

If your curls naturally have a lot of volume, you may simply want a product to control that halo of flyaways. According to Corral Calero, "the Curl Control Mousse will take down frizz but not volume, and maintain hold all day."

It's lightweight and quickly absorbed, so never feels sticky or greasy, and offers just the right amount of control.

Best curl towel
Hair Turban Lisse Luxe Desert Rose
Aquis lookfantastic.com

This clever towelling turban will help draw excess moisture out from your curls post-wash, meaning there's no need for frizz-inducing rubbing or extra time with the hairdryer. Simply twist your curls gently into the turban post-shower to decrease drying time and fibre damage.

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