Do you ever look in the mirror halfway through the day and wonder what happened to your beautiful, shiny curls? Curls are great. But if you’ve had them your whole life, you might have a love-hate relationship with them. When hydrated and nourished properly, you’re left with beautiful curls. But when it’s 90% humidity or you’ve bleached your hair (a lot), the result might not be so flattering.
Creams, gels, sprays, mousses, leave-ins; you’ve heard of them all. And chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve tried them all, too. It can be a bit overwhelming and quite frankly, costly, to figure out which ones work best for your hair. So, in this guide, we’ll show you how to find the right curl defining cream for you. And if you’re still a bit stuck, we’ll list our top 10 favorites.
How to Choose a Curl Defining Cream – Buying Guide
If you’ve got curls, you’ve probably tried dozens of curl-defining creams to help you nourish and maintain them. And you still might not have found the right creams for your hair. There are just so many products out there, so we decided to ask Sylvia to help us sort through the good and the bad.
Sylvia started her natural hair journey over 10 years ago. Back then, she struggled with a dearth of information about natural hair, hair care, and hair products. And now, in 2018, she knows that people are overwhelmed by the opposite: hoardes of online information, with no way to separate truth from fiction.
And that's why she founded Curls Understood, a site that curates content from around the web so you know just what to do with your hair. Her success as a blogger has also led her to write 2 ebooks about natural hair, as well as contribute to platforms such as Allure and Buzzfeed. Learn more about her and your curls at her site below.
・The Curls Understood Site: https://curlsunderstood.com
Gels, Mousses, or Creams: Depends on How Much Hold You Want and the Feel You Want
A cream will give you lots of moisture and bounce, but if you’re looking to keep your hair styled up and in place all night, it won’t do the job–you’ll need to add a gel. Let’s take a look at when you should use gels, mousses, and creams.
For a Strong Hold, Choose a Curling Gel
Gels typically provide a stronger hold with more control. However, they offer less body.
If you do prefer a curl-defining gel, be careful not to apply too much; otherwise, it’ll leave your hair looking quite wet and crunchy. And if you’ve got fragile hair, gel might be too harsh. There are also spray gels, which gives your hair a little more bounce.
I think it works great for women who have a looser curl pattern or beach waves, as opposed to someone who has an afro. If you have an afro, you can't actually see the curls until you get really close, which means the curls are smaller. For those smaller curls, gels don’t work as well. People who have kinky hair or who are in the 4a, 4b, or 4c scale probably don’t have as much success using gels.
For Added Volume, Go with a Mousse
Mousses are for you if you’re looking for added volume and bounce. They provide a light to medium hold, so they work great with finer hair.
Unfortunately, though, a lot of mousses contain drying alcohols, so if you choose a mousse to help define your curls, make sure it doesn’t contain those alcohols.
Whereas, you would use a mousse to encourage softer curls. After it dries, the hair isn’t going to feel as crunchy. But again, more so for people with looser curls, as opposed to afros. I don’t know many people with the 4a, 4b, or 4c hair who would use a mousse. If you have thicker curls, you’d have to use more product. If you have looser curls, it makes your hair softer and bouncier and light.
For Ultimate Moisture, Look for a Cream
The rule typically goes like this: the tighter your curls are, the dryer and more fragile they are. If you’re a type 3 or 4, you know this fact all too well. But, if you sufficiently nourish and hydrate your curls, you’ll be left with soft, manageable, defined curls.
Creams generally provide the most moisture, but only offer a light hold. They can be advertised as leave-in-conditioners, as well. They can even help add some volume and bounce, but only if you avoid applying at the root. They’ll add control to any curl type; however, if you’re looking for a strong hold, they probably won’t deliver.
Make sure when you’re using a cream, you apply it when your hair is still damp. Get one with moisturizing botanical ingredients, like chamomile, jojoba, or olive oil. Sylvia also mentioned to look for water as the first ingredient and something that isn’t drying as the second ingredient. She likes glycerin because it’s moisturizing.
Creams are great for enhancing the curl. You would have to spray water to activate the curl, then you would use a cream to enhance the curl, and then maybe a little gel to hold. If you want a strong hold that lasts, you'd use a cream and then a gel. Some of the creams that I use are even marketed as leave in conditioners.
My favorite curling cream is Shea Moisture Curling Souffle--I love the smell and its not too heavy. I usually twist my hair with it and when I let the twists out to make my hair crinkly, they're still fluffy and have movement; they're not weighed down by the product. For loose curls, Ouidad or Deva Curls have good creams.
Tame the Frizz and Keep it Shining
You’ll need an anti-frizz curl defining cream with natural oils to give you added shine, define curls, and help reduce frizz. You’ll typically find a variety of gels, mousses, and creams that contain these properties.
All curly girls probably deal with frizz, but if you’ve got tighter curls, it’s typically harder to tame frizz, especially in humid climates. Women with looser curls typically will find more success using an anti-frizz curl defining product.
I personally love to wear my hair up, so you can still see some of the crinkles in my curls—or maybe wear head scarves. If I have to wear my hair out, I will maybe use more gel and a lot of water while styling my hair, to encourage the curl pattern.
But sometimes it doesn’t matter—if it's too humid, it'll frizz. Some people use frizz control serums. But those don’t work with my hair type. I would say if you have a looser curl, then frizz serums or a light natural oil are really good. Gel is definitely more effective for frizz control than cream. The first ingredient in creams is water, so they are more prone to frizz up.
For Permed or Bleached Hair: Avoid Heavy Creams and Further Damage with UV Protection
So, we all know we have to protect our skin when we go out on a sunny day. But our hair deserves no less TLC. UV rays can be just as detrimental to hair as it is to skin–chemically-treated hair in particular. UV rays can dry out the hair, resulting in brittle, frizzy hair. Not to mention, they can disrupt chemical processing in permed or colored hair.
Also, avoid creamy formulas, since they can weigh the curls down. Mousses and light creams complement a permed do. If your hair has gone through chemical processing, or if you simply spend a lot of time out in the sun, look for a lightweight curl defining cream containing SPF.
For straight hair, the natural oils that our scalp secretes just runs down. But for curly hair, it's harder for those natural oils to get from the scalp to the ends, so a lot of us suffer from dry ends.
If you're worried about sun damage to your hair, look to see if it specifically says that it helps with UV. Otherwise, most curl creams won't protect you from the sun. On a regular day, you’re not outside the whole time, so it's not that big of a deal. But if you know you’re going to be in the sun, find a product that specifically says that it has UV protection.
Avoid Build-up: Stay Away from Silicones, Non-natural Oils, and Waxes
A lot of curly girls tend to skip a day or two of shampoo-ing, to keep their hair moisturized. But in between those washes, we tend to use curl-defining creams. So to avoid build up and itchiness, try to stay away from silicones, waxes, and non-natural oils. If you must, look for a clarifying shampoo to get rid of the build up.
Silicones typically end in suffixes like -one, or -xane, like dimethicone, so they can be easy to find. Mineral oil is a common non-natural oil that you should avoid if you can. Additionally, waxes like bees wax or candelilla wax can build up in your hair quickly.
Mineral oil has no nutritional benefit to hair at all. Mineral oil was just a filler ingredient, so definitely stay away from it if you can. Bees wax isn’t the best because it's very sticky and hard to get off your hair, but people love it because its an alternative to gel. But I don’t like it and I would avoid it.
Silicones have gotten a really bad reputation in the curly community, but as long as its one of the kinder silicones that isn’t as stripping, it should be fine.
Alcohols: Which to Avoid and Which to Look For
For products that are going to be rinsed out, like shampoo, drying alcohols might be okay. But you’re probably going to use a curl-defining cream all day, so it’s important that you avoid drying alcohols. They include SD alcohol, isopropanol, ethanol, propyl alcohol, ispropyl alcohol, and more.
That being said, some alcohols actually help keep your hair moisturized, so look for them when shopping. They include stearyl alcohol, lauryl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, behenyl alcohol, and others.
If someone is really worried about it, they can make their own products. I also have a section on my site about making your own products. Also, if a drying alcohol is not one of the first 3-5 ingredients on the list, it should be okay.
People should educate themselves on the alcohols that are better, so they know which to avoid and which ones not to. Maybe put a list on your phone and then you can look at it when you’re shopping.
Top 10 Curl Defining Creams to Buy Online
If you still need a little push in the right direction, here are our top 10 picks for curl defining creams, including some of Sylvia’s favorites!
10. ORS Curls Unleashed Curl Defining Creme
An Anti-Frizz Cream that will Keep Your Curls Soft–Great for Loose and Tight Curls
Made with sweet almond oil, coconut oil, and safflower oil, this moisturizing cream will make your hair smooth and touchable, all while maintaining the definition of your curls. This cream isn’t as drying as some other curl defining products and leaves your hair with semi-relaxed curls.
It’s got a light, pleasant scent to it and also has glycerin, so it attracts moisture to your hair, making sure it never gets too dry. It offers just a light hold, so if you need a strong hold, we recommend pairing it with a gel.
9. SheaMoisture Coconut and Hibiscus Frizz-Free Curl Mousse
No Crunch, Lightweight Mousse–Great for Fine Hair
This anti-frizz curl mousse really lives up to its name. People love its anti-frizz properties and the fact that it can stand up to the humidity and keep your curls defined, even in Texas. If you’ve got thick hair, this might be too light and you’ll have to use a lot of it. But if you’ve got fine curls, this will define your curls, leaving them soft and touchable.
People with both wavy and kinky hair have tried this and liked it. The coconut oil moisturizes your hair and reduces breakage, while the neem oil keeps frizz to a minimum. The scent isn’t as nice and summery as some other products from this line, but it doesn’t have a chemical smell to it, either.
8. DevaCurl Supercream Coconut Curl Styler
A Volumizing Cream Disguised in a Mousse Applicator
Don’t let the packaging fool you–this is not a mousse, but a cream. A very fresh coconut-y smelling cream, indeed. It’s not going to keep your frizz away completely, but this cream will give you lots of volume and bounce. If you’ve got thick, tight curls, you’ll likely need to use this, as well as a mousse or gel for more hold. But if you have slightly looser curls, this might be the only thing you need.
This cream gives good definition, but leaves your hair feeling soft. The only thing you may have to consider is its price. If you’re using another product with it, like a gel, you can get away with just a pump or two for each use so it lasts longer. Be sure to check reviews of the sellers beforehand, as some have received containers with broken lids and pumps.
7. Curls Blueberry Bliss Control Jelly
Definition and Hold with a Sweet Blueberry Scent
Light in both texture and smell, this gel will give your curls definition, hold, and a nice sheen. Lovers of this gel like to pair it with a leave in conditioner for ultimate moisture. If you’re like most people and hate the feeling of sticky gel on your fingers–unfortunately, this gel is sticky. However, it doesn’t dry sticky; just wash your hands after applying.
If you’re sick of all of your hair products smelling like coconut, then you might be satisfied with this, as it smells like slightly sweet blueberry. That being said, if strong smells tend to give you migraines, don’t take an up-close whiff of it. Make sure your hair is wet before applying to avoid damage.
6. Brio Geo Rosarco Milk Reparative Leave-In Conditioning Spray
A Lightweight Cream with Nourishing Oils–Great for Brittle, Damaged Hair
Labeled as a leave-in conditioner, this spray cream is super lightweight, so it won’t weigh ine hair down. It’s got nourishing oils like rosehip, coconut, argan, and vitamin E to help your hair maintain moisture, control frizz, protect against breakage, and prevent further damage. So it’s great for dry, damaged hair, or for bleached hair.
Since this cream spray has properties similar to that of a conditioner, it’s also great for detangling hair–with your fingers, of course! You can use it alone, or, for a strong hold, you can add a gel on top of it. This cream spray is even great for a second day refreshment. If your hair tends to get oily, don’t use a lot–it’ll make your hair feel slightly greasy.
5. TIGI Catwalk Curls Rock Amplifier
A Great Curl Definer with Strong Hold–Best Paired with a Leave-in Conditioner
Great for all different curl patterns and textures, this hair lotion gives a lot of hold. It’s a bit heavier than others, but doesn’t weigh down your hair too much. Be careful not to use too much (more than a pea-sized amount); otherwise, it might dry as a white residue. That being said, if it does happen, don’t fret! Just add a little water and massage it into the product.
Make sure you apply to your hair when it is very wet; otherwise, it will leave your hair very crunchy. If you have naturally dry hair, this may not work well with you. But if you do choose to use it, be sure to apply a leave-in conditioner or cream first to ensure that your hair retains some moisture.
4. SheaMoisture Coconut Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie
Dense and Rich in Nutrients–Leaves Your Hair Light and Touchable
One of Sylvia’s favorite curl defining creams, SheaMoisture really impresses here. Packed with hydrating ingredients like aloe, coconut oil, avocado oil, and vitamin E oil, this cream will moisturize your curls, leaving them bouncy and vibrant. And if you hate crunchy hair, this is for you–it’ll leave your curls soft and touchable.
Since it isn’t a gel, it can be a bit difficult to define tight curls. If you have very thin, loose curls, though, this cream might be a bit heavy and weigh them down. This cream will give your hair nice shine, but without the wet look that a lot of gels have.
3. Eco Styler Black Casotr & Flaxseed Oil Gel
Alcohol-free Lightweight Gel with Excellent Hold
Another one of Sylvia’s favorites, this styling gel is made with no alcohol and offers a strong hold. The vitamin E, black castor oil, flaxseed oil, and Omega 3 are all ingredients that promote healthy hair. It contributes to hair growth, shine, nourishment, and helps repair damaged hair. We also love that this gel is anti-itch and combats dandruff.
Since it’s lightweight and alcohol-free, it works great with all hair types, even loose beach curls and permed hair. It can be applied to wet or dry hair, but if you don’t like crunchy hair, don’t use a lot. Be sure to check reviews of the seller before buying, as some people have received damaged or opened containers.
2. Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea Curl Defining Creme
A Little Goes a Long Way for this Anti-Humidity, Super Moisturizing Cream
When you’ve got natural curly hair, it’s all about moisture. Eden BodyWorks has put a number of moisturizing agents in this cream, including water, coconut oil, shea butter, jojoba seed oil, and avocado oil. It’s got moisturizing alcohols, such as cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol, too! And although it has all of these oils, it won’t leave your hair feeling greasy like some creams do.
Rejuvenate your coarse, thick, kinky, damaged hair with this cream. It’s great for dry hair and any curly head of hair that needs some TLC. The one thing you should be careful with is the amount you use for reapplication. If you use too much (especially on day 2 or 3), it might show up as white in your hair. It’s got some hold to it, but if you’re looking for a strict hold all day, this won’t be enough.
1. Ouidad Curl Quencher Moisturizing Styling Gel
Excellent Quality, Antifrizz Gel–Perfect for Tight Curls
Some people are a bit put off by the price of this moisturizing gel, but the overall consensus is that it is worth it. Whether you’ve got natural curls or permed curls, this gel will keep your curls defined, hydrated, bouncy, and soft–no more stiff, sticky curls. It won’t weigh your hair down and the meadowfoam seed oil helps keep moisture in each strand.
What we especially like about this gel is that it helps tame frizz. So if you live in an area with high humidity, this will help keep your hair from being an unmanageable, frizzy mess.
So, there you have it! Curls can be a wonderful, beautiful thing when nourished properly, so remember to give them some TLC. Hopefully we’ve helped you get a better understanding of how to look for and choose a curl defining cream for you, whether it’s a leave-in, mousse, cream, or gel.
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