If you have big and naturally curly hair like me, we can likely agree that we’re part of a tribe. We probably face similar struggles when it comes to managing our hair. You empathize with me when I say I’ve spent years agonizing and spending, trying to find the right hair products to keep my hair curly but not crunchy, soft-but-strong, big-but-tamed. I’ve been there: It’s exhausting. I’ve spent thousands of dollars since I was a teen trying out every new product that promised perfect curls, intently heeding the advice of hair stylists, curly-haired strangers on the street and even entertaining my own product curiosities. After many years of personal experimentation (and bad hair days), I’ve found my favorite products and have been using them regularly — and religiously.
Of course, not all curls are created equally. In fact, there’s a widely used chart on curly hair that helps classify curls with numbers and letters
- It starts with 2A: Very loose, wavy hair
- And it goes all the way to 4C: Tightly-coiled, Z-shaped curls.
I am a solid 3B, which is somewhere in between the two extremes. I’ve got big, thick hair with semi-tight curls. So the products I love to use, and which I’ll detail below, are best-suited for my 3B curls but should give you an idea of what products might work best for you. Since I love to switch between curly and straight hair, I’ve also included a few of my favorite products for days when I want to maintain smooth and shiny straight hair.
If there is one brand I swear by for curly hair, it’s Moroccanoil. Not only do all the hair products have a sweet, nutty aroma (similar to coconut oil) that will leave your hair smelling tropical, they also hydrate and nourish your hair, leaving it feeling super soft without a crispy texture, thanks to its key ingredient: Argan oil. Argan oil, which is sourced from the argan tree, has a high level of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that protect the hair and make it soft. The Moroccanoil Treatment is the signature argan-infused oil that launched the brand and is what makes hair shiny. While I love using the oil on a fresh blowout, the Hydrating Styling Cream is one of my personal favorites for curly hair because it defines my curls and eliminates frizz. The styling cream on its own is a light, creamy texture, so I often mix it with the Moroccanoil Intense Curl Cream to create a thicker cream for extra hold, which gets better as the days go by.
This is my go-to hair mask when my hair needs a little TLC (but really, hydration). My hair stylist (who also has naturally curly hair) introduced me to Kerastase years ago and I’ve been hooked on this mask ever since. It is an investment but a little goes a long way and one container lasts me a few months. Since it is a mask for severely dry hair, the consistency is very goopy. It’s a heavy cream so you don’t need a lot to coat your length and ends. A combination of Iris rhizome sourced from plants and Benjoin Resin from the Benjoin tree creates the highly concentrated blend that deeply moisturizes hair. My curly hair feels much smoother as I apply the mask — and it acts fast. Even though the directions suggest leaving it in for up to 10 minutes, I often keep it in for 30 minutes or longer on days that my hair can use a little extra conditioning.
This little 3.3-ounce bottle is not the most affordable, either, but the highly-rated (and patented) product helps restore the texture of your hair and reduces breakage. I often wear my hair up in a bun when I’m working out or in a ponytail, which can damage hair follicles. This treatment helps strengthen hair that has been damaged from heat, chemicals or pulling and it is free of DEA, aldehydes and formaldehyde. I like to alternate between this product and a Kerastase hair mask once a week. I apply Olaplex No. 3 Perfector generously to still-damp hair and let it sit for about 30 minutes, then I rinse it out and apply my styling cream.
On lazy hair days, I like to wear my hair in a sleek bun or ponytail (inspired by Jennifer Lopez). I need a product to hold my hair stiff in place and I’ve come to prefer the Edge Control Smoother to achieve that polished look. The Edge Control Smoother has a clay-like texture to help keep baby hairs and flyaways in place. I take a dollop and mix it in between my palms, applying it to combed hair, which gives it that wet, slick-back and long-lasting look while honey extract helps seal the hair and aloe adds moisture.
When my hair is blow-dried straight and I want to achieve an effortless beachy wave, this is my favorite spray. I lift the ends of my hair and I spray the middle sections sparingly, a few inches away so it’s evenly distributed. Using my hands, I crunch my hair from the bottom to the top and I create a sexy, I-just-came-back-from-the-beach look. The award-winning formula is made with a sea salt and mineral blend (free of parabens, phthalates, mineral oils and formaldehyde), which is what gives your hair volume and texture.
I starting using this shampoo when I noticed my hair was brittle and lost some of its strength, and I learned that this shampoo was designed to inhibit DHT formation which is one of the main causes of hair loss. Active ingredients like caviar and cegaba, which is a hair growth factor, not only provide the hair with essential amino acids and proteins but also stimulate cell division and prevent hair loss. The formula also includes L-Arginine, which stimulates blood flow to the scalp and delivers essential vitamins and nutrients that revitalize the follicle and helps strengthen damaged hair. The shampoo also contains keratin and collagen peptides, which hydrate the hair and prevent tears but I especially love the jasmine scent — one of my favorite floral smells.
Like most curly hair, mine is naturally super dry but even more so because I color my hair and get it blown out regularly so I have to be diligent about adding moisture back in and keeping my strands hydrated. I have tried the fancy shampoos and conditioners at beauty supply stores and hair salons and I keep coming back to this inexpensive drugstore product. I prefer a conditioner that is thick and dense so my hair will soak it up. It also makes it easier to brush my hair in the shower. What I love about the Hello Hydration Moisturizing Conditioner is that even after I rinse my hair, it still feels silky smooth and it smells like a day spent on a tropical island. You can even use this as a leave-in conditioner if you run out of styling product — just don’t completely rinse it out and let it air dry.