Curly hair is glorious, luscious, shiny and whimsical — when it cooperates.
Most of the time, curly hair gets dry quicker, tangles faster and loses its shine more than any other hair type. That’s because the twists and turns that make those coils pop actually make it harder for them to hold in the moisture they need to be their juiciest and bounciest selves.
The headache of searching for the right product out of the dozens on the market may not seem worth it. But once you find the right curl cream — a hair product raved about by pros and users alike — and experience how it defines and holds your ringlets, it's almost like you can hear the curly-haired angels sing.
We want that for your curls. That's why the Shop TODAY team got the deets from some of the top curly hair experts in the industry to find out which 14 curl creams provide that perfect balance of moisture and hold — because your crown of stunning ringlets deserves nothing less.
What to consider when shopping for a curl cream
It may sound easy, but finding the right curl cream for your curl porosity can be an effort of trial and error. Marissa Jackson is a curly hair expert who owns her own Beverly Hills salon, Marissa J Curls. When it comes to curl creams, she believes that “the most important thing to consider is porosity,” or how your hair absorbs water.
There are three porosity types: high, low and normal. High-porosity curls may get drenched easily but dry out just as fast. Low-porosity curls don’t absorb water that well; instead, water beads on the hair before fully soaking in. Normal-porosity curls absorb water and hold essential moisture in — they more than likely have a smoother texture to them, too.
Slippage, or slip, refers to how lubricated your hair feels after applying a product. The right curl cream helps make it easier to create the style you want without causing breakage and frizz. The more slip a curl cream provides, the easier it is to detangle, brush and style your curls. According to Jackson, “The best way to apply curl cream is always going to be on soaking wet hair because it allows your hair to have more slip and helps your hair absorb moisture better.”
A curl cream should have ingredients that make your spirals more defined, bouncier and healthier overall. It’s definitely a personal choice, but there are some things that have united and divided the curly hair community.
“Silicones, oils and butters are at the top of the list ... when it comes to strong opinions on what you should and should not be putting in your hair,” says Jackson. “In my personal and professional [opinion as a] stylist, this method does not work for everyone.”
It’s all about embracing and being confident with your curls and loving the journey to healthier hair.
When it comes to product hold, one size does not fit all curls. Looser curls usually do best with a lightweight cream to gently hold their style, while coarser textures need a stronger hold to keep moisture in and frizz at bay.
There are also other hair needs to consider. If you struggle with breakage, a curl cream with a medium to strong hold could help keep those coily cuticles smoothed down. If you have an oily scalp, a lighter hold may work to keep moisture in and balance sebum. It’s all about understanding these needs to find the right curl cream for you.
Best curl creams, according to experts
Active ingredients: Natural shea butter, pure coconut oil | Free from: Sulfates, parabens, dyes | Scent: Fresh coconut, shea butter
You don't have to spend a ton of money to give your curls a nice boost, and Suave's $5 curl cream is proof of that. Ona Diaz-Santin, celebrity hairstylist and owner of 5 Salon & Spa in Fort Lee, New Jersey, is a big fan of the product and loves that it "leaves hair silky soft with great shine and definition."
The budget-friendly find is suitable for both waves and curls, and it works to moisturize, add shine to and soften strands. The paraben-free formula also helps manage frizz and is infused with two highly hydrating ingredients: coconut oil and shea butter.
Active ingredients: Coconut oil, shea butter, silk protein, neem oil | Free from: Sulfates, silicones, parabens, phthalates, mineral oil | Scent: Fresh tropical coconut smoothie
Much like a real smoothie, this nutrient-rich curl cream from SheaMoisture is packed with multiple beneficial ingredients and it works overtime to condition curls to add body and shine. It's no wonder that celebrity hairdresser and cosmetologist Jasmine Burnside was quick to recommend it.
"It's a thick, rich cream that's great for thicker, frizzier hair types. It's particularly amazing for type 4 hair, especially for twist-out and protective hairstyles," she says.
Active ingredients: Sunflower oil, castor oil, amla oil, sugar beet root | Free from: Gluten, parabens, phthalate, talc, cruelty-free | Scent: Sweet, earthy scent
When she's working with a client that has ultra-curly or dry, wavy hair, New York City-based celebrity hair colorist Stephanie Brown of IGK Salons takes this budget pick out of her beauty arsenal. "It's very moisturizing and hydrating, which is great for curls," she says.
This curl cream is free of harsh ingredients like sulfates, soaps and detergents, and it helps manage frizz while adding definition to strands.
Active ingredients: Coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter | Free from: Sulfates, silicones, parabens, drying alcohols, artificial dyes, mineral oil | Scent: Botanical florals
Craving touchable tresses? Zotos' color-safe cream adds definition and softens curls of all types. It's also free of sulfates, parabens and silicones. "This lightweight cream allows for a natural bounce to come through the style," Diaz-Santin says.
To use, just dispense a small amount of product into your hand and scrunch it up into roots, then wait for the magic to happen.
Active ingredients: Red seaweed extract, shea butter, panthenol, glycerin | Free from: Sulfates | Scent: Clean and fresh
Curls can be pretty delicate, and celebrity hairstylist and extension artist Michelle Cleveland, who's based in New Jersey, loves the fact that this lightweight cream doesn't weigh them down. "It adds shine and polish and defines curls without making it feel stiff or crunchy," she says.
Two of its rockstar ingredients are moisturizing shea butter and glycerin, and Cleveland appreciates that the product also shields curls from pesky frizz.
Active ingredients: Sunflower seed extract, olive oil, glycerin | Free from: Sulfates SLS & SLES, parabens, formaldehyde, mineral oil, gluten, cruelty-free | Scent: Light grapefruit, oatmeal
The standout feature of this curl cream is the sunflower seed extract in its formula, which provides UV protection to prevent sun damage and heat damage.
This pick is lightweight for more fine and wavy textures. If you have thicker or coarser curls, you’ll need to layer this with a leave-in to get your best curl shape and definition. If you prefer to have a lighter hold, then this is a great curl cream for you with rave reviews.
Active ingredients: Coconut oil | Free from: Silicones, sulfates, petrolatum, mineral oil | Scent: Clean and beach-y
Named for the number of benefits it offers curly hair, this powerhouse cream from Mizani is the very definition of a multitasker. New Jersey-based hairstylist Jennifer Korab, owner of Renaissance Salon & Spa, can't talk highly enough about its moisturizing and priming benefits.
"It plumps curls [and] adds intense moisture and touchable softness. It improves curl definition and adds shine and touchable texture. The priming benefits help control frizz, prevent split ends and make your blowouts easier," she explains.
Active ingredients: Avocado oil, rose oil, aloe vera leaf juice, fenugreek seed extract, Murumuru seed butter | Free from: Silicones, sulfates, parabens, PEGs, and cruelty | Scent: White jasmine, magnolia flowers, sandalwood, vanilla
Bounce Curl has made its mark in the curly hair community, and this Clump & Define Cream is a big reason why.
When you’re struggling with dry hair, you need a healthy dose of oils to keep that moisture in every strand, and this dermatologist-tested formula is concentrated enough so that a little bit goes a long way. It has over 10 exotic oils from the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean, including organic black seed oil, Egyptian Abyssinian oil and Moroccan argan oil.
Active ingredients: Sea buckthorn berry, tapioca starch, oat peptides | Free from: Parabens, sulfates, phthalates, formaldehydes, mineral oil | Scent: Light, powdery floral
The standout in this curl cream is definitely the sea buckthorn. When your curls are dry, it means they’re screaming for the right fatty acids to bring them back to life. This one is a favorite pick from Jackson. “I use it in the salon every day and it works for all curl types,” she says.
It rejuvenates your curls with moisture and improves the elasticity you need for bouncy ringlets. Sea buckthorn has high concentrations of omega-7, a rare essential fatty acid, and vitamin E to protect against UV and other environmental damage.
Active ingredients: Avocado oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, glycerin | Free from: Parabens, formaldehydes, phthalates, mineral oil, gluten | Scent: Citrus, fruity, floral
We've always had a soft spot for products that go above and beyond and provide multiple benefits, and this cream from Bumble and Bumble is a truly versatile find. It offers UV protection, tackles dryness, defines curls and adds shine, for starters.
"This product is great for wavy and curly types of hair. It smells amazing and has an oil and buttery cream base so it goes on smooth and adds enough moisture without looking wet," Kyle says.
Active ingredients: Coconut oil, glycerin, and panthenol | Free from: Parabens, sulfates, sodium chloride, cruelty-free | Scent: Coconut pear
Not only does this curl cream do a great job of whipping waves into shape, it also smells amazing. "I love the sweet, candy scent," New York-based celebrity hairstylist Patrick Kyle tells us.
The mane expert touts the benefits of this coconut-infused cream, explaining that he uses it all the time. "It adds moisture to hair without stiffness or weighing it down," he explains.
Active ingredients: Chia, linseed, coconut, babassu oil | Free from: Sulfates SLS & SLES, parabens, silicone, phthalates, fragrance | Scent: None
"Made with natural oils such as chia, linseed, coconut and babassu, Ouai's curl cream helps to form and shape curls, control frizz and protect hair from humidity," Cleveland tells us.
The silicone-free cream helps seal damaged cuticles and hydrates without added parabens, sulfates or fragrances. It's also safe for colored and chemically-treated locks, according to the brand.
Active ingredients: Manuka honey, ceramides, glycerin | Free from: Silicones, sulfates, mineral oil, cruelty | Scent: Warm musk and floral
Curl creams don't have to weigh down your hair to be effective. Case in point: this lightweight formula that coats ringlets with plenty of TLC. "It offers intense hydration and locks in smoothness without weighing down your hair and leaves curls stronger and more defined," Korab says.
The multitasking miracle worker works equally well for wavy, curly and coily strands of multiple textures and has several standout ingredients, including manuka honey and ceramides. It fends off frizz for up to 24 hours and also protects strands from heat up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Active ingredients: Murumuru, mango, cocoa seed butter | Free from: Sulfates SLS & SLES, parabens, formaldehydes, mineral oil, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclocarban, triclosan, gluten, cruelty | Scent: Warm florals
When you find a product that truly gets your curls, it's a cherry on top if it also smells great. Leigh Hardges, stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, couldn't stop gushing about this fragrant case in point. "The smell that it gives off is just heavenly," she tells us.
The quality cream features several nourishing ingredients like olive and avocado oils, as well as a butter complex that hydrates and smooths the cuticle. "It is rich, like crème brûlée rich, and it completely eradicates frizz. It breaks down in your hands so the application process is a breeze," the stylist says.
Questions about curl creams, answered by experts
What’s the best way to apply curl cream?
Curl cream can come after a leave-in and before a styling gel if your hair type needs it. “[A curl cream with slippage] is always recommended for better curl definition,” says Jackson. “When applying curl cream, it’s best to section your hair (two to four sections works) and really rake and press the product in.”
Does curl cream work on straight hair?
This is where your hair porosity comes into play. Though straight hair doesn’t have much frizz, it can still get dry depending on your porosity. Jackson explains, “If you have high-porosity hair, it’s better to use a thicker-viscosity curl cream with different emollients. If you have low-porosity hair, you’ll want thinner-viscosity products like a gel or mousse.”
Can I use mousse and curl cream together?
It all depends on whether the product type and ingredients blend together well. One way to see if two products from different lines can work is to put a nickel-sized amount of each product in the palm of your hand. Use the warmth of your fingers to swirl the products together. If it becomes a clear unified mix, it’ll probably work well for your curls. If it starts to clump up like cottage cheese or become waxy, then it will most likely flake and dry out your curls.
How often should I use curl cream?
Curl creams are meant to be the last product in your styling process. The right curl cream for you should hold your hair until the next wash or until you decide to change up your style. Because curl cream is all about balancing moisture and hold, you can use it as a curl refresher after moisturizing your hair with a spray bottle to give any frizzy areas some love.
How do I refresh my curls without frizz?
The best way to refresh curls without frizz is to start with your porosity type:
High-porosity curls need help holding moisture. You can mix water and a lightweight leave-in conditioner in a continuous-mist spray bottle. Spray only the sections that are frizzy to prevent other sections from losing that product hold. Add a little dab of curl cream to that section again and do not touch it until it dries. You can do this every morning as you refresh your style or anytime your curls feel drier than usual.
Low-porosity curls need help letting moisture in. Your products are probably sitting on your hair, so you can start by wetting your hands and lightly pressing the frizzy sections until it saturated. Because low-porosity curls build up product quickly, you don’t want to add too much curl cream when refreshing them. Don't touch your curls until they're dry. You can do this multiple times throughout the day — morning and night — to refresh your style without the frizz.
Normal-porosity curls need balance. You can generally get away with only refreshing if you see a dry frizzy section. You can usually tell if you only need a spritz of water or a small amount of curl cream for extra hold if you're restyling.
What can I do if my curl cream stops working?
Sometimes, your curl cream isn’t the problem — it’s product buildup. According to Jackson, the best way to solve this is to “clarify your hair on a regular basis, ideally once a month.” While a moisturizing shampoo can be used every wash day, a clarifying shampoo should only be used sparingly to remove product buildup and help other products (like deep conditioners and curl creams) soak in better.
“My favorite is Malibu C Hard Water Wellness [Shampoo]. It works well for all hair types and [helps your curl cream work] even better when you follow up with the right deep conditioner," she says.
How we chose the best curl creams
Whether you’re new to curl creams or a self-proclaimed curly product junkie, you know how important research it is to dig into everything from ingredients to reviews. It can feel overwhelming at times, but Shop TODAY did the work to help you narrow down what can work for your curls.
We gathered insights from curly hair experts and our own personal experience to come up with our list of the best curl creams, making sure to include the most useful pieces of information about each pick. We also factored in the number of ratings, positive reviews and bestsellers.
Meet our experts
Stephanie Brown is a celebrity hair colorist at IGK Salons New York.
Jasmine Burnside celebrity hairdresser and cosmetologist.
Michelle Cleveland is a celebrity hairstylist and extension artist.
Leigh Hardges is a professional stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago.
Marissa Jackson is a curly hair expert who owns the Beverly Hills salon Marissa J Curls.
Jennifer Korab is New Jersey-based hairstylist and the owner of Renaissance Salon & Spa.
Patrick Kyle is New York-based celebrity hairstylist.
Ona Diaz-Santin is a celebrity hairstylist and the owner of 5 Salon & Spa in New Jersey.