InStyle August 18, 2022



The Best Styling Creams for Juicy, Bouncy Curls


The Ouai Curl Cream adds bounce, shine, and none of that gross crunchy feel

I have been a proud member of the curly hair club since the day I was born. And, like most folks out there who struggle to wrangle their curls, it took me years to find out what the best products for mine were. I tried mousse, gel, sprays, and more. But nothing works quite as well as a great curl cream.

Keep in mind: I’m not someone who has a twelve-step hair routine. If I could hop out of the shower and go, I would. But fellow curlies know that’s a recipe for either frizz or flat, limp strands, so curl cream is a necessity to get those ringlets exactly as I want them with little more than a few finger swipes through my hair.

The best part about a curl cream? You can’t feel it in your hair once it dries. There’s nothing worse than crafting the perfect spirals only to realize that your seemingly impeccable style is either crunchy (thanks, gel), straw-like (many sprays have this effect), or lie limp (no matter how fluffy mousse is, it does not translate to your hair). Cream to the rescue! Ouai Curl Crème came out on top in our research due to its ability to cut frizz with a tiny dollop sans residue.

Ahead, find the 10 best curl creams for every budget and every curl style.

Best Overall: OUAI Curl Cream with North Bondi Fragrance


What We Love: This curl crème is killer at combating frizz.

What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t hold a curl’s shape for very thick hair as well.

Ouai Curl Crème is a master at frizz fighting. With a little dollop on your palms, run this cream through your wet hair and your natural curls will form just as they were intended — but with little to no static to speak of. Once dry, the cream is totally absorbed into your hair, so it leaves no sticky, tacky, or crunchy feel when you run your hands through your hair. That said, this is not the cream for very thick heads of hair. It’s meant to train your curls into their natural shape, and won’t provide support to hold any heavy ringlets in place.

Ok, now for the icing on the cake: This curl cream truly smells amazing. Though it does come in an unscented version, I highly recommend the North Bondi scent. North Bondi incorporates bergamot and lemon, it gives off a slightly citrus scent while still smelling classic enough to wear every day.

Size: 8 fl oz | Ingredients: Chia and Linseed Oils, Coconut Oil, Babassu Oil | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best Value: OGX Moroccan Curling Perfection Defining Cream

What We Love: Creates curls that are not only moisturized but also totally soft as well.

What We Don’t Love: A little bit goes a long way and it’s not quite as buildable as other products.

Isn’t it lovely when you can make a quick stop at a drugstore, or shop a selection on Amazon Prime, and have your best hair attainable in a snap? Well, that’s exactly what OGX curl cream does for you. Much like some of its pricier counterparts, OGX uses Moroccan argan oil to lock in moisture and prevent frizz. With their unique formula, you will have curly hair that is moisturized and bouncy, but also frizz free and soft as ever.

Size: 6 oz | Hydrating Ingredients: Argan Oil | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best for Fine Hair: Adwoa Beauty Baomint Moisturizing Curl Defining Cream

What We Love: It is infused with proteins to not only moisturize, but also strengthen hair.

What We Don’t Love: Because it comes in a jar instead of a tube, it’s a bit messier to use.

If you have thinner hair, you know that the must-haves in a curl cream are extensive, and at times, contradictory. Sure, it has to be ultra-moisturizing, but it can’t be too heavy; and, most importantly, many thin hair possessors have just as much issue with their hair retaining moisture as infusing it in the first place. Adwoa has crafted a curl cream that does double duty, not only using ingredients like baobab and cactus oil, but also proteins that will lock the moisture in and help to strengthen your curls for future hair health as well.

Size: 3.3 and 16 oz | Hydrating Ingredients: Honey, Silk Amino Acids, Shea Butter | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best for Thick Hair: Amika Curl Corps Defining Cream

What We Love: It’s strong enough to use on even the thickest of hair.

What We Don’t Love: Be careful not to use too much: it can get greasy.

Amika’s curl cream should be used with caution, but once you figure out the right amount for your hair, you might never use anything else. The cream contains oat peptide, which is meant to lock in moisture and increase the shine of your hair. When used on wet hair, this curl cream will allow your curls to form in their natural shape yet still allows for bounce, which is a rarity to be sure. That said, use this with caution if you have thinner or finer hair; a little bit goes a long way and, once you’ve stepped over that line, it can feel greasy.

Size: 6.7 fl oz | Hydrating Ingredients: Tapioca Starch, Oat Peptide, Sea Buckthorn Berry | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best for Coily Hair: Melanin Haircare Twist-Elongating Style Cream

What We Love: It’s buildable.

What We Don’t Love: It can be too heavy for thin hair.

Melanin Haircare was founded by two sisters who shared a passion for natural hair care and safe ingredients. And, if you have coily hair, you know how difficult it can be to properly hydrate your strands, while maintaining volume and still feeling light.

Melanin Haircare has come to the rescue with their super lightweight curl cream that is both intensely moisturizing (a must with curls of any kind!), but buildable at the same time, so you can start off slow and add more product as desired without the stress of going over-the-top. This curl cream includes five of the most nourishing hair butters: shea, mango, cocoa, kokum, and cupuacu, to which aloe vera, avocado, almond oil, and argan oil is added. To use this cream, add a little to wet hair and let it dry naturally, adding more product as needed.

Size: 16.1 fl oz | Hydrating Ingredients: Aloe Vera, Castor Oil, Rosehip Seed Oil | Sulfate Free: No

Best for Travel: Briogeo Curl Charisma Silicone-Free Curly Hair Care Travel Kit

What We Love: It comes with not one, but four, travel-friendly tubes.

What We Don’t Love: Though TSA-friendly, these 2 oz tubes run out quickly, so you might have to pack more than one for your next getaway.

If you’re a jet-setter who doesn’t want to settle when it comes to taking her product on the go, this is the set for you. Frankly, if we hadn’t wanted to highlight Briogeo’s awesome travel-friendly pack, the larger-sized curl cream by the brand would definitely have made the list all on its own. This cream uses rice amino acids to defrizz, locking out environmental moisture that causes frizz (like humidity!). With avocado oil for shine and quinoa extract to define your newly-moisture curls, it’s a trifecta of active ingredients that make this curl cream top of our list.

What’s more, they offer a travel set of small 2 oz tubes that are TSA-friendly and package them in a set of four — shampoo and conditioner, curl cream, and a mask.

Size: Four 2 oz tubes | Hydrating Ingredients: Rice Amino Acids, Tomato Fruit Ferment, Avocado Oil, Castor Oil, Chia Seed Oil, and Flax Seed Oil | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best for All Hair Types: Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream

What We Love: It’s ultra-moisturizing without feeling heavy.

What We Don’t Love: The scent is a bit too strong for some.

Moroccanoil products are known for their argan oil infusion, which is meant to moisturize and condition due to its high concentration of Vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants. As such, this product is not one that boasts hold. What it will do, however, is define the curls you already have, be they small waves or tight corkscrews. It’s rare to find a product that is equally beloved between all hair types, though you will surely need to use more on thicker hair and less on thinner, this product is lightweight enough for you and all your curly-haired friends to use together. It does, however, boast a signature scent that is quite perfumey, which is definitely polarizing: while some users love it, others feel it is too overwhelming.

As an added benefit, while this product surely works on air-dried hair, it features a heat-activated technology that will keep your curls bouncy if you use a blow-dryer or diffuser on the low-setting.

Size: 2.5 & 8.5 fl oz | Hydrating Ingredients: Argan Oil, Polyquaternium-11, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best Splurge: Oribe Curl Control Silkening Creme

What We Love: A little bit goes a long way, making the product last longer than others.

What We Don’t Love: This cream is a little too heavy for thin hair.

Yes, this curl cream runs on the more expensive side than most, but since a small amount is all you need, it might very well last you longer than other tubes of the same size. Regardless, it’s also totally worth the hype. Best for medium to thick hair, Oribe pays particular attention to the feel of your curls. Not only does this product cut down on frizz and define your mass of curls, but there’s a reason that it’s called “silkening” cream, as your hair will literally feel like silk when you’re done.

Jenna Spino, Stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, swears by Oribe’s curl cream. Of the product she shares, “it’s a lightweight cream that will give curls definition, provide hold, and reduce frizz without feeling sticky or crunchy.” Adding, “This cream gives hold while still moisturizing the hair using ingredients such as avocado oil, apricot oil, and coconut oil.”

Size: 5 oz | Hydrating Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil, Apricot Oil, Jojoba Oil, Argan Oil, Blend of Styling Polymers, Oribe Signature Complex (Watermelon, Lychee, and Edelweiss Flower) | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best Customizable: Prose Custom Curl Cream

What We Love: The company crafts a special formula based on your specific needs.

What We Don’t Love: It is only shoppable from the brand itself, due to its personalized nature.

Everyone’s hair is different. And, while the easiest way to shop is to walk into your local Sephora and pick up a curl cream that you think is aimed at hair kind-of-sort-of like yours, there’s nothing quite like a custom formula to really capture all of your desires. On the Prose website, you are walked through a number of questions about your hair, ranging from your age to curl shape; moisture level, density, and even porosity.

But don’t worry, no matter how daunting some of the questions might be, there are options to either view visuals or have the question explained to you every step of the way. They even go as far as to tell you what is most affecting your hair where you live (I, in NYC, am most affected by UV rays, water hardness, humidity, and pollution), so that “even the weather can’t ruin your hair,” according to their website. At the very end you get to choose your fragrance, be it floral, fresh herbal, musky, or more (fragrance-free is also an option).

At the end of the process, you are given not only a custom curl cream, but a whole ritual if you’d like, complete with shampoo, conditioner, masks, supplements, and more. But, for the purposes of this list, let’s focus on the curl cream. It will target all the basics of a curl cream (think: frizz, definition, moisture, etc), but will also have added ingredients to help with a myriad of other issues that might have been brought up throughout your personalized survey. Does it get any better than that?

Size: 5.1 fl oz | Hydrating Ingredients: Changes based on your unique formula | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best for Damaged Hair: SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie

What We Love: Not only does it enhance your curls, but it adds noticeable shine.

What We Don’t Love: Its scent is great, but strong, and can stand in competition with others that you wear.

Sure, everyone can benefit from a little moisture infusion in their curls, but this product works magic on previously damaged hair as well. After chemical treatments, color changes, even regular heat styling, you are often left with dry, brittle strands that are a shell of their former selves. This curl cream will bring your curls back to life, not only giving them a moisturizing lift while you’re wearing the product, but aiding in the strengthening and healing of your hair over time. Comb a tiny amount through wet hair, then hands off, you’ll be left with air-dried curls that will amaze you. And for problem areas that hold frizz in low regard, like baby hairs and flyaways, try an extra dab of curl cream directly to those spots to tame.

Size: 12 oz | Hydrating Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Neem Oil, Shea Butter | Sulfate Free: Yes

What to Keep in Mind

Weight of the Cream

While thicker hair requires a little bit more product, and thinner requires less, take care to look for the best formula possible for your hair and curl type. With creams too thick for your hair type, you will be left with the opposite effect that you seek, as the cream will weigh down your curls and prevent the bounce you originally wanted.

Castillo Batalle, Matrix Brand Ambassador, shares, “When looking for products, I always check to make sure there aren’t too many heavy ingredients. Ingredients such as oils, waxes, butters or silicones can be great for keeping shape and hydration but they often weigh down curls.” While thick curls and coils may need that much moisture, finer or loose curls often need less. “I strive to use products that are heavy with water, aloe, milks, or extracts because they’re lightweight and give you that natural bounce we all want to achieve,” Batalle says.


Like with any hair product, a curl cream is no good to you if you can’t stand the fragrance. Check the packaging and make sure that you’re either choosing a fragrance-free option, or one with a scent that you actually like. Hair retains a ton of smell (pro tip: spray perfume in your hair for a more long-lasting fragrance every day), so whatever product you use is going to stick around. It doesn’t matter how magical a curl cream is if you can’t stomach the scent.

Your Questions, Answered

How much curl cream should you use?

“You need to use enough to coat each strand evenly.  A good way to do this is to break your hair into multiple sections (3-5 sections depending on how much hair you have),” Spino says.  Start off slow using a dime size amount for each section to evenly coat each strand. Curl cream is applied more liberally than other products because if some hairs don’t get product, you will be left with frizzy sections.” Batalle echoes the sentiment, adding, “When using a curl cream that is right for your hair, you can never really use too much product. What matters the most is the application of the cream.”

How do you use curl cream?

“Curl cream should be applied to wet hair right out of the shower,” Spino instructs.  “It’s important to make sure hair is close to soaking wet, not slightly damp or towel dried, so that the hair can fully absorb the product and lock it in. I always section curly hair as I am applying about a quarter-size amount of the curl cream throughout each section. I like to use prayer hands: a prayer motion with the hair in-between the hands, sliding down each section, to ensure the cream distributes evenly. I also find it best to scrunch up each section at the end to help maintain the curls' natural shape,” Batalle recommends.