InStyle January 2, 2024



The 17 Best Curl Creams for Juicy, Bouncy Curls


It wasn’t until I became a beauty editor years ago that I finally figured out how to make my hair’s natural waves pop. Understanding your hair texture and what products you need can enhance your natural texture There are many folks out there who struggle to wrangle their curls, and it took me years to find out what the best products were for my wavy hair. 

I know curly girls wish they could just hop out of the shower and go, but that often is a recipe for either frizz or flat, limp strands. The correct cocktail of styling products can bring bounce, definition, and life back to your curls. 

One of the things that makes a curl cream stand out against the rest is that you can’t feel it in your hair once it’s dry. 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). 

Knowing how important curly hair products can be, we tapped experts to bring you the best curl creams for every budget and every curl type.

Best Overall

Ouai Curl Crème


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

Best for Thick Hair

Amika 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 Briogeo 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 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

Best Drugstore

Marc Anthony Strictly Curls Curl Cream


What We Love: It’s easy to find at the drugstore. 

What We Don’t Love: It might be too heavy for some. 

This is a fan favorite amongst drugstore shoppers with curls. It does a great job of controlling frizz, moisturizing your curls, and adding definition, too. A little goes a long way. 

We love how lightweight the formula is, and how it works for basically any hair type—from wavy to coily. It contains moisturizing ingredients like avocado oil, vitamin E, and shea butter, too. This pick leaves hair feeling super soft and doesn’t leave an awful crunchy feeling like some other products might. 

Some folks have complained that this formula weighs down their hair. Make sure you’re not applying too much if you decide to add this to your hair care routine. Additionally, it has a lemony scent, so if you are sensitive to fragrance, you might want to try something else. 

Size: 6 fl oz | Ingredients: Avocado oil, vitamin E, shea butter | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best for Waves

IGK RICH KID Wave Enhancing Air-Dry Cream


What We Love: It’s great for fine hair with waves.

What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t offer a ton of hold for tighter curls. 

This is a great option for people with fine, wavy hair who want a little extra definition. It’s an oil-infused gel that contains coconut oil and vitamin A to moisturize, strengthen, and nourish hair, too. 

You can use this product to air dry your wavy strands, or opt for a blow dryer for a faster drying time. One thing to note is that this probably isn’t the best pick for folks with curly or coily hair, as it won’t provide as much hold as some of the other creams on this list. 

Size: 5 fl oz | Ingredients: Coconut oil, vitamin A | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best Defining Cream

Ouidad Curl Shaper Take Shape Plumping + Defining Cream


What We Love: The cream defines curls really well. 

What We Don’t Love: It might not be for folks with fine hair. 

Reduce frizz, add shine, and define your curls with the Ouidad Curl Shaper Take Shape Plumping + Defining Cream. We love this pick for those with loose curls, as it helps to tame unwanted frizz and make curls pop. 

It’s ideal for people with thicker hair textures, and works to boost moisture in medium-to-thick strands. You’ll notice more curl memory, softer hair, and less dryness, too. Because this is a pretty thick cream texture, we don’t really recommend it for folks with thin locks. 

Size: 8 fl oz | Ingredients: Acai Fruit Oil | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best for Frizzy Hair

PATTERN Beauty by Tracee Ellis Ross Styling Cream


What We Love: The cream tames frizz and enhances curls and coils. 

What We Don’t Love: It has a strong scent. 

Frizz doesn’t stand a chance against the PATTERN Beauty by Tracee Ellis Ross Styling Cream. This formula features rosemary leaf extract, kahai oil, and shea butter to help treat split ends, soften curls, add lots of moisture, and boost shine, too. 

We love that this pick is great for folks with curls and coils, and that it works to target dryness in fine, medium, or thick hair. One issue we have found is that some users don’t like the smell, and report that it’s too strong and off-putting.  

Size: 15 fl oz | Ingredients: Rosemary leaf extract, kahai oil, shea butter | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best Air Dry

JVN Complete Hydrating Air Dry Hair Cream


What We Love: You can define curls and waves without adding heat. 

What We Don’t Love: Some folks don’t love the smell. 

There is a lot to love about this pick from JVN. We love that the formula is silicone-free and contains hydrating ingredients you don’t typically find in haircare products—think squalane, chia seed extract, and moringa seed oil. We like this formula for folks with wavy to curly hair who prefer to air-dry their strands rather than blow dry them everytime they hop out of the shower. 

A little goes a long way, and we see the difference in terms of curl definition and smoothness after using this product. One issue that some users have with this formula is that they don’t like the scent—it’s not super overpowering, but it’s certainly not subtle, either. 

Size: 5 fl oz | Ingredients: Squalane, chia seed extract, moringa seed oil | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best Lightweight

Verb Curl Cream


What We Love: It’s really lightweight for a cream. 

What We Don’t Love: It might not work on wavy or loosely curly hair.

A cream in a lightweight formula, the Verb Curl Cream is beloved by folks with kinky and curly hair. Its hero ingredient is sunflower seed extract, which works to nourish dry strands and provides detangling benefits, too. You’ll notice softer and more defined curls with every use, and we also love that this pick doesn’t weigh down hair, either. 

Folks with wavy or loosely curly hair probably won’t notice a huge difference in their curls after using this pick. We like this formula for folks with really curly hair who need some added moisture and definition. 

Size: 5.3 fl oz | Ingredients: Sunflower seed extract, glycerin, patented copolymer | Sulfate Free: Yes

Best for Shine

Kristin Ess Weightless Shine Air Dry Creme


What We Love: This pick adds a boost of shine to any hair pattern. 

What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t provide a super strong hold. 

The Kristin Ess Hair Weightless Shine Air Dry Creme is a great addition to your curly girl lineup if you’re looking to add a boost of shine to dry, frizzy tresses. This pick does a great job of adding a nice sheen to the hair without weighing it down. 

We like this formula for people with wavy or loosely curly hair. It’s probably not great for folks with really coily hair, as it doesn’t provide a ton of hold. It does reduce frizz, but don’t expect it to make your hair look the same as it did in the morning when you styled it with this cream. 

Size: 5 fl oz | Ingredients: Algae extract, glycerin | 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.

Curl Type

Curls can be categorized into different sizes, from type 2A to type 4C. Curls at the lower end of the spectrum, such as type 2A to 2B, tend to have wavy hair. On the flip side, folks on the other end of the curl type spectrum, with types 4A-4C, have coily hair. Different types of curls require different needs when it comes to hair care products. IGK Rich Kid Air-Dry Cream was developed with waves in mind, whereas Pattern Beauty Styling Cream is a better fit for tighter curls and coils. 

Curl creams can work on all types of waves and curls, but some might feel heavier on folks with coily hair, as this hair type tends to have really fine hair that can be weighed down easily. Some curl creams will indicate on the packaging if it’s ideal for coily hair vs. loose waves, for example. 

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.

What order should you apply curl cream?

Your best bet is to apply your curl cream right after you step out of the shower, when your hair is pretty wet. This is because wet hair allows the curl cream to easily glide through your strands and define each curl. Once all your hair is coated with the curl cream, it’ll help to lock in the moisture and hydration, so your curls look more defined, bouncy, and frizz-free.