Best Conditioner For Curly Hair [Review] in 2021
written by nail expert Jess Rowley
Moisture and curly hair don’t tend to go hand in hand; since the shape of curly hair is so complex natural oils struggle to travel from the scalp to the ends, making it the driest hair type possible. This is why maintaining a good conditioning routine is key.
But what should you look for when buying conditioner for curly hair?
You should consider quite a few factors when buying conditioner for curly hair; for starters, the ingredients are essential, but so are factors like curl type and hair porosity, making it quite a challenge to find the right one for you.
As a curly girl myself, I understand the struggle.
Well, to make things easier for you, I have spent hours hunting down, trying, and testing the top-rated conditioners for curly hair, considering every curl type, hair porosity, and ensuring the conditioners I include are of top quality and free of all the nasties.
Here’s a top tip before we get started: sulfates, silicones, mineral oil, waxes, parabens, and phthalates are not your best friend as a curly girl, so steer clear of these ingredients; it will either leave a residue or may even damage your curls– the last thing we want!
Stay tuned; my top three picks are my favorite conditioners for curly hair ever.
Top picks of the Best Conditioners For Curly Hair
SheaMoisture Curl and Shine Conditioner
best conditioner for 3c hair
SheaMoisture is the holy grail, affordable, sustainable, and high-quality curly hair brand. Their products almost always make my curly hair guides because they’re brilliant for the price point and have major benefits on curls.
But let’s talk about their Coconut & Hibiscus Curl and Shine Conditioner.
This conditioner was designed for thick hair; it instantly softens and detangles dry, thick, coarse curls while infusing your curls and coils with intense moisture. It gives curls a real hydration kick without weighing them down.
This intense hydrating conditioner is blended with coconut and neem oils along with silk protein; it leaves hair feeling smooth, soft, silky while adding shine. Anyone with tight curls, coils, or kinky hair will be sure to benefit from this hydration boost.
Sheamoisture’s products are formulated with Fair Trade Shea Butter which has major benefits on curly hair because of its emolliating qualities, making it excellent for locking on moisture without leaving your curls greasy or heavy.
But that’s not all.
This conditioner is also infused with coconut oil which helps heal protein loss, add moisture and make hair stronger over time; it even helps make curls more manageable and decrease frizz.
Hibiscus is also brilliant for curls; it helps reduce frizz, prevent hair loss, it even promotes hair growth. It coats the curls and infuses them with moisture to boost shine and bounce, helping them retain their natural shape.
The top thing I love about SheaMoisture is that they are free of all the nasty chemicals you’d find in other drugstore brands. You heard me no silicones, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, or petroleum.
Women in Africa handcraft the shea butter; with every purchase, profits are reinvested into local communities. To top it all off, this brand is completely cruelty-free, so not only is it high quality, but it doesn’t test on our furry friends.
SheaMoisture is a winner!
- Hydrating, moisturizing, and nourishing
- Encourages natural curl shape
- Free of all the harsh chemicals
- Cruelty-free and profits go to local communities
Latest deal: SheaMoisture Curl and Shine Conditioner
Maui Moisture Curl Quench Coconut Oil Conditioner
Best conditioner for curly /coily hair
Here is yet another brilliant curl defining that is high quality and free of all the nasties. This conditioner by Maui will deeply quench, nourish and soften dry, damaged curls with the brilliant blend of coconut oil, papaya, and plumeria extract.
This conditioner is for frizzy, unruly hair; this natural blend of ingredients can help hydrate, smooth, and defrizz your curls while enhancing softness and body so you can count on bouncy curls, coils or waves.
For starters, coconut oil is seriously beneficial for curly hair. The high vitamins and fatty acids penetrate deep to help moisturize and provide a protective coating to seal the hair. It also helps seal split ends and strengthens hair to prevent breakage.
Papaya is another creamy ingredient that detangles on contact while moisturizing and defining curls; papaya is rich in nutrients to help add shine to dull, lifeless hair while strengthening strands and promoting hair growth.
But these aren’t the only benefits.
Plumeria extract is yet another brilliant moisturizer. It leaves hair feeling smoother and softer while protecting hair from UV ray damage. It hydrates your hair and scalp while reducing the risk of flaky scalp and dandruff.
This conditioner even includes aloe vera, which is a brilliant humectant. It has many active ingredients that work to strengthen your strands. It can even promote hair growth by stimulating the scalp and strengthening the ends.
So does it get any better than this? Well, yes, actually. It is free of silicones, sulfates, parabens, and it is also vegan, making it super safe for curls and sustainable. For the environment.
It is a brilliant way to add shape to tightly textured curly or coily hair. I cannot fault it!
- All-natural derived ingredients
- It contains papaya, coconut oil, and aloe vera
- Free of harsh chemicals and vegan
- Ideal for tight curls and coils
Latest deal: Maui Moisture Curl Quench Coconut Oil Conditioner
Living Proof Curl Defining Conditioner
So I know your first thought when looking at this product, do I really need to spend 32 bucks on a conditioner? A year ago, I would’ve said no, but Olaplex is the holy grail of conditioners and deffo worth the big bucks.
Living Proof is the professional brand you need in your shower.
This hydrating conditioner was made to moisturize and detangle all textures without leaving a heavy residue. It prevents damage and encourages curl groupings with every wash.
It will start transforming your curls after one use, so they look visibly healthier, feel stronger, and bouncer. It also provides a superior slip for weightless detangling without tugging, snagging, or pulling on your curls.
Since we curly girls have no choice but to brush our curls while wet, we need as much slip and possible, and a conditioner that offers both slip and detangling qualities is a winner for curls.
But wait, here’s the best bit.
This conditioner is free of all silicones, sulfates, phthalates, and parabens. It is also cruelty-free. It is also color-safe and safe for chemically treated hair, making it the perfect conditioner for all.
If you’re not adding this to your basket right now, you should!
- Moisturizes and detangles all textures
- Encourages natural curl
- Free of all harsh chemicals
- May not be ideal for fine hair
Latest deal: Living Proof Curl Conditioner
Carol's Daughter Coco Creme Curl Defining Conditioner
best conditioner for dry curly hair
Whether you have curly or coily hair, we all need a bit of a hydration kick when it comes to our hair. Carol’s Daughter was specifically designed for curls, and their Coco Creme helps quench the thirst for dry ends.
It provides instant, intense moisture to soften and restore shine to the hair.
Whether you have short, coily 4c curls or loose waves, the ingredients in this Coco Creme conditioner will be sure to revive those dry ends. Your curls will look bouncy with the perfect blend of Mango Seed Butter, Shea Butter, and Coconut Oil.
But that’s not all.
Shea butter is frequently found in curly hair treatments because of its emolliating qualities. It softens and smoothes the cuticle to lock in moisture and deeply nourish curls.
Coconut oil is also extremely beneficial thanks to the fatty acids and high vitamins, which penetrate deeply into the hair shaft to moisturize and provide a protective coating to seal hair.
Mango Seed Butter has deep moisturizing and regenerative effects on both the strands and scalp. It works to fortify strands inside out, soften dry hair, reduce split ends, and smooth split ends.
To top it all off Carol’s Daughter’s products don’t contain silicones, sulfates, parabens, petroleum, mineral oils or artificial colors, it is basically free of all the nasties that are a no-no in curls.
Your curls will never feel so hydrated!
- Contains mango, shea butter, and coconut oil
- Intense moisture kick
- Restores shine and bounce
- Works well with the shampoo
Latest deal: Carol’s Daughter Coco Creme Curl Defining Conditioner
OUAI Fine Hair Conditioner
Looking for a hydrating conditioner that leaves hair feeling shiny and smooth? For fine hair finding the right conditioner that will nourish curls without leaving a greasy residue is no easy task.
OUAI contains nourishing ingredients like biotin, chia seed oil, and hydrolyzed keratin to help strengthen and hydrate strands.
For starters, Biotin fortifies and restore health to the hair damaged by heat or chemical treatments. It gives the ends of your hair that little boost it needs. Chia seeds also contain 9 amino acids which help strengthen and promote hair growth.
All this paired with hydrolyzed keratin leaves curls feeling softer, feeling stronger, and healthier. Keratin is the key protein that makes up hair; it weakens as we get older, so using products infused with keratin can help strengthen the hair.
But that’s not all…
This lightweight conditioner will give your curls bounce and volume and strengthen and thicken hair while hydrating and nourishing each strand.
It can be used on all hair types, not just curly hair. Just apply after shampooing or use as your co-wash in between shampoos, and you’ll love how nourished your hair will feel.
My only pet peeve about this product is that it contains silicones, which cannot be broken down without a harsh sulfate shampoo. If you’re following the curly girl method, it is not recommended that you use this product as silicones and sulfates a no-no ingredients.
That being said, this is still a brilliant conditioner that will hydrate your curls.
- Extremely hydrating
- It helps volumize and boost curls
- It can be used on all hair types
- It contains 9 amino acids
- Contains silicones
Latest deal: OUAI Fine Conditioner
Best Conditioner For Curly Hair-- A Buyer’s Guide:
Whether you have curly or coily hair, every girl with curls knows the importance of upkeeping a good conditioning routine. Since our curls are beyond the driest hair type of them all, they need a hydration kick to combat frizz and define curls.
Having a good conditioner is the best place to start is with a gentle shampoo and a hydrating conditioner. I’m afraid this is no easy task, with having to avoid sulfates, silicones, mineral oils, and other harsh chemicals when looking for products.
Looks can be deceiving, too, typically when it comes to silicones. Many companies claim their product is “for curly hair” but then include silicones in the ingredients. You may be wondering what’s so bad about silicones?
Silicones form a film over your hair which leaves it softer, but this film is almost like a layer of plastic, and without a harsh sulfate shampoo, it cannot be removed. Since sulfates strip the hair, they are really damaging for curls, hence why so silicones are.
After hunting for the products to include in my curly hair routine, I understand the struggle. But once you find a product that works for you and your curls, it is so rewarding; it’s all a bit of trial and error, but being ingredient savvy will get you a long way.
Enough of me rambling onto everything you need to know when buying conditioner for curly hair.
How To Condition Curly Hair:
I know what you’re thinking, wash day is coming up, and you’re new to caring for your curls– you may be thinking, don’t you condition your curls as a normal person would? Well, yes, but there is a slightly different technique to include.
There are two ways you can condition your curls, either through co-washing or after using your sulfate-free shampoo. I’m going to show you how to do both! If you’re unsure of how to wash your curls, I broke it down in a full guide here.
For those to the curly girl gang, co-washing is washing your hair with a cleansing conditioner. Many curly girls use a co-wash in between shampooing to help revive, hydrate, and refresh curls without using shampoo.
Here’s how you co-wash your curls like a pro:
Fully drench your hair with water:
Before you go in with the cleansing conditioner, you’ll need to soak until it is sopping wet; this should help loosen debris, making it easier to rinse out dirt and grime.
This should also help distribute the product evenly throughout the hair to prevent any greasy spots where you may have gone overboard with the conditioner or accidentally missed it.
Massage your scalp for a minute or two under the water (with no conditioner on). Massaging our scalp cleans our hair, so this step is crucial for breaking down the dirt and grime.
Coat your hair with conditioner:
Forget the BS about how you need a dime-size amount of conditioner; when using a cleansing conditioner, you need enough to cover the root of your hair to the tip.
For some people, if it can be as much as a golf-ball-size amount, don’t be shy with the conditioner as remember you’re not just conditioning your hair but also cleansing.
You want to massage your scalp like no tomorrow to help evenly distribute the conditioner from the scalp to the ends. This should help break down any residue leftover from your styling products.
You should be massaging your scalp for at least 60 seconds to help stimulate the blood flow and remove all dirt and grime from your roots; you need to work it more than shampoo to notice the most benefits.
Once it has been evenly distributed and you have a spare few minutes, I recommend leaving it for 3 to 5 minutes (especially if your hair is particularly dry or damaged), and then it will act as a mask.
Then after those 5 minutes are up, I would recommend giving the ends of your hair a little scrunch, then rinse and apply styling products. The key is to scrunch styling, cream, gel, serum, etc., upside down to ensure the cuticles are absorbing the product.
Remember to apply your products to soaking wet hair.
Conditioning after washing curls:
When it comes to caring for our curls, the conditioner plays an important role. Since we can only brush our hair while wet having a conditioner that helps detangle is super important.
The first thing you’ll want to do is wash your curls twice with shampoo. Remember you should only really shampoo once a week unless you have quite fine, greasy hair, and it MUST be with a sulfate-free shampoo.
Sulfates can be very stripping to the hair and can really damage the ends of the hair, causing curls to dry out, frizz and even loss of definition in the curls. Once you’ve shampooed twice with a low-poo shampoo, you’re ready to go in with the conditioner.
Apply conditioner and start detangling:
With curly hair, brushing your curls while dry is a no-go. Instead, you have to detangle while wet, being extra careful as your hair is most fragile while wet.
This is why I recommend detangling with your fingers or a wide-tooth comb while the ends of your hair are soaked with conditioner; this will give your hair slip and help easily detangle knots.
Be patient and do this step in sections, starting underneath and working your way to the top; I do a rough detangle while the conditioner is on, then thoroughly after rinsing out and applying my leave-in conditioner.
Combing your hair while the conditioner is on the ends also helps encourage as much moisture as possible to enter the cuticle– which is ideal if you have low porosity hair.
As I said earlier, you have to be sure to avoid silicones in your conditioners, these leave a plastic film over the ends of your hair, and while your hair will look shiny, it will lead to buildup and can be quite drying.
Silicones can only be removed with a sulfate shampoo, so if you accidentally use silicones, be sure to do a ‘reset’ wash with regular, clarifying shampoo.
Apply styling products to sopping wet hair:
After showering, I prefer to work in sections when applying my styling cream or gel. Instead of applying them in the shower, I use a water spray, soak each section before applying my gel, and then style with my Denman Brush.
Most curly girls prefer to apply all their products in the shower before drying their hair, but I find I have a more defined curl when I use this technique.
Want to know more? Check out my full guide to condition curly hair here.
What To Look For When Looking For Conditioner For Curly Hair:
When buying any products for curly hair, we all know there are some key things to look out for and key things to avoid. We curly girls have learned to be very ingredient savvy when on the hunt for new products, but if you knowledge, don’t worry, I’m here to help!
When buying any conditioning product for curly hair, the top thing you should keep an eye out for is whether the ingredients are humectants. Humectants are the common moisturizing agent found on most conditioners, shampoos, treatments, leave-in products.
Humectants rate best known for their ability to draw in moisture to the hair shaft while also retaining moisture and prevent loss of moisture. They’re also known to retain moisture while preserving the properties of products.
They are ideal for dry, damaged curls as they help prevent moisture loss which also helps combat issues like frizz.
Emollients are another super important thing to look for when looking for any conditioning product for curly hair; they work hand in hand with humectants.
They are usually hydrophobic oils that form films over the hair’s surface; they help soften and smooth the cuticle to create this film over the strands. They are lubricants and provide extra slip making detangling a dream.
This is crucial for curly hair as curly hair can only be combed through while wet, detangling properties play an important role in preventing breakage and help ease singles to prevent snagging or pulling.
Occlusives are another type of moisturizing agent, while humectants can help pull in water occlusive act as a barrier (similar to emollients) to hold in moisture. They are usually oil-based.
Occlusives tend to be much heavier ingredients or sealants than emollients, which can help lock in moisture, such as olive oil. Olive oil provides a water/oil barrier, so water cannot escape the cuticle, and the cuticle cannot swell from the environment.
So we know that we must avoid sulfates when doing either the Curly Girl Method or just caring for your curls in general. Sulfates can be very stripping for the hair, especially curls; they can dry them out, cause damage, and even frizz.
But there are a few other ingredients that you must avoid when caring for your curls, as, without sulfate shampoo, they cannot be removed, and silicones are the top ingredient you should avoid.
Silicones are like plastic, and they’re used in conditioning products to smooth down the cuticle, make your hair feel softer reduce frizz.
However, without a sulfate shampoo to remove them, it can lead to product buildup, and over time, this makes hair frizzier, look limp and lifeless. It will also lose the life of your curl.
Silicones can only be removed with sulfates, and without sulfates, it causes buildup– not ideal, so it is best to cut it out completely. But don’t worry, you can still achieve silky soft hair without silicones; some people will tell you it’s even softer too!
Here are the silicones you should avoid:
- Phenyl Trimethicone.
- Cetearyl Methicone.
- Stearyl Dimethicone.
Basically, anything that ends in ‘cone’ at the end. I like to buy all my products on my desktop rather than my phone, so I can use the find button to catch out any silicones that my eyes may have missed.
Mineral Oils and Waxes:
Mineral oils, petroleum, and other waxes, which are also commonly found in conditioners, just like silicones they cannot be broken down without a harsh sulfate shampoo which is a no-no for curls.
They can also weigh down your hair, and without sulfates to remove them, they build up like silicones.
Some waxes use natural ingredients which are safe to style curly or kinky hair. However, most waxes are s non-hydrous, meaning they won’t wash out with just water or co-washing.
If you find yourself accidentally using waxes or silicones, then you can use your reset shampoo to remove them, then go back to the Curly Girl Routine.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How often should you condition curly hair?
There are four types of conditions: a leave-in conditioning treatment mask, a leave-in conditioner, a co-wash, and a regular condition. So let’s talk about them all!
As a general rule of thumb, you should do a deep conditioning treatment mask every 1-2 weeks. This will help restore moisture, help repair damage and strengthen hair. It is crucial in your curly hair routine.
You should apply a leave-in conditioner every time you wash or co-wash your hair, especially if you have thick, coarse curls. If you have finer hair, you should apply a small amount every time you wash your curls.
You should use a regular conditioner every time you shampoo your hair. When you’re co-washing your hair, using a leave-in conditioner is enough, but when you’re shampooing, you should always use a conditioner after.
When it comes down to co-washing, you should co-wash your hair in between your shampoos. You should shampoo your hair once or twice a week and co-wash it when your curls need reviving.
What ingredients should you avoid when buying conditioner for curly hair?
When it comes to caring for curls, we all know by now that there are some ingredients that we should definitely avoid as they can damage the natural curl shape and texture along with being very stripping for the hair or not coming out with co-wash.
Here are the top ingredients you should avoid:
- Mineral oil
- Harsh chemicals
Can you make your own conditioner?
Absolutely, you can make your own conditioner at home without all the nasty chemicals, you’ll just need some trusty oils and hydrating ingredients and a good recipe and you’ll be good to go.
I’ve made a full guide with a full list of my favorite recipes, check it out here!
Finding the right conditioner for your curls will transform your curls; sometimes, all our curls need is good conditioning to help tame frizz and give curls a bit of bounce.
Choose any of the products I have selected for you today, and you won’t regret the results; they will leave your curls feeling nourished and moisturized for days to come.
It’s time to upgrade our curl game!
Cheif Editor & Nail Technician Expert
Jess Rowley, a veteran nail tech, has been studying beauty over the last 11 years and has completed the nail technology program in California. Watching the latest trends in beauty, Jess searches for the highest quality products that make your nails feel loved.