Best Curl Defining Products [Review] in 2021
written by nail expert Jess Rowley
SheaMoisture Smoothie Curl Enhancing Cream
Design Essentials Curl Forming Custard
Mielle Organics Coil Sculpting Custard
When it comes to styling our curls, we go through more products than we can shake a stick at. From leave-in conditioner, curl cream, heat protectant, styling gel, hair oil– you name it, it probably goes on our curls.
But curl creams are almost as important as the rest of the styling products for curly hair.
Curl-defining products can weigh down and define tightly coiled hair or give a bit of bounce to loose waves. Curl-defining products work best on damp hair as it ensures all the goodness is sucked up without weighing hair down.
Lucky for you, I have spent the time to select my top favorite curl-defining products for any curl type and hair porosity. From the best curl creams to the best curling gels, I’ve pulled out all the stops to find the very best products for the ultimate bouncy curl.
Now, wait, let me tell you something…
Curl-defining products wrap around individual curls; they are designed to sculpt, tighten, and smooth curls while reducing frizz without compromising texture and body. It leaves hair smooth and curls defined; it can be used to revive limp curls.
Sound pretty cool, right? Wait until you hear about these amazing products. Once you see the curl definition, you’ll never turn back.
hours spent finding
The Best Curl Defining Products For Bouncy Curls
SheaMoisture Smoothie Curl Enhancing Cream
Up first is a personal favorite of mine by SheaMoisture; this curl enhancing smoothie is a styling cream that is specially formulated for curly hair. It leaves your curls soft, silky, and defined while helping to retain moisture in quick and easy steps.
It is super lightweight, making it perfect for low porosity hair as it works to condition and defines curls without weighing them down, leaving them looking bouncy, healthy, and full of life. It is formulated with coconut oil, silk protein, and neem oil.
The coconut oil is perfect for those with high porosity hair, but the formula best suits low porosity hair as it is extremely lightweight. Coconut oil comes with a bundle of benefits such as moisture retention, restoring protein loss, and strengthening the hair from within.
This Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie has hydrolyzed silk protein also helps with this protein loss. It helps increase shine to the hair as well as restore the elasticity of the hair to prevent breakage, and since curlies can only style their hair while wet, this is a solid feature.
Finally, neem oil can help promote hair growth by improving the condition of the hair from within. It is perfect for damaged hair, so while it is a styling cream, it can also improve the condition of the hair. It can promote healthy hair growth by improving the condition.
Pretty cool, right?
What I love about this curl-defining cream for my low porosity, type 4 hair, as it leaves my hair super soft and moisturized after using the curl smoothie. I like to apply it to soaking wet hair and go in with my Denman Brush to comb and define curls.
To top it all off, this curling cream is 100% curly girl method approved as it is free of sulfates, silicones, waxes, parabens, phthalates, and mineral oil. It can be used on wet, damp, or dry hair too, so if your curls need a bit of refreshing, this curl cream is up to the job!
If you want defined, frizz-free curls, then check this one out!
- Infused with coconut, silk protein, and neem oil
- Super lightweight and ideal for low porosity hair
- Curly Girl Method approved
- Defines and leaves curls frizz free
Latest deal: SheaMoisture Smoothie Curl Enhancing Cream
Design Essentials Gold Curl Forming Custard
Next up is Design Essentials Natural Honey Curl Forming Custard which is enriched with Honey, Chamomile elements, sweet almond, and avocado oils. It is designed to define curls and coils with a medium to firm hold.
I’m talking brilliant shine with no flaky residue.
It is brilliant for was hand go styling, finger coils, twist sets, and even Bantu knots. It works for textures as loose as 3a curls and as tight as 4b coils. What I love about its product is that they don’t say it will work for “all curl types,” as it’s just unrealistic.
Our curls are all different and need different products.
So let’s start by talking about the enriching honey and chamomile ingredients. For starters, honey has both humectant and emollient properties, so it retains moisture and provides a protective seal over strands to lock in moisture snd strengthen hair.
Honey is a brilliant natural ingredient for defining curls too, it offers amazing curl definition, smooths edges, and helps tame frizz. It gives curls the right balance of hold and curls definition while nourishing the hair and scalp.
Chamomile has some serious anti-inflammatory compounds which can help alleviate itchy, dry scalp. It is best known for its calming properties, so it is extremely beneficial to the scalp. It is perfect for those with low porosity hair again as it is extremely lightweight, and almond oil is extremely penetrating, making it perfect for this hair type.
Almond oil can help soften and strengthen hair; it is rich in biotin, which helps keep curls healthy and strong. Avocado oil can also help seal and strengthen the cuticle; it can moisturize, repair, and strengthen your curls, making it a staple in hair care.
You can count on sweet almond oil to keep the frizz at bay. I
To top it all off, it is free of parabens, paraffin, petrolatum, and mineral oil, making it safe to use on curls and safe to use in the Curly Girl Method. It is one of my favorite curl-defining products for those that prefer a gel over a cream; it offers enough hydration and definition that will hold your curls for longer.
I’ve used this product before, and it made my curls pop! I have also used it on African Amercian hair, and it works wonders for curl definition and preventing shrinkage. It is the holy grail of curl-defining products for curly hair.
Some people even said that it held their curls for four days without needing to refresh!
- Extremely hydrating
- Infused with humectants and emollients
- Ideal for 3a to 4b hair
- Holds and defines curls
Latest deal: Design Essentials Gold Curl Forming Custard
Mielle Organics Pomegranate & Honey Coil Sculpting Custard
best curl defining products for 4c hair
In third place is yet another styling gel that is perfect for thick, dense, low porosity curls and coils. This coil sculpting custard is the perfect gel for dry, thirsty, shrunk curls that need a hydration kick and curl definition. This sculpting custard will be the savior for reviving your curls.
It is infused with natural ingredients like coconut, babassu oil, pomegranate, and honey which come with individual benefits for healthy styling, frizz control, detangling and deep hair nourishment for both low and high porosity levels.
Despite stating that it is made for both hair porosities, after reading the reviews and testing myself, I noticed that it best suits low porosity hair, despite the heavy ingredients like coconut oil. However, for some people, it was heavy enough to seal high porosity curls.
Right onto the ingredients!
For starters, coconut oil is brilliant at taming frizzy curls; since type 4 curls are most prone to frizz, this ingredient is key to help keep curls under control. Babassu works with coconut oil to lock in moisture to strands for long periods of time, making it perfect for extremely textured, natural hair.
Pomegranate has natural UVA and UVB ray protection; UV rays can be extremely damaging to the natural curl pattern, especially on coarse hair, so it is infused with pomegranate helps add elasticity and protect from this. Pomegranate even has pH balancing qualities, so it won’t buildup on the hair, and it will work to remove excess buildup.
Honey is the god-savior of curl definition; it is a brilliant natural curl definer as well as being a humectant and emollient; it draws and holds in moisture within the cuticle to leave curls nourished and defined.
What I love about Mielle is that they offer natural hair care that is high quality for all women of all hair types. So you can guarantee that if your curly hair is thirsty and in need of a moisture kick without all the chemicals, then Mielle is up to the job.
It is also Curly Girl Method approved, so you can use it with confidence.
- Protects from UVA and UVB rays
- Quenches and nourishes thirsty coils
- Perfect for tightly coiled, low porosity curls
- Curly Girl Method Approved
Latest deal: Mielle Organics Coil Sculpting Custard
Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
best curl defining cream for natural hair
Finding the right products for fine curls is no easy task, especially when it comes to styling creams. Sadly most styling creams weigh your curls down if you have fine hair, but this one by Moroccanoil is brilliant on thick and fine hair.
Unlike the other products I have reviewed on my list, this product is perfect for those curlies with high porosity hair!
This featherlike curl cream formula is infused with argan oil, which helps calm frizz and defines curls without weighing down your hair or leaving it feeling greasy or sticky. It works wonders on bouncing up all curl types.
Argan oil is really great for both high and low porosity hair due to its small molecular level, which penetrates deep into the hair strand. It is one of my favorite oils for both hair porosities as it helps restore moisture to porous hair.
After shampooing and conditioning or even just co-washing your hair, you should apply a generous amount to damp hair, running your fingers through the hair to separate the curls– it acts as a leave-in conditioner.
I personally love using a Denman Brush to define my curls with this cream; I apply the cream or gel I am using to each section of hair and run the Denman brush through the curl, twisting as I go. This leaves my curls looking super defined.
I love to use this product with a diffuser for a little extra bounce.
Argan oil isn’t the only winning ingredient in this curl-defining cream; Morrocanoil also included a vegetable protein that coats porous strands and helps nourish the ends of your hair to prevent split ends. The argan oil is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and essential fatty acids, leaving hair feeling like silk.
Just like SheaMoisture, Morrocanoil is yet another sustainably produced product that I absolutely love. So many happy customers expressed how this cream transformed their curls and held them in their curls for longer.
The only issue with this product is that it contains Dimethicone, which is not CGM-approved. But no need to fear; it is a water-soluble silicone that washes out with water– no need for harsh sulfates to remove this silicone.
Water-soluble silicones like Dimethicone actually help define the curl, help aid moisture retention and protect hair strands from extreme heat, so it is extremely beneficial for curly hair. No need to worry about buildup either as it washes out with co-wash or gentle shampoo.
As far as my curly hair is concerned, this one wins for high porosity!
- Infused with argan oil and vegetable proteins
- Calms frizz and define curls
- Perfect for high porosity hair
- Sustainably produced product
- Can be quite flimsy for thick hair
Latest deal: Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
Denman Hair Brush
Now I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t a curl-defining product? I know it’s not, but it deserves a place on this list; it is one of the best curl-defining brushes on the market and perfect for styling and promoting the natural curl shape.
The Denman Brush is the holy grail, with rows ranging from as little as five rows to as many as nine, paired with strong nylon round-ended bristles and rubber cushions to create tension shape curls and tame frizz.
But how do you use the Denman Brush? What is it? Is it worth the hype?
With tips, tricks, and tutorials flooding social media, millions of viewers switched their regular brush for this brilliant curly brush and came out with defined ringlets. Plus, when paired with a detangling treatment, it will help smooth even the most stubborn knots within your curly hair.
Its design sets itself apart from other brushes for curly hair, thanks to the durable nylon material. These pins create insane levels of tension needed for shaping curls and won’t melt under heat. It even provides enough tension to take care of frizz while sitting comfortably in your hand.
Pretty awesome so far, right?
When it comes to styling curls, this brush is legendary. When paired with curl creams or gels, it will leave you with defined ringlets. For best results, I like to work in 2-inch sections and run it over each section, creating tension and twist as I go down.
Always use on sopping wet hair after applying your styling cream and products. I like to use this in sections, spray down each section with the water spray, apply all my products (especially my curl cream), and then use the Denman Brush to work wonders.
Want to know more about how to use this incredible brush? I created a full guide on how to use a Denman brush, not only for detangling, but this styling brush is perfect for naturally curly hair too!
But wait, let me tell you something.
It’s super easy to use for defined curls, use while your hair is still wet, brushing in an outward motion, twisting as you go down the hair to create tension and define curls. Using the Denman Brush before to get out stubborn knots and then after to define makes this brush truly special.
It defines, detangles, smooths, and tames frizz, and with over 50,000 glowing reviews by curly girls alike, it is a winner for both detangling and styling your natural hair, ready for blow-drying. It is absolutely worth the hype!
- Reduces frizz, gently detangles and smoothes
- 7 rows of round-ended pins
- Durable high-quality materials
- Ideal for all curl types
Latest deal: Denman Hair Brush
Best Curl Defining Products-- A Buyer's Guide
When it comes to curling definition, people often get it confused. Those with straight hair assume that only wavies use curl-defining products for a little bounce, but there are many benefits of curl-defining products, such as frizz-free curls and manageability.
Using a curl cream or curl-defining product can help define limp curls, damaged hair, help reduce shrinkage of coils on thick hair. No matter what textured natural hair you have, having a curl cream in your hair care routine should be a staple.
There are countless products in the curly hair routine, sometimes more than you can count on one hand, but while some curlies only have the bare essentials, others (especially coilies) go all out with their curl cream, curl defining gel, leave-in conditioner, heat protectant, and even hair oil.
In this buying guide, I’m going to break down everything you need to know when using curl-defining products, including what to look for, how to use curl defining products, and how they work. It’s time to up our curl game together and understand the fundamentals of curly hair styling.
Let’s delve into the juicy bits, shall we?
What Is Curl Cream?
Curl-defining products coat the hair with thin hair, which helps to smooth the hair cuticle; they allow hairs to freely move past each other while locking in moisture and promoting the natural curl shape and definition.
After using these products, curls should look springy and full of life; they should have some kind of bounce and definition while being frizz-free. Since natural curls are lacking in moisture, it is yet another hair care product that helps to seal in moisture.
After all, we curlies need as much moisture as we can get, am I right?
There are two different types of curl-defining products that you need to worry about: curl creams and curl-defining gels. They are not the same thing and offer slightly different advantages for curly hair and work differently on different hair porosities.
Defining Curl Cream:
So what is a curl-defining cream, and why is it different from a gel?
A cream is an emulsification of oil and water; the job of a curl cream is to both condition and moisturize the curl from the inside out. Curl creams work to enhance the natural curl pattern by improving the health of the hair and encouraging a healthy hair environment.
A defining curl cream uses natural ingredients which work to moisturize and encourage curl formation, so curls show the best version of themselves. Curl creams also work wonders for taming frizz as they help to smooth the cuticle and lock in moisture.
Curl Defining Gel:
Curl-defining gels work slightly differently as they work to provide long-lasting hold as well as define curls. They are ideal for those looking for a stronger hold and a style that will be frizz-free up until wash day.
People often underestimate the power of using hair gel on curly hair; it is often avoided out of the fear of hair going crunchy or leaving a greasy residue, but as long as you scrunch out the crunch, using a defining gel is extremely beneficial.
Those with high porosity hair benefit most from a curl-defining gel because the formulation creates a seal over curls to lock in moisture and allow the goodness of other styling products to work to the best of their ability.
When the gel is applied and styled into the curls, the water evaporates, and solid particles form a clear film around the shaft, referred to as a hard cast or hold. It provides a longer-lasting wash while sealing moisture underneath and controlling frizz.
All you need to do is scrunch out the crunch once fully dry with one or two drops of oils, scrunching in an upward motion to release the hard casting, and be left with super-defined, natural hair. The gel is ideal for those looking for a longer-lasting finish.
A lighter gel might be better than a heavier curl cream. Some curl creams contain coconut oil or shea butter, which can be too heavy on low porosity hair and just sit on top of the cuticle rather than being absorbed.
How To Use Curl Cream:
There are a few tips that are handy to know when learning how to style curly hair. One of the key ones is learning how to apply the products the right way so you can reap the most benefits and be left with the most defined curls possible.
Here is a set of tips on how to use curl styling cream on curly hair:
Only Apply To Sopping Wet Hair:
When styling your curls, you’ll want to use it in replacement of your leave-in conditioner (or use it as well as for extremely dry curls). Curls style best when products are raked through wet hair and when products are evenly distributed.
So what I found was the easiest method is to wrap your hair up in a towel (microfiber towels only here, please- thanks!) and then sit in front of the mirror and work in sections, spraying it down with one section with the water spray.
Smooth the cream through 2-inch sections and detangle using a wide-tooth comb or a styling/detangling brush (I personally love my Denman Brush for both). After smoothing and evenly distributing the cream to that section, I tend to go in with my curl-defining gel or mousse and a heat protectant.
The curl defining cream should help clump curls together, so instead of messy separated strands, you’ll be left with a defined curl clump in the natural curl pattern. Rake it through with your fingers before using the styling brush.
Use Like A Conditioner:
Don’t be afraid to use too much curl cream; use as much curl cream as you would conditioner. Plus, if you have to run your fingers through your curls a few times to get them detangled, smoothed, and clumped together, then that is also okay.
As I said before, working in sections will ease the detangling process and help define clumps using a styling brush. You can twist and twirl certain sections of hair to create a specific shape curl or clump too.
Don’t Towel Dry Hair Before Applying Cream:
You’ll want to apply curl cream when your hair is sopping wet; your curls are smoothest while wet so after detangling with your conditioner, rinse and then work in sections to apply curl cream and detangle. Spray down each section using the water spray.
The best way to get the most out of your curls is to style while completely sopping wet; there’s no chance of styling dry hair; it just leads to frizz.
Don’t Scrunch The Curl Cream:
Raking your soaking wet curls will help evenly distribute and detangle easily without snagging or pulling. I like to firstly rub a bit of curl cream in my hands and rake it through my curls to help with detangling before working in sections.
Rake the cream in using a wide-tooth comb, styling brush, detangling brush, or your fingers to ensure it is evenly coated; apply your other styling products, THEN scrunch, not before, as this can change the way that the curl looks.
Don’t Touch Your Curls While Drying:
After styling, if you are not diffusing or plopping, then leave those curls tf alone! Once you’ve got that frizz-free foundation set in your curls the last thing you want is to mess that up; after styling, try to touch your curls as little as possible.
If you are diffusing, then gently blow-dry; once your curls are dry, then you can shake and fiddle with your curls to your heart’s content. But in order to avoid frizz and have the most defined curl possible, then you must leave your curls alone when drying.
There we go; these are my top tips for applying curl cream before styling for the very best results on your curls.
How To Use Curl Defining Gel:
Now don’t worry, I’ve covered a full guide of how to use hair gel for curly hair, and using defining gel is no different from your regular gel, as long as you apply it correctly. Hair gel is a brilliant product to use to tame frizz, define curls as well as offer superior hold.
There are two main steps to applying curl-defining gel on curly hair, so let’s talk about them in more detail.
Apply To Soaking Wet Hair:
Just like when applying curl cream, you should always apply your styling gel to sopping wet hair, but instead of being used first, it should be used as the final product in the curl routine. You can apply with curl cream or with a leave-in conditioner.
So once I’ve gotten out of the shower, I tend to sit in front of the mirror and work in sections, soaking each section with the water spray, applying my leave-in, heat protectant, and then followed by my styling gel.
Use a quarter-size amount of gel for each section of hair, more or less depending on thickness.
Between each application, I comb through to ensure even coverage and untangle, then when applying the gel, I will comb through but create tension with the brush and twirl the hair around the brush as I run it through the curl– this helps with curl definition.
Scrunch Out Excess Water:
Grab your trusty microfibre towel or cotton t-shirt and scrunch out all the excess dripping water and begin to scrunch upwards until you’re happy with the shape. Once I’ve finished, I like to lift the root and give it a little shake to add volume; this also helps with defined curls.
The next step is a bit of a waiting game; once you’ve finished scrunching your curls, you can either plop, diffuse or leave your curls to air dry. Don’t touch your curls until they are completely dry to prevent frizzy curls.
Once you’ve styled your curls, you can either plop your curls, use a diffuser or leave your curly-haired locks to air dry.
What To Look Out For When Buying Curl Cream:
You should lookout for a few things when buying any conditioning products, especially when following the Curly Girl Method. You’ll want to try your best to avoid silicones, waxes, and mineral oils when on the hunt for a curl cream.
So let’s start off by talking about silicones. Silicones are forbidden for those following the Curly Girl Method, but that being said, they are not all created equal, and some silicones can seriously benefit curly hair and help improve the manageability of curls.
The silicones any curly girl (whether they are following the method or not) should avoid are non-soluble silicones. While they do lock in moisture into the strands, after a while, this moisture is lost, but the plastic-like firm on the outside means that moisture cannot penetrate through either, so your products do not work as efficiently, and your hair becomes dry and brittle.
This is bound to happen to curlies who use non-soluble silicones as they can only be removed with sulfates, which are far too harsh for curly hair. So as a result, these silicones build up, causing the driest hair type already to become even drier.
But not all silicones are bad; let’s talk about water-soluble silicones. Water-soluble silicones wash out with water and don’t build up on hair. They can help detangle, protect, and even define curls as they help with moisture retention. Despite not being strictly CGM approved, they can still be used on curlies without the worry of buildup or needing to do a clarifying shampoo.
Many brands like Olaplex and Morroccanoil have water-soluble silicones in their ingredients, so while they are forbidden on the CGM, they are actually extremely beneficial for curly hair. Want to know more? Well, I created a full guide of everything you need to know about silicones, so be sure to check that out!
Waxes and Mineral Oil:
Mineral oil and petrolatum are other ingredients you should try to avoid when doing the curly girl method or just caring for curly hair, they can 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.
Low Vs. High Porosity Products:
Your hair porosity has a lot to do with how well products will work on your hair. If you’re using high porosity curl creams on low porosity, your hair cuticle will not absorb the product properly, and instead, it will just sit on top of the hair.
High porosity hair is highly porous, and while it has no issues with absorbing moisture, high porosity hair struggles to retain this moisture. So high porosity hair products tend to be much heavier and seal the cuticle as the cuticle is raised on high porosity hair.
Coconut oil and shea butter are excellent ingredients to look out for in a curl cream or gel for high porosity hair.
Low porosity hair, however has a flat cuticle and struggles to absorb moisture, but once the moisture is within the cuticle, it is easily retained. So when looking for a curl cream, you should look for a curl cream or gel with highly penetrating oils like argan oil while also being lightweight.
Now I’ve created a full guide of everything you need to know about hair porosity for more details.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How does curl cream work?
The best curl creams will coat your strands with a thin film that works to smooth the cuticle and prevent the hair from tangling. It also clumps curl strands together to promote the natural curl shape while maintaining its definition.
A curl-defining product is designed to sculpt, tighten, smooth, and define curls. It works to tame frizz without detrimenting your hair’s natural body and texture. A curl cream won’t leave your curls crispy but rather enhance the curl pattern and make it easier to style.
What does curl defining mean?
Curl defining is styling the curl that curls clump together rather than dry into individual messy curls. Curl defining is the process of smoothing your curls, so they follow their natural curl shape with minimal frizz.
This can be achieved using curl-defining products like gels and leave-in curl creams. They are often infused with coconut and avocado oils, shea butter, argan oil, and/or honey to help define the natural curl shape and revive dry hair.
Some curl creams even have silk proteins like rice amino acids that help restore protein loss in damaged hair and restore moisture loss caused by excessive heat styling and UV exposure.
Can you make your own DIY curl cream?
Absolutely, the key to enhancing the natural curl pattern is actually is to improve the condition of your hair overall and nourish your hair with vitamins, minerals, and moisture. Ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, honey, and aloe vera can create a great recipe.
Giving your curls the TLC they deserve is key to nourishing curly hair. But I’ve created a full guide of my favorite DIY curl cream recipe for both high and low porosity hair, so be sure to check it out so you can enhance those luscious curls.
So there you have it, the best curl-defining products on the market for curls definition, whether you have loose waves looking for a bit more bounce or have the highest coils and looking for control over shrinkage and moisture retention.
Choose any of the curl-defining products I have selected for you today. You can even pair one of the creams with the gel for ultimate results and defined curls. Whether you have low porosity or high porosity hair, I have the product for you!
Everyone deserves a good curl day, after all.
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.