Growing up, I sat in my mother’s bathroom holding back tears as she brushed my dry, curly hair. No one else in my immediate family had curly hair, so I endured years of terrible haircuts and styles until I did my own research. Often, people with curly hair have to invest thousands of dollars in specialized salons and products in hopes of finally achieving the perfect mane.
After more than a decade of trial and error, I’ve finally found the best tools at decent prices for my damaged, short, and medium-thick 3A/3B hair. These game-changer products will enhance the locks of almost any curl type.
Related content feature 12 products that’ll make curly hair look—and feel—amazing feature This brush made detangling my curly hair a breeze
1. For detangling knots: Pattern Wide Tooth Comb
A quality wide-tooth comb is essential to a hair routine, if you ask me. They prevent frizz and breakage and detangle a variety of hair types and textures. Brushes may work for wavy or straight hair, but, in my experience, only cause destruction to curly locks.
I only use a wide-tooth comb in the shower after applying a leave-in detangler and to part my hair. Brushes may help users get rid of the nastiest of knots, but wide-tooth combs prevent unnecessary breakage for curly hair.
Get the Pattern Wide Tooth Comb on Ulta for $15
2. For softer, knot-free hair: Kinky-Curly Knot Today Leave-In Detangler
I stumbled upon Kinky-Curly’s Knot Today at Target way back when, and now I cannot live without it. After showering, I lather a dollop of product into my wet hair, and use a comb to work through tangles. Knot Today leaves my hair smelling great—it’s infused with natural extracts like lemongrass and mango—and feeling super smooth. For a long time, I struggled with split ends because I had to wear my hair up all the time for work, but this moisturizing product helped my hair finally grow strong and healthy.
Most curly-haired people know how important it is to find a few good styling products. They need to be effective and (ideally) reasonably priced for the amount of formula you get. As with most of the products on this list, a little will go a long way and I think anyone can make this 8-ounce bottle last for the better part of a year.
Get the Kinky-Curly Knot Today Leave-In Detangler on Amazon for $13.79
3. For defined curls: Ouidad VitalCurl Define and Shine Gel-Cream
Throughout the last decade, I employed gels, creams, and mousses interchangeably, but I couldn’t find the right firm-yet-lightweight product for my curls. Then my stylist recommended Ouidad’s Gel-Cream in 2019, and I haven’t looked back since.
I apply two drops of the gel when my hair is damp by flipping my head over and scrunching my hair before air-drying or diffusing it. The product strikes the perfect balance between holding curls well, like a gel, and generating a natural shine, like a cream; it tames frizz and defines ringlets beautifully without weighing them down. Even better, I’ve only used one bottle in the last year. Most consumers will only need a drop or two of this product per use.
Get the Ouidad VitalCurl Define and Shine Gel-Cream on Ulta for $26
4. For shiny-looking locks: Trader Joe’s Shea Butter and Coconut Hair Serum
I borrowed my roommate’s Trader Joe’s Shea Butter and Coconut Hair Serum for a solid two months before buying one for myself. I don’t know what took me so long to purchase the $3.99 serum—maybe I was too lazy to walk to a nearby Trader Joe’s? But I’m so glad I added this to my routine. This 2.75-ounce staple packs a serious punch, as it’s loaded with argan oil, coconut oil, shea butter, vitamin E, pro-vitamin B5, keratin, and a bevy of plant-based extracts that all moisturize and condition my strands.
Once my hair is almost dry, I distribute one pump of the serum onto my hands and sweep it through my hair, focusing on my ends. It’s important to recruit moisturizing products for your curly hair routine and utilizing a serum can help your locks look shinier and tame any frizz. I particularly love that this serum makes my hair look silky, but not oily. While the Trader Joe’s serum works for any hair type, it’s a particular steal for curly-haired people who often have to spend more money for quality products.
If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, you can snag this serum on Amazon, but only at a higher price.
Get the Trader Joe’s Shea Butter and Coconut Hair Serum on Amazon for $9.01
5. For sky-high volume: The DevaCurl DevaDiffuser
Once upon a time, I wanted bangs. However, I never thought I could pull them off. When I finally went for the curly bangs “look,” I experienced a newfound disaster: I had no idea how to style them myself. I reached out to my stylist, who informed me that I needed a diffuser attachment stat.
For those unaware, a diffuser attaches to the barrel of a hairdryer and helps redistribute the heat. In turn, the tool can protect your hair and scalp from heat damage. I decided to invest in the same one my stylist used, the DevaCurl DevaDiffuser, and it completely changed my relationship with my hair. This way, I could keep my curly style but speed up my hair’s dry time and avoid walking around in public with damp hair.
This DevaCurl attachment aids in achieving sky-high volume for a salon-like style. In my routine, I diffuse my hair after applying the gel. I flip my head over and slowly move the hairdryer up and down, laying my hair on the head of the diffuser to mimic the motion of scrunching my hair. Now, I can dry my hair in ten minutes instead of waiting an hour for it to air-dry. And if your experience is anything like mine, you will receive so many compliments on your model-like curls after utilizing this game-changing diffuser.
Get the DevaCurl DevaDiffuser on Amazon for $23.25
6. For an all-in-one product: Curls Aloe and Blueberry Juice Moisturizer
I started using this curl moisturizer in the summertime after a friend bought it for me for my birthday and I was pleasantly surprised with the product. It’s a great standalone item to tame frizz in the warmer seasons. I spray the moisturizer on my wet hair and allow it to air-dry to attain an effortless, tousled look.
While it’s free of artificial fragrance, this product smells like a tropical getaway, which only enhances the experience of using it. It contains extracts, like blueberry, pomegranate, and chamomile flower. Other ingredients like aloe juice, coconut water, and shea butter will assist in rejuvenating any curly person’s bedhead, even after consecutive no-wash days.
Get the Curls Aloe and Blueberry Juice Moisturizer on Target for $12.49
7. For anti-breakage hairstyling: L. Erickson Grab & Go Ponytail Holders
There are some products on this list that are luxuries and some that are necessities. The L. Erickson Grab & Go Ponytail Holders are both. For years, I lost, broke, and replaced hair ties. My mom bought these ponytail holders for me on a whim, thinking they could masquerade as bracelets due to the bead accent. And wow, do they achieve so much more.
Each thick band features soft, woven material that helps prevent hair damage. As someone who battled with hair breakage for years, these hair bands were a god-send. I don’t lose hair ties as frequently because they fit so well on my wrist. Additionally, I don’t have to tug at my strands and struggle to pull them out. These suit any hair type, but you’ll adore them if you have thick, curly hair like mine.
Get the C Grab & Go Ponytail Holders on Amazon for $18
8. For moisturizing curls: Mielle Hawaiian Ginger Moisturizing and Anti-Breakage Conditioner
If you’re looking for a go-to curly hair brand, I highly recommend trying out Mielle Organics. The Black-owned beauty company sells hair staples like shampoo and conditioner as well as styling products.. Its Hawaiian Ginger Moisturizing and Anti-Breakage Conditioner contains a variety of oils, like argan, avocado, coconut, and ginger, along with sweet maple, orange, and lemon extracts, all of which leave your hair supple and smelling delicious.
I apply Mielle’s anti-breakage conditioner into my wet hair and leave it in for ten minutes before rinsing it out with cool water. After using this conditioner for a month, I’ve noticed my hair is softer, especially after going a few days without washing it—which results in less styling product use and build-up.
Get the Mielle Hawaiian Ginger Moisturizing and Anti-Breakage Conditioner on Mielle for $9.99
9. For rehabilitating ends and a healthy scalp: ORS Olive Oil Incredibly Rich Moisturizing Hair Lotion
Every so often, my boyfriend’s mom massages coconut and extra virgin olive oil into his scalp. The Indian oiling treatment increases blood circulation and stimulates hair follicles, which may result in hair growth and thicker hair. No one I know has the time to lather my head with olive oil, so I settle for doing it myself with the ORS Olive Oil Lotion.
Twice a week, I apply the ORS lotion into my clean, damp hair and allow it to air-dry. Within a month, my hair looked thicker and shinier. Anyone can reap the benefits of this product. It’s rich in both vitamin E, which hydrates and moisturizes your hair, and extracted olive oil, which prevents dandruff and hair loss.
Get the ORS Olive Oil Incredibly Rich Moisturizing Hair Lotion on Amazon for $11.80
10. For a frizz-free mane: Hanes Men’s T-Shirt
I vividly remember my friend sharing this curly hair secret with me at summer camp: Use a cotton T-shirt to dry your hair, not a towel. I’ve since learned that the coarse texture of towels can contribute to hair dryness, breakage, and frizz. Now, every time I step out of the shower, I flip my head over and use a T-shirt to scrunch out excess water. Then, I stick my hair into the head hole of a shirt and wrap it around my head like I would a towel. Finally, I unwrap my hair after 20 minutes and allow my hair to air-dry. The tried-and-true method led to softer and more defined curls. My wavy-haired sister also swears by this technique.
Get the Hanes Men’s 3-Pack Crew Neck T-Shirt on Amazon for $9.99
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.