For women with curly, coily, and kinky hair, it's of tremendous importance to invest in high-quality products that keep those strands healthy and full of life. This not only means investing in moisturizing shampoos and conditioners, but it also means finding silk or satin hair wraps, leave-in treatments, hair masks, hair oils, and other products with formulas that are specifically crafted for natural hair.
And why is the care and keeping of natural hair important? Taking care of your natural hair so that it can look and feel its best is a tremendous act of self-care and self-love, especially for women of color. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Black Studies, there was a "significant positive correlation between a higher internal locus of control and [African American women] who choose to wear their hair in a natural state." In other words, embracing your natural hair is good for your strands and for your confidence.
But how do you identify the right products that will keep your curls looking their best? We spoke to Antoinette Bullock, (opens in new tab) a natural hair expert for Sally Beauty, along with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rebecca Marcus, about taking care of natural hair and how to shop for the best natural hair products money can buy.
What to Look for in Natural Hair Products
According to Bullock, finding the best products for natural hair is all about balance. "Women with natural hair should look for products that are perfectly balanced with moisture and protein," she advises, going on to say that too much of either can produce damaging results.
"Using moisturizing products will cause your hair to be too soft and have no elasticity," she explains. "On the other hand, only using protein-based products will cause your hair to be stiff and will eventually dry it out." Instead, products that contain both moisturizing and protein-based ingredients "will help maintain your hair’s health and keep your curly and coily hairs thriving."
And what exactly are some of the most common water-based and protein-based ingredients? According to Bullock, water- or moisture-based ingredients can include water (of course), honey, aloe vera, glycerin, shea butter, avocado oil, and argan oil. Protein-based ingredients, on the other hand, include hydrolyzed (wheat, oat, and soy) protein, hydrolyzed keratin, amino acids (such as silk, milk, and wheat), and hydrolyzed collagen.
- Best Shampoo for Natural Hair Overall: Mielle Organics Oats & Honey Soothing Shampoo (opens in new tab)
- Best Cowash for Natural Hair: As I Am Coconut Cowash (opens in new tab)
- Best Conditioner for Natural Hair Overall: Pattern Beauty Intensive Conditioner (opens in new tab)
- Best Leave-In for Natural Hair Overall: Juices & Botanics The Quench Cream Fortifying Leave-In Conditioner
- Best Styling Product for Natural Hair Overall: Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Daily Curl Revitalizer (opens in new tab)
- Best Hair Mask for Natural Hair Overall: Viva Naturals Organic Coconut Oil, Cold-Pressed (opens in new tab)
Best Shampoos for Natural Hair
Bullock specifically recommends this cowash from refugee-owned brand As I Am, saying that it's one of the few that "carries a perfect balance of moisture and protein in [its] formula."
Pros: refugee-owned brand; charitable brand; generous-sized container; made with curls in mind; doesn't strip hair
Cons: cowash, so doesn't banish buildup as well as a clarifying shampoo
Tracee Ellis Ross' haircare brand, Pattern Beauty, is widely beloved, and with good reason. Verified customers call this shampoo for natural hair moisturizing, nourishing, and "amazing quality," and several even provide pictures to prove how well it works in defining and hydrating their curls and coils.
Pros: made with natural hair in mind; effective for all curl patterns
Cons: relatively small bottle
Black-owned small business Sayblee exclusively utilizes organic ingredients in order to fortify and nourish hair by prioritizing scalp and strand health. This clarifying shampoo is made with natural hair in mind, and is meant to break down buildup from sweat, pollutants, and hair products in order to optimize hair growth and health. I gifted this to a loved one who was struggling with hair regrowth, and they've noticed visible improvement and decreased scalp irritation in just a few months.
Pros: Black-owned brand; small, woman-owned business; made using natural ingredients; organic
Cons: expensive; relatively small bottle
Black-owned brand Mielle made this product specifically with coily hair in mind, but with another added edge: It's also specially formulated for sensitive scalps. One reviewer, who has scalp eczema, writes that this "holy grail" product is the only shampoo that soothes her irritation, and another writes, "I can see my 4C curls defining as soon as I massage the product through."
Pros: supports scalp health; gentle scent; Black-owned brand
Cons: relatively small bottle
Best Conditioners for Natural Hair
Bullock highly recommends this product, which incorporates sweet almond oil in its hydrating formula. This product also promises to fight and prevent breakage, and there's a a great deal of believability to this claim: The conditioner also relies heavily on coconut oil, which Dr. Marcus says "is rich in omega 3 fats and Vitamin E, which are excellent moisturizers for skin and hair. Keeping hair hydrated and conditioned can help to prevent breakage. In addition, hair appears shiny and healthy."
Pros: detangling; made with type 4 hair in mind
Cons: may be too heavy for hair types 2 and 3
This conditioner, marketed "for tight textures," is a huge hit among buyers. One writes, "My Curls have never been more moisturized," while another helpfully advises that when using this conditioner, you leave it on for a few minutes before washing it out with cold water. And if your hair texture isn't quite coily, try Pattern Beauty's alternative conditioner option (opens in new tab) made specifically "for curlies."
Pros: customizable options for different hair types; made with natural hair in mind
Cons: not detangling
Sheamoisture is another fan favorite among women with curly hair. I love their coconut and hibiscus line, which smells delicious without being overpowering. This conditioner, which incorporates the silk protein that Bullock recommends, is thick enough to coat my long, lion-like mane without issue. For added hydration, I like putting a shower cap on after application and waiting a few minutes before washing the formula out.
Pros: affordable; thick, so provides a lot of moisture
Cons: relatively small bottle; presence of smell can be polarizing
According to reviewers, this product is perfect for curly and coily hair that's been damaged from chemical treatments, hard water, and pollution. One pleased customer writes, "It leaves my hair feeling so silky and smooth, I absolutely love the scent, and a little goes a long way."
Pros: fights frizz; enhances shine
Cons: strong fragrance can be polarizing
Best Leave-Ins for Natural Hair
This leave-in, which is free of phthalates and parabens, is one of Bullock's favorites. Reviews of this formula are also incredibly promising, with one particular customer calling it a "holy grail product."
Pros: color-safe; free of parabens and phthalates; works on all hair types and textures
Cons: strong smell; thick, which some reviewers dislike
I love this leave-in from Biosilk. It has a truly weightless formula with a subtle, powder-fresh scent that never clashes with my perfumes or my other hair products. When applied to my damp, freshly-washed hair before styling, this product always leaves my hair soft, moisturized, and easy to shape.
Pros: large bottle; sulfate-free; color-safe
Cons: expensive; contains silicones
I swear by anything that Moroccanoil makes, and this leave-in is no exception. It provides substantial moisture while maintaining a lightweight consistency, and makes detangling my hair so much easier after a shower.
Pros: contains natural ingredients like argan oil and Vitamin E; protein-infused
Cons: expensive; contains alcohol
I love Juices & Botanics, which is a Black-owned hair care company devoted to making healthy, natural products specifically for curly, coily, and kinky hair. This cream smells divine and coats my curls in hydration without forming nasty buildup. It's perfect for applying to damp hair when styling, or even dry hair for a quick pick-me-up.
Pros: natural; works on all curl patterns; affordable
Cons: small bottle
Best Styling Products for Natural Hair
This product incorporates jojoba oil, olive oil, and honey, so you can style your curls without drying them out. Bullock says that this formula is one of her favorites, and the reviews on Sally Beauty's website back her up: One reviewer writes that in addition to working with her hair, the product even works well on her hair extensions.
Pros: works on hair extensions; contains several natural ingredients; works on all hair types
Cons: contains alcohol, which some users find drying
This gel comes specifically recommended by Bullock, and it also seems to be a favorite among customers. Multiple reviewers write that they love the smell and the effective medium hold of this product, with one adding that it "keeps [curls] moist and not hard or crunchy."
Pros: moisturizing; humidity-resistant; helps reduce frizz
Cons: contains glycerin, which some users find bad for their curl definition
Another enthusiastically recommended product from Bullock, this styling formula is perfect for those who need a strong hold gel. Customers with all curl types, from type 2 to type 4C, write that the gel has a strong, effective hold without being too hardening. Plus, one reviewer helpfully adds that it works well with other products, such as leave-ins.
Pros: strong hold; works with other products; works well on all curl patterns; contains castor oil
Cons: customers with thin hair find it heavy
I tried this product on a whim for my curls (which hover between a 2C and a 3A), and I'm obsessed. True to its advertising, the formula really does revitalize curls, allowing me to give my down-do a second life if I've gone one-too-many days without washing or if my silk hair wrap has fallen off in my sleep the night before.
Pros: effective on all curl and wave patterns; medium hold; makes styling easy
Cons: too much can make hair sticky
Best Hair Masks for Natural Hair
Bullock calls this masque one of her favorites, saying that it, too, provides a great balance of hydration and protein. Plus, it's a hit among reviewers, with multiple customers specifically praising the product's great smell.
Pros: gentle smell; softens hair; effective at moisturizing
Cons: some reviewers wish it had a thicker consistency
Dr. Marcus says that she believes that coconut oil is best used as a hair mask. To do so, she instructs, "Scoop up a dollop and warm in your hands until it becomes liquid and spreadable, apply to strands, cover with a shower cap and leave in for 20 minutes, or possibly overnight, then wash out with shampoo and condition as usual." For women with curly or natural hair, she recommends doing this twice a week.
Pros: affordable; organic; generous size;
Cons: strong smell of coconut