Updated May 2022
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Buying guide for Best curling creams

If you have naturally wavy or curly hair but struggle with frizz, lack of definition, or dry hair, a good curling cream can give your locks the definition, hydration, and gloss you’ve been missing.

Curling cream is applied to clean hair after a shower to lock in moisture and enhance the hair’s natural texture. A quality curling cream will leave your hair soft and pliable instead of a sticky, crunchy mess. Final results are primarily determined by your hair type and the finish of the formula once dry. Formulas also vary in terms of how much hydration is provided, how much residue is left behind, whether the product contains sulfates, parabens, or gluten, and whether it’s cruelty-free.

We share information about the factors that set curling creams apart, tips for using the product in your hair, and answers to commonly asked questions.

A little bit of curling cream goes a long way. Too much product can weigh down curls and make hair feel greasy or stiff.

Key considerations

Your hair type

For best results, it’s important to use the right curling cream for your hair type.

Thick and coarse: If you have extremely thick, coarse hair, choose a thick curling cream that locks moisture and hydrating oil inside the cuticle. This will help prevent frizz and define your curls while locking out environmental moisture that may flatten them. A curling cream meant for fine hair may be too lightweight for your hair, requiring you to use a lot more product to achieve mediocre results.

Thin and coarse: If your hair is thin and coarse, choose a midweight curling cream that seals in moisture to deliver definition without weighing down your curls. Avoid thick formulas that may weigh down your hair too much or leave it feeling greasy. To help add thickness to your hair, you may want to select a “volumizing” formula.

Thick and fine: If you have fine hair and lots of it, choose a midweight product that defines curls and seals in moisture without weighing down individual strands. If your fine curls tend to get frizzy in humidity (a common situation), opt for a formula that “seals” the cuticle to keep out humidity.

Thin and fine: If you have thin, fine hair, you should be on the lookout for a lightweight formula with volumizing qualities. Choosing a formula that is thick or heavy with oil will result in limp hair that appears weighed down and greasy. Instead, you need something that adds moisture while keeping flyaways to a minimum.

Finish and texture

The finish and texture of a particular formula once dry makes a big difference in how your hair moves and feels. Some products offer excellent definition but leave the hair rigid and crunchy. Others allow the hair to move naturally but have a greasy feel.

For thick, coarse hair, a slightly greasier texture may be worth the payoff of definition and moisture. However, the same product would be a nightmare for fine, thin hair. The best curling creams leave hair feeling touchable and smooth without a sticky or oily finish.

If a curling cream is too thick for your hair, try diluting it with an equal amount of water. 



Sulfates, parabens, and gluten

Sulfates and parabens are often added to inexpensive curling creams (and some pricey ones) to create a silky smooth product that glides through hair and keeps tangles at bay.

Over time, these chemicals can dry out and damage hair, leading to breakage and thinning. Take note of whether a product contains parabens or sulfates when making your choice. If you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten, there are plenty of products that are also gluten-free.


Numerous curling creams are advertised as “cruelty-free.” This phrase isn’t regulated by the FDA and can have different meanings for different products. For example, some brands don’t test their final product on animals but do test components of their products on animals. If using cruelty-free products is important to you, choose a curling cream with the “leaping bunny” seal, which indicates that animals have not been involved in testing at any stage of product development.


Heavier, thicker creams are usually packed with oils (like shea butter and argan oil) to help seal the cuticle and lock moisture into thick, coarse hair. Lighter, thinner creams have less oil and are intended for finer, thinner hair. If you live in a humid environment, you may find that your hair needs a product that prevents frizz by sealing in oil while simultaneously creating a buffer against environmental humidity.


Some budget-priced curling creams are prone to creating flakes or leaving buildup on the hair over time. If you find a cream you like but notice some buildup after a few uses, try using a clarifying shampoo. This type of shampoo is designed to keep hair clean and free of product residue.


As with other health and beauty products, scent varies among curling creams. Some are subtle and may not even be noticeable once dry. Others have a distinct, strong scent.

Did You Know?
Curling cream can be used overnight. Coat your freshly washed hair with a small amount of product. Next, wrap your hair in a high bun atop your head to dry while you sleep.

Curling cream prices

Inexpensive: You can find full-size bottles of curling cream (between 4 and 12 ounces) for $3 to $10. Many of these budget options earn rave reviews that rival pricier options. Keep an eye out for products that contain parabens and sulfates that might dry out or damage your hair or leave residue over time. In this price tier, you’ll also find smaller bottles (around 2 ounces) of pricier brands. Some consumers appreciate this chance to test a formula before committing to a bigger bottle.

Mid-range: Mid-range curling creams cost between $10 and $20. In this price tier, you’ll find full-size bottles that deliver excellent definition, quality moisturizing ingredients, and frizz control without weighing hair down or creating a greasy feel. Plenty of mid-range curling creams are cruelty-free products made without sulfates, paraben, and gluten.

Expensive: Expensive curling creams cost $20 to $35. In this price range, you’ll find high-end brands, large bottles, products with lots of hair-nourishing ingredients, and more gluten-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, and cruelty-free options.

To help apply curling cream evenly, try running a wide-tooth comb through your hair several times after you apply the product.



  • Apply curling cream to wet hair as soon as you wring out excess water. You may need to rake your fingers through your hair several times to evenly coat all parts of your hair.
  • Many stylists recommend that you avoid towel-drying your hair before applying curling cream. Applying curling cream while your hair is still quite wet can help preserve natural curl shapes.
  • Wait to scrunch your hair until after you have evenly applied the product. Don’t just scrunch it in, as this can lead to uneven application.
  • While it’s tempting to keep touching your curls after you’ve applied curling cream, avoid doing so. Allowing your hair to fully dry before you touch or style it helps maximize definition and minimize frizz.
Some people find they need a heavier curling cream in the winter and a lighter cream in the summer.


Q. What’s the difference between curling cream and curling gel?

A. Curling gels tend to have a much stronger hold, but they often create a “crunchy” hair texture and can dry out hair more easily. Curling creams are typically more hydrating and are better at reducing frizz.

Q. How much curling cream should I use?

A. Recommendations vary depending on the brand. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions as your starting place. Keep in mind that the optimal amount of curling cream depends on your hair length and thickness. If you have long, coarse hair, you’ll need more product. If you have short hair, you’ll need less.

Q. Will curling cream turn my wavy hair curly?

A. It’s a common misconception that curling cream can produce curls in straight or wavy hair. Curling cream is limited by the natural texture of your hair. However, if you have wavy hair, curling cream can help enhance and define the shape of your waves. Some curling creams are made especially for wavy hair.

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