As someone with curly hair—and, thus, someone who has spent a lifetime shouting “what do you want?” at my hair every morning, à la Ryan Gosling—I’ve officially tried and tested virtually every shampoo for curly hair that exists. More or less. Because if you’ve got curly hair, you already know that finding the best shampoo for your curl type and texture is…a task. Which is why I’ve spent my career decoding ingredient labels, understanding the war on sulfates, interrogating fellow curly-haired editors, and enduring a zillion bad-hair days in the pursuit of the best curl shampoo for every curl need. And now, I’m bringing all that knowledge to you.
If you’re currently losing your mind trying to find a moisturizing curl shampoo that doesn’t make your fine hair lank and oily, or a lightweight cleanser that doesn’t strip the heck out of your curls, allow me (and a few hair experts) to help you out of your Goldilocks situation. Below, the best shampoos for curly hair, according to experts and editors (hi). Let’s get started, shall we?
What to look for in curly hair shampoos
Uh, moisture. Moisture, moisture, moisture. But don’t think that just means heavy butters and oils (yup, even if you’re working with dry 4a hair). According to hairstylist and curl expert Daisy “Daze” Henson of The Daze Studio, you’re going to want to look for a curly hair shampoo that: (1) contains natural humectants, i.e., ingredients that help pull water into your hair (like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and aloe vera), and (2) contains natural emollients, like fruit, nut, and vegetable oils, to soften curls and smooth your hair cuticle.
You should also pay attention to what type of surfactants (cleansing agents) are in your shampoo, which will be found in the first 4-5 ingredients on the label. In general, unless your curls are in need of a clarifying rinse, you should avoid shampoos that contain harsh sulfates, like sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, and sodium laureth sulfate. If you need a handy-dandy list of good vs. “bad” surfactants to crosscheck your shampoos against, I personally use this cleaners list by Curlsbot.
What shampoo is bad for curly hair?
There’s not necessarily a “bad” shampoo—what makes your hair feel like straw may make another person’s curls feel light and bouncy. Still, it’s best to avoid the harsh sulfates (as mentioned above), and re-consider using shampoos that contain silicones, says Henson. Most silicones—i.e., polymers that coat your hair to give it slippery smoothness—can quickly build up on your strands, preventing water from penetrating your hair cuticle.
Unless the silicones in your shampoo are water-soluble (meaning they’re easily washed away with a sulfate-free shampoo), you’ll need to use harsh sulfates to remove them—thus putting you in a vicious build-up/strip-down cycle. Not ideal. I like to use this silicone list from Science-y Hair Blog to cross-check the soluble vs. non-soluble silicones, but if you’re already super overwhelmed, I highly recommend copy/pasting the ingredients of your current shampoo into Is It CG?, which will tell you if your shampoo has “bad” sulfates or silicones in it.
What shampoo is best for curly hair?
There’s no right answer here, because everyone’s curls are different. Like, maybe your current curly hair shampoo is filled with sulfates and silicones, but it seems to be working for you. Awesome—keep on keepin’ on. But if you’re not sure if you should swap your current shampoo for a new one, here are a few tips to help you troubleshoot:
- If your roots feel “squeaky”/tangled/stripped after rinsing...your shampoo is too harsh. Swap it for a sulfate-free formula (always!) with a mix of oils in it.
- If your curls are feeling dry…try loading your hair with conditioner before shampooing, then rinse and condition your ends like usual. Or, you know, try out a more moisturizing formula.
- If your hair is coily, color-treated, and/or damaged…it’ll likely be happier with a rich, hydrating cleansing conditioner rather than a curl shampoo.
Our top curly hair shampoo picks of 2022
Check out this quick lil breakdown, then keep scrolling to find the full list of curly hair shampoos for every hair need.
Best Drugstore Curl Shampoo
NYM’s Sicilian Blood Orange & Black Currant Shampoo
If you’ve ever spent time on Reddit’s r/curlyhair community (…so, if you’re me), you’d know that zillions of people are obsessed with Not Your Mother’s Naturals. The line tends to be CGM-approved (i.e., free of silicones, sulfates, and waxes) and perfect for a mix of textures. Try the lightest “dark blue bottle” for super-fine waves/curls, the heaviest “pink bottle” for thicker, drier curls and coils, or this mid-weight, perfect-for-most shampoo, which uses sunflower and black currant oils to soften and define your hair.
Best Curl Shampoo for Dense Hair
Carol’s Daughter Wash Day Delight Water-to-Foam Shampoo
This sulfate- and silicone-free cleanser uses micellar water to attract and break down oil and grime, without stripping your curls. And the pointed nozzle is 10/10 if you’re working with thick or dense curls, says Cosmo beauty director Julee Wilson. “So many of the super-creamy products never reach my scalp, but the thin liquid formulation of this one really does.”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Waves and Curls
Eden BodyWorks Peppermint Tea Tree Clarifying Shampoo
If your curls have been looking a little flat, pulled out, waxy, or greasy, it’s time for a clarifying curl shampoo. Enter: this sulfate-free formula, which uses gentle surfactants to dissolve grime, gunk, and oils, along with tea tree oil and peppermint oil to soothe flaky, itchy scalps. Limit your clarifying to once every other week (for fine, thin curls) or once a month (for coarse, dry, or damaged curls).
Best for Type-4 Hair
Curlsmith Curl Quenching Conditioning Wash
K, so technically this one is more cleansing conditioner than shampoo, but if you’ve got coarse, color-treated, or damaged curls, your hair will likely benefit from this super-moisturizing formula instead. It’s filled with shea butter and coconut oil to smooth and detangle, along with some lightweight cleansers to cleanse your scalp and breakdown build-up.
Best Curl Shampoo for Fine Hair
Lus Gentle & Moisturizing Shampoo
If you have fine, thin curls (hi!), you know how hard it is to find a curl-friendly shampoo that won’t weigh you down with heavy hair oils. Which is why I am a major fan of this lightweight—yet still hydrating!—cleanser (really, it’s sitting in my shower right now) that’s free of silicones, sulfates, mineral oil, and intense fragrances. Very much recommend.
Best Volumizing Curl Shampoo
Vernon Francois Curl Shampoo
What do Lupita Nyong’o, Serena Williams, and Amandla Stenberg have in common? Celebrity hairstylist and curl guru Vernon François, who not only styles their hair, but also has a namesake curl collection to help you get a similar finish at home. His defining shampoo (filled with mongongo, coconut, and baobab oils) helps dry, limp curls spring back into bouncy, frizz-free coils worthy of a red carpet. …Or, at the very least, a selfie.
Best Curl Shampoo for Irritated Scalps
Rizos Curls Hydrating Shampoo
Fun (annoying?!) fact: A dry scalp can actually lead to itching, flakes, irritation, and even an increase in grease and oil. Instead of rinsing with harsh, sulfate-filled shampoos—which can cause your scalp issues to flare—try this hydrating curl shampoo, which uses shea butter and moringa oil to lightly moisturize your hair and scalp, without weighing it down.
Best Low-Poo Curl Shampoo
Redken Curvaceous Lo-Foam Cleanser
Fact: If your shampoo lathers and foams, there’s a good chance it’s filled with harsh sulfates—a major no-no for curly hair. But this low-foam/low-poo cleanser has just enough surfactants (aka cleansers) to give your roots that “clean” feel, without drying out your hair. Plus, it’s also infused with sugar crystals, moringa oil, and a UV filter to help your hair stay bright and healthy until your next wash day.
Best Shampoo for Chemically Treated Curls
Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Hydrating Shampoo
This naturally derived, hydrating shampoo breaks down dirt and product buildup without stripping chemically or color-treated curls of their much-needed moisture. Rice amino acids help penetrate the hair shaft to lock out frizz, while shea butter and avocado oil work together to deeply hydrate and smooth curls.
Best Curl Shampoo for Thin Hair
Playa Every Day Shampoo
Since fine curls tend to fall limp and flat (especially if you use a too-rich curl formula), opt for a volumizing shampoo, like this one from Playa. The sulfate-free formula weightlessly moisturizes with coconut water and aloe leaf extract, while also subtly amping up the volume with sugar beet extract.
Best Curl Shampoo for Oily Hair
Creme of Nature Clay & Charcoal Shampoo
Putting clay in your hair might seem a little out there, but I promise this curl favorite will give you major results. Inspired by the popular DIY rhassoul clay and bentonite treatments—which help soak up oils, break down gunk, and define curls—this shampoo effectively eliminates the guesswork, mixing, and most importantly, the mess of grease-busting DIYs. Pair it with the corresponding conditioner or clay mask for curls that P-O-P.
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Coils
Pattern Hydration Shampoo
Tracee Ellis Ross can do no wrong, so is anyone actually surprised to find that her hair-care line, Pattern, works incredibly well for super-dry curls and coils? This hydrating shampoo has just enough gentle surfactants to clarify roots while moisturizing ends with a handful of oils, including avocado, castor, olive, and jojoba. Note: This isn’t as hydrating as a co-wash, so type-4 hair may need to alternate with a cleansing conditioner.
Best Shampoo for Repairing Curls
Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance™ Shampoo
Although it isn’t explicitly designed for curls, this bond-building shampoo is one of Henson’s favorites for all hair types that need repair and increased strength. “I love this shampoo because it helps to repair, protect, and strengthen curls by re-linking broken bonds in the curls,” Henson says. And if you are someone who likes the feel of silicones because they smooth the cuticles and make detangling easier, Henson suggests seeking out water-soluble ones that don’t build up, like the ones in this formula.
Best Shampoo for Oily Scalps
Bouclème Hydrating Hair Cleanser
How often you should wash your hair is the million-dollar question, but Henson’s best advice is to pay attention to your scalp health, your lifestyle, and your environment to help you decide. Generally speaking, oilier scalps should shampoo more often than dry scalps, and if that sounds like you, Henson recommends this gentle, low-foaming shampoo with no sulfates, silicones, or parabens, that’s ideal for those on the oilier side.
Best Shampoo for Wavy Hair
TPH By Taraji Serene Queen
If your scalp and hair are both super dry, Henson suggests alternating between a lathering cleanser and a low-lather cream cleanser to thoroughly clean your scalp while adding more moisture to your ends. This lathering formula, which works well for looser curls or wavy hair types, uses cocamidopropyl betaine to create those suds you’ve come to love but in a much gentler way than shampoos full of sulfates.
Best Shampoo for Thick, Frizz-Prone Curls
Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Defrizzing Shampoo
I love a good messy curl, but if you’re not feeling your flyaways and want some hydrated, frizz-free hair, try this sulfate-free cleanser, which uses shea and murumuru butter to moisturize dry curls, along with a dose of babassu oil to seal it all in while blocking frizz-causing humidity.
Best Shampoo for Reviving Curls
Malibu C Un-Do-Goo > pH 9 Shampoo
Curls often need a clarifying shampoo every 3-4 weeks to strip away buildup on the hair. And when that time comes, be sure to look for a sulfate-free clarifying shampoo, like this one, which uses cocamidopropyl betaine that’s “gentler than common harsh sulfates, such as sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate,” says Henson. Heads-up: These shampoos should only be used occasionally because they’ll dry out your curls if used too frequently.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io