These curly hair product favorites are the secret base layer of smooth and defined curls that last for days.
Whether you are looking for just a touch of moisture or a fully decadent curl defining cream, these products won’t disappoint. Best of all, they are all silicone-free to keep product buildup at bay. I have happily used all three and several others (and I’ll likely pick up more for testing purposes) but you’ll only need one or two depending on your weather and hair condition. Let’s find your perfect match.
What’s a Base Layer Product?
A base layer styling product is the first product you put on your hair after your cleansing routine. The most common base layer products for curly hair are leave-in conditioners and curl creams. They aid in keeping curls moisturized and therefore help to define curls and prevent frizz.
Even while many curly hair routines don’t specify using a base layer product, there usually is one hidden in there…with conditioner that’s intentionally not fully rinsed out, or the leave-in conditioner applied in the shower. True, you won’t find conditioners in the styling isle of the beauty store, but anything left on the hair is providing a styling benefit, whether it’s to add softness, moisture, manageability, or shine.
It’s important to note however, that not all conditioners are formulated to be left and dried on the hair. So, when in doubt, check the label and the manufacturer’s website for directions.
Do I need a Leave-in or Curl Cream, or both?
You’ll only need either a leave-in conditioner or a curl cream for your styling routine, but not both. They essentially do the same thing, just at different hydration levels. I choose which one I’ll use depending on the weather and how my hair is feeling
Leave-in conditioners are generally lightweight styling products that aid in detangling and drawing moisture to the hair strands. Some may also provide additional benefits of a protein boost or thermal protection for blow drying or diffusing too. Ingredients can include aloe, glycerin or oils.
Curl creams have a thicker consistency and can contain oils and butters. Not all hair types can tolerate these heavy ingredients, while others will soak it up with delight. They can also have additional benefits of a protein boost or thermal protection too.
How to Use Leave-Ins and Curl Creams
Both leave-in conditioners and curl creams can be used as single stylers for many reasons. Fine curls might love a light leave-in conditioner to add some definition and shine, while allowing the curls to remain light and flexible. Thicker hair strands might also thrive with just a leave-in conditioner, or a heavier curl cream to smooth and define curls. Additionally, both products can be used for refreshing curls on non-wash days throughout the week.
Product Application for Wash & Go Styling:
Cleanse hair, condition and rinse with clean water. Section hair. Apply product on wet hands, emulsify, and distribute evenly by finger combing through each section.
Product Application for Refreshing Dry Hair:
On dry hair, apply a pea-size amount to ends of hair. Or, with product on wet hands, glaze curl by curl to define and smooth out frizz.
Still getting frizz? Even while both types of products add some hydration benefits for naturally curly hair, they provide little to no holding power. Wind, humidity, friction against clothes, and just daily movement can disturb your curls, separate them, allow water loss, lead to frizz, puffiness, fuzzy hair, ah, we’ve all been there. This is where product layering comes in. Adding a light to strong hold mousse or gel over your coveted base layer product, will help set your curls to last for more days.
Why use a curl cream at all if holding products are more protective? All base layering products are definitely optional and can just be used when needed. For example, I had stayed away from curl creams for years thinking my loose curls would be weighed down too much. I had used gels as single stylers or paired with a leave-in. But after a long, hot, dry summer, my curls were in desperate need of assistance in battling against the weather. I branched out and tried a curl cream under my gel and lo and behold, my curls thrived again. Now, a curl cream is a welcome part of my product lineup, even if it’s only for seasonal use.
Now, to help your curls thrive year-round, here are 3 curl creams favorites with different moisture levels to grant your styling wishes.
The Lightweight Favorite
Giovanni Direct Leave-in Weightless Moisture Conditioner
I’ve loved the Giovanni Eco Chic product line for years now after first discovering it at my local natural food grocer. I only use products without silicones, and luckily this conditioner fits the bill. It’s super lightweight to keep your curls lifted, while adding just enough softness. I love using this as a base layer on humid days when I don’t need to add too much moisture, but still want a little softness under a hard hold gel.
– Price: Under $9-12 US
– Size: 8.5oz
– Fragrance: None
– For Hair Types: Fine, Medium, or Coarse
Notes: Leaping Bunny Certified, vegan, cruelty free. Free of dyes, sulfates, parabens, and silicones. Contains aloe and glycerin. Curly girl method friendly.
The Mid-Level Hydration Pick
Ouai Curl Creme
The Ouai, Pronounced “Way”, is a luxury curl cream with a thick and smooth consistency. It offers a moderate amount of moisture for curl definition while adding shine and a lot of softness. I have used it as a single styler for a natural no-product look with beachy boho vibes. I did have some fuzziness on days 2 & 3 without a holding product over it, but was still great for easy and causal hair styling. For a more polished look, I’ve layered it under a gel and hairspray for soft and touchable ringlets that had no sign of frizz for days.
– Price: $32
– Size: 8oz
– Fragrance: Unscented
– For Hair Types: Fine, Medium, or Coarse
Notes: Vegan, Cruelty free, gluten free, paraben free, phthalate free. Contains glycerin, polyquats, coconut and babassu oils and butters. It’s not completely Curly girl method friendly as it contains isopropyl alcohol, though this ingredient is near the bottom of the ingredient list.
The Heavy Duty Curl Cream
Treluxe Curl Supreme
This decadent curl cream is the heaviest cream of the three and contains oils and butters. It has a thick whipped texture that is easy to emulsify and disperse throughout your hair. It pairs well under various gels and adds softness, shine and definition. This product does have a strong fragrance though and unfortunately is not available in a fragrance-free version.
I’ve loved using it all winter long for curls that remained soft, touchable and frizz-free. I only need about a quarter sized amount to coat all of my thick hair. I featured this decadent curl cream with a gel and hairspray in a recent post about 3 Curly Hair Products I’m Loving for Defined Curls and in my video Wavy-Curly Hair Routine for Defined Curls for dreamy results that always last until my next wash day.
– Price: Under $22-26 US
– Size: 8oz
– Fragrance: Strong
– For Hair Types: Medium, or Coarse
Notes: Cruelty-free, gluten-free. Free of silicones, parabens, phthalates. Contains Aloe, Coconut Oil, Shea Butter and fragrance. Curly girl method friendly.
Do you have a favorite curl cream or base layer product? Let me know!