The 15 best shampoos for curly hair that define without weighing down

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    Curly haired folks look no further; we’ve gathered the best shampoos for curly hair for every hair and curl type.

    The Doux/Business Insider

    For those with curly and coily hair, haircare routines are sacred. Any quality routine starts with a great bottle of shampoo. There are endless shampoos to pick from, and if you have curly hair, you’ll want to be picky about what you put on your head. 

    Finding the best shampoo shouldn’t feel like an impossible task — especially when it’s crucial to curly hair health. Having the right shampoo for curly hair pays off in so many ways. It’s the foundation of a healthy scalp and nourished, defined hair. 

    We spoke with certified trichologist Dr. Kari Williams and Aeleise Ollarvia, a curly hair expert and the CEO of Cut It Kinky, to break down what to look for in a curly hair shampoo and what to avoid. Out of all the best shampoos for curly hair that we’ve tested and the hours of research online, The Doux Sucka Free Shampoo is our current favorite. Created by a hairstylist (who has curly hair), this shampoo works for all curl types and makes wash-day easy with the rich formula and gentle later. 

    It’s time to find the best shampoo for curly hair that fits your strands (from thin curly hair to tight coily hair), and with the expert-approved selects below, that task is easier than ever.

    Our top 5 picks for the best shampoos for curly hair

    Best overall

    Founder Maya Smith has been a licensed cosmetologist since high school. Now, she has a haircare company dedicated to textured hair with a full line of products and branding that’s all an ode to old-school O.G.s. The Sucka Free Shampoo leaves your hair squeaky clean without stripping it, thanks to its shea butter.

    If you want a more gentle cleanser from this Black- and Veteran-owned brand, try the moisturizing shampoo.

    Best for dry, curly hair

    If most shampoos leave your hair feeling incredibly parched, this Honey Crème Moisture Retention Shampoo is for you. It’s infused with honey and humectants, infusing moisture into your strands and cleaning away dirt and oil. Dry hair that needs all the moisture it can get should start with this shampoo and follow up with a nourishing conditioner to combat limp curls.

    Best drugstore

    One of the brand’s most popular hair products, Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Shampoo, targets the scalp specifically. Ingredients like shea butter and Jamaican black castor oil promote healthy hair, while peppermint oil stimulates the scalp, encouraging hair growth. Reach for this option when your hair needs extra moisture, but avoid overusing it, as this product can weigh down curls.

    Best for color-treated, curly hair

    Tracee Ellis Ross’s haircare line was thoughtfully designed for curly and coily textures — and it has won several awards for doing just that. The Pattern Beauty Shampoo is made without sulfates. Instead, it utilizes a mix of protein and oils to strengthen and moisturize curls. The formula also contains tea tree oil, an antifungal that treats and prevents dandruff. This color-safe shampoo will gently protect your new hue while providing the moisture that damaged hair needs. 

    Best for volume

    Curly and coily hair types are no strangers to volume, but sometimes — especially if you skip wash day — your strands need a good cleaning. This volumizing shampoo offers a gentle and deep wash while boosting strands with moisture and nutrients for better manageability. Argan oil softens strands as the sulfate-free lightly lathers to rinse away impurities.

    Add even more volume to your curls when drying with the best hair dryers for curly hair

    Best detangling

    A true multi-tasker, this shampoo from Briogeo cleanses, strengthens, and moisturizes thanks to a combination of protein and oils. Knotty hair is no match for the lightweight formula that makes detangling curly hair easier. The brand prides itself on producing clean beauty products, so none of its products (including this curly hair shampoo) contain sulfate, silicones, phthalates, parabens, artificial dyes, or diethanolamine.

    Best for oily, curly hair

    Instead of focusing on hair typing, the products from Juices and Botanics are usually made lightweight to penetrate the hair shaft, including the tightest coils. The Detox Shampoo is a great cleanser that deposits hydrating ingredients into the hair. If you want something less intense, the co-wash is a better option.

    Best for chemically treated curls

    Packed with stimulating and nourishing oils, this shampoo from Mielle Organics helps detangle and moisturize with ingredients like castor oil and peppermint oil. It also contains rosemary oil, which is not only linked to hair growth but also gives the hair an invigorating fragrance. If you’ve bleached your curls or gotten a relaxer (chemical straightener) or any other chemical treatment, your curls need the added strength this hair wash provides while cleansing.

    Best for coily hair

    All about organic and vegan formulas, Sky Organics prides itself on its clean and cruelty-free curly shampoo. Designed specifically for wash days, this shampoo will rid hair of all impurities without leaving a greasy feeling on most hair types. Coily hair that needs the added moisture to last until the next wash day will be happy with the castor oil and aloe vera.

    Best luxury

    A luxury curly hair shampoo should cleanse hair of all impurities while creating a high-quality experience — and that’s exactly what you get with Oribe products. The sleek green packaging with the raised logo will instantly add chicness to your shower (if that’s your thing), but it’s the nourishing cleanse you’ll get that justifies the purchase. And yes, your defined frizzless hair will want to buy it again and again.

    Best cleansing conditioner

    On the days you need to alleviate some of the product buildups on your scalp but your hair isn’t ready for a deep cleansing (or curly clarifying shampoo), it’s time for a co-wash. Cleansing conditioners and co-washes like this one from Swedish brand Maria Nila offer gentle cleansing with added nutrients like shea butter, jojoba oil, and more to keep hair moisturized. The creamy consistency of this hair wash offers more conditioning than cleansing, but the sulfate-free formula does offer light washing without stripping hair of its needed natural oils.

    Best sulfate-free

    TGIN’s Rose Water Shampoo cleanses the scalp and hair without stripping too much moisture. It utilizes a gentle cleansing agent, a surfactant, to remove dirt and oil while leaving plenty of hydration behind. Infused with rose, acai, and ginger extracts, this shampoo also leaves your hair smelling heavenly.

    Best for softening

    Carol’s Daughter Coco Crème shampoo is sulfate-free and softens the strands as it cleanses. The formula does contain silicones although they’re water-soluble — meaning they should wash away after shampooing instead of leaving residue over the hair. The pump handle makes it easier to portion the right amount of product, and curly hair types will only need a small amount (usually a quarter-sized) to lather and cleanse the entire mane.

    Best anti-breakage

    Thank God It’s Natural was created by the late Chris-Tia Donaldson, who graduated from Harvard Law School and then transitioned her career from law to beauty. Her natural haircare products are Insider-approved and come in three lines tailored to different needs. The Miracle RepairRX shampoo is specifically formulated to cleanse the hair gently and strengthen it with biotin, castor oil, and honey, making it ideal for hair dealing with breakage. 

    Read our full Thank God It’s Natural haircare review here.

    Best natural option

    Issa Rae doesn’t just make award-winning TV shows, but she makes incredible hair products as the co-owner of Sienna Naturals with Hannah Diop. This shampoo’s superpower is its mix of aloe, baobab, and lavender oil, making it smell as good as it cleans. Sienna Naturals products are vegan and synthetic fragrance-free, which is especially helpful if you have sensitive skin.

    Types of curly hair

    Alyssa Powell/Insider

    There are two main hair types of curly hair. Type 3 includes loose to medium tight curls, and type 4 includes tight to super tight curls and coils. 

    Alyssa Powell/Insider

    A lot of folks will stress hair typing when you’re looking for the right product for you. The difference between curly (3A, 3B, and 3C type patterns) and coily hair (4A, 4B, and 4C type patterns) is how tight and defined your ringlets are. While the hair typing system can be helpful, it also misses the mark since it doesn’t capture all the other important aspects of your hair like texture, density, and elasticity.

    Ingredients to look for

    As far as ingredients go, you want to look out for parabens, isopropyl alcohol, mineral oil, silicones, and artificial dyes, as they can dry out and damage your delicate hair. And although you may have heard negative things about sulfates — a detergent found in cleaning products, body wash, and haircare — Dr. Williams doesn’t think they’re all bad. 

    “[Sulfates] are designed to strip things of oil and dirt and to break it down, so they are effective in shampoos for that reason,” Dr. Williams explains. In her opinion, sulfates aren’t damaging when they’re used occasionally versus daily. “If your hair is filthy, and you don’t wash your hair that frequently, then you actually need sulfates.”

    Read more about how to care for curly hair here.



    Why does curly hair need special shampoo?

    Curly hair needs different things than straight hair from shampoo. Here’s why: sebum is the natural oil our scalps produce. Curls slow down how fast that oil travels down our hair. Because of this, curly hair thrives from a shampoo that cleanses the scalp without stripping the hair of its needed moisture. 

    This is why most curly shampoos have moisturizing ingredients as well as cleansing ones. On top of that, it’s helpful to avoid harsh chemicals that may cause scalp irritation like synthetic fragrances, especially when there are a lot at a time.

    How often should curly hair be washed?

    How often you wash your curly hair depends on how quickly your hair gets oily. Curly hair takes longer than straight hair, for example, to get oily. 

    For some, it’s better to wait a few weeks in between washing. This is all to say, develop your wash schedule based on your hair. If you want to refresh in between washes, you can co-wash or rinse with plain water.

    Is it better to wash curly hair at night or in the morning? 

    There’s no right or wrong answer for this because it depends on the drying time. Ideally, after doing your wash routine and styling, there’s time for your hair to dry. Since wash routines can take a few hours, it’s probably best to start earlier than later since you don’t want to sleep with a head full of cold, wet hair. There’s also a bonus with washing in the morning: You get a whole day to flaunt your fresh, day one curls.

    Is it better to wash curly hair with hot or cold water?

    Ultimately, you should wash curly hair at whatever temperature you’re most comfortable with, Ollarvia confirms. However, Ollarvia shares, “If you have a vibrant color, always wash with cold [water] because you don’t want to lose the color of the dye.” An important aspect of cleansing curly hair with shampoo is ensuring all the product is rinsed, regardless of the water temperature. Be sure to rinse your curly or coily strands with enough water to eliminate hair (and scalp) dehydration.

    Can you wash curly hair with just conditioner?

    Technically, you can’t use just conditioner to wash your hair. Ollarvia confirms that while there are some shampoos designed to add moisture (like a co-wash or moisturizing shampoo), the job of a curly shampoo is to cleanse the scalp and hair, while a curly conditioner rehydrates and adds moisture. Sometimes, those with curly hair will condition before shampooing for easier detangling, but curly hair (like all hair) needs to be cleansed to rid hair of buildup from product, sweat, or oil.  

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