Learning how to take care of curly and coily hair is a journey in itself, and finding the right shampoo is just one part of that — but it’s also a foundation for everything.
Shampoo does the essential work of clearing away debris on the scalp like dead skin cells, natural elements (like dust) and sebum (the oil that skin naturally produces) as well as any products in your hair. Without a good cleanser, built-up dirt and hair products on the scalp can lead to frizziness, irritation and hair loss. This is true for anyone, but those with curly and coily hair textures have their own specific needs when it comes to shampoo.
On curly hair textures, sebum takes much longer to travel down the hair shaft compared to straight hair. Thus, curly hair doesn’t need to be washed as often because it doesn’t get oily as quickly. And it can dry out if it’s over-washed – some of those oils are actually good, going a long way toward protecting strands.
“You want your shampoo to be nutrient-rich, formulated for your scalp and hair’s needs, free of harsh sulfates or chemicals and you should be able to identify natural ingredients on the label,” says Ebony Bomani, the brand educator at Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross. “It should effectively clean your hair without stripping it. Afterwards, your hair should be lustrous, look and feel clean but not brittle or crunchy.”
Below, we break down what to look for in order to get the best results and recommend some top picks.
How to Find the Best Shampoo for Your Hair
The best shampoo for you depends on three main factors: curl pattern, texture and porosity.
Curl pattern is typically matched up to a hair type scale from 1A to 4C. Curly and coily hair patterns lie in types 3 and 4; type 3 describes loose-to-tight curls, while type 4 describes tight to super tight coils. The curlier the hair, the more moisture it needs. The other two factors — texture and porosity — help narrow down the best ingredients and hair routine.
Texture describes the “diameter of your strands” within a range of fine to thick, Bomani says. You can look at your own hair strands to judge its texture: Fine hair is more prone to breakage and works best with lightweight products; with thick hair, there’s more liberty, since the strands can withstand heavier formulas.
Porosity, Bomani explains, “refers to your hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture” via how open (or “porous”) your hair follicles are, from low to high. Low porosity hair doesn’t absorb water or products like oils and conditioner as quickly, which can make it seem harder for products to ‘work.’ High porosity hair, on the other hand, is able to quickly absorb water and products, but it’s also quick to lose them.
“All of these factors are important to know when creating a hair-care regimen and selecting effective products,” notes Dr. Kari Williams, a trichologist who’s also a member of DevaCurl‘s Expert Curl Council. “Hair care is not one size fits all, and will require different products and styling processes to reach hair-care goals.”
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To get the best results from shampoo, Dr. Williams advises following a specific application process: “I recommend applying the shampoo directly to the scalp. Massage with the pads of your fingertips until the lather builds. Avoid piling the hair on top of the head, because this increases the chance of the hair tangling or matting. Instead, make sure the hair strands are flowing in one direction while shampooing and rinsing the hair.”
Understanding Different Shampoo Types
“Shampoos are formulated to cleanse the hair and scalp. You want to look for a surfactant that will lift and remove dirt and oils from the hair,” says Dr. Williams. “Sulfates are a widely used surfactant but can be drying and irritate the scalp, so look for alternatives like sodium cocoyl glycinate or SLSA (sodium lauryl sulfoacetate). Also, look for moisturizing ingredients like essential and plant-based oils, emollients like aloe vera and vegetable oils which help to increase and add shine to the hair.”
There are three main types of shampoo for curly and coily hair patterns: intensive, mildly cleansing and co-wash.
Intensive shampoos are best for those who need a heavy-duty clean to reset after weeks of buildup. Mild cleansers can be great for anyone’s hair routine, since they cleanse the scalp without drying it out. Co-wash is an ideal option for the in-between stage, when hair could use a light cleansing but doesn’t need a full wash. All three can be helpful for everyone, but if you want to have room on the shelf, our experts advise that it’s probably best to stick to the regular, mild cleanser.
“Shampooing and conditioning are paramount. However, co-washing can be beneficial, especially if you workout often and want to refresh your scalp and keep your hair moisturized and manageable between wash days,” notes Bomani.
She says you can tell when products work well if your hair flourishes after use, or if hair appears “softer, stronger, more vibrant and [has] a natural luster and shine.”
Even if you have a shampoo that works well for you, it can still be a good idea to experiment with new formulas, “especially if you feel you’re no longer getting the same results with your products,” Dr. Williams says. “It’s not that your hair ‘gets used to the product,’ but the condition of the hair can change as a result of hormonal changes, health changes and weather changes.”
Ahead, we rounded up 19 top-performing shampoos our experts love for curls and coils. We favored products with ingredients like shea butter, silk proteins and jojoba oil, while avoiding additives like stripping sulfates.
The Doux Ladies First Honey Shampoo, $12, available here
SheaMoisture Curl and Shine Coconut Shampoo for Curly Hair Coconut and Hibiscus, $12, available here
Pattern Hydration Shampoo, $20, available here
Curls Powerhouse Sea Moss Cleanser, $15, available here
Tgin Miracle RepaiRx Strengthening Shampoo, $14, available here
Bread Beauty Supply Hair Wash Gentle Milky Hair Cleanser, $20, available here
Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Shampoo, $13, available here
Aunt Jackie’s Aloe & Mint Lather Up Stimulating Hair Moisturizing Shampoo, $10, available here
Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Moisturizing & Detangling Sulfate-Free Shampoo, $13, available here
Briogeo Curl Charisma™ Rice Amino + Avocado Hydrating Shampoo, $28, available here
Adwoa Beauty Blue Tansy Clarifying Gel Shampoo, $25, available here
DevaCurl CurlBond Re-Coiling Mild Lather Cleanser, $31, available here
Mielle Organics Babassu Oil Conditioning Shampoo, $14, available here
Ouidad Defrizzing Shampoo, $24, available here
As I Am Curl Clarity Shampoo, $9, available here
Jessicurl Gentle Lather Cleansing Shampoo, $17, available here
Bounce Curl Pure Silk Moisturizing Shampoo, $22, available here
Ceremonia Yucca & Witch Hazel Deep Hydrating Shampoo, $20, available here
Curlsmith Curl Quenching Conditioning Wash, $33, available here
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