We all want bouncy curls, but the truth is that not all curl activators are created equal. The best curl activators will give you more volume and bounce in your hair without weighing it down or making it feel stiff and dry. This guide lays out the most popular curl activators, tells you what their benefits and cons are, and recommends which curl enhancer will work for your curl type.
What is a curl activator?
A curl activator is a product that can be applied to wet hair before other products to boost hydration and softness, and enhance curls. These products are also known as moisturizers, moisturizing creams, or curl enhancers.
How do curl activators work?
Curl activators often use humectants, ingredients that attract moisture. Humectants help enhance your natural curl pattern and create more definition. More moisture is what waves and curls usually want and this helps to make your hair look curlier.
However, you should note that humectants can be problematic for some. Since humectants pull moisture towards them, this causes frizz and dryness in humid and dry climates. For this reason, you should layer a product with hard hold over a cult activator if you live in a humid or dry climate.
Benefits of using a curl activator
- Enhances natural curl pattern
- Prevents frizz
- Increases shine
- Promotes a healthy moisture balance in the hair
- Adds softness to the hair, even if it doesn't provide much hold
- Adds volume without increasing weight or stiffness of the hair
- Can help smooth out kinky, curly or coily coils for a more definition
Do you need a curl activator?
If you are looking for your curls to pop with less frizz, then I would recommend trying a curl activator. You will probably need to experiment to find the exact one that works for you but this process can be very rewarding and fun!
How to use a curl activator
Generally, you will apply curl activator before other styling products but after leave in if you're using one. Rake it through from root to tip and follow with a styling product that has hold, like a gel.
Try not to use too much since you will be adding another product over this. You just need a little to enhance your curls.
Curl activators can sometimes be used to refresh as well. To do this, I recommend you wet your hands and emulsify a little curl activator in between your hands. Then smooth over your hair and scrunch up to refresh. You can add a tiny bit more to wet hands and finger coil problem areas. Just remember that if you're using a curl activator with humectants (like glycerin) you'll need to apply a gel over it so it doesn't frizz. Again, be very light handed and water down your gel so you don't weigh down your hair.
The best curl activators for all curl types
|Jessicurl Rockin Ringlets||Jessicurl Confident Coils||AG|
|Cantu Curl Activator||MopTop Curly Hair Custard||TreLuxe Hi! Definition||Ecoslay Orange Marmalade|
|Hair Type:||easily weighed down hair||all curl types||medium to thick hair||medium to thick hair||all curl types||all curl types in humid or dry climates||all curl types|
|Pros||lightweight, water soluble|| works in all climates,|
medium hold, water soluble
|light to medium hold, moisturizing||affordable, moisturizing||medium hold, lightweight, water soluble, light moisture||medium hold, medium moisture||lightweight, firm hold, water soluble|
no hold, can be drying
|can be heavy||can be drying, no hold, can be heavy||doesn't hold up in humidity or dry climates||doesn't hold up in high humidity||may not hold up in high humidity|
1) Jessicurl Rockin Ringlets Styling Potion – Best for all curls
Rockin Ringlets is Jessicurl's strongest curl enhancer. It works really well to control frizz but needs a product with hold over it, especially in humid or dry climates.
It is humectant heavy containing flaxseed, glycerin, and aloe. It also contains epsom salt which can cause drying in some hair types (but it's a good curl enhancer). It's a thin liquid that's easy to apply. For those with fragrance sensitivities, you can get this product fragrance free.
2) Jessicurl Confident Coils Styling Solution – Best for easily weighed down curls
Confident Coils is an all climate curl enhancer that also offers hold. It's a creamy product that creates definition and protects against humidity. It's not as curl enhancing as the other products included in this list but because it's an all climate option with hold it would be great for those living in really humid or really dry conditions, where many of the other options wouldn't work. You could also layer Rockin Ringlets under for more curl enhancement.
3) AG RE:COIL Curl Activator – best for Medium to thick textures
AG RE:COIL has a creamy texture and a strong scent. It contains polyquats, protein, herbal extracts, and glycerin. It's good at controlling frizz and defining curls.
It's one of the more popular curl activators in the curl community. I have tried it and find it's too thick for my fine hair, but it seems to work for most curls. My stylist says she loves to use it on thicker and tighter curls versus looser curl patterns and thinner hair.
This curl activator defines, moisturizes, and provides a light hold.
4) Cantu Curl Activator Creme – best affordable Curl Activator
Cantu Curl Activator Creme is made with 100% pure shea butter and formulated without harsh ingredients making it curly girl approved. It's a curl cream that defines, moisturizes, and restores curls, leaving them smooth, frizz free and full of life.
It smells like coconut and can be heavy or feel oily for some curl types. Be careful not to use too much with this cream so it doesn't weigh down your hair.
Cantu Curl Activator Creme is great for those with medium to coarse texture and medium to high density.
5) MopTop Curly Hair Custard – Best with medium hold for all curl types
The MopTop Curly Hair Custard is a curl enhancing gel that provides hydration, shine, curl enhancement, hold, and frizz control. The product itself is water soluble, paraben-free, sulfate-free, dye free, silicone-free, and phthalate-free.
This gel has an unusual texture which makes it tricky to use at first. It is gooey like many other curling custards but much thinner in consistency which makes it difficult to apply evenly. Once the right amount of the product has been applied to dry or wet hair after leave-in conditioner, it should be raked through then scrunched up into the hair. This product provides shine, moisture, and frizz control.
MopTopCurly Hair Custard is great for all curl types but can cause frizz and dryness in very humid or dry climates due to the glycerin content in the gel. It's lightweight with a medium hold so if you prefer those stats then it can work for you.
6) TreLuxe Hi! Definition Gel – Best with medium hold for all curl types living in a humid or dry climate
TreLuxe Hi! Definition Gel is a gel that creates curls with definition and shine, as well as helps control frizz. A high performance curl definer, this product not only helps define your curls but also maintains their moisture thanks to the active botanicals in the formula. The extracts not only provide you with a defined curl, but also help to hydrate your hair by reducing moisture loss, strengthen your hair by stabilizing bonds within the cortex of each strand of hair, improves its texture for a smoother appearance, and provides increased elasticity.
It's thick yet light enough to distribute evenly without making my hair heavy. It also smells great like all the other TreLuxe products, however, it is a pretty strong scent.
This gel is a great option for people who don't want anything too heavy or sticky, want a light/medium hold, and do well with protein and aloe.
7) Ecoslay Orange Marmalade – best hard hold curl enhancer
This product is not marketed as a curl activator but it is. It's marketed as a hard hold curl definer, which is basically a curl enhancing gel.
It's actually a creamy texture with a beautiful sweet orange scent. It is very concentrated and gives most people a hard cast and hard hold.
It's very lightweight so would work well on all curl types. If you live in a very humid place, you may need to layer a humectant free gel over this for lasting style.
FAQs about curl activators
Does a curl activator make your hair curlier?
A curl activator won't make your hair curlier but it will enhance the natural curl pattern! If your hair is not defined naturally, then using a curl activator with hold might help since it adds moisturizing properties.
Can curl activators dry out your hair?
This is possible since curl activators tend to contain humectants which can cause flash drying, or if you use too much. If you suspect flash drying, use a moisturizing product underneath the curl activator.
Are curl activators heavy?
It depends on the formulation. Some are lightweight but many are heavy. Check my recommendations above to find what you're looking for.
What's the difference between a curl activator and a curl cream?
Some curl activators are creams, but most curl creams are not curl enhancers. Read the label of the product to see if your curl cream is also a curl activator.
The best curl activator for your hair type may be out there waiting to be discovered. A curl activator enhances your natural curl pattern, prevents frizz, increases shine, adds moisture, softens the hair, adds volume, and smooths out curls. The best type of curling activator for each curl type is different so it's important you find one that suits your needs. Give one of these a try if you want to enhance your curls even more.
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