Best Curl Activator: Love Your Curls Again

Dull, dry curls can look like you have bed head for the entire day. Instead of heading to school or work with flat curls, imagine you have the springiest, most touchable curls ever. It doesn’t have to be a daydream.

It’s all about getting the most moisture into your hair. Curls don’t get enough moisture from your scalp based on their shape. Your natural oil isn’t making it all the way down the slide that is your curl. Instead, the strands are drier each centimeter to the ends.

To get super luscious curls, you have to use a curl activator. It will have all the moisture and nourishment your hair could ever need. It’s a good base for adding other products to your curls, too. I’ve dug my way through countless curl activators for my clients. In many cases using my family and myself as guinea pigs for testing the activators.

These are the best of the best when it comes to moisture and nourishment. I’d be happy to recommend these to any of my clients, and now, to you.

Best Curl Activator Comparison Table

Top 7 Curl Activators Review

1. DevaCurl Styling Cream

The first DevaCurl salon opened in NYC in 1994. Since that time, the company has been creating products especially for curly-haired people. There are shampoos, conditioners, and special styling tools. They also make styling creams for defining curls like this one.

DevaCurl Styling Cream

The cream makes curls shiny and removes the frizz from your curls. It can be used by men or women with all curl types. You might have a light wave in your hair. Your curls could be type 4 with tight curls. This will work for all kinds of curls to give the strands moisture.

For nourished strands, this cream is infused with botanicals. There is jojoba protein for adding strength to your curls. Like your body, your hair also needs protein. There’s rosemary extract, wheat protein, and Matricaria flower extract. They’re used for repairing strands and introducing moisture.

It’s a smart idea to have really natural ingredients in your hair. The lack of bad ingredients is huge for the health of your hair, too. There are no sulfates in this cream activator. It doesn’t have parabens or silicones, either. It’s a vegan product that’s also cruelty free. There is no wheat in it, either.

Get DevaCurl Cream at Amazon

Great positives

This can be applied to wet curls that are slightly damp. It’s good for conditioning, so add more to areas that are dry like the ends. It seals the moisture into your hair without making it feel crunchy.

You can scrunch curls in your hands after using the cream. If you have the DevaCurl diffuser, that’s going to help. If you scrunch the curls upwards, you’re getting more definition. You can also pull them to get a longer curl.

My curly-haired customers love this product. It even has a really clean scent of lemon and lime zest. It’s bright and makes you feel energized. It’s a lightweight cream that won’t weigh down your curls.

Minor concern

Many people love the smell of the cream. The curl activator can have an overwhelming scent to some. It tends to stay scented throughout the day, too.

2. Kinky Curly Original Curling Custard Styling Gel

Many companies are committed to making products healthy for our bodies as well as our planet. Kinky-Curly has signed The Compact for Safe Cosmetics. Together, they want to protect people from unsafe ingredients in personal care products.

Kinky Curly Curling Natural Styling Gel

This can be used on curly hair that needs to be nourished and moisturized. While it does work on all hair, it’s best for curly hair in the “kinky curly” range. This styling product will define curls making them really stand out. They’ll be shiny and really hold their own.

There’s a botanical infusion in this gel. It features many natural ingredients like nettle, horsetail, and chamomile. It has organic aloe for healing your dry, brittle hair. Every single ingredient will nourish your curls and make sure they’re very defined.

In this curl activator, you won’t find petroleum, mineral oil, or alcohols. There’s nothing that will dry your curls. There are no parabens, silicones, or waxes, either. All of those ingredients are actually listed in some other gels and activators. Not in this Curling Custard.

Get Kinky Curly Gel at Amazon

Great positives

This is a product I use and recommend to clients who have natural African American hair. Women with type 4b and 4c hair that needs definition and moisture. It’s usually one of a few products I tell my curly-haired women to use.

It works on hair that is thick and coarse. Frizzy hair can really soak up the ingredients in this activator. That’s why it needs to be organic and natural. None of the ingredients should harm your hair or your body.

Whenever I recommend this product to my clients, they come back raving about the product. It’s satisfying to know that I’m making such a difference in their lives. I’m definitely confident about recommending this product.

Minor concern

The Curling Custard isn’t for everyone. This isn’t a concern or a negative. It’s heavy on fine hair. It’s best on hair that is really thick and curly.

3. Cantu Coconut Curling Cream

The Cantu company made this curling cream especially for women with natural hair. They make their products without damage to your hair or the environment. They’ve won awards for their textured hair care products. The curling cream is really good for wash-and-go styles.

Cantu Coconut Curling Cream

Whether you have type 3 hair or type 4 hair, the cream is going to nourish and moisturize. It reduces frizz by repairing dry hair and defining your curls with moisture and hydration. Instead of a mess, your hair will be beautiful, shiny, and touchable.

There are incredible things in this cream. There are nourishing natural ingredients like jojoba seed oil, aloe vera leaf juice, and macadamia seed oil. All kinds of extract oils are in this cream like Argan oil, grape seed oil, and olive fruit oil. Sage, sea kelp, and honeysuckle are included, too. These are all ingredients you want in your curl activator.

There are no sulfates, silicones, mineral oil, gluten, or phthalates in this cream. Bad ingredients can completely ruin your hair. They’re not part of Cantu’s world. They’re all about the greatest ingredients for natural hair that will define curls and make it very shiny.

Get Cantu Cream at Amazon

Great positives

With all the extracts and oils, you can expect really nourishing cream for your natural hair. This is a cream that is very affordable, and that allows you to use as much as you need for your hair.

It moisturizes with tons of oils and extracts from plants and flowers. Curls will be defined and moisturized. They won’t be crunchy or hard. Your hair should be lovely and touchable. It shouldn’t be hard or oily.

I’ve recommended this activator cream for so many of my clients. I always say you should invest in good products for your hair. This is one of those products you should really have for your natural curls.

Minor concern

The coconut in this cream is pretty strong. If you don’t like the smell of coconut, this isn’t going to be good for you. It lingers for a long time on the hair, which is great for people who like the scent.

4. Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie

Shea Moisture is a company that’s been around for over 25 years. They were inspired by the ingredients their grandmothers used for shiny, natural hair. They’re very involved in projects that provide a community infrastructure in third-world countries. Those same countries that are providing the natural ingredients in their products.

Shea Moisture Coconut Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie

They purchase Fair Trade products like their shea butter. This curl-enhancing cream is for people who want natural hair that won’t extract a cost to the planet we all share. Natural hair will benefit from all the ingredients in this cream. With none of the bad ones that are in other hair products.

In this curl-activating cream, you’re getting coconut oil. It’s hydrating and nourishing without leaving behind a film on hair. There are other oils like avocado, macadamia ternifolia oil, and carrot seed oil. Hibiscus Rosa stimulates hair growth and reduces hair breakage.

They promise their customers safe beauty with no bad ingredients. They definitely don’t test their products on animals. There are no sulfates, parabens, or phthalates. It doesn’t have propylene glycol, petrolatum, or mineral oil. Everything in this cream is safe for all hair types.

Great positives

Thirsty hair is really going to soak up the cream. That’s why it’s super important to have natural elements in an activator. Many customers pair an activator with oils and other leave-ins.

This pairs very well with other types of styling products, too. It makes curls soft and moisturizes them at the same time. It’s not going to make them hard and crunchy like a gel would. The ingredients are nourishing and healing.

You want your curls to be soft and defined. If they tend to be frizzy and wild, this activator will really help a lot. Curly-haired women do a ton of experimenting to find the right products. This one is a top contender for most women.

Minor concern

This activator can feel a bit heavy if too much is used. It’s all about experimenting to find the right amount to leave in your hair.

5. Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream

The company makes products that are infused with antioxidants and nutrients. They are committed to using the highest quality ingredients in all their products. In 2018, they won New Beauty Choice Awards for the Ultimate Curl Tamer. It was also the reader’s choice for the award of Curl Definer 2019.

Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream

This curl-defining cream is light and won’t weigh down hair. That makes it a good option for all kinds of curls. Fine hair tends to be frizzy and dull. This cream combats frizz and makes hair shiny. For coarse hair, it conditions and increases bounce. It provides a soft hold.

There’s hydrolyzed vegetable protein for slicking down split ends and coating porous strands. The Argan oil is full of vitamin E, fatty acids, and antioxidants. These ingredients work to define curls while conditioning them. It removes frizz and makes hair bouncy.

The cream has been sold almost exclusively to salons. It’s now being sold by certain vetted retailers. The company wants you to have a good experience. They want you to enjoy the authentic elements without being sold a fake. They use nutrient-rich formulas for their customers.

Great positives

The company considers this as 3-in-1 products. It works to remove frizz, so your curls will be defined. The curls will be separated and conditioned to be really silky and lovely. Curls will be shiny instead of frizzy.

It’s a cream that increases the moisture and nourishment your curls receive. The curls will be soft to the touch. There’s never any crunch with this cream – even after it dries. You can use a diffuser to enhance the silky softness.

The cream has a lasting, touchable hold for your curls. Instead of crunchy curls that feel like they have hair spray in them, you’re getting soft definition. Your curls will move without being pulled out of their pattern.

Minor concern

The scent is a musky, spicy aroma that some people love and others hate. It’s pretty strong, so it’s important that you don’t have a scent sensitivity when purchasing this.

6. Aunt Jackie’s Don’t Shrink Flaxseed Elongating Curling Gel

The formula from Aunt Jackie’s has been providing a natural solution to hair fall. It promotes growth and provides overall healing for the scalp. Regular use gives you soft hair with defined curls. It does this by providing hair with all the nutrients needed for hair growth.

Aunt Jackie's Curling Gel

This curling gel is best used on hair that is in the 3c to 4c range. Hair that is dry and tends to break can really benefit from the ingredients. The formula is moisture rich with Omega-3 fatty acids for nourishing thirsty hair. In hair that isn’t as thirsty, it will be too oily. It’s best if you know the state of your hair before purchasing.

With this gel, you’re getting a really nourishing formula with flaxseed. That’s where you’re getting the fatty acids. They make hair more elastic and stronger. Hair won’t be damaged as easily. There’s shea butter and extra virgin olive oil in this gel, too.

Bad ingredients can really cause issues with your hair. This gel doesn’t have many of the bad ingredients you’d find in other gels. There are no sulfates or parabens. The formula doesn’t have mineral oil or petroleum, either. It’s truly important to keep those ingredients out of your curls.

Great positives

This is a great gel for twists, coils, braids or knots. It won’t flake or cake on the hair even when other products are added. If you want to use it for a wash-and-go style, it’s truly ideal. Clients always ask what I recommend, and this is at the top of the list.

The flaxseed is what makes this a great healing gel. It will stop hair from breaking and falling. Hair can be styled as you want with a diffuser, too.

It won’t leave your hair feeling crunchy or super oily. Hair will be soft and touchable. Many gels tend to get hard as your hair dries. It can feel very crunchy if you or anyone touches it. That’s one of the best parts of this product – the touchability.

Minor concern

It includes sodium hydroxide, which can be a red flag for some users. It’s not an active ingredient in the formula. It won’t cause problems for those who are sensitive to it. It’s for pH balance and isn’t a huge part of the finished product.

7. TIGI Catwalk Curls Rock Amplifier

This product was created by a stylist who couldn’t find the products he wanted. Anthony Mascolo created the products he couldn’t find. Since, they’ve been at the center of a global movement for creatives to share their knowledge. These products can be found in shows and fashion shoots.

TIGI Catwalk Curls Rock Amplifier

It’s a product that can be used on all curl types from type 2 to type 4. Never leaving hair greasy with too much oil. Some gels leave hair hard and crunchy. That won’t happen with this one. It can be used on hair that’s really dry while removing frizz and smoothing split ends.

Much of the reason that it works so well is the ingredients, of course. It’s able to protect hair against humidity while giving you texture, volume, and shine. It uses essential oils to really protect your curls along with things like sunflower oil and jojoba seed oil.

You want to stay away from ingredients that will further dry hair. Some gels have alcohol in their formula. It’s not in this spray. It’s a leave-in product you can trust to rid your curls of frizz. There are no sulfates or parabens in this curl activator. These are ingredients that can cause hair damage and are not good for your body, either.

Great positives

The TIGI Catwalk brand is one that I recommend to a lot of my clients. It can be used on all different hair types without leaving behind a hard curl.

It works on split ends beautifully. The ends of hair are normally where you’ll see dryness and frizz the most. A little stylist tip is to consistently get your hair trimmed. You can also use this styling product.

My clients said they loved how defined and lovely their curls were. It got rid of frizz and protected against frizz even on humid days. Their hair was shinier, had good texture, and has a defined curl.

Minor concern

The product needs to be distributed well. If it isn’t, your hair can end up looking wet and feeling crunchy. It can make parts of the hair look darker, too.

How to Know Whether You’re Choosing the Best Curl Activator

It’s so important to know what kind of curls you have. They can be dry, combination, kinky, curly, wavy, or coiled. The reason most women have a problem with their curls is they often don’t know what ingredients will give them the best results.

  • Classifications of Curl Types

Curls have been classified. It’s the best way to know what kind of products you need. Previous to this classification, you might have been using mousse or gel for your curls. There are 3 types of curl families and 3 classifications within those families.

Type 2 is wavy hair. It’s broken down to 2a, 2b, and 2c. With 2a, it’s barely wavy. The 2b curl is slightly wavy, and 2c is slightly curly. The subclasses of a through c come from the size and width of the curl.

Type 3 is curly hair. It’s 3a, which has the widest curl. Some can have a pattern or 2b and 3a since they’re close together. Type 3b is a medium curl while 3c is the smallest, tightest curl.

Type 4 is a coil or corkscrew pattern. It includes kinky hair in this classification. This type of hair pattern tends to be very dry. The coils can be wiry and coarse or fine and soft. They’re prone to shrinkage.

  • State of Your Curls

Along with your wave or curl pattern, you’ll need to know the texture. Knowing that your hair tends to frizz is important knowledge when picking out curl activators. The activator used should be able to control frizz.

The activator does so by moisturizing and nourishing the curls. It also needs to smooth them to protect against air moisture. Some curls tend to be limp and dull. For those curls, you’ll want to find an activator that adds shine and volume.

  • The Right Ingredients for Curls

Essential oils are good for your curls. They’re giving you the benefits needed without all the side effects. Any ingredients that are organic or derived from plants are nourishing to hair. They often provide vitamins and nutrients.

For kinky, afro-textured hair, it’s good to use ingredients like flaxseed, coconut oil, and jojoba extract. They’re going to moisturize and heal your hair. Shea butter is another good, natural ingredient. It’s high in fatty acids.

Hair that ranges from 2a to 3c has a variety of needs. Most of the time you need moisture. You’ll also want curls to be shiny and have volume. The reason your hair is dry is because the natural oil from your scalp can’t easily slide down the strands.

  • Ingredient List

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Sunflower seed oil
  • Aloe vera
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Essential oils
  • Jojoba extract
  • Caster seed oil
  • Chemicals to Avoid for Healthy Curls

The ingredients to avoid are those you shouldn’t really use in any of your other beauty products, either. Sulfates are cleansers used in household cleaners. There’s no way you should be adding that to your skin or hair.

Silicones can smooth your hair. They can be added to help your hair avoid humidity, which keeps curls from frizzing. Unfortunately, they build up on your strands. It can be hard to remove them, and over time, they’ll make hair dull and heavy.

You should avoid parabens, phthalates, paraffin, and gluten in your activator. It shouldn’t be used in other hair products, either. Stick to natural ingredients like those listed above.

  • The Hold Factor of Your Curl Activator

It’s essential to your style that you have an activator with a bit of hold. The hold should never include a stiff curl or one that is crunchy when touched. Soft curls are achievable with the lowest amount of hold.

Opt for a hold of an hour or two, so you can avoid hard curls. Learn how much hold you need as well as what your curls can handle. It’s all a bit of a mystery until you experiment with your specific needs.

You Might Be Using Your Activator Wrong

The steps you use will depend on whether you’re adding the curl activator alone or with more products. With the activator alone versus a bunch of products, you’re going to miss a few steps in the beginning. You won’t need to do them.

First step with activator alone is to add activator to wet hair. It can be pretty wet when you add the product. First step for activator and other products starts with leave-in conditioner. After that, you can add the activator. Then, you can add the other products.

After the activator and/or other products, it’s time to make sure the hair is fully saturated. Many people do this process by hand. They will run their fingers through and squish hair in their hands. All the product touches all strands. That’s vital.

When you feel like the product has hit all the strands, take a super soft cloth to the hair. You can even use an old jersey material like a t-shirt for this. Use the cloth to scrunch the hair upward. It helps to dry the hair as well as remove excess product.

Don’t squeeze too much. It’ll remove much of the activator and other elements like conditioner or oil. You’ll need to consider how much product is needed based on your hair type, too. You can remove a lot or a little.

If your hair needs quicker drying, use a diffuser with the blow dryer set on the lowest setting. You’ll see more curls and more definition in your hair.


A curl activator can make you love your curls again. They’ll be more defined, silkier, and touchable. That’s only true if you use the best curl activator for your curl style, type, and texture. In this review and guide, I’ve shared many tips about what to do with your curls.

In the end, you’ll absolutely love your curls again. Instead of struggling to make sure they’re not frizzy, you’ll be relaxed and not think too much about the state of your curls. Choose one of the activators on this list for thirsty curls, and you definitely won’t regret it.

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