Top Shelf Essentials For Curly Hair


To borrow and grossly twist a famous phrase from a very famous book: guides for straightening curly hair are all alike; every guide on how to take care of and keep curly hair curly is different in its own way. And the one you’re about to read is very different. Because curly hair from person-to-person—heck, even from day-to-day on one person—is never static, it runs the gamut in coiliness, strength, and also texture. It can be thick, fine; long, short; rough, soft, you name it. And since it’s so diverse, wouldn’t it be better to get advice from someone who shares a curl pattern similar to your own?

Thankfully, The Top Shelf archives are chock-full of curly guidance from chock-full of curly-haired people—from 4C to a beach wave. And it’s from those Top Shelves where we’re sourcing all curly-haired advice today. Should you be shampooing upside down? Bec Wilson thinks so. Or maybe you just don’t know about the power of witch hazel on your scalp (just turn to Doreen St. Felix and she’ll tell you all about it). Come for the products to add to your cart right now, and stay for the tips on sleeping responsibly with curls.

The No (Or Barely) Poo Advocates

Devacurl No-Poo is my favorite because it doesn't have sulfates. It’s moisturizing, but it helps get rid of the residue.” —Elaine Welteroth

“I use the Doux Fresh Rinse, which is great for curly hair, and tea tree oil for my scalp.” —Britt Morgan-Saks

“My process starts at night when I co-wash it with the Briogeo Deep Conditioning Mask. Right after that, I use Kinky Curly Curling Custard, which I keep in the shower, too. Shout out to Priscilla, my curl goddess. She knows everything about curls, and she recommended it to me.” —Kim Johnson

“One thing I don’t do that often is shampoo. I have one from Aunt Jackie that I use once a week if I have a lot of product buildup in my hair.” —Keysha Cosme

For A Squeakier Clean

A hairdresser I worked with years ago told me the key to great curly hair is to shampoo upside down. When you’re in the shower, the pressure from the water pushes everything down, making the curls on top flat. So I do that, and I use Ouai’s curly shampoo and conditioner. —Bec Wlison

“I wash my hair every day—but it still gets oily so I use a lot of dry shampoo. R+Co Death Valley is a good one. Especially for school days, because I do theatre and days sometimes go until like 7pm, so I just feel gross by the end. I also bring dry shampoo to school just in case I need it. I have a smaller one—Alterna Bamboo Style Cleanse Extend Dry Shampoo—that fits in my bag.” —Maude Apatow

The Scalp-Specific Routines

“For shampoo, I switch between Pure Blends and the Act+Acre Cold Processed Hair Cleanse. The Act+Acre leaves your hair very, very clean, especially with the Scalp Detox. I use that every two weeks. I mix in Christophe Robin salt scrub when I feel like there’s too much product in my hair.” —Shayna Goldberg

“I use Briogeo—they have a charcoal curly hair line, and I use their conditioner and their shampoo. It’s like a scalp exfoliant.” —Jaycina Almond

“’ll take some Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo and I’ll mix it with some water, and I’ll clean my scalp—not my hair. If I can’t really get to my scalp using shampoo, I’ll use witch hazel or co-wash.” —Doreen St. Felix

The Deepest Conditioners

“I don’t shampoo every time I wash my hair—a lot of times, I just use Oribe’s conditioner in the black bottle. It is everything—it is so decadent, so rich, so nourishing. I’ll just condition and comb that out, rinse it, add more conditioner, and then rinse a little bit, not all the way, and then get out.” —Elaine Welteroth

“I have a bunch of products, from Shea Moisture to Dark and Lovely that I'm playing around with, trying to figure out what works. Madame C.J. Walker has a great deep conditioner I've been using.” —Cherie Camacho

“For conditioners, I like the Iles Haute Performance Conditioner and Christophe Robin’s Prickly Pear Mask. I also like the John Frieda Brilliant Brunette Conditioner for tone. Or I’ll use Cantu’s Leave-In Conditioner, which is so good for having your curls be bouncy without weighing them down.” —Ashley Weatherford

“Before I do my leave-in, I do use this Coconut Cholesterol Deep Conditioner. I’ll also use the Lemongrass Leave-In Conditioner from Alikay Naturals. —Doreen St. Felix

“I use conditioner from Kinky-Curly—lifesaving!” —Keysha Cosme

“Actually, the kind of gross thing that works better than anything is a mask made of raw egg and coconut oil. I'll wear it for a few hours or overnight, and when I rinse it out, my hair is completely new. Sometimes the stuff you make in your kitchen is better than anything you can buy at a counter." —Devika Bhise

And Then Add An Oil

“For my hair, I basically just use coconut oil. One new thing that I’m trying is argan oil—I love it for my curly hair.” —Serena Williams

“This Organic Oil Blend that you put on at the ends, and that gets the hair shiny, but it’s also a really nice natural conditioner.” —Jessica Clemons

“I use the Hairfinity Oil or the Viviscal Oil. If I’m wearing my hair natural, I’ll usually twist out my hair at night and do the Mizani Strength Fusion Intense Night Treatment first, and then end with a hair oil and just oil my scalp to make sure my edges are covered and good.” —Lindsay Peoples Wagner

“The Olive Oil Replenishing Pack from ORS helps. And this Nourish And Shine treatment from Jane Carter is probably like a deep condition treatment you would do in a salon.” —Yacine Diallo

Or Maybe A Cream?

“Devacurl has the best styling cream, hands down. It’s rich enough to help define the curl, and yet it’s light enough to where it dries really clean.” —Elaine Welteroth

“I use the Briogeo curl cream, flip it over, diffuse it, and we’re done. Their curl line is amazing.” —Jaycina Almond

“Moroccanoil curly hair cream that I use too, which is probably my favorite because it doesn’t make it too crispy but still really slicks it down.” —Sami Miro

“Favorites are Cantu Shea Butter Moisturizing Curl Activating Cream that’s like 10 or 12 bucks. And Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie is amazing!” —Marjon Carlos

Or Probably Both!

“My favorite curly hair products are these four—Kérastase Curl Fever, Kérastase Oléo Hair Oil, Evo Liquid Rollers Curl Balm, and Marc Anthony Hydrating Coconut Oil Curl Cream. But I also think with curly hair you have to cocktail.” —Vanessa Craft

The Best Brushes And Combs For Detangling

“I wash my hair once a week. If I have time, I detangle using the Vernon François method. If I don't, I use a wide-tooth comb, and I detangle from the ends, gently working my way up. It takes anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours.” —Elaine Welteroth

“If I want it to be straight, I’ll brush it with a Tangle Teezer when it’s wet. I like the one with the handle. It’s still the same head as the original, but you can use it like a real brush—it’s fantastic. If I’m trying to accentuate the curls, I trade the Tangle Teezer for a wide-tooth comb, scrunch it while it’s wet, and avoid towels.”—Ella Purnell

“I have an amazing brush that I use from Felicia Leatherwood.” —Keysha Cosme

“I comb out my hair and brush it with this big Aveda paddle brush... a lot of people say not to brush afro hair with a paddle brush but I think, that’s what works for me, so I'm gonna use it.” —Corinne Bailey Rae

“I got this brush in Milan from a brand called Di Luca. It’s wooden bristles set on a cushion bed of plastic, and it’s so much better for your hair—essentially a Wet Brush, but chic. They’re not cheap, but they’re fantastic.” —Shayna Goldberg

And Then Off To Bed

“And to sleep, I put my hair in a pineapple on top of my head, and then I put a bonnet on.” —Elaine Welteroth

“I sleep with a Swiss Edelweiss scarf—it’s super ugly. I put that on my hair so it doesn’t break.” —Melissa Bon

“I sleep in a silk bonnet and keep Jamaican Castor Oil around to manage my edges. When you have something pulling at your scalp, it’s easy to cause breakage.” —Vanessa Craft

“I have a couple of silk pillowcases, so I can change them out a few times a week. They can lead to breakouts if you don’t change them enough. That’s why my hair is always a mess in the morning, because I don’t cover it, I just sleep on it. I don’t like to fool with bonnets—it’s just easier when I travel, I can take my pillowcase with me.” —Jessica Clemons

“In my day-to-day routine I’ll wash it, leave the products in it and let it dry naturally. And then I’ll either pin it up curly, or put a braid in the front.” —Antonia Thomas

One thing I don’t do is sleep in a head scarf—I’m out here wild and free. Does it mess up my curls? Of course it does! That’s why I have to wet it every day. —Natasha Rothwell

Photos via ITG