One of the most frustrating things about having curls is that they shrink and get super coily after washing.
No matter how much conditioner you use, it seems like your curls just won’t loosen up. You end up with a head full of tight, kinky coils that are difficult to style.
If this happens to you, don’t despair!
Let me show you how to:
- Stretch out your curls for maximum length
- Reduce shrinkage
- Loosen up your curl texture
- Prep your hair nicely for air drying
- Redefine your curls for unlimited styling options
- Add curl definition and control that lasts
…with the best curl loosening products that don’t require heat or damage-inducing methods.
To make it even better, we’ve ensured they are Curly Girl Approved. 🙌
These products won’t make your curls feel crunchy and won’t leave behind nasty residues either.
So go ahead, feast your curls and transform them from boring every day into loosened and nourished waves that are effortless to style.
In this article:
- Top-Rated Products to Loosen Curls
- Curlsmith Curl Defining Souffle
- Uncle Funky’s Miracle Moisture Cream
- Bouclème Curl Defining Gel
- Twist Stretch Seeker
- SheaMoisture Red Palm Oil Curl Stretch Pudding
- Cantu Natural Curl Stretcher Hair Cream Rinse
- Aunt Jackie’s Don’t Shrink Elongating Curling Gel
- SheaMoisture Curling Gel Souffle
- PATTERN Beauty Styling Cream
- Kristin Ess Ultra-Hydrating Curl Co-Wash
- Why Curls Shrink?
- Buying Guide for Curl Loosening Product
- When to Use a Curl Pudding
- When to Use a Curl Cream
- When to Use a Curl Custard
- When to Use a Curl Mousse
- When to Use a Curl Gel
- Other Ways to Loosen Curls at Home
The Best Curl Loosening Products (Curly Girl Approved)
The products listed below have been validated using CurlScan – A database for Curly Girl Method-approved products.
We may earn a commission from the links below.
1. Curlsmith Curl Defining Styling Soufflé
- Moisture and definition
- Creates loose and bouncy curls
- Curly girl-friendly
2. Uncle Funky's Daughter Supercurl Miracle Moisture Cream
- Best softening curl cream
- Brings out natural curls effortlessly
- Delivers softness and bounce
5. SheaMoisture Red Palm Oil & Cocoa Butter Curl Stretch Pudding
- Stretches out curly, coily, and kinky hair
- For anti-shrinkage hair styling
- Delivers a frizz-free finish
6. Cantu Natural Curl Stretcher Hair Cream Rinse
- Elongates curls
- Loosens tight curl textures
- Humidity-resistant rinse out
7. Aunt Jackie's Flaxseed Recipes Don't Shrink Elongating Hair Curling Gel
- Stretches and moisturizes withering curls
- Helps prevent dryness and flaking
- Enriched with flaxseed oil and proteins
8. SheaMoisture Curling Gel Soufflé
- Works for thick, curly hair
- Loosens tight coils, kinky or wiry hair
- Keeps curls frizz-free
Curlsmith Curl Defining Styling Soufflé
The company may call this a “styling soufflé”, but it’s just their fancy word for gel.
The Curlsmith Curl Defining Styling Soufflé is a medium hold gel for tight curls, waves, and coils. It works by adding moisture and definition to create a slight cast on the curls while drying to hold the wave pattern in place. Once the hair is dry, you can gently break up the cast to reveal soft, smooth, and elongated curls.
Uncle Funky's Daughter Supercurl Miracle Moisture Cream
So who is Uncle Funky, and why was he so nice to make the ultimate moisturizing styling cream for his daughter?
That doesn’t matter because Uncle Funky’s Daughter Supercurl Miracle Moisture Cream is best on Type 3 (stretched, loose S-curls) and Type 4 (shallow, deep S or Z pattern coils) hair. This styling cream stretches out curls and adds softness with moisturizing plant oils, like soybean, coconut, and shea butter.
Bouclème Curl Defining Gel
As a medium hold alcohol-free gel, the Bouclème Curl Definer is what the company calls “a serum” packed with moisturizing goodness. The product is ideal for medium hair types and includes virgin coconut oil, argan oil, and organic aloe vera.
Use it to create loose bouncy curls if volume is what you’re after.
Twist Stretch Seeker
The name says it all. The Twist Stretch Seeker is a 3-in-1 curl stretching cream that elongates and styles curls into looser wave patterns. Plus, it’s color-safe and works on chemically-treated hair without any crunchy residue on the style. Just sleek and silky curls moisturized with almond oil, shea butter, and marshmallow root.
SheaMoisture Red Palm Oil & Cocoa Butter Curl Stretch Pudding
So what’s a pudding in hair care?
SheaMoisture Red Palm Oil & Cocoa Butter Curl Stretch Pudding is a yummy word for a hair cream. This styling cream will stretch out curls and coils without the frizz. Curls will be softer with this anti-shrinkage product infused with nourishing hair ingredients like red palm oil, cocoa butter, and flaxseed oil for a light finish.
Cantu Natural Curl Stretcher Hair Cream Rinse
As a unique product, the Cantu Natural Curl Stretcher Hair Cream Rinse is a rinse-away pre-styler that you can use to reduce curl shrinkage. It helps to elongate the hair strands in a temporary way, loosening curls and waves. This cream rinse is supposed to cut down on blow dry time and will even work on air-dry styles so that the curls fall nicely into a lax pattern increasing manageability.
Aunt Jackie's Flaxseed Recipes Don't Shrink Elongating Hair Curling Gel
A gel-based product in a jar that helps to eliminate shrinkage of damp curls is this one in Aunt Jackie’s Flaxseed Recipes Don’t Shrink Elongating Hair Curling Gel. It’s perfect for hair textures from 1c (thick and coarse) to 4c (dense and kinky). Plus, the product won’t flake or leave sticky residues. It allows the hair to bounce and move freely.
The star ingredients are flaxseed and wheat protein.
SheaMoisture Curling Gel Souffle
Hailed as one of the best for thick and curly hair, this SheaMoisture Curling Gel Souffle or jelly is a heavier gel that helps damaged hair. It also eliminates frizz and works best on wet hair for maximum control. As a heavy-duty gel, it’s excellent for tight coils, kinky hair, and twist-out styles. The combination of coconut oil, hibiscus, and flaxseed oil nourishes the strands while making curls frizz-free and soft.
PATTERN Beauty Styling Cream
PATTERN is a clean beauty brand created with authenticity and care. Their signature styling cream delivers touchable hold and better hydration that works for all styles. That includes wash and go for those air dry-loving gals, twist-outs, braids, and everything in between. It sculpts, shapes, and reactivates your curls to help them find their spring again.
Kristin Ess Ultra-Hydrating Curl Co-Wash
If you aren’t familiar with the term “co-wash”, it’s a method of conditioner-only washing (no shampoo/no poo).
This no-poo method is available in Kristin Ess Ultra-Hydrating Curl Co-Wash. It’s meant to hydrate your strands, prevent humidity-inducing frizz completely, and will get the hair ready for styling. The hydration of this product, as a conditioner, will help to loosen up your curls into longer, frizz-free wave patterns.
Other Products That are Also Good, But Not CG-Approved
The Garnier Fructis Style Curl Stretch Loosening Pudding nourishes any type of curly hair that tends to get frizzy. It’s an extra-strong hold product that doesn’t create product deposits or residues on the hair strand. Sadly it doesn’t make the cut for CG-approved products due to its drying alcohols.
This pudding, Miss Jessies Curly Pudding, doesn’t make the cut either as it contains mineral oil. Mineral oil in hair care can create a product build-up on the hair and scalp.
The Design Essentials Natural Almond & Avocado Curl Stretching Cream is not approved since it’s not a part of the method that Curly Girl endorses. That doesn’t mean other Design Essentials aren’t approved; for example, the mousse is, and it essentially has the same natural almond and avocado ingredients. The only difference is the delivery method, a foamy mousse over a curl stretching cream.
The Problem With Shrinking Curls
Search this hashtag on Instagram, and you’ll see over 73, 000 before-and-after photos for proof.
As much as we love our curls, one thing is inevitable – they tend to shrink. And when they do, it can get really frustrating to style them.
Did you know?Curly hair can shrink up to 90% of its stretch-out length!
According to Vernon François – Celebrity hairdresser.
The are 2 main reasons why curls shrink:
1. The shape of the hair shaft
The shape of the hair follicles determines how curly or straight the hair grows out. If the follicles are round and symmetrical, the hair will grow straight. If the follicles are oval-shaped, the hair will grow out in a wavy shape. The flatter the oval, the curlier and kinkier the hair will be.
Now think of a metal spring wire. When you stretch it, you can see the full length. But when you stop stretching, it reverts to its tight and coily shape.
The same thing happens to curly hair. By its very nature, it’s like a spring wire with an instinct to shrink. You won’t know its full length until you stretch it out.
Water expands the hair shaft by breaking the hydrogen bonds within. That’s why wet hair feels more elastic, longer, and easy to shape into any style. But once the hair starts to dry, those hydrogen bonds reassemble, reverting the curl to its shrunken state.
When that happens, your curls appear to decrease in length while drying. But your curls are only doing what they are supposed to do.
Short Hair One Day. Long Hair the Next …
That’s why depending on the amount of moisture your product contains, you can have short hair one day and long hair the next while keeping the world guessing how you do it. Well, there’s that mystery debunked.
The problem with shrinking curls is that they don’t allow you many styling options. So you’re left with the same boring option every day. For some, with super tight coils, zero option as there’s hardly any length to play with.
The only way to change this and expand your styling options is to keep your curls stretched out and elongated. By that, I don’t mean to yank them out literally!
It would help if you did it gently by embracing the right methods and products that use curl-friendly moisture-based ingredients to loosen and elongate those curls into soft and natural-looking waves.
Buying Guide – What to Look for in a Curl Stretching and Loosening Product
You don’t always need chemical softeners, relaxers, and excess heat to loosen your curls. There are better alternative ways to achieve the same results without damaging your hair. All you need is a little know-how and a mix of the right ingredients.
So lean in curlies and take notes …
Here’s what to look for in your curl stretching products:
Water-based conditioners are lighter than conventional conditioners. They don’t weigh your hair down. Instead, they help boost your curls’ stretch factor since water is the holy grail for thirsty curls.
Shea butter is rich in emolliating qualities, so it’s excellent at locking in moisture. It helps keep your curls hydrated, prolonging their stretched-out state to prevent them from shrinking. Shea butter doesn’t leave the hair feeling greasy and heavy either.
Jojoba oil is similar to sebum (the scalp’s natural oil). By mimicking the same function, jojoba oil lubricates the length of the hair to keep it soft, pliable, and elastic, meaning your curls won’t snap back into a tight coil.
Glycerin is a humectant, which means it attracts moisture from the air and pulls it into the hair shaft . This helps to keep your curls elongated by preventing them from drying out and shrinking.
Coconut oil is a moisturizer. It contains lauric acid, which helps the hair’s outer sheath and internal structure to absorb moisture and remain hydrated. Coconut oil also helps to prevent protein loss in the hair shaft, keeping your curls strong and elastic.
This is important as elasticity contributes to curl length. The more elastic your hair is, the less likely it is to snap back into a tight coil when it dries out.
Thanks to its small molecular structure, olive oil can penetrate the hair shaft deeply and provide moisture where your hair needs it most. This makes your hair softer and more manageable. In addition, olive oil can gently stretch natural curls, making them easier to style and wear.
Red Palm Oil
Red palm oil is an ultra-moisturizing curl stretcher. It contains refatting agents that can help to condition, nourish, and lock in moisture to prevent dryness and split ends.
According to a 2014 study , flaxseed oil has been found to promote hair length and thickness.
Rich in plant-based omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E, protein, fiber, and antioxidants, flaxseed oil contributes to healthy hair in many ways.
According to Monique Clay, a stylist at Huetiful Salon, flaxseed is good at binding moisture to the hair  to improve elasticity and prevent breakage. You’ll see flaxseed as a key ingredient in curl stretching products like Cantu, Aunt Jackie’s, and Eco Style.
Elasticity and anti-breakage are exactly what you need when you want to stretch out your curls.
Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B) is a humectant (attracts and retains moisture) and an emollient (prevents water loss). Combining these 2 functions, it binds and seals moisture in the hair, boosting softness, pliability, and more control over those tight curls that refuse to let loose.
Avocado oil is a highly nutritious oil that feeds the hair with vitamins A, B, D, and E, as well as amino acids, folic acid, and lecithin. These nutrients work together to repair damage, add shine, and make the hair more manageable.
In addition to these benefits, avocado oil is also a natural curl elongator. The fatty acids in avocado oil can help coat the hair shafts, loosening tight coils that are too dry.
Avoid Products That Create Residues
Products high in protein, silicones, and waxes can leave behind a coating on the hair shaft. Residue makes the hair feel drier, dull, and unmanageable. Plus, more wash days!
Proteins – While they may initially make your hair feel stronger, protein treatments can lead to breakage if used too often or not followed up with a moisture treatment.
Silicones, while they may make your hair feel softer and shinier, can also build up on the hair shaft leading to dryness and dullness. In addition, they can be difficult to remove without clarifying shampoos which can further strip the hair.
Waxes can also build up on the hair shaft, making it difficult for moisture to penetrate. This can lead to dryness, brittle hair, and breakage.
So, when you’re looking for products to help stretch out your curls, avoid anything containing these ingredients.
You want a clean-rinsing product that doesn’t cause dryness and doesn’t strip natural oils from your curls. In other words, a Curly Girl Method-approved product.
The ideal product should provide the following benefits:
- Stretch out curls for maximum length
- Reduce shrinkage
- Make curls look longer
- Loosen the texture of hair strands to add manageability
- Improve curl patterns that are more even and uniform
- Save time on wash days for natural hair types
- Prep the hair for blowouts and other hairstyles
- Help to comb out by stretching curls
- Not leave a crunchy residue
Sounds like a tall order. Yes!
But we’ve done all the work to hand pick the best CG products to help you unleash the smooth, dreamy curls you’ve always longed for.
Which Type of Product is Best for Loosening Curls?
You can use a few types of products to help stretch out your curls – curl pudding, cream, custard, mousse, and gel. These products can be used in isolation or layered with each other to get the best results.
Let’s look at each in more detail.
Ideal for: Tighter and dryer textures
A pudding contains nourishing butters, like shea, cocoa, and natural oils. Its main purpose is to nourish deeply and transform tighter coils into elongated and shiny-looking curls. However, a pudding does not provide a strong hold that lasts. It will give you loose s-waves that will eventually slide out by the end of the day.
Ideal for: Curls that get super dry quick
A curl cream is an oil-in-water emulsion that creates a “creamy” texture.
The main function of a curl cream is to condition and moisturize from the inside out. It encourages better curl formation and definition and prevents curls from drying out. In short, it provides the perfect balance of hydration and curl definition.
Ideal for: Curl clumping
A curl custard helps your curls clump better together to give them a nicely defined shape. Even though it’s similar to a gel in that it can be used as a cast to help hold your curls in place, a curling custard provides a lighter hold and won’t make your hair feel crunchy or hard.
A curling custard also contains more humectants, has a rich and creamy consistency, and can also be used to tame frizz in curly hair.
Ideal for: Preventing frizz
A mousse is great for enhancing curls. Just be careful to find one that won’t leave your curls too crunchy. That’s a common problem with mousse, but the right one will add long-lasting definition and superior frizz control.
Related: The best hair mousses for frizzy hair
Ideal for: Stretched out curls with a strong hold
A curl elongating gel has a different texture and consistency from a curl pudding, custard, or cream. With fewer humectants, it provides a less bouncy texture but a much stronger hold.
However, gels may form a “gel cast”, leading to crispy curls and flakes.
To Summarize:Creamy products like custards, puddings, and creams are more like curl activators. Gels, on the other hand, are better for long-lasting hold.
Other Simple Ways to Loosen Curls at Home
Use a Denman Brush
Created in 1930 by John Denman, an entrepreneur from Northern Ireland, the Denman brush has become a curl-routine staple for many people with curly hair. Although brushing is frowned upon in the curly girl circles, when used correctly, with the right amount of tension, it can help you achieve more defined, bouncy, and enviable frizz-free spirals.
It works so well because the bristles, unlike other brushes, are set far apart, which helps to minimize tangles and breakage when brushing. A boar bristle brush also helps to distribute natural oils along the length of the hairs to lubricate and condition each strand.
Denman Boar Bristle Brush
Related: How to brush curly hair without it getting frizzy
Blow Dry Your Roots With a Diffuser
A diffuser attached to a blow dryer is the best way to dry curly hair without air drying. The diffuser helps to make the airflow spread out and less strong so that it doesn’t blow your curls all over the place from their natural state. Plus, using the right diffuser can help to retain that curl pattern and gets you out the door faster without having to leave with wet hair. Focus on the roots while blow drying and gently scrunch the hair to enhance the wave pattern in all curl types.
Related: How to tame frizzy roots
Braid Your Hair at Night
Braiding or twist-out styles can help to loosen up the curl pattern and stretch out the hair. By doing this on wet hair at night, you’ll wake up to dry hair with a set and even wave pattern all over the head when you unbraid each strand.
To Loosen it Up …
In Loraine Massey’s own words (creator of the Curly Girl Method) :
“With curls, an inch is like a mile, and shrinkage can be up to 10 inches.”Source: W magazine
Don’t let this “shrink you down”.
Work your hair with our best hand-picked curl loosening products.
You’ll be amazed by the magical new lengths they give you to create smooth waves that go on and on and on …
References & Citations
- Glycerin May Help Skin Disease, Study Finds Medical College Of Georgia. “Glycerin May Help Skin Disease, Study Finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 December 2003.
- Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional food Goyal, Ankit et al. “Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional food.” Journal of food science and technology vol. 51,9 (2014): 1633-53. doi:10.1007/s13197-013-1247-9
- Stylists Say Flaxseed Is the Key to Hydrated, Healthy Hair
Retrieved on 04/08/2022
Kassidy is our curly girl expert and has been following the CG method for over 3 years. She's tried just about every product and technique out there to get her curls to cooperate and is always on the lookout for new products to try.
She's also a sucker for free products, which is why she's relentlessly reaching out to manufacturers with her unique persuasive skills. 9 out of 10 times, she wins!