Here’s the thing about styling curly hair: It is deeply personal. What works for your BFF and her 4c hair probably won’t do much for your 3b curls—even if the product labels tell you otherwise. So, how do you find the best hair products for 3b hair without blowing through the thousands of styling creams, leave-ins, and gels on the market right now? You’ve come to the right place. Ahead, Debra Gomes, curl specialist at Salon du Jour in Rhode Island, breaks down everything you need to know about creating the perfect styling routine for 3b curls. Keep scrolling and prepare to take notes.
What is 3b hair?
According to Gomes, 3b hair is made up of spiral-y, defined curls that range from ringlets to tighter corkscrew curls. 3b curls typically have the circumference of a Sharpie marker or your index finger (so they’re tighter, and often coarser than 3a curls), and they’re usually prone to frizz and dryness—which is where your styling products come into play.
What are the best products for 3b hair?
3b hair has a tendency to frizz out and lose definition, which means you want to use products that moisturize and encourage clumping (i.e., curl definition). Gomes suggests styling your hair with a combination of creams, leave-in conditioners, gels, and lightweight oils. Here’s the thing, though: Finding the best products isn’t so much about your hair type, but rather its porosity. Porosity, as a reminder, is your hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture based on its cuticle structure (think: a sponge with lots of holes, vs. a sponge with zero holes).
Folks with high-porosity hair have cuticles that are raised and open (like a hole-y sponge), meaning they lose moisture fast and require extra-hydrating oils and creams to prevent dry, frizzy curls. Meanwhile, people with low-porosity hair have cuticles that are really tight and close together (like a sponge with zero holes), so products tend to sit on the surface—rather than being absorbed—and weight it down. Your best best? Lightweight hydrators and styling milks.
Yes, your 3b curls are going to be naturally drier than waves or loose curls, but before you start cocktailing products, you first need to figure out your porosity. Not totally sure where your hair stands? Take this porosity quiz (it’s quick, I promise) and then keep reading for the best products.
QQ: Are these products Curly Girl Method approved?
If you follow the Curly Girl Method (CGM)—the styling method that replaces things like shampoos, sulfates, silicones, and heat tools with gentle cleansers, conditioners, and gels—you’ll be happy to know that some (but not all!) of these products are CGM-approved. Just make sure you check the ingredients lists (this website is incredibly helpful) before you incorporate any of these picks into your routine, k? Now, what you really came here for: the best 3B hair products of all time.
Best Leave-In Conditioner for 3b Hair
Kinky-Curly Knot Today Leave In Conditioner/Detangler
3b hair requires moisture, and one of the easiest ways to lock it in is with a hydrating leave-in conditioner (this one from Kinky-Curly is loved for its lightweight formula). Gomes says you’ll want to rake or squish your leave-in through wet hair (fresh out of the shower or fully saturated with a spray bottle), since one of the most common culprits of frizz is not having enough water in your curls, especially when trying to evenly distribute your products.
“You want to have more water in your hair than product,” says Gomes. “Think: 70 to 80 percent water, 30 to 20 percent product, which will help you to cut down on frizz.”
Best Curl Gel for 3b Hair
Miss Jessie’s Jelly Soft Curls Hair Gel
Another nonnegotiable for your 3b hair: a lightweight gel that defines and holds your curls without weighing them down. This cult-favorite formula from Miss Jessie’s will leave your hair shiny and soft without the stiff, crunchy texture you usually get with gels (though, hi, that crunch can actually be helpful for curls!). Just smooth and scrunch a quarter-sized dollop through damp or sopping-wet hair and, once your hair is 110 percent dry, gently scrunch your curls for extra volume.
Best Defining Gel for 3b Hair
Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel
Gomes is also a big fan of anti-humidity styling creams and gels for 3b hair. “They’re a great way to cut down on frizz and add definition,” she says. This one from Ouidad is loaded with proteins and polymers that help protect your hair from the inevitable frizz that comes with humid climates.
Best Lightweight Cream for 3b Hair
SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Style Milk
Perfect for low-porosity 3b curls, this coconut styling milk will draw moisture to your hair without leaving it weighed down or oily. Pro tip: You can also use this milk as a curl refresher—just squeeze a dollop of it into a spray bottle with hot water, shake it up, and spritz it over day-three hair for added moisture and definition. The warm water will also help open the cuticle on low-porosity curls to help it absorb extra moisture, says Gomez.
Best Heavy Cream for 3b Hair
Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
If you’ve got high-porosity hair, Gomes suggests picking up a heavier styling cream to keep moisture from escaping. This one from Moroccanoil is spiked with argan oil to help smooth and define your curls without any frizz.
Best Detangling Brush for 3b Hair
Denman D31 Free Flow Styler 7 Row
The easiest way to make sure you’re evenly coating your 3b hair? A wide-tooth comb or brush. After you’ve distributed the product with your hands, grab this detangler from Denman and gently brush through your hair until each strand is completely saturated. Note: If you have fine curls that tend to easily deflate or go straight, skip the brush and use your fingers to smooth and scrunch products throughout your hair instead.
Best Lightweight Oil for 3b Hair
Mizani 25 Miracle Nourishing Oil
Oils are great for locking in the hydrating benefits of your leave-ins and creams, and this one from Mizani is lightweight enough for your 3b curls. Make sure you apply this bb with the “praying hands” method to prevent any frizz—just rub a nickel-size drop of oil between your palms, lightly clap them around a section of your hair, and glide them down from root to tip. You can top off your hairline with any excess oil on your hands.
Best Cleansing Conditioner for 3b Hair
Camille Rose Caramel Cowash Cleansing Conditioner
Almost all curly hair types can benefit from cleansing conditioners—i.e sulfate-free cleansers that are loaded with hydrating ingredients—but this one from Camille Rose is especially great for 3b hair. The formula is rich, creamy, and moisturizing (hi, coconut and rosemary oils), but it won’t leave you oily or weighed down.
Best Shampoo for 3b Hair
Aunt Jackie’s Oh So Clean Moisturizing & Softening Shampoo
Another excellent cleanser option? This shampoo from Aunt Jackie’s. It’s sulfate-free with a dose of mild cleansers that will break down product buildup and oil without stripping your 3b hair dry (that’s thanks to the formula’s hydrating coconut oil, shea butter, and olive oil).
Best Protein Treatment for 3b Hair
Verb Reset Repairing Hair Mask
Gomes stresses the importance of using monthly protein treatments on 3b hair—and this formula from Verb is one of her personal favorites. “Protein treatments are so important for keeping the strength of your hair,” she says, especially for high-porosity and/or damaged curls and coils. Leave this one on damp hair for three to seven minutes and the formula’s quinoa protein, green tea extract, and honey will help protect, strengthen, and hydrate your curls.
Best Deep Conditioner for 3b Hair
Ouidad Ultra-Nourishing Intense Hydrating Mask
And whereas protein treatments can be done every other week (for high-porosity hair) or every month (for low-porosity hair), Gomes says hydrating treatments should be done weekly. “Deep-conditioning treatments will help with frizz, moisture, everything,” she says, adding that this formula from Ouidad (which is loaded with macadamia, sunflower, olive, and argan oils) is her go-to for 3b hair.
Best Diffuser Attachment for 3b Hair
SindycurlsMagic Collapsible Hair Diffuser Attachment
Drying methods are totally personal preference, but Gomes says her clients find success with diffusing their 3b hair 50 percent, then air-drying the rest. Not only does this cut down on frizz, but it’ll help speed up your drying time and increase your curl definition and volume (since the excess water can weigh down curls). This universal diffuser attachment is an easy choice—just plop it on your hair dryer and you’re good to go. Psst: Not a diffusing pro? This tutorial is a great place to start.
Best Hard Bonnet Dryer for 3b Hair
Kiss 1875 Watt Ceramic Tourmaline Salon Bonnet Hair Dryer
Here’s the thing: Even if you only diffuse your 3b hair a little, you’re still going to pick up some frizz (that’s just the nature of heat styling). If you’ve got the time—and, like, the space—this hard bonnet hair dryer is a great way to dry your hair evenly with minimal frizz and flyaways.
“Your hair isn’t blowing around as much with a bonnet hair dryer, so it’s easier to get a really good set that lasts two or three days,” hairstylist Jasmine Santiago has told Cosmo. Pro tip: Try gently flipping your part throughout the drying process a few times to keep your roots from drying wonky.
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