Last Updated on November 29, 2022 by Verna Meachum
Do you have fine wavy curly hair and have trouble finding the right products? Do you feel like your hair is weighed down by heavy products, but can’t seem to find anything lightweight, let alone understand what the difference is?
If you’ve ever been confused about the terms lightweight and heavy in relation to curly hair products, this guide is for you!
Let’s face it, with all the different curl types and textures out there, it can be hard to know which hair products to choose. There is just no such product as a “one size fits all” when it comes to lightweight curly hair products!
And even if you’ve found a lightweight product that works for your curls, you may find that it doesn’t work as well when the weather or your curl pattern changes.
So, how do you know if a product is lightweight or not? The best way to tell the difference is by the ingredients.
In today’s blog, we will breakdown the science behind lightweight curly hair products so you can better understand what you’re looking for.
What Are Lightweight Curly Hair Products?
When it comes to lightweight curly hair products, there are a few things you need to know. First, lightweight hair products are designed to help add moisture and definition to your curls without weighing them down.
Second, you want to find products that will help define and shape your curls, and that are specifically designed for your hair type.
Now that you know what lightweight products are, let’s talk about how to identify the difference between heavy and lightweight products by understanding the science behind the ingredients.
Identifying Lightweight Products
Heavy molecules vs. Lightweight Molecules
Because of their distinct structural characteristics, curly hairs stand out from other hair types.
Natural, non-treated (no chemicals) curly hair is a distinct characteristic since it is very fine. The diameter of the curl is small and leaves it vulnerable to being weighed down.
Those who have hair with these characteristics want and need specialized custom hair care products that can style and manage curls and shape, as well as provide curl definition.
Consumers are more cautious than ever before about looking for INCI listings on product labels to ensure that the formulation does not include any of the ingredients they do not want to use on their curls.
So, what products are ideal? What ingredient should they avoid? Below is a summary highlighting the science involved!
Small Molecules vs. Large Molecules
Cosmetic ingredients are either adsorbed or can penetrate the hair cuticle layer. They bind hair surfaces using chemical bonding but this bonding depends upon their chemical nature.
Molecular weight and structure play an important role in how well these products work on your hair. Certain ingredients are small, while others are large and have higher molecular weight.
For example, glycerin is small polyhydric alcohol while petrolatum is a heavy hydrocarbon derived from crude petroleum.
The molecular weight and size are important factors to consider when formulating a product, as it will determine whether the molecule is suitable for the hair type or consumer.
To achieve the best results, those with fine curly hair should avoid heavy molecules with large molecular sizes. This may include both natural as well synthetic ingredients.
Silicones are frequently used in skin and hair care formulations. They are man-made synthetic polymers, having hydrophobic (oil) nature. They are also heavier and have a dense feeling which can make a heavy coating on the hair surface.
Likewise, synthetic cationic polymers are large molecules (heavy molecular weight) that bind to hair surfaces via electrostatic chemical bonding.
Below is a short list of ingredients that are heavy molecules which should be avoided.
Ingredients Curly Hair Should Avoid
1. Petrolatum, White Mineral Oil, and other petroleum products
2. Silicones, Dimethicone, Silicone wax, Elastomers
3. Natural butter (a minute amount is OK to be used, however, a high dosage can cause a heavy and greasy feel)
4. Heavy greasy natural oils e.g. Coconut Oil
5. A heavy dosage of Polyquaternium(s)
Another important component in causing curly hair heaviness is the product texture. A conditioner or hair mask with high viscosity and firmness contains a greater dosage of ingredients that add body to your hair.
These ingredients are either polymer or long carbon chain fatty wax. For both, their higher concentration may cause a heavy feel upon applying to natural non-chemically treated curly hair.
A product with a gentle, lighter, and fluid texture is more appropriate for curly hair.
Examine the INCI list
By examining a product’s INCI listing, you can get an idea of what it is made of and how it might affect your hair.
Please pay attention to the FIRST FIVE ingredients on the list. It should not contain any such ingredient that may be problematic for curly hair.
It should not have the following ingredients in the first five:
- white oil (i.e. mineral oil)
- natural oils
- silicone or silicone derivatives
What is good for curly hair?
Water-based (hydrophilic) ingredients are preferred for curly hair.
Here are some examples:
- natural extracts
- water-soluble surfactants
These ingredients do not a form rigid coating and are easy to rinse off. The product should also be lightly textured for ease of application and lighter feel.
Hair Texture vs Textured Hair: What’s the Difference?
Answers to this question can differ based on who you ask. Industry-wide, the term “textured hair” is often used to mean different things, which can lead to confusion and stereotyping.
Now here is where you may get confused a bit, and this is why I mentioned that it depends on who you ask. Within the Black community, ‘hair texture’ is different from ‘textured hair’.
The term “textured hair” is used to describe the natural curl pattern of our hair, regardless of the actual hair texture…that’s just how we’ve always described it. And to make things clear, we’re not including straight hair in this category. So, when we say “textured hair”, we’re referring to any kind of curly hair; from loose curls to kinky coils.
On the other hand, the term “hair texture” is more technical, and refers to the thickness or diameter of an individual strand of hair. You can have textured hair, but your hair texture could be fine, medium or thick.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on to fine hair.
What Is Fine Hair?
Fine hair refers to the diameter of each individual strand. Fine hair is not the same as thin hair. You can have fine hair, but have a lot of it (which would be considered thick). Or you can have fine hair, but not a lot of it (which would be considered thin).
So, fine hair is a description of the diameter of your hair, not the amount of hair you have (that would actually be called, density).
Also, hair that is extremely fine is the most vulnerable of all hair types, and it can be easily damaged.
Fine Hair vs Thin Hair
The density of your hair and the thickness of its strands are the primary factors that distinguish between fine hair and thin hair.
Thin hair means that you have a small number of strands on your head. Fine hair, on the other hand, can refer to both a small number of strands and strands that are thin in diameter.
So, you can have fine hair, which is thin in diameter and/or you can have thin hair, which is fine in diameter.
Confused yet? Let’s break it down even further.
If you have thin hair, it means that you have a small number of strands. This can be due to genetics, aging, or a variety of other factors.
If you have fine hair, it means that your strands are thin in diameter. This is usually due to genetics, but can also be due to damage from over-processing or heat styling.
You can have both thin and fine hair, or you can have just one or the other.
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s move on to lightweight hair products.
Best Lightweight Products For Fine Wavy And Curly Hair
I’m going to break down this list into categories, but this will not be a comprehensive list by any means. I’m only including products that I have personally know to be good for fine wavy and curly hair.
- Righteous Roots Clarifying Shampoo (protein free). Works really well with low porosity hair.
- Davines Volu Shampoo (protein free)
- Bumble & Bumble Sunday Shampoo (protein free)
- CURLS Pure Curls Clarifying Shampoo
If you have fine hair, clarifying is a must! A good clarifying shampoo will help remove build-up from your scalp and hair without stripping away moisture.
To learn more about clarifying your hair and how often you should do it, check out my blog, ‘How To Clarify Curly Hair: The Ultimate Guide.’
A chelating shampoo is similar to a clarifying shampoo, but it is specifically formulated to remove hard water minerals from your hair. Also, a chelating shampoo will double as a clarifying shampoo, so it’s a great option to have in your curly hair arsenal.
If you live in an area with hard water, I highly recommend using a chelating shampoo at least once a month. For more information on how to deal with hard water, check out my blog, ‘The Curly Hair Survival Guide To Chelating Shampoo.’
- Bounce Curl Gentle Clarifying Shampoo
- Innersense Pure Harmony Hairbath
- OUAI Fine Hair Shampoo
- Giovanni Smooth As Silk Shampoo
Shampoos are the most basic hair care product and they are designed to cleanse your scalp and hair of dirt, oil, and build-up. When shopping for shampoo, always look for ones that are sulfate-free and silicone-free.
- Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal Biotin Dry Shampoo
- Klorane Volumizing Dry Shampoo
- Matrix Biolage Waterless Clean & Full Dry Shampoo
- Living Proof Perfect hair Day Dry Shampoo
Dry shampoos are a great option for those days when you don’t have time to wash your hair. They work by absorbing excess oil and adding volume to your hair (win, win!).
- Briogeo Blossom & Bloom Ginseng + Biotin Hair Thickening + Volumizing Conditioner
- Giovanni Smooth As Silk Conditioner
- Ouai Fine Hair Conditioner
- Innersense Pure Inspiration Conditioner
- Righteous Roots 2 in 1 Conditioner (protein free)
A regular conditioner for fine wavy and curly hair can be used as a deep conditioner. Just apply it to your hair and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing it out.
- Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Leave-In Defining Crème
- Righteous Roots 2 in 1 Conditioner (protein free)
- Giovanni Direct Leave In Weightless Moisture Conditioner (protein-free)
- Innersense Sweet Spirit Leave In Conditioner
A leave in conditioner does not work for every fine curly head, but if you find one that works for you, it can be a game changer! These leave-in conditioners will help to add moisture and definition to your curls without weighing them down.
- Shea Moisture Fruit Fusion Coconut Water Weightless Hair Masque
- Jessicurl Deep Conditioning Treatment
- OUAI Treatment Mask for Fine and Medium Hair
- As I Am Hydration Elation (protein free)
Deep conditioning is not necessary for every curly head, but if your hair is feeling dry or damaged, a good deep conditioner can work wonders.
To read more about deep conditioning and all the science-y stuff behind it, check out my blog, ‘Is Deep Conditioning Necessary For Everyone With Curly Hair?‘
- Curl Junkie Repair Me! (a bit pricey, but worth every penny)
- Hairfinity Strengthening Amino Mask
- COLORFUL Neutral Protein Filler. This product restores damaged protein bonds and reduces hair porosity. Furthermore, it safeguards hair against future damage from chemicals.
Here’s a quick tutorial on how to use a neutral protein filler.
All hair is made up of a protein called keratin. Your hair needs protein to be strong and healthy, but sometimes it can be damaged by things like heat styling, coloring, and environmental factors. A protein treatment can help to repair this damage and restore your hair’s strength.
I typically recommend doing a protein treatment once a month, but if your hair is particularly damaged, you may need to do it more often.
If you have fine or thin hair, consider adding protein to your routine. It can help make strands look thicker and stronger. If your hair appears limp or stringy, this could be an indication that it needs more protein.
Foams & Mousses
- Innersense I Create Lift Volumizing Foam
- Giovanni Mousse Air-Turbo Charged Hair Styling Foam
- Pantene Mousse Pro-V Maximum Hold Mousse
- Herbal Essence Totally Twisted Curl Boosting Hair Mousse
What is the difference between foams and mousses? It’s all about consistency. Foams and mousses are both comparable, with the exception of foams being generally lighter than mousses, which have a texture similar to whipped cream.
Mousses provide more control. Foams, on the other hand, tend to be very light and airy and provide less hold, making them a good option for those with fine hair. Mousses and foams can both be used to add volume and texture to your hair.
If you have fine, thin, or limp hair, a lightweight foam or mousse can help to add volume and body. Just be careful not to go overboard – too much product can weigh down your hair and make it look greasy.
- dippity-do Girls With Curls Gelée
- Briogeo Curl Charisma Gel
- Giovanni L.A Hold Gel
- Biosilk Rock Hard Gelee
- Curlsmith In-Shower Style Fixer (vegan)
Gels are one of the most popular products for fine wavy hair. They can provide definition and hold without making your hair feel crunchy or stiff. Choose a gel if you want your waves to last between washes, to keep frizz under control, or if you’re aiming for well-defined waves.
- Oribe Superfine Strong Hair Spray
- Bounce Curl Hair Spray (use my discount code, ‘muse’ to save money at checkout)
- Pantene Pro-V Level 2 Ultra Lightweight Air Spray Hair Spray
- Ouidad Curl-Last Flexible Hold Hair Spray
- Curly Hair Solution Curl Keeper Tweek
Hair sprays can be used to help keep your style in place, add shine, and tame frizz. If you have fine hair, these hairsprays will not weigh your hair down. Make sure to read the instructions for the best results.
If you have fine hair, you may be wondering if it’s okay to use hair oils. The answer is yes! Just be sure to use a lightweight oil that won’t weigh your hair down.
Hair oils have a variety of advantages, but you just need to know which one to choose, how to use it, how much to apply, and when.
Don’t confuse hair oils with serums as they are not the same thing; they serve quite distinct purposes.
A serum is a styling product that should be used on dry hair to control frizz, and most add shine to the hair’s surface. Hair oils, on the other hand, are more treatment-focused and some can penetrate the hair fibers to improve the hair from within.
There are a variety of lightweight curly hair products available on the market, and you have all the information you need to choose the right ones for your hair type and needs.
There is no one-size-fits all solution; it often takes a combination of different approaches to find what works best for you. Depending on your individual curl type, you might need to experiment with a few different products before you find the perfect formula for your locks because even the products you use every day can produce different results each time.
Please, pay attention to the INCI listing. Bottom line, lightweight curly hair products will need to contain lighter and small molecules so that your hair will not get weighed down.
Is it a true statement to say, “Lightweight products are usually water soluble and thinner in consistency than heavy products. They tend to have few or no sealing ingredients, which are ingredients like oils and butters.”
This is a somewhat true statement. It is very true that curly hair will become heavy and weighed down very easily when loaded with oils, silicones or heavy molecules (higher molecular weight polymers).
However, the key here is consistency. Products with higher viscosity and firm consistency may not be ideal for fine naturally curly hair. Formulators tend to make it lighter and fluid to avoid any level of heaviness and deliver a good curl definition, and in essence using lighter and small molecules for curly hair is the best way to go about it.
How can I hydrate my curls without weighing it down?
Anyone with curly hair knows that finding the right balance of hydration and curl definition can be a delicate dance. Too much moisture and your hair will be weighed down; too little and your curls will be dry and frizzy. So, how can you achieve happy, healthy curls?
The answer, my friend, is in the balance. Here are my top tips for hydrating your curls without making them feel heavy or greasy:
1. Skip the leave-in conditioner. Instead, leave in some of your regular conditioner as a leave in conditioner. This will add lightweight moisture to your curls without weighing them down.
2. Focus on the ends of your hair. This is where most of the damage occurs and where your hair needs the most hydration.
3. Avoid using products with silicones or heavy oils. Silicones can actually make your hair feel drier in the long run by creating a barrier that doesn’t allow moisture to penetrate.
4. Don’t overdo it! A little bit of product goes a long way when it comes to curly hair. Start with a small amount and increase as needed.