Curl activators and curl creams are very popular hair styling products.
If you’re a curly girl or you have unmanageable frizz, I’m sure you’ve stumbled upon Cantu’s Curl Activator and Cantu’s Curl cream.
I discovered these products a while ago and they both changed my world.
I talk about how I use Cantu here in this post.
Both the curl activator and curl cream are designed to enhance and define natural curls.
Even if your hair is on the wavy side and you really want your hair to look moisturized and define your waves, you can use the Curl Activator (not the curl cream because it might be too heavy for your hair)
Both the curl activator and curl cream may seem similar but there are some key differences between the two.
I’ll talk about curl activator vs curl cream in this post and then cover the ones I like best and have genuinely worked for me and people I know.
Let’s dive in!
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Curl Activator vs Curl Cream – What’s the difference?
A Curl Activator is a liquid or spray product that is typically applied to wet or damp hair before styling.
It’s not a cream texture, it’s more liquidy and milky – that’s how I’d describe it. The Cantu Curl Activator has got a thick milky consistency.
This is how a curl activator looks:
It contains ingredients to help activate and enhance natural curls – making the curls more defined and bouncy.
Now, a curl activator usually has a lightweight, non-greasy texture and is often used by people with fine or thin hair.
For example, even though I have curly hair that’s very dense, my hair is fine. I’m not talking about hair density but hair thickness.
Fine hair is a hair type that refers to the thickness of individual strands of hair. Hair thickness however is characterized by the diameter of each hair strand which can range from thick to medium to fine.
So, if this is your hair, then the curl activator will actually work wonders for you.
Because the curl activator is lightweight and milky.
It is not going to weigh down your hair.
And it’s a great option for people who want to enhance their natural curl pattern without weighing down their hair or creating a stiff, crunchy texture.
I’ve been using the Cantu Activator for years!
And I create an emulsion before applying it to my damp hair. I’ll explain that in a bit.
A curl activator contains no petroleum that’s why it’s more milky and smooth.
However, a curl cream contains petroleum so it’s more buttery.
The only curl activator I use and recommend to every single curly girl is the Cantu Curl Activator.
Let’s move on to a curl cream.
A Curl Cream however is a thicker, more concentrated product that is designed to provide moisture and hold to curls.
It has a creamy or buttery texture(think the thick butter you get in Body Shop like avocado, cocoa butter, or shea butter) and is also applied to wet or damp hair.
Now, a curl cream is ideal for people with thick or coarse hair because it helps tame frizz and define curls. It is also a great option for people who want a more sculpted, structured look as it can create a stronger hold and more defined curls.
If you have kinky curls, then you might want to consider a curl cream for your hair!
3 Curl Creams I really recommend are:
- Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk Frizz Control Sculpting Gel and Defining Cream
- Cantu Coconut Curling Cream (again, a massive favorite of mine)
- SheaMoisture Smoothie Curl Enhancing Cream for Thick, Curly Hair
- Carol’s Daughter Mimosa Hair Honey Shine Pomade For Curly, Damaged, Natural Hair (now if none of the other creams are doing it for you, this is the best one for you – it is perfect for kinky curls that really, really need a boost in moisture)
When to use the curl activator vs curl cream?
Both curl activators and curl creams can be great options for enhancing and defining natural curls.
The choice between the two will depend on your hair type, texture, and desired look.
You also have to consider the weather.
1. Look at your hair type
If you have fine or thin hair and want a lightweight, natural look, a curl activator may be the way to go.
In my case, since my hair is fine and I have 3B curls, I use a curl activator. I’ve been using the Cantu Curl Activator for years and have never considered switching.
If you have thick or coarse hair or maybe kinky curls and want a more structured, defined look and you don’t mind the heavyweight or cream, then use a curl cream or butter.
Ultimately, it’s all about experimenting and finding a product that works best for you and your unique hair type.
2. Look at your weather
If you stay in a very tropical climate with hot and humid weather, then a curl activator might be just right for you.
I stay in India so I really like the consistency and feel of the curl activator in my hair.
I can’t use a curl cream because it’s too heavy.
But if you stay in a country with a very cold climate, you can use a curl cream or curl butter because this is going to prevent your hair from losing moisture.
For instance, one of my friends stays in Alaska and her hair is exposed to snow and cold most of the time, so she uses very heavy curl creams.
This is something you should consider too!
How to use a curl activator?
Now, obviously, there are different methods.
But let me explain how I do my hair:
Step 1: Wet your hair and detangle
You never want to work with hair with knots and tangles in it, your hair just won’t be defined.
I don’t prefer working with uber-wet hair that’s soaking wet, because the cream doesn’t get absorbed properly.
I just work with damp hair by using a curly hair spray bottle and then misting my hair throughout the process.
Divide it into sections and detangle your hair gently with your fingers.
Step 2: Create an emulsion with the curl activator and water
If the curl activator is too thick for you, just mix it with a little water in the palm of your hand and rub it with both hands to warm up the product.
I don’t know why it works, it just does.
It forms a nice milky structure.
Hack: Because I go through the Cantu Activator so quickly, I use an empty bottle to create the emulsion. I just put a little cream in it and mix it with water and then shake it up so it becomes nice and milky.
You’ll get a thin coconut cream like consistency when you put it in your hand.
Step 3: Apply the cream in sections
I use the preying hands’ method to apply the cream to my hair in 4 sections. Take your time with this, don’t rush.
Let your curls absorb the product and you’ll notice how the texture becomes more soft and bouncy straight away.
Step 4: Air dry or diffuse
I don’t diffuse because my hair dries fairly quickly due to the climate here.
Sometimes, I take an auto ride and the wind just dries my hair!
I don’t use gel on most days and I let my hair air dry and honestly, it’s beautiful. I love the results!
But you can finish up with a gel if you know you don’t want your hair to fluff up! I do this when I attend big events or festivals. You need less gel than you think.
How to use the curl cream?
Step 1: Start with clean, damp hair
Shampoo and condition your hair as usual – always work with clean hair.
You can now gently dry your hair using a microfiber towel or let it air dry normally to remove excess moisture.
I’ve mentioned before, I always like to apply my curl products to damp hair and not wet hair – it just absorbs better according to me.
Step 2: Apply a small amount of curl cream to your hand
The amount you need will depend on your hair length and hair thickness.
So always start with a small amount and add more as needed.
Step 3: Warm the product
Similar to the curl activator, rub the curl cream between your palms to warm the product.
I don’t know why this works, but it just helps the product distribute so evenly to your hair and it absorbs better too!
Step 4: Apply to hair
Scrunch the curl cream into your hair, focusing on the mid-lengths and ends where your curls are the most defined.
Use your fingers to work the product through your hair, making sure to distribute it evenly.
Step 5: Airdry or diffuse
If you have particularly stubborn curls, you can use a diffuser attachment on your hair dryer to enhance the curls. Just make sure you don’t touch your hair too much, otherwise, you could disrupt the curl pattern.
Hold the diffuser close to your head and scrunch your hair as you dry it.
Once your hair is dry, you can gently fluff your curls using a hair pick or with your fingers to add volume.
Add a lightweight oil like argan oil to seal in the moisture if you have particularly dry hair.
This is my two cents.
And there you have it!
I hope you found this post useful and understood the major differences between a curl activator and a curl cream.
Hopefully, you now know what will work best for your hair, and even if you don’t – experiment!
I’ve given you my product recommendations as well.
I’m going to leave some links to more posts that you might find helpful as a curly girl:
- 5 Steps to Revive Second-Day Curls (Quickly and Easily)
- 7 Easy Ways to Scrunch Out the Crunch Without Frizz
- 5 Reasons Your Curls Look Wet After Drying + How to Fix it
- 9 Reasons Why Your Curly Hair is Becoming Wavy (+How to Fix it)
- 7 Real Reasons Why Your Hair is Getting Shorter Without Cutting It
- How to Dry Transitioning Hair without Heat [Solved]
- 13 Reasons Why Your Curly Hair Looks So Dry and Messy + How to Fix It
- How to Properly Care for Long 4C Low Porosity Hair [Explained]