Curl activators/Curl creams have been my jam ever since I actually took an interest in taking care of my curls.
I may leave my house without socks, but I’ll never leave without my hair products.
I’ve already covered the difference between curl creams and curl activators and written an in-depth post on how to use them here.
In this post, I’ll talk to you about the differences between curl cream vs mousse, and explain which to use and when.
Please note that they can be used together and can also be used individually – the decision is yours to make based on the type of curls you are looking for.
So whether you dream of having defined bouncy curls or beach waves or you want extra volume or not much volume, this post will help you.
I’ll also link to products I absolutely love and can’t get enough of.
Strap in, because this post is going to get super technical.
Let’s dive in!
This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may make a commission at no extra cost to you if you decide to click on a link and purchase something. Click here to read the full disclaimer.
Curl Cream vs Mousse – What’s the difference?
A Curl Cream/Activator is a hair styling cream or liquid that helps define or enhance natural curls or waves. Curl creams contain very moisturizing ingredients like oils, butters, or humectants that help soften and hydrate the hair.
Really good curl creams (with strong hold like Cantu Curl Cream) also contain polymers or resins that provide hold and control to the curls.
This is how a curl activator/cream looks:
See how liquidy and moisturizing it looks?
That’s how it works.
Now, if you have very fine hair (the diameter of each hair strand is smaller than most) then please use a curl activator (more liquidy and less creamy). This will not weigh down your hair. It will moisturize your curls while allowing them to move and be more fluid.
If you have very thick, coily hair, then use a curl cream (more buttery and waxy, less liquid). A curl cream is thicker than a curl activator and will help your hair stay moisturized.
I’m not going to go into too much detail because I’ve already explained the differences between a curl activator and curl cream in this post.
Some of the best curl creams that I love:
- 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)
So, now that we understand the main purpose of a curl cream is to provide moisture, why do we need a mousse?
A Curl Mousse or Hair Mousse is a very lightweight styling product designed to add volume, and texture, and hold to hair – particularly curly or wavy hair. Now, most mousses contain a foamy or whipped consistency and are applied to damp hair before heat styling or air-drying.
Curl mousses contain polymers that help provide hold and definition to curls. Some of them also contain vitamins, minerals, and plant extracts to nourish hair.
Now, curl mousses are ideal for people who have very fine or limp hair and want to add body and volume to their curls and waves.
A curl mousse isn’t heavy and doesn’t weigh down but it does dry the hair a bit – I’ll talk about it in a bit.
This is how a curl mousse looks:
Some of the best curl mousses that I love:
- Shea Moisture Curl Mousse for Frizz Control: This mousse doesn’t leave a crunchy cast and actually makes your hair soft and bouncy – such an underrated product. Just don’t use way too much because it can cause some white residue. It doesn’t cause a very firm hold – it’s more of a gentle hold.
- Maui Coconut Milk Curl Foam Mousse: Such an excellent mousse for curly hair, it contains no drying alcohols and provides a very firm hold that lasts all day long! It’s light and airy and doesn’t weigh down hair. It isn’t sticky and has a nice coconutty smell.
- Dippity-Do curl-enhancing mousse – This mousse is only for 2A-2C curls, specifically wavy hair. It provides a nice and firm hold for wavy hair and it doesn’t weigh down the hair.
When to use the curl cream vs mousse?
Remember, you can use either the curl cream or the curl mousse or you can use both if you want the best of both worlds.
The choice between the two will depend on your hair type, texture, and desired look.
You also have to consider the weather in your area.
What are the pros and key features of using a curl cream?
- This is best for dry hair or thick hair that needs a lot of extra moisture and hydration.
- It really enhances your natural curl pattern and reduces frizz – I have close to zero frizz when using a curl cream
- It provides a very soft, more natural-looking hold as compared to mousse. Your hair will look glossy, soft, and very smooth.
- A curl cream is best used on damp hair – I create an emulsion with a curl cream and water and then apply it to damp hair (not wet hair) and it absorbs really well!
- You can also use a curl cream as a leave-in after washing your hair for added hydration and definition.
- It doesn’t give you that weird cast you get from gels. Its sole purpose is to provide moisture and hydration. It also provides a light hold.
This is how you can expect your hair to look if you use a hair cream:
What are the cons of using a curl cream?
There are some cons but there are ways to circumnavigate it, and I’ll explain this:
- You need to use the right curl cream for your hair type. As I said earlier, if you have fine hair, please use a curl activator as it’s more liquid. Use a curl cream if you have very thick and dense curls. If you use a product that is too heavy for you, you will end up with sticky hair that is very weighed down.
- It causes buildup: You cannot keep adding curl cream to your hair every single day. You have to wash your hair with a nice clarifying shampoo every 2-3 days to remove all the buildup. Curl creams cause build up and it does leave residue on your hair if it’s not properly washed out.
- It won’t give you as good a hold as a hair mousse: It does provide moisture, yes. But it may not provide enough hold for people who want very structured, defined hairstyles. In this case, it’s better to go in for a hair mousse or hair gel.
- It can cause irritation: It does contain fragrances and preservatives that can cause an itchy scalp and make you feel like you need to wash your hair. That’s why, it’s very important to NEVER put the curl cream close to your scalp. Always apply your curl cream to the hair length only.
What are the pros and key features of using a mousse?
- This is best for limp hair or oily hair that really needs extra volume and texture. It really lifts the roosts – so you don’t end up with flat hair near the top – this is a really good pro!
- It really creates very structured, defined curls or waves.
- It provides a much stronger hold (think walking in Dune weather and still not losing your curls) as compared to a curl cream.
- A curl mousse has to be applied to damp hair before styling. You can use blowdry or air-dry later but please use a hair protectant spray before blowdrying! You don’t want to damage your hair.
You can expect this kind of volume and definition when using a hair mousse:
What are the cons of using a mousse?
- A mouse dries out the hair extensively: This is one of the main reasons I only use a hair mousse when I go out for special events. Because a hair mousse contains alcohol – it leads to frizz and breakage over time especially if you use it a lot. So, if at all you are looking for a daily-use mousse, make sure you buy a mousse that is alcohol-free or contains moisturizing ingredients.
- It causes buildup: Both hair creams and hair mousses can cause product buildup. It will leave a residue on your hair. I usually wash my hair the very next day if I have used a hair mousse.
- It will make the hair feel crunchy: Now if you want a stronghold, you need to be okay with having that crunchy hair. Once your hair completely dries, you can go in with a light oil and then scrunch out the crunch.
- It’s kinda difficult to use: You have to be very quick when applying hair mousse and it does take some time to get used to it. You have to distribute the product evenly throughout the hair and make sure you get the back – otherwise, you’ll have defined curls on the sides and the back will look like a tangled mess. It’s happened to me loads of times.
How to use a curl cream?
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 cream and water (optional)
If the curl activator/cream 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.
You will get soft, hydrated curls like this once the hair cream dries:
How to use the curl mousse?
Step 1: Start with clean, damp hair
Shampoo and condition your hair as usual – always work with damp hair.
Now, you can use the curl mousse right after a curl cream or you can use it on its own without using a curl cream.
I would suggest using both a curl cream and curl mousse on your hair separately and together.
See what works with your hair.
Everybody’s hair is different, that’s why I always suggest a little experimentation to see what suits you best.
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: Shake the bottle
You need to shake the bottle of curl mousse extremely well to ensure the product is evenly mixed.
Step 3: use a golf-ball-sized amount
Mousse is not like hair cream – it has a lot of air in it, so you can use a nice, big generous amount.
Start with a golf ball-sized amount and then add more as needed.
Step 4: Apply to hair
Flip your hair upside down and shake your roots out while applying the mousse to the lengths of your hair.
Use your fingers to distribute the product evenly.
Now if you have very long hair, please divide it into sections and then apply the mousse to each section.
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 scrunch out the curls if your hair is too crunchy after drying.
This is my two cents.
You can expect a nice big volume to your curls once the mousse dries.
It’s optional if you want to scrunch out the crunch. But if you don’t, you will get very defined curls like this:
And there you have it!
I hope you found this post useful and understood the major differences between a curl cream/activator vs a mousse.
Remember, you can also use both and you’ll get that hydrated look but with a lot of volume – the only downside to this is the product buildup so make sure you wash your hair well when you use a lot of products.
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:
- Curl activator vs curl cream: Which to use, when and how?
- 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]