How to Define Your Natural Curls Guide [2024]

Last updated on February 22nd, 2024 at 02:52 pm

If you have type 4 hair, you may find it difficult to define your natural curls so that they are actually apparent. The key is to define them and freeze them into place. In this post, I share with you tips for how to get curls in natural hair.

how to get curls in natural hair

My Personal Journey to Gorgeous Bouncy Curls

I have fine hair with a visible defined curl pattern when my hair is wet.

In addition, I have more wavy hair at the nap of my neck. That section is filled with looser curls while hair at the crown of my head is filled with tighter curls.

We won’t even get into porosity because I have two types on my head with the majority being low porosity.

When I first went natural, I thought my naturally curly hair would always look like I had luscious curls even though my hair was fine. They seemed defined enough when wet.

Sure, I wouldn’t get any extra volume unless I used a product (or two) that helped me out. However, I was never really that concerned about volume. A simple haircut could provide the illusion of volume if I liked.

No, I wanted definition. That’s every curly girl’s dream right?

First, product combinations

So, I tried many different product combinations at first. It went something like this (all applied to wet hair):

  • leave-in conditioner, oil, gel
  • oil, leave-in conditioner, curling cream, gel
  • oil, curl cream, gel
  • oil, gel
  • curl cream, oil

Then, different techniques

While trying all the different product combinations, I also tried many techniques to get my curls “right.” This included the following different methods:

  • Shingling
  • The Praying Hands method
  • Rake & Shake Curl Method
  • Doing finger coils
  • The Curly Girl Method
  • The Tightly Coily Method
  • Doing twist outs
  • Braids outs

I used my fingers and the Denman brush here and there.

Can you see how exhausting this can be trying all these techniques and product combinations? What’s worst is I had to try them in a different order based on how the products interacted with each other. All brands don’t play well together.


naturally curly hair
I bet you think this is a twist out. It’s actually a wash and go!

After many years of trial and error, I now KNOW what works to get my curls to clump together and “pop.” I guess all that time was worth it because I now know what doesn’t work and can replicate my results again and again.

This is especially important as you age because your hair does change. Thank you hormones.

Natural Curls NOT Crafted Curls

I bet most of the articles you’ll find for “how to get curls in natural hair” will be completely different from what you are about to read.

You’ll likely find articles on the best ways to get curls using things like flexi rods, a curling wand or some other artificial hair curling technique.

While curls “created” using a hair tool or technique like doing bantu knots or straw sets is very pretty, this is not what we are going for.

Plus, when you use hot tools to create your curls, you have to use heat protectant to prevent heat damage. If you want healthy curls, there isn’t a ton of different ways to get them.

The tips you will find below is all about how to get true curls using your hair’s natural texture. We are not going to fake it til we make it.

Hindrances to Getting Perfect Curls

While there’s really no such thing as perfect curls in my opinion, there is “your” perfect curls. These are curls that look as good as your hair can ever get them. Many ladies (and gents) just don’t know what it takes to get them there. 

Here are a few reasons why:

Heat damage

You know you have it when most of your hair is relatively curly and then you have straight hair pieces throughout your head.

A roughed up hair cuticle

 The cuticles of your hair are responsible for protecting the inner layers of your hair from getting damaged.

When your hair’s cuticles are in good condition, your hair shaft will be smooth,  Your hair will reflect light and shine. This makes the appearance of your curls more beautiful.

Raggedy ends

When the ends of your hair are not in good condition, your curls won’t look their best.

Raggedy ends will cause your curls to appear messy and not uniform.

Unrealistic expectations

Your curl type and hair type determines what your curls will look like. So, if you are trying to get your curls to look like your favorite YouTubers but she has a looser curl pattern, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

If you are trying to get curls like someone with much longer hair (gravity is helping to stretch those curls, by the way), you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

If you’re trying to get really tight curls (without the help of rollers) and you have a looser curl pattern, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Hence, your curls won’t be perfect FOR YOU.

Using the wrong styling products

Just like every curl is different, every head of hair is different. You’ll need to find the right combination of products to set your own curls.

Also, you have to make sure you are using the right type of products to define your curls. For example, you wouldn’t use a product meant for doing braid outs when you are looking to achieve a wash and go.

Working with dirty hair

You’ve probably heard someone say at one time or another that dirty hair looks best when styled. That is completely untrue because dirty hair has products buildup on the hair shaft. That way it down.

Plus, clean hair is best when you’re looking for movement in your curls, while keeping them defined

Disturbing your curls before they set

The best way to ruin your curls, so that they do not appear as beautiful as you would like us to touch them before they are set. Resist the urge to put your hands in your hair while your curls are setting. Otherwise, you will create frizz.

Curling Technique Matters

How you set your curls matters. It’s all in the technique because if you aren’t doing it right, you won’t achieve the beautiful curls you are looking for.

As you read above, there are many techniques for setting curls. Try them all to see which method gives you the desired look.

The Wash and Go

The wash and go is the way to go (no pun intended) for defining your natural curls.

There are various techniques for “setting” your wash and go hair.

The best technique I’ve discovered, for defining and setting my curls is the shingling method.

The shingling method of defining your curls is the most time consuming but for me, it was the most effective.

Styling Products Also Matter

The hair products you use to define your hair (this goes for all curly hair types) is very important.

If you’re looking for well-defined curls, beautiful curls, darn near. perfect curls then this is likely the most important section of this article.

While the technique you use to define your curls is important, the products you use to do it are just as important. Otherwise, your hair will shrink too much and/or frizz.

Layering your hair (while defining it) with a moisturizing curl definer and a gel with a freeze hold is what is needed to set your hair so that your curls are on full display.

Too much hold and your hair will feel dry and crispy. Not enough hold and it will frizz. The curls won’t last.

While you can use pretty much any moisturizing curl definer, you’ll want to be picky about the gel you use. Gels loaded with harsh alcohols are a no go. Also, not all gels play well with leave ins and other cream stylers. You’ll have to test them out.

Number One Recommendation

Creme of Nature Honey.

This curl cream 👏🏾 right 👏🏾here 👏🏾

When I tell you I achieved the most surprising results, I’m not exaggerating.

The product is literally a leave-in conditioner, a detangler and the best darn natural curl pattern enhancer I have ever tried. This is why my wash and go looks more like a twist out. It literally clumps my curls together.

It works on dry hair too. Well, you will set wet hair (soaking wet hair NOT damp hair) by applying the curling cream to small sections. The smaller sections used, the better. You want to ensure that every single strand is coated in product for best results.

However, on day 3 when you start to (maybe) notice a little frizz (I did), you can smooth some of the cream to your curl units from root to tip on dry hair. This will restore the curl definition and eliminate frizz altogether.

Do you see that curl definition?

If you want to experience the ease of how to get curls in natural hair, this is my number one product recommendation.

Using a Hair Gel

Another product you may find beneficial for simply “freezing” your curls in place once they are naturally defined is gel layered over a cream styler or leave in conditioner.

If you have tight curls, you’ll want to stretch them gently. Check out these stretching methods.

Here are some alcohol free gels I recommend trying (in no particular order):

  1. EcoStyler Curl and Wave Gel (not the cleanest of ingredients but I do love the results)
  2. CurlMix Flaxseed Gel
  3. Kinky Curly Curling Custard
  4. Aunt Jackie’s Don’t Shrink Flaxseed Elongating Gel (I don’t love this one because the ingredients aren’t as clean as I would like but you may be ok with it. It does define curls well)
  5. Curls Blueberry Bliss Curl Control Jelly
  6. As I Am Smoothing Gel
  7. Wetline Xtreme Gel (another not so clean list of ingredients but many naturals love this gel)

note: each of the links above is an affiliate link. thank you in advance for any purchase you may make 🙂

Drying Your Curls

The final word is on drying. You do not want to touch your hair while it’s drying. If you do, welcome frizz. Just sayin’.

Drying time is different for everyone. If you have low porosity hair, it could take you all day to dry. Alternatively, you can use a diffuser to speed things up.

It’s very easy to define your natural curls. The key is to work with clean, moisturized and detangled hair. Then, isolate the curl “units” (those sections of curls that naturally clump together) with the shingling method and use a firm enough holding gel.

Next Up

Read the following articles to get a more comprehensive set of tips on getting curls in natural hair:

The Shingling Method on Fine Natural Hair

How to Get the Wet Look on Natural Hair

How to Train Your. Natural Hair to Be Curly

defining your natural curls

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Michelle Smith

Michelle is a Christian natural hair enthusiast. She's been natural for 20+ years and shares natural hair care tips and easy hairstyles for those with low density or thin fine natural hair. It's her joy to inspire you to live by faith in God while caring for your "crown."

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