We Tested 6 Air-Dry Creams To See If Any of Them Actually Work On Curly Hair - Fashionista
How effortless is "effortless" hair, especially when curls are involved?

The last thing the internet needs is more words written about Glossier. So let me say sorry right up front. Yet when you look at the recent boom of "air dry" hair products, the connection is unmistakeable. Hahaa, hello, Clarice, it's the Glossier look — you, too, can be effortless, but perfect, but so low-maintenance. What, this? Anyone could do it! Given funds and, crucially, a look that's already 90 percent of the way there. Because while this new genre's making the case for air-drying, that's pretty much already a non-negotiable for people with curly and natural hair. So are they effective on all textures, or just on those that are naturally one step away from the tousled, beachy look?

To be clear: I would also very much like that tousled look! No one's immune. But after a lifetime of wrangling my 3b curls, it's just not in the cards, and that's fine. So I set out to answer the question: Are these products just texturizers by any other name (and following in the grand tradition of most products and tutorials assuming people always start with straight hair), or are they a new generation of easy-hair-miracles-in-bottles for everyone? I threw my carefully curated curl routine to the wind and tried them all. Add in a rainstorm and jury duty, and it was a week.

Bumble and Bumble Don't Blow It and Don't Blow It Thick

Bumble and Bumble Don't Blow It, $31 each, available at Sephora.

Bumble and Bumble Don't Blow It, $31 each, available at Sephora.

Bumble and Bumble was one of the first on the air-dry scene when it launched Don't Blow It, a cream that purports to give hair "perfect heat-free, effortless style," in 2014. The brand has since updated the original to reflect its fine-hair-intended audience, designating it Don't Blow It Fine, with a new version, Don't Blow It Thick, coming in May (classic Glossier Priming Moisturizer/Priming Moisturizer Rich move; just saying).

Starting off with these products gave me misleadingly high hopes for this whole endeavor, but that's on me. I trialled both at once, each on opposite sides of my head, and the original version left my curls hazier, puffier and frizzier than normal, but still defined. The Thick version slightly overcorrected; my curls were very well-defined and not frizzy, but less bouncy than they usually are. I generally favor an up-down, less voluminous curl look (a hairdresser once referred to it as "glued to my head," that jerk), so... I liked it!

Pureology Hydrate Air Dry Cream

Pureology Hydrate Air Dry Cream, $28, available at Ulta.

Pureology Hydrate Air Dry Cream, $28, available at Ulta.

Pureology's is another surprisingly good one. I'd heard mixed reviews heading in, but the Hydrate Air Dry Cream gave a very solid performance — my curls were by and large well-defined, with only a small frizzy underbelly. I go for medium-heavy products to weigh my hair down and help the layers coalesce, and that's the only place the Pureology didn't perform for me. It was a little too light for my preferred method of law and order, but if you like a wider curl cloud, à la many curly cuts, this was easy and quicker than a multi-step regime. On me, that translates mop.

Alterna Bamboo Beach Ocean Waves Breeze Dry Balm

Alterna Bamboo Beach Ocean Waves Breeze Dry Balm, $22, available at Sephora.

Alterna Bamboo Beach Ocean Waves Breeze Dry Balm, $22, available at Sephora.

Of all the angst soon to come, my greatest misery is that this spectacular product is limited edition. That's because it's really, truly great for curly hair, although by the same token, that also means it's probably too heavy for straight or fine strands. I guess hair products are rarely one-size-fits-all — an important takeaway of this entire experiment. This cream left my curls incredibly defined, with minimal frizz and volume that was confident, but not overwhelming. There was some kinky limpness on a few of the bottom layers, but overall, the results were excellent. Importantly, it's also fairly cheap at $22.

Garnier Fructis Style Smooth Air Dry Anti-Frizz Cream

Garnier Fructis Style Smooth Air Dry Anti-Frizz Cream, $3.42, available at Target.

Garnier Fructis Style Smooth Air Dry Anti-Frizz Cream, $3.42, available at Target.

After three days of nice hair, I was feeling optimistic: Maybe the hair industry has figured out a way to make air-drying creams that work for everyone! And then I got into the drugstore products. And boy, did things spiral from there. (A curly hair pun!)

Garnier's cream has racked up more than 200 positive reviews on Target's website alone, and it was sold out in my local drugstore, so clearly there are some people out there who have liked it. Many people, in fact! Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. This was my darkest day: This cream, combined with a morning spent trudging through a violent rainstorm for jury duty, yielded very, very bad hair. Frizzy, dull and so, so... wide, my hair's circumference seemed to grow so big it was getting in people's way on the subway. In Garnier's defense, the cream is marketed with a 1 out of 5 on the "flexible hold" scale (but it also touts a "sleek" finish??). So while it might work for the naturally sleeker-haired out there, it sadly was a failure for me.

L'Oréal Advanced Hairstyle Air Dry It Undone Hairstyle Cream

L'Oréal Advanced Hairstyle Air Dry It Undone Hairstyle Cream, $4.99, available at Ulta.

L'Oréal Advanced Hairstyle Air Dry It Undone Hairstyle Cream, $4.99, available at Ulta.

It's another no from me, dawg. My curls became less defined as they dried, frizz was rampant and the whole shebang was again pretty huge. This would be ideal if you like that undefined cloud mass, Victorian and/or '80s hair à la a young Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth (or, you know, you have naturally smooth waves). If you want defined curls from a wash-and-go, keep moving.

Matrix Style Link Twisted Boho Curl Defining Air-Dry Cream

Matrix Style Link Twisted Boho Curl Defining Air-Dry Cream, $9.99, available at Ulta.

Matrix Style Link Twisted Boho Curl Defining Air-Dry Cream, $9.99, available at Ulta.

I had high hopes for this guy, especially given that Matrix was one of the only brands included here that distinguishes its air-dry creams by texture. Given the options of Style Link Chill Boho Smoothing Air-Dry Cream, Wild Boho Texturizing Air-Dry Cream and Twisted Boho Curl Defining Air-Dry Cream, I went with the latter. It wasn't the worst... but it also was certainly not the best. It lent a bit of definition, but my curls were still slightly bedraggled, with a halo of frizz, and the layers again weren't weighed down enough for my liking. Surprisingly, an impromptu couch nap tamed everything a bit, leaving my hair looking great, but it'd take a specific napping regime to maintain. (I wish.)

In sum: not too shabby, hair-care world! I went into this expecting a godforsaken week of miserable hair days, and while a few of those certainly did occur, there were also some gems in the frizzy rough. On the upside, these air dry products weren't only made for straight hair in our year of 2017. On the downside, it's a toss up as to which ones deliver.

The pricier options performed best for me, likely because they loaded up on moisturizing agents. I'll be heading back to the Bumble or the Alterna products on days I want to skip my usual two-step routine (I use Kinky Curly's Knot Today leave-in conditioner, section, and then smooth a nickel-size dab of Bumble and Bumble's Curl Creme on each. To test these, I skipped the leave-in and moved directly to the sectioning step).

If you need less hold, the cheaper ones could work. Feels unfair, but to play devil's advocate, they do less, so it doesn't feel that wild that they should cost less. Do you need a designated air-drying product? Meh! Especially if air-drying's already your life, there are great curl products out there. Still, it's a small nice thing that this new, slightly BS genre doesn't automatically assume everyone starts from a single point A. 

Homepage photo: Natasha Marshall for @mylaanddavis/Instagram

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