While we all wish one magic product could make our manes look, feel, and behave the way we want them to, that’s not always the case, especially if you’ve been blessed with the often temperamental curly hair. Enter: Curl cocktailing, a method where you emulsify two to three curly hair products to help you achieve various curly #hairgoals simultaneously.
“Curl cocktailing is the process of combining multiple different hair products and finding the right combination that works for the individual and their curls,” explains Madison Sullivan, L'Oréal Professionnel artist and Hair.com ambassador. “Some people may find that their hair wears well with just a single curly product in it, while others may feel that they need two to three products to get it looking its best.”
Whether your locks are loosely waved, buoyantly curled, or tightly zig-zagged, here’s everything you need to know about curl cocktailing, including curated recipes for three different curl patterns.
What is a curly hair cocktail?
Wondering, “What does cocktailing hair mean?” Madison’s got you covered.
“Cocktailing products together usually means combining two or more products in your hands before adding them to the hair—think of mixing a cocktail together,” says Sullivan.
This could be adding an oil into a curl cream to define your twirls and prevent frizz or combining a hydrating leave-in treatment with a mousse to restore moisture and add volume. The possibilities are endless and ultimately depend on what you want to achieve with your hair on that specific wash day.
“The only way to find the perfect cocktail for you is by switching them up,” says Sullivan. “There is no right or wrong; every curly head of hair is different. If you find one or more ways to cocktail, then it’s up to you to decide.”
How do you find the best cocktail for your curls?
Sullivan says that through trial and error, experimenting with different combinations of products can help you discover the perfect routine for your curls. The ratio will also depend on your hair’s density and length, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
“Various techniques, products, product lines are going to work differently for people and their curls,” says the stylist. “It’s all about getting to know your curls, what they need, and what they love best.”
What is cocktailing vs. layering?
Cocktailing and layering are sometimes used interchangeably, but Sullivan notes a major difference between the two.
“Layering products on means applying one product at a time but using multiple products to style the hair,” she explains. “Some products will specify if they are meant to be cocktailed or layered in. If not, this is where the experimenting and trial and error comes into play again.”
It’s worth noting that layering takes a bit more time and effort since you have to wait for each layer to partially or fully dry before adding the next product on top. For example, hairsprays and most texturizing sprays aren’t meant to be used on wet hair, so after you’re done styling, you’ll have to exercise some patience before topping off your style. On the contrary, those who swear by wash-and-gos may already be cocktailing and not even know it!
Should you cocktail with the same brand?
“Products from the same brand are typically formulated to work in unison together; therefore, you have less risk of flaking or residue when sticking to products from the same brand,” says the Hair.com ambassador. “This is not to say you can’t use two different brands together. That is where the experimental part comes in, and accepting that you may end up with some visible build-up. It can also turn out to be the perfect combination for you—that can be part of the fun!”
Tip: When cocktailing various brands, see how the formulas react when rubbed together in your palms. If they clump together, try something else or layer them on individually instead.
What are the 3 types of curls?
Wavy (type 2), curly (type 3), and coily (type 4) are the three major classifications of curly hair. Each group contains three subtypes that determine the shape and diameter of your pattern. These range from A to C, with A being the finest and loosest to C being more structured and tightly packed.
All said, it’s important to remember that different curl patterns can exist throughout one head of hair, and the products you need may fluctuate regularly depending on the weather, your hair length, or your styling goals.
We asked Sullivan for the best products to prep your hair in the shower (after all, your shampoo and conditioner set the stage!), followed by the best styling cocktails that’ll allow your natural hair texture to take center stage.
Curl Cocktailing for 3 Hair Types
Type 2 Hair: Wavy
Wavy hair is the least voluminous of all textured hair thanks to its flatter root, and ranges from loose open waves to more defined S-shape curves. Some wavy hair types dry into their pattern, while others need products to help bring out their shape. Sullivan notes they likely benefit from using more lightweight products to prevent them from getting weighed down further.
Washing: Wavy hair may be on the tail-end of the curl type spectrum, but its moisture needs remain the same—especially since this is a key element to fend off frizz. A creamy moisturizing system like Kérastase Curl Manifesto Bain Hydratation Douceur Shampoo and Curl Manifesto Fondant Hydratation Essentielle Conditioner can help smooth wavy hair and coax out its texture.
Styling: You’ll want products that strike the perfect balance of defining and holding your waves without adding too much heaviness.
"A curl cream and oil combination work great on wavy hair,” says Sullivan.
Combine a small amount of Kérastase’s Curl Manifesto Gelee Curl Contour Gel-Cream and Curl Manifesto Huile Sublime Repair Hair Oil together in your hands and run the mixture through damp hair. Lightly scrunch strands with your fingers and let them air dry. The curl cream will help bring out the natural texture in your hair, while the oil enhances shine and offers 24-hour anti-frizz and humidity protection.
Type 3 Hair: Curly
Washing: Repeat after Sullivan: "The curlier the hair, the more moisture it needs.”
Why? The twists and turns of curls make it harder for the natural oils from your scalp to travel down your strands, subjecting your spirals to dryness galore. Start your routine with an ultra-hydrating, sulfate-free system like Redken’s All Soft Mega Curls Shampoo and Conditioner to cleanse and moisturize curls without feeling stripped. An extension of the All Soft line, Mega Curls is ideal for those with severely dry or damaged curls because it features the brand’s Nourish Complex, plus aloe vera, cactus flower extract, and inca inchi oil to leave ringlets looking visibly healthier and less damaged.
Styling: “From here, I would recommend following up with a leave-in,” says Sullivan.
A great option is Redken’s All Soft Mega Curls HydraMelt. This hydrating leave-in treatment moisturizes, deep conditions and increases manageability for extremely dry, curly, and coily hair. Pair it with a lightweight defining cream (this is where brand mix-and-matching comes into play) like Matrix’s A Curl Can Dream Light-Hold Gel to ensure your curls dry into your desired shape. It features manuka honey to provide light hold without crunching or flaking. Prefer to layer a gel in? Apply it to your locks from mid-lengths to ends of hair after it has completely dried—this will provide hold and give your mane a shiny, lacquered effect.
Type 4 Hair: Coily
Washing: ”The more curly or coily your hair is, the more likely you will wash less frequently,” says Sullivan. Since less washing translates to more build-up over a few days, she notes that “it’s a good idea to cleanse your hair prior to shampooing.”
Sullivan loves the Serie Expert Curl Expression Anti-Build Up Cleansing Shampoo from L’Oréal Professionnel to remove impurities and build-up on coils, followed by the Curl Expression Intense Moisturizing Cleansing Cream Shampoo. This moisture-packed shampoo treats delicate curls and coils to gentle cleansing and hydration while safeguarding hair’s natural oils to keep curls in their best shape. Seal the deal with the Curl Expression Intensive Moisturizer Rich Mask.
Styling: Coils often need more products to define their shape and keep them moisturized. The Curl Expression line is ideal for cocktailing your coils since you can fuse four of the system’s stylers in various ways.
To style, Sullivan advises combining the Curl Expression Long Lasting Moisturizer Leave-In Cream for hydration with the Cream-In-Jelly Definition Activator Gel to provide pattern definition from roots to ends while activating curls and coils.
“Lock in your cocktail with the 10-In-1 Cream-In-Mousse to create a soft and touchable curl cast,” says Sullivan.
Help reactivate your coils the next day (or any time!) by liberally misting the Curls Reviver Spray onto dry hair. This reviving spray calms frizz and instantly extends curl and coil pattern and definition; no washing needed. Plus, it works on all of the hair types mentioned above. Voilà!
Find more professional products to cocktail your curls on Hair.com.