Growing up as a curly girl. I remember flipping through beauty magazines in search of products for my tight 3b ringlets. Hint: there were none.

When pubs began giving out annual awards, I would look for the curl products that won. Whether it was Allure or Good Housekeeping, the curl category didn’t exist. 

So when we started NaturallyCurly, we wanted to make it easier for people with curls, coils, and waves to find the right products for their hair. We created the NaturallyCurly Best of the Best Awards in 2006 to celebrate the standouts, giving out awards in roughly a dozen key categories.

That first Best of the Best was pretty bare bones. We went on CurlTalk and asked people to name their favorite products in each category, tallying up the answers by hand. Initially, there were only a handful of products on the market, and most of those had not been developed specifically for texture. 

The Best of the Best Awards program has come a long way since its humble beginnings.

As the industry evolved and grew, we added categories to keep up – whether that be the best products for braids and twists or the best scalp treatments. Some categories have disappeared, like “Best ingredient to add to a DIY recipe.”

Pictured: Bianca Renee with Kinky-Curly Knot Today

Within each category, we broke it down by texture type, realizing that a Type 2 wavy’s favorite gel wasn’t necessarily the same as the one preferred by a Type 4 coily.

As the site grew, we were able to survey hundreds and then thousands of community members. While there were always old favorites among the winners, some surprising newcomers popped up. 

The NaturallyCurly Best of the Best Awards is now considered the ultimate seal of approval by curl brands both large and small – the gold standard for the textured hair community.  You can find NaturallyCurly’s Best of the Best seal on product bottles and ads. Some brands have done entire campaigns around winning the award.

“Winning the Best of the Best award put us on the map on a much broader stage than anything we had before,” says Canadian stylist Jonathan Torch, creator of Best of the Best winner Curl Keeper, which won “Best Frizz Fighter” several years. “We were – and still are – recognized as a truly competitive and high-performing product, up there with some of the largest beauty companies in the entire world. I still appreciate this victory, and I will always be grateful for the recognition and support that I have gotten from this award.”

Nearly two decades and thousands of products later, we wanted to revisit a few of the earliest  Best of the Best winners. The packaging may have changed and the formulations may be different, but many still remain holy grail products. Here is a look back at the OG holy grail products who have won NaturallyCurly’s Best of the Best Awards.

Elucence Moisture Benefits Shampoo

best of the best winner

This wasn’t a brand that most people had ever heard about. But it had a cult following within the textured-hair community. But people couldn’t get enough of this peach-scented inexpensive shampoo. When we started selling it on CurlMart (Shop NaturallyCurly), we couldn’t keep it in stock! Its sister, the Volume Clarifying Shampoo, was also a favorite to get rid of the gunk.

Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Moisturizing Conditioner

 This Aubrey Organics rose-smelling conditioner was thick, creamy, and moisturizing. One of the first containing shea butter, curlies sought it out at their local health food store. Many fans were shattered when it was discontinued.

DevaCurl One Condition

This is a NaturallyCurly Hall of Fame Best of the Best winner. This was one of the original products developed nearly three decades ago by the founders of New York’s famed Devachan Salon. Silicon-free, sulfate-free, and paraben-free, it was a favorite among people with a wide range of textures. Devacurl now offers different One Condition formulations for different textures, like the One Condition Delight for waves and the One Condition Decadence Ultra-Rich Cream for extra moisture.

Oyin Handmade Hair Dew

Oyin Handmade was founded by Jamyla Bennu, who started making moisture-rich products for her highly textured natural hair in 2001. This moisturizing leave-in lotion remains a staple leave-in moisturizer for many textured-hair women.

Kinky-Curly Knot Today and Kinky-Curly Curling Custard

CurlTalkers began buzzing about Kinky-Curly, a brand created by naturalista Shelley Davis in 2003. After losing her cosmetics case on the trip to St. Vincent, a local whipped up a blend of herbs, roots, and aloe for her to use on her hair. Knot Today is the ultimate detangler,  while Curling Custard was one of the first moisturizing gels that defined curls without the crunch. As word about the products grew, we couldn’t keep them in stock.

TIGI Bedhead Curls Rock Amplifier Curly Hair Cream

If you ask a dozen curlies to name their favorite styling creams, this is likely to pop up on that list. One woman once told me she goes through a bottle of this every two weeks! The packaging has changed several times over the past two decades, but it continues to be a favorite, especially for Type 3s like me who give it high marks for its ability to define, hold and fight frizz

CURLS Lavish Curl Moisturizer

In our earliest days, NaturallyCurly had a monthly Marketplace feature that featured new brands. In 2002, we got a call from Mahisha Dellinger who had just launched a textured hair-care line with  ​a group of products available only on the site. The Moisturizer – now a part of the brand’s Classic Collection – was a standout and continues to be a top seller. Since then, CURLS has become a favorite for all textures, with several popular collections, including Blueberry Bliss, Sea Moss, and Poppin Pineapple.

SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie

This styling cream came on the scene with a bang. Almost overnight, it became a Holy Grail for many curlies and coilies – a go-to product they could always count on. And with its affordable price and availability at a wide range of retailers, it has continued to win awards.

Qhemet Biologics Amla & Olive Heavy Cream 

Qhemet Biologics – another of the brands featured in our monthly Marketplace column – was created by Felis Butler, who had a master’s degree in history and a passionate interest in Afro-Ayurvedic hair care traditions, Word spread as CurlTalkers raved about Amla & Olive Heavy Cream designed to moisturize dry, coarse Type 4 textures.

Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk

best of the best winner

Hair Milk was one of the first products developed by Carol’s Daughter founder Lisa Price.  In 1993, Price, with a nudge from her mother Carol, Price began making products in her cramped kitchen. The Hair Milk, a rich moisturizing cream, quickly gained a passionate following. 

Paul Mitchell Flexible Style Sculpting Foam

best of the best winner

Sculpting Foam was one of the first styling products developed by Paul Mitchell. Although this creamy coconut-scented mousse wasn’t developed for curly hair, the thick moisturizing foam has become a holy grail mousse for many curlies. 

Miss Jessie’s Curly Pudding

best of the best winner

Founded by sisters Miko and Titi Branch, Miss Jessie’s products were developed and perfected at their New York salon – a go-to place for curly girls. One of the early standouts was Curly Pudding, a purple, rich curl-enhancing cream that defined and elongated curls and kinks.

Jane Carter Nourish & Shine

Natural hair stylist Jane Carter packed this hair nourisher with butters and oils to nourish skin and hair.  This concentrated, multi-use product could be used as a moisturizer, pomade, and sealer. 

Kiehl’s Silk Groom

The original Kiehl’s apothecary first serves patrons at the corner of 13th Street and Third Avenue in New York City.  Over the years, the pharmacy began introducing products, including Silk Groom, A non-greasy hair styling cream to help condition and smooth hair. 

Jessicurl Rockin’ Ringlets Styling Potion

Jessica  McGuinty regularly traded hair tips and horror stories with her cyber friends on NaturallyCurly’s CurlTalk message board. She came across a very basic recipe for a hair gel made out of flax seeds, adding other natural ingredients to perfect it. Fellow CurlTalkers asked her to send samples of her concoction and Rockin Ringlets – and her Jessicurl line of products – was born.

Curl Keeper Liquid Styler

Curly Hair Solutions was one of the first brands focused on curly hair (they were the first brand to advertise on NaturallyCurly in 1999!). Stylist Jonathan Torch at his Toronto salon The Curly Hair Institute created his products to solve the hair issues faced by his clients. His standout product was Curl Keeper Liquid Styler, a unique water-based product with the ability to stave off frizz. It quickly became a favorite product to use both alone and to cocktail with other styling products.

Eco Styler Olive Oil Styling Gel

Although it’s not as fancy as many of the curl products on the market, these tubs of this green gel are a staple for many curl girls. The reason? It’s inexpensive, and it works. The gel now is available in a wide range of formulations, including Coconut Oil, Black Castor & Flaxseed Oil, Keratin Growth Factor, and Argan Oil.

Ouidad Climate Control Gel

Curl queen Ouidad developed groundbreaking products for curlies at her New York salon. Even with hundreds of new gels on the market, Ouidad’s Climate Control Gel remains a holy grail product for many curly girls, especially for those in more humid climates. Since it was first launched, the formula has been upgraded to include Anti-Frizz Nano Technology 

AG Re: Coil

I have a very special place in my heart for AG Re: Coil! When the team at  Canada’s largest professional haircare brand AG was creating its first curly hair product, they did some research and came across NaturallyCurly. They started posting on CurlTalk, and surveying members. They sent out samples for people to test, adjusting the formula based on feedback. The result was Re: Coil Curl Activator, a moisturizing styling cream with the perfect amount of hold. Initially, Re: Coil was only available at a limited number of salons in the United States.

But because of NaturallyCurly’s role in its development, the company  allowed us to sell it on our just-launched CurlMart (It was the first e-commerce site for curly hair products!).  It was only the second product we sold, and thanks to an article about NaturallyCurly in the New York Times Sunday Style section, we sold out in two days. Re: Coil can be credited with putting CurlMart – now SHOPNaturallyCurly – on the map!