I've had a long and complicated relationship with my hair.
While lots of people seem to just give their barnets a scrub in the shower and a quick brush, I've got a plethora of creams, oils, and serums to try to control the frizz. But I'm lazy, and I don't go in for hair wrapping and other hair hacks.
I usually tie it all up into a big bun soon after washing it – but there always comes a time when it gets too heavy and my scalp feels like it's going to explode unless I take it out again. And that's when I become a walking fuzzy triangle.
In the days after hair-washing day, the curls become lacklustre and baby hairs take over.
I've always got stray straight hairs that poke out through the fog of frizz, co-existing next to the bits of curly wire. That's a big problem for a lot of mixed-race people – having hybrid hair means you've got to find products that will dampen down fine hairs while conditioning the ultra-thick dry patches that often grow in the undergrowth.
So what are the best products for those of us with hybrid hair?
I tried out six different serums, washing and slathering my hair in a different one every three days. Throughout the process I was looking at four aspects in particular:
1. Texture and overall appearance of the hair while using the serum
2. Smell and texture of the product
3. Quality of curls on day one
4. Durability of the serum's promised effects the next day
The plan was to wash as normal, use the serum, and leave to dry naturally.
All the products are available on the high street.
Boots Essentials Curl Crème, £1.99
There is so much hype around this Boots own-brand curl cream. Apparently non-Brits are even asked to bring it back for people at home when they visit. Sucker for branding and packaging that I am, I was dubious. When has an Essentials item ever been better than the branded beauty version?
Texture and overall appearance of the hair: It was thick to apply and immediately the curls felt like they were in a cocoon of moisture (which is saying something, as my hair is normally drier than the Sahara). It felt way more luxurious than it should at that price. As it dried, however, I started to worry it might start hardening and would glue huge chunks of hair together.
Smell and texture: It smelt pretty chemical-y in the pot, but didn't once applied...so I guess that's OK?
Quality of curls: As it dried, it got crunchier. It's a really intense product – my hair was virtually frizz-free, the curls were completely defined, but the problem was that my hair felt like it had stuck to my scalp. It's probably amazing when just used on the ends to tighten curls, but for me, it's way too heavy to use much near the roots or fine hairs.
Durability: Normally I wake up dreading what state my hair's going to be in...but this serum actually got better the next day.
It had settled down so there was no crunch left, but the curls were left tightly defined at the bottom with a good wave in the body – and, crucially, no frizz. And it lasted all day. In the evening, I tied my hair up in a low bun to go out and for the first time probably ever, I didn't need to use an oil to dampen down the baby hairs or the frizz that usually crowns the hairstyle.
To be honest, the price alone is worth an extra point.
Umberto Giannini Curl Friends Scrunching Jelly, £6
The very name of this product made me feeling slightly uneasy. A scrunching jelly? That evokes flashbacks of the early '00s, which I spent with crunchy, hard hair encrusted with copious amounts of mousse.
Texture and overall appearance of the hair: As feared, it dried pretty crunchy and hard. Sure, the curls were in good shape, but I think in this day and age, crackly curls really aren't on. It isn't 2001 any more, people.
Smell and texture: There was no real smell, but the serum looked and felt very much like something you wouldn't want to have stuck in your hair.
Quality of curls: All day, the curls remained tight and there was no frizz. In fact, it seemed more in control than the Boots serum and I found I had layers I'd forgotten had ever been cut. I'd completely forgotten about the bangs at the front, which my mum cut in last Christmas after a long period of day-drinking.
Durability: On the second day, I realised this product had nothing on the Boots stuff. My hair was disastrous. Many of the curls had fallen out into limp waves or had turned into very tough, thick fuzz. My hair felt limp and annoying so I whacked it into a tight topknot for the majority of the day.
This serum has very little durability – which is annoying as it dried really nicely. It would probably work fine if I wrapped my hair at night, but as it was, my hair looked worse than it would have au natural.
Aussie Dual Personality Curl Definition Serum, £5.19
This felt like a placebo product in the experiment because it almost has the consistency of water, and for a while I was convinced that I had fallen victim to some kind of high-level product fraud.
But actually, this serum worked wonders. It was so light but the curls it helped produce were big and loose.
This was also the first time in the testing process that my boyfriend actually complimented my hair, calling it bountiful. And if that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.
Texture and overall appearance of the hair: The curls were really light and fluffy, a good mixture of body and definition. I really, really liked this product – primarily because it didn't feel like a product.
Smell and texture: It had no perceptible smell or texture, which was probably a good thing.
Quality of curls: I had some curious kind of 1920s waves happening at the front where the hair was shorter, but otherwise the curls were defined and full-bodied.
Durability: IMO, my hair looked even better the next day. Yes, there was quite a lot of fluff, but that was more down to the curls loosening out than actual frizz.
It didn't feel as dry as usual, which was an unexpected bonus. The product is supposed to be a dual-action serum, giving curls definition and making hair soft, and it did both with aplomb.
Lee Stafford Argan Oil Curl Crème, £11.99
My hair is incredibly dry and I usually have to oil it every other day just to stop it from catching fire. So I thought this product would be a one-stop shop to better hair. Surely, if it's all nourished and moisturised, the curls would be better?
I was wrong. My hair was flat as a pancake on top, frizzy in the middle, and tightly curled right at the bottom.
Texture and overall appearance of the hair: This was a really disappointing product and I had hoped for a really soft, nourished outcome. My hair actually felt more dry than usual, and, at the roots, limp. It's more expensive than the majority of the other serums – you'd be better off buying a bottle of pure Argan or Moroccan Oil from Amazon for a similar price, heating it, and soaking your tips in that instead.
In other words, it might be best to simply deal with the two issues – dryness and frizziness – separately, rather than trying to combat both with one product.
Smell and texture: It smelt slightly strange, but nothing too alarming. It certainly wasn't oily.
Quality of curls: For the most part, I was buried beneath a mass of fuzz and flat bits of hair.
Durability: Despite the fact that I looked like I'd been dragged through a bush backwards, my hair actually had a bit of life the next day and looked better as a result. It was full of coarse frizz and battered curls, which didn't feel great, but at least it didn't have that horrible limpness that it had the day before.
Aveda Be Curly Serum, £19.50
This was by far the most expensive product I tested, so I had very high hopes for it.
I felt like my hair looked good, with the right balance of body and curls – but I wondered whether this serum was really better than the more reasonably priced products.
Texture and overall appearance of the hair: Again, big and bouncy – albeit with some random straight bits that refused to play ball. There was a bit of fluff but over all, it felt good. And again, quite a few people complimented me on my hair using this product, so clearly others thought it was doing a good job.
Smell and texture: It was almost jelly-ish – translucent and insubstantial, rather than the ultra-luxurious cream I'd expected.
Quality of curls: A mixture of tight corkscrews and looser waves – both were pretty good.
Durability: The next day, although a lot of the curls had collapsed or become fluffy, my hair felt quite nourished. In fact, it felt much less dry than when I used the oil-based serum. And the volume was still quite big. I thought it was a pretty good product, but the price would put me off buying it again – particularly as there are cheaper options that are just as effective, if not more so.
John Frieda Frizz Ease Unwind Curls, £3.92
I had hoped that Frizz Ease would be the worst product. I used to get given it for Christmas and that, plus the all the negative connotations that come with something called Frizz Ease, has meant that I've always avoided buying it.
But actually, it was really good. My hair dried slowly, into fluffy, voluminous curls – the perfect combination of body and definition.
Texture and overall appearance of the hair: It took a long time to dry but when it did, it was very curly and light.
Smell and texture: It didn't smell of much, but the texture was thinner than I'd expected and so I used quite a bit to make sure all of my hair was covered.
Quality of curls: They were tight and very corkscrew-y at the bottom – but I think you need to use less than you think, as it was quite flat initially.
Durability: The curls were very much intact and there was little frizz. The next day, again, my hair looked better than it did the day before. It was even bigger and although the curls were looser, it felt good.
I was concerned about how much better my curls looked with each product, how long that lasted, and the overall appearance of my hair. And while some products made the curls tighter, either they didn't last, or my hair became flat and limp. For people used to having big hair, it can be discombobulating to use serums that halve the volume; eliminating tough frizz shouldn't have to mean having limp or sticky hair.
The Boots cream is the most effective in terms of curl control, but you really don't need to use a lot...or at least as much as I did. The product is like some well-known secret within the curly community that I've been missing out on, and I'll definitely use it from now on. But it's probably better when used in conjunction with another, less powerful, serum – just to put at the very ends. It's also under £2, which is ridiculous.
On its own, the Aussie Dual Personality is the best product. It did exactly what it promised on the tin – created good curls and made the hair softer. And, most usefully, it comes in a bottle under 100ml, which means you can take your serum in your hand luggage. Perfect.