A Product for Curls

A couple of weeks ago I went to Target for the first time since the beginning of March. I’ve really been forcing myself to go into stores to get over the fear of it (yikes) but I have to admit that wandering through Target was actually nice and it was also 10am on a Thursday morning and nearly empty. Anyway, I wandered through every aisle and ended up picking up this Kristin Ess curl gel on a whim.

I try all types of curl products with high optimistic hope and they almost always leave me wanting something more. This Curl Defining Jelly is 95% perfect in my opinion. (I think I have to say that everybody’s hair is different so take my recommendation for what works for me… worth trying, but it’s not a guarantee.) I hate the smell of it– it smells very strong and it’s unpleasant while it’s still wet. But it doesn’t linger on your hair once it’s dry so it’s not a dealbreaker to me.

I load up on the product– doing two big pumps. One for the front section and one for the back section. It does feel sticky like a gel but doesn’t have the “crunch” that other gels have. Instead it kind of soaks in or evaporates out (hard to be sure which).

To be honest, I don’t love wearing my hair curly. It’s a lot of work. It seems like it should be a breeze to just let your hair “air dry” with it’s natural texture. But you have to wash your hair in a certain way, condition in a specific way, have perfect conditions for drying, etc. Letting my hair dry takes six plus hours so… it’s a process. I have my system for blow drying my hair down pat and can be completely done in under 20 minutes.

And even dedicating the time to wash and conditioning my hair properly and then applying product and then letting it dry doesn’t guarantee my hair looking good. Someone DMed me back saying curls could be “unreliable” and I couldn’t agree more.

ANYWAY. This is a long way of saying that this product is the one that gives me the most ideal and most consistent results for my hair anyway.

Above is my hair right after my shower with the gel scrunched through my hair. This is where I started to panic the first time I used it because I feared I was going to have crispy and crunchy curls… but as it dries, it softens up perfectly.

Below is my hair around 90% dry. (I didn’t get a good picture of it fully dry because I had a little two year old hairstylist giving me ponytails and buns for thirty minutes, ha.)

PS I know a lot of people love the Curly Girl Method. I’ve looked into it but found the system to be very restrictive and the community a little to serious and judgmental. Someone sent me a link to the Curly Method Rejects Facebook group and honestly it’s so refreshing. It’s fun to hear about people’s different experiences with curls and what works and what doesn’t work. (And also I love hearing about people struggling too because it makes me feel less alone in the curl struggle!)

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Becca Barnes

I decided to buy Kristin Ess The One shampoo and conditioner at Target during quarentine and I wasn’t sure if I loved it or hated it! Ha! The smell for them is really perfume-y at first and it does linger in your hair for a day or so, but I also don’t mind it anymore. It keeps my hair looking less frizzy and more smooth and shiny in Florida summer humidity! Glad to know the review of this product!

I used to wear my hair “scrunchy” in high school in the early 2000’s and your hair is giving me the nostalgia vibes! What a fun, cute way to change up your hair! I’ll have to give curly a try some time.


Saying curls can be unreliable is so true! I always feel like I never know what I’m going to get when I go curly. I’ve embraced my curls and wear my hair curly about 90% of the time and it’s all still a bit of a mystery to me. I actually find it easier to go curly than straight; my hair can get super frizzy and I just don’t have the patience (or arm strength) to blow dry it for half an hour. I think you’ve said you’ve tried a defuser in the past and you weren’t a fan, but if you get a good one it does wonders! Lots of trial and error with curly hair, but I’m so thankful that I have a choice to go curly if I want to. 🙂


Love your hair curly! Have you tried drying it with a diffuser (while scrunching it) to shorten the process?


My hairdresser suggested curls when I cut my hair back in May and I agree it’s quite a handful. I found the products from Brazil the best, I’m currently using a brand called Novex and the MyCurls line. I’m not American so I don’t know if you have it there. Also, use a diffuser if you can’t air dry it.


Love the curls Carly! I also have super curly hair so I understand the struggle. They can be so unpredictable! I usually blow dry my hair for school since I’m a teacher and one day I wore my hair curly and my students were shocked!! My curls also fall out easily the second I put my hair in a ponytail or sleep on them.
I’m glad the Kristin Ess jelly works well! I have to say I’m obsessed with all of her hair products minus her shampoos and conditioners. Her dry conditioner is the best product in the entire line. I use it everyday when I straighten my hair. I highly recommend you try it out!


First time commenter…. I absolutely love your hair with the natural curl! Looks very fresh and just lights up your face and emphasizes your eyes.


I have been wearing my hair naturally curly for about 15 years… every day is different! It really is a lot more work than people think, but I love the experimentation part of it. Always a new product to try! I spend way too much money on them, but I love this Kristin Ess for non-crunchy curls like you said!


Hi Carly! I absolutely love your natural curly hair. I knew I had curly hair as a kid but after years of heat and bleach my hair was a mess. I started using the curly girl method about 2 years ago and it was difficult at first but it completely changed my hair. Now it’s strong, curly, healthy and shiny. I also stopped bleaching my hair. I do color every 2 months but with a more natural product. I don’t stick to the CGM so much anymore, but I do only use products that are organic with healthy ingredients. I really love Innersense Organic Beauty. It’s for all hair types and the products work. Anyway, I wanted to share a little of my hair struggles with you. Have a wonderful day!


Have you ever thought of or gotten keratin? Your hair always looks amazing (straight and curly) I just love keratin because it allows my (wavy) hair to air dry straight and in half the time!! Even blow drying time is halved!


I have been air-drying and wearing my hair curly more than usual while I’m working from home during quarantine, and I absolutely love this gel too! Was surprised by the smell the first time I used it — I don’t dislike the smell, but it’s masculine/cologne-y and very strong on application. I agree with you, though, it does dissipate very quickly!


100% agree that curls take tiiiiime and can be unreliable, and some of the “do’s and don’ts” can be hard to navigate. I’ve spent the last few months trying to learn my curl pattern, what works for my hair, and trying different products CGM or not. I love having the option to wear my hair natural but it is 100% about finding what’s right for you.


Rock those natural curls! I’m not a huge fan of the Curly Girl Method, either… like you said, any product is really a matter of trial and error for your own individual hair, and curly hair can differ SO much. I’ve found 2 or 3 product lines that work for me, and I’ll cycle through them and periodically try something new to test in between. My hair does not always dry perfectly, but that’s what buns and headbands are for. 😉


Love your curls! This is my FAVORITE product for my own curly hair! I agree about the initial panic that it would leave your hair crunchy – I usually let it dry 90% and it IS crunchy (ew), then shake it out gently with my fingers and the results are bomb. 🙂


I agree curly hair is a process and you’re never guaranteed it will turn out how you want it to. Used to have shoulder length curly hair but got tired of the time it took. Now my pixie is 6 months gone and I’m having to go back to wearing the curls or fighting them. Have 3 product suggestions: While my hair is wet I apply a very small amount of Jojoba oil to my hair, scrunching it in. Then I use Schwarzkopf got2b styling gel. Smell is very minimal and pleasant. I put a small amount on my hand and rub it between my palms and then add a little water and then distribute it into my hair. Not crunchy or flaky. When my hair is dried I use Aveda Brilliant Humectant Pommade. A little goes a long way. Helps my curls from going limp. But gosh I’m looking forward to a haircut!


love seeing your curlies!!! and I weirdly find so much joy in others finding great products that work for curls because it’s sooo hard!


I have tried the curly girl method and only bits and pieces have really worked for me, I agree that curls can be so unreliable. This summer I’ve been using Quiet Calm Curl Control by Innersense. I find that it does give a little definition to my mix of waves and curls (so many different hair textures on one head) without being crunchy. I think the thing that has kept me using it is the second and third day hair – finger combing and rewetting for slightly less structured curls and waves.

My best tips regardless of product are getting my wet hair to clump into bigger curls chunks (sounds so appealing) by putting product in while I am still in the shower and then drying by piling it on my head, wrapped in an old t-shirt.


I started using this when you first shared it on Instagram, and my hair has NEVER looked better!! I’m officially converted!

Carlie Illise

Omg yes the curly girl method doesn’t really work for me either. I basically never wore my hair curly when it was your length, it was so much more work. I recently got it cut into a bob and now it’s so much easier to maintain curly so I haven’t straightened it in weeks. Even with a bob though the dry time is still 2-3 hours 😂.


Thank you for this product recommendation! I share your view that it actually takes more work to have my hair look good curly, as well as the curly girl method is way too much of everything. I bought this jelly and am amazed at how well it works! Thanks again!


You could not be more spot on about the conditions it takes to get curly hair to look good natural. You’re giving me hope with this product, though! I’ve used one KE scented product and know the smell and how strong it is, so I know what you mean—happy to hear it disappears when dry. On that note, if you haven’t tried her new fragrance-free line, you need to try the conditioning mask! I’ve been using it as regular conditioner for months and love it! Your hair looks great!


Wow. ..i absolutely love this post. Your photographs looking stunning. I loved your hair looks. Thank you for sharing honest review. I would definitely love to try this one..Am so excited to try out..Am suggesting my best go to hair salon Dubai– Laloge. Do check out if you are interested..


HI Carly – I just came across your blog and love everything I’ve read so far. I have super curly, wavy, frizzy hair and get express keratin treatments every 4 months or so (they last longer for me and are less $ than regular keratin). I get the keratin so I can leave my hair curly believe it or not! One product I swear by is Cantu Coconut Curling Cream (Amazon) which I discovered through Sherry at Young House Love. It smells amazing and leaves you with soft curls. I definitely suggest giving it a try and it’s only $6 to boot! Good luck