How to tell the difference between lightweight, medium, and heavy formulas?

You scroll on your Instagram feed and you see all of these popular products that every curly influencer is using. You watch their routines, the application and BOOM - perfectly defined curls with volume and shine that can be seen from outer space!

You take matters into your own hands and search for these miraculous products that will give you that amazing curly hair you kept seeing in the “after” photos. You find them at last and don’t even hesitate to hit that ‘buy now’ button.

Now you get into the shower, allowing the scents to carry you through the best experience of your life, building the excitement towards seeing the final result once your hair is dry.

Except… your hair is now fully dried. This isn’t the same “after” result you saw on Instagram. Where are those bouncy, juicy curls? Where is this frizz even coming from?? How did my hair become straighter from a single wash??? And why on earth does it look so greasy?!

Does this sound all too familiar? We know, we’ve been through it more than we’d like to admit, but believe it or not, it is part of the process that helps us learn what our hair NEEDS, not what we think it wants.

Why does this happen? Most likely because the formula of the products you are using does not suit your hair type. It’s either too heavy or too light, or just not balanced out enough.

“How do I even know what is light and what is heavy without testing the products on my hair first? That makes no sense to me.” you may ask. The answer is quite simple: look at the ingredient list!

What you need to do before is determine your hair porosity, thickness and density. Don’t focus too much on the wave/curl texture number - that is not going to help in most cases.

Once we have determined that, let’s take a deep dive into how you can determine the weight of a formula based on the ingredients you can easily find on the label itself or the manufacturer site.

Lightweight formulas

Light formulated products tend to be more water soluble and therefore have a much thinner, watery consistency as opposed to heavier formulas which rely on more emollient ingredients that seal in all that moisture. Generally speaking, light formulations don’t have these sealing ingredients that will coat the entire strand of hair and make it go limp and not allow it to bounce back to its intended texture.

For instance, let’s take the Curlsmith Strength Recipe Shape Up Aqua Gel ingredient list:

Water (Aqua), Pvp, Panthenol, Peg-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Lentinus Edodes (Shiitake Mushroom) Extract*, Psidium Guajava (Guava) Fruit Extract, Ribes Nigrum (Black Currant) Fruit Extract, Brassica Oleracea Acephala (Kale) Leaf Extract, Opuntia Tuna (Prickly Pear) Fruit Extract, Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin) Seed Extract*, Hydroxypropyl Gluconamide, Hydroxypropyl Ammonium Gluconate, Hydrolyzed Hemp Seed Extract, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Carbomer, Glycerin, Ethylhexylglycerin, Caprylyl Glycol Tartaric Acid, Disodium Edta, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid, Aminomethyl Propanol, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance (Parfum), Benzyl Alcohol, Linalool, Limonene, Geraniol.”

All the ingredients in bold are towards the first part of the list, which means they are highest in terms of percentage. Water, extracts, and aloe vera are one of the best ways to identify lightweight formulas, especially if they are higher in concentration. This isn’t a rule though, you just have to be wary of the placement on the list.

You can also find light formulas in products such as serums, gels, various shampoos, and some conditioners.

Heavy formulas

On the other hand, heavier formulations rely on these emollients that act as an occlusive sometimes, such as butters, waxes, oils, silicones, petroleum or mineral oils. The main thing to keep an eye out for these heavier formulas is the higher chance of build-up, since most of these ingredients need a bit more than just the regular shampoo to be washed away from the hair and scalp. Using heavy sealants like shea butter every day could potentially close off the hair cuticle and not allow enough water to pass through, hence drying it out as time goes by.

It’s recommended to use a detox or clarifying shampoo every 2-3 washes, or whenever you feel the hair is getting overwhelmed with the build-up. Main build-up ‘symptoms’ include:

  • Hair looking dull and lifeless
  • Your hair will not be able to hold the curl or wave
  • Hair gets unusually dry
  • Curls become limp and won’t be easily styled

Now, with all of this new information we just learned, let’s take the ingredient list from Cantu Grapeseed Curling Cream:

“Water (Aqua Eau), Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Canola Oil, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Ceteth-20 Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Glycol Stearate, Petrolatum, Fragrance (Parfum), Polyethylene Glycol, Polyquaternium-10, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexglycerin, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil, Melia Azadirachta (Neem) Seed Oil, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Mangifera Indica (Mango) Oil, Glycine Soja (Soyabean) Oil, Aloe Barbadenis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice (Decolorized), Hydrolysed Silk Protein, Lonicera Caprilfolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract,macrocystis Pyrifera (Kelp) Extract, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf, Uritica Dioica (Nettle) Extract, Silk Amino Acids”

As you can see, this one is HEAVY on oils and butters, which makes it highly unsuitable for a finer, lower porosity hair.

Medium weight formulas are typically a combination of these ingredients in a well balanced product. They contain a decent amount of both lightweight and heavy components, but do not overwhelm the hair, which makes it perfect for curlies with medium hair thickness - they have the best of both worlds!


Now that you learned one of the best ways to determine the weight of a product formulation, you can safely go ahead and minimize the financial and material waste of misinformation. The right balance for the hair can prove to be time saving and take off all of that frustration we all get when seeing social media influencers with perfect curls that most certainly does not apply to us when we try it out. So remember - nothing in life is meant to be perfect, do not beat yourself up for it!

Next time you see that overhyped product going viral everywhere, put down your phone or whatever device you’re on and do some quick research before making the purchase.

If you still struggle with it, don’t even worry about it, shoot us a message and let us guide you through the tireless curly journey. 

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