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Billy Madison may have famously debated whether shampoo or conditioner is better (remember the bathtub scene with the battling bottles?), but we’d like to argue that they’re equally important. Sure, shampoo does the cleansing, but conditioner is paramount for re-introducing lost moisture back to your hair. And more moisture ultimately equals strands that look smoother and shinier, not to mention are much easier to comb through and generally feel stronger and healthier. So consider conditioner to be your shampoo’s unfailing sidekick, a must-use any time you wash your hair.
Looking for a good one? Check out the best conditioners, below.
Best Overall: Nexxus Humectress Ultimate Moisture Conditioner
This standout conditioner works by targeting—and strengthening—your hairs’ natural protective barriers. Translation? Moisture gets locked in for up to 24 hours. Fortified with caviar and a special protein complex, the formula works hard to leave your stands ultra-silky smooth, all in a formula that never feels greasy or heavy, even if you have fine hair.
What Our Testers Say
"After testing the Nexxus conditioner for the first time, I let my hair air dry about 80% and then finished up with a blow-dryer. Afterward, my hair felt softer than normal and laid smoother than it does when I use my usual conditioners." — Joline Buscemi, Product Tester
Best Budget: Dove Nutritive Solutions Conditioner Intensive Repair
If you’re anything like us and like to really load up on conditioner, opting for a wallet-friendly option, like this one, is always a good move. It works equally as well as its pricier counterparts, nourishing strands from the inside out, delivering both immediate smoothing benefits but also improving the condition of your hair over time, too.
Best Drugstore: Hair Food Avocado & Argan Oil Smoothing Conditioner
As a general rule, we heart pretty much all of the conditioners (and shampoos, for that matter) found at the drugstore, but this one really stands out. The namesake ingredients work to tamp down frizzies, hydrate, and prevent breakage, and the formula also happens to be sulfate-, paraben-, and dye-free. We’re partial to this variant, but don’t miss the four other options, all of which boast delicious scents.
Best for Dry Hair: OGX Argan Oil of Morocco Conditioner
As the name suggests, the star of the show here is Moroccan oil, one of the best oils for hair there is. (Packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-6 fatty acids, it’s naturally deep conditioning.) This luscious and thick formula is ideal for those with extra-parched hair, leaving it unbelievably silky after even just one wash.
Best for Fine Hair: Matrix Total Results High Amplify Conditioner
Conditioning can prove to be slightly tricky for those with fine hair. Choose too heavy or too rich of a formula and you risk it weighing down your strands, leaving your fine hair looking even flatter. While this newbie may not technically be called a conditioner, it’s the perfect conditioner sub for anyone with limp locks. The water-like formula boasts a special technology that penetrates the hair cuticle to leave hair nourished and with a mirror-like shine…and, according to the brand, does it all in just eight seconds.
Best for Damaged Hair: Olaplex No. 5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner
Byrdie Senior Editor Hallie Gould sings the praises of this conditioner—as well as the accompanying shampoo and treatment—time and time again. The entire line targets broken protein bonds in the hair caused by things such as coloring, chemical processing, and more. In a nutshell, it’s choice for strands that need a little (or a lot) of extra TLC. Just a quick FYI, because it is very thick, Gould says it’s best applied only on mid-shafts to ends, especially for those with fine hair.
Best for Curly Hair: Miss Jessie's Crème de la Crème Conditioner
Fun fact: Curly hair is naturally more likely to be dryer than straight hair. (The shape of the hair makes it harder for oils from the scalp to make it all the way down the hair shaft.) In other words, conditioner is arguably even more of a non-negotiable for those with curly hair. Enter this creamy formula, specially formulated to moisturize, smooth, and detangle curly and wavy textures, yet without ever weighing down the hair.
Best for Thinning Hair: Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Clinical Densifying Foam Conditioner
Not only is this an airy foam conditioner with a lightweight texture to ensure thinning hair looks full and voluminous, but it also boasts ingredients to help improve the density of your strands. Namely, Indian gooseberry (or amla) and red clover, two herbs known for boosting hair thickness and strength. Pair it with the accompanying shampoo and scalp treatment in the line if you’re dealing with unwanted shedding.
Best for Colored Hair: Pureology Hydrate Conditioner
This salon brand has been a staple in the industry for two decades but recently got a revamp and now has new packaging and even more exceptional formulas. We’ve long been fans of this color-protecting conditioner; while it’s always been sulfate-free, it’s now also free of mineral oil and parabens. What it does contain is a patented antifade complex comprised of sunflower seed and vitamin E to ward off color-fading culprits, think UV rays and pollution. The formula is also super concentrated—you get over 70 uses from one bottle—and the scent is delightful, an invigorating herbal and minty combo.
Best for All Hair Types: Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Banana + Coconut Nourishing Superfood Conditioner
Team Byrdie loves this conditioner, a surefire pick for pretty much anyone and everyone. The lightweight cream works on all hair textures, and thanks to a line-up of hair-loving ingredients (banana, coconut, and acai, to be exact), it's chock full of nourishing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Taking a cue from those active ingredients, the juice bottle-inspired packaging and sunny yellow hue are sure to make you smile.
Best Leave-In: Unite 7Seconds Detangler
For those looking to step up his or her conditioning game—and/or whose hair isn’t in the best shape—following a wash-out conditioner with a leave-in is like the cherry on top of the good hair sundae. Here’s one foolproof pick, great for all hair types, and offering detangling, heat-protective, moisturizing, and reparative benefits with every lightweight spritz.
Best Mask: Verb Ghost Hair Mask
At least once per week, you should swap your standard conditioner for a hair mask. As a face mask does for your complexion, it’s a quick and easy way to notably improve the condition of your mane; think of it as a regular conditioner on steroids. More specifically, stock your shower with this mask. It works on all hair types and textures, from stick-straight and fine to coarse and curly, and imparts mega hydration and shine, yet has a surprisingly lightweight feel.
For the best results, leave it on for at least five minutes before rinsing (our move is to apply it before shaving our legs).
What to Look For in a Conditioner
A Formula That Works With Your Shampoo and Hair Type
When shopping for a conditioner, celebrity hairstylist Kristen Shaw says it’s key to find a formula that works with both your hair type and the type of shampoo you’re using. “For example, if you have curly, dry hair, it would be great to use a curly shampoo that will specifically add moisture to your hair and then use a smoothing conditioner to help lock down any frizz,” she says. If your hair is on the oily side, you’ll want to opt for a conditioner that’s more lightweight, pairing it with a gentle cleansing shampoo that will combat excess oil without stripping the hair or scalp.
Moisturizing and Nourishing
All conditioners aim to, of course, condition your hair. Still, Shaw really stresses the importance of a formula that’s deeply nourishing and moisturizing (even if it's lightweight), which is especially a must if your hair is on the damaged or dry side. “This also enables you to leave your conditioner on longer and turn it into a healing hair mask!”
Finally, Shaw recommends avoiding silicones when possible. “These make your hair super shiny, but they don’t actually help the hair at all,” she explains. “In fact, silicones often break down your cuticle over time and cause more damage, essentially masking the problem until it’s too late.”
Meet the Expert
Kristen Shaw is a celebrity hairstylist and men’s groomer based in New York and Los Angeles.