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If you’ve ever experienced dry, frizzy, or tangled natural hair, your leave-in conditioner (or lack thereof) could be the culprit. To put it plainly, if you aren’t using a leave-in conditioner, then you’re missing out on what could be better curl days. The right leave-in moisturizes your hair and helps make styling and detangling more manageable.
“A leave-in conditioner should be an essential part of your daily hair routine," says Maxine Green, stylist and owner of Curly Dimensions Salon. "It keeps hair hydrated from the inside out." Green also recommends choosing products with moisturizing ingredients and low alcohol content.
For more, check out our list of the best leave-in conditioners for natural hair.
Best Overall: SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt Hydrate + Repair Leave-In
Doubles as a heat protectant
May weigh down fine hair
This hydrating and repairing leave-in conditioner is a serious multitasker for dry hair. It claims to protect hair from heat damage up to 450 degrees and is certified to reduce breakage in non-chemically treated hair. A blend of certified organic shea butter and nutrient-rich manuka honey supports strands with fortifying proteins, which in turn combats brittle hair.
Hair Type: Dry, damaged | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
For those with normal, healthy hair, be sure to go easy on the protein treatments (since our hair is already made of protein). Green recommends doing a treatment about once every two months.
Best Budget: Mielle Organics White Peony Leave-In Conditioner
Doubles as a heat protectant
This all-natural formula can be used after washing or as an everyday styler to refresh and revive dry curls. It has the ingredients necessary to tame flyaways, seal in moisture, and help protect against heat damage. Users say that it makes their curls softer and easier to style.
Hair Type: All | Size: 8 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Always apply a leave-in conditioner to clean, damp hair for maximum results. For day two or day three curls, try mixing your leave-in with water in a spray bottle for a quick refresh.
Best for Straightening: It's a 10 Silk Express Miracle Silk Leave-In Conditioner
We know that the last thing you want for your bouncy blowouts is for your hair to be weighed down by conditioner. Luckily, there’s no need to worry about this one—it provides every bit of the shine you need without the heaviness. This nourishing leave-in helps detangle and strengthen your hair with silk protein, mulberry leaf, and virgin palm oil to seal in hydration. And if you have color-treated hair, it can help maintain your shade longer.
Hair Type: All | Size: 4 ounces, 2 ounces, 10 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best For Loose Curls: Not Your Mother's Curl Talk Leave-In Conditioner
Doubles as a heat protectant
Reviewers note spray nozzle could be better
This ultra-nourishing formula is like a superfood, but for your hair. Avocado, buriti, and marula oil are rich in minerals and fatty acids, adding moisture that penetrates deep into the hair shaft. Users with fine hair and loose curls rave that it imparts moisture without feeling greasy or weighed down. Even more good news: This leave-in conditioner acts as a heat protectant, so feel free to use it in tandem with your diffuser.
Hair Type: Curly | Size: 6 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Fine Hair: Curlsmith Weightless Air Dry Cream
Won't build up
Contains hyaluronic acid
When you have fine hair but a lot of it, it can be difficult to find a product to give it the moisture and frizz control it needs without weighing it down. This weightless air-dry cream will save your hair day. Apply it to sopping wet hair and smooth through your curls to seal in moisture and tame flyaways. Reviewers with fine hair rave that they can even apply this product generously and still achieve lightweight curls.
Hair Type: All | Size: 8 ounces, 16 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Runner-Up, Best for Fine Hair: Leonor Greyl Paris Tonique Hydratant Leave-In Mist
This hydrating mist is a fan favorite for moisturizing even the driest fine strands. Recommended for those with hair on the wavy side of the curl spectrum, it contains silk proteins and amino acids that work to fortify and strengthen your hair without weighing it down.
Hair Type: Dry, damaged | Size: 5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Thick Hair: Aunt Jackie’s Quench Moisture Intensive Leave-In Conditioner
Reviewers note it can feel drying
If you have thick hair in need of moisture and curl definition, reach for this deep moisture therapy leave-in treatment. Shea butter and olive oil work to revive dry hair and create great slip for easier detangling, and users say that they experience shinier, less frizzy curls.
Hair Type: Curly, coily, wavy | Size: 12 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Definition: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Leave-in Defining Crème
Tightly sealable bottle
This creamy leave-in is a prime option for when you want all of the hold and none of the crunch. The curl-defining formula delivers resilient, sleek, and long-lasting results. It allows you to weather-proof your hair without leaving a crunchy or greasy residue, and users say that it left their hair feeling softer and more manageable.
Hair Type: Wavy, curly, coily | Size: 6 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
What Our Testers Say
"My curls were not only soft to the touch but defined, and the moisture lasted all week." —Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
Best Reparative: Curls Blueberry Bliss Reparative Leave In Conditioner
May weigh down fine hair
If your hair has been damaged from heat tools or styling breakage, it doesn’t have to stay that way. This crowd-pleaser has a reputation for bringing stressed hair back to life and helping to protect it from further damage. It conditions hair for curls that are soft to the touch, and the blueberry extract gives it a yummy scent.
Hair Type: All | Size: 6 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Thinning Hair: SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Leave-In Conditioner
Benefits the scalp
Can leave a greasy feeling
Color-treated, over-processed, or thinning hair will thank you for this restoring leave-in. Jamaican Black Castor Oil has serious scalp moisturizing benefits and locks in moisture, making it a great addition to your wash day routine. Users with thick, curly hair report less breakage with continued use.
Hair Type: Curly, damaged | Size: 11 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Strengthening: Carol’s Daughter Goddess Strength Divine Strength Leave-In Cream
Who doesn’t want stronger and longer curls? This unique formula has the natural ingredients that your hair needs to help reduce breakage by 94 percent when used as a part of the Goddess Strength system. Castor oil, black cumin seed oil, and ginger support gentle detangling and more manageable styling to help you retain length.
Hair Type: Damaged | Size: 10 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Hydrating: NaturAll Club Nourishing Avocado Leave-In Conditioner with Kiwi
Reviewers note it can flake
Have you ever tried a leave-in conditioner that felt like it did more harm than good? Well, this nourishing lightweight conditioner is sure to be an answer to dry, thirsty tresses. The formula contains naturally-sourced avocado and coconut oils to help seal in moisture and prevent frizz, resulting in hair that is noticeably more hydrated.
Hair Type: All | Size: 6.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Wash-and-Go Styles: TGIN Rose Water Leave In Conditioner
Provides antioxidant protection
Balances hair pH
A leave-in conditioner that moisturizes your curls while also delivering subtle hold sounds like a win-win. Users with all curl types rave that this lightweight formula delivers definition and shine for even the tightest curls. It’s also designed to help protect your hair from free radicals and stabilize pH, resulting in body and bounce for your wash-and-go styles.
Hair Type: Curly, kinky, wavy | Size: 13 ounces, 32 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Detangling: Kinky Curly Knot Today Detangler
Reviewers note it leaves a white residue
Detangling your textured hair can be frustrating, to say the least, but it can also be damaging. If you want to grow your hair healthier or longer, you’ll want to prioritize a gentle detangling process made easier by this super slippery leave-in. Use it for longer-lasting twist-outs and easier styling.
Hair Type: Curly, kinky, wavy | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
What to Look For When Buying a Leave-In Conditioner
Hydrating ingredients are a curl's best friend, so look out for elements like shea butter, aloe vera, honey, and vitamin B5 (aka panthenol) on the ingredient list.
Low Alcohol or Mineral Oil Content
On the ingredient list, note the placement of any drying alcohol or mineral oils. If they're closer to the end of the ingredient list, that means there is a lower concentration of these elements in the formulation. As Green notes, you'll want to look for conditioners with a low content of these to avoid drying out hair.
Your Texture of Choice
Most leave-in conditioners are available in either a cream or liquid texture, which can create different effects when applied to your hair. While you can choose to alternate between the formulas depending on your desired style, Michelle Breyer, NaturallyCurly.com co-founder, told us that curl types 3c and 4 pair well with cream formulas, whereas curl types 3a and 3b can either go for liquids, which tend to be more lightweight.
When should I apply leave-in conditioner?
Leave-in conditioner can be applied to damp curls right after you finish washing your hair. You can choose to let your strands naturally absorb the formula as it air-dries, or you can follow up with a protectant and then heat style. Leave-in conditioner can also be used to give your hair an extra dose of hydration whenever you need it.
How should I apply leave-in conditioner?
Whether you're working with a cream or a liquid, the general rule of thumb is to start from your ends and work your way up. Because your ends are the area of oldest growth, they're more exposed to the elements and often need a little more love than your mid-lengths and roots.
How much leave-in conditioner should I apply?
This depends on the length, thickness, and particular style you're after, but in general, we recommend starting with one to two pumps, seeing how your hair absorbs it, and then layering on more if needed. Remember, it's always easier to add product if you need it, rather than applying too much initially and having to rinse it out.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Kindra Mone is a freelance fashion, beauty, and lifestyle writer, and a contributing writer for Byrdie. After an impactful stint working as a communications professional for fashion and beauty brands, Kindra launched theStylingSOUL.com, a platform for all things related to style.