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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 or mineral oil 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
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 (up to 87%!) 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 and frizz.
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
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 frizz and fly-aways, seal in moisture, and help protect against heat damage. Users say that it makes their curls softer and easier to style.
Always apply 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, wind-blown blowouts is to be weighed down by your conditioner. There’s no need to worry about this one—it provides every bit of the shine you need without weighing strands down. This nourishing leave-in is an important tool to help detangle and strengthen your hair. It contains eri silk, mulberry leaf, and virgin palm oil to seal in hydration and shield frizz, so you can get a quicker, stress-free blow-dry. It’s also safe for color-treated hair, helping you to maintain your shade longer.
Best For Loose Curls: Not Your Mother's Curl Talk Leave-In Conditioner
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 packs on 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.
Best for Fine Hair: Curlsmith Weightless Air Dry Cream
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. Users with fine hair rave that they can even apply this product generously and still achieve lightweight curls.
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. It’s also vegan, cruelty-free, and safe for color-treated hair.
Best for Thick Hair: Aunt Jackie’s Quench Moisture Intensive Leave-In Conditioner
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.
Best for Definition: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Leave-in Defining Crème
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 frizz- and weather-proof your hair without leaving a crunchy or greasy residue, and users say that it left their hair feeling softer and more manageable.
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
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.
Best for Thinning Hair: SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Leave-In Conditioner
Color-treated, over-processed, or thinning hair will thank you for this restoring leave-in. Jamaican Black Castor Oil has serious scalp benefits, including ridding it of damaging fungi and toxins that could halt or prevent growth. It also locks in moisture, making it a great addition to your wash day routine. Users with thick, curly hair report less breakage with continued use.
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% 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.
Best Hydrating: NaturAll Club Nourishing Avocado Leave-In Conditioner
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.
Best for Wash-and-Go Styles: TGIN Rose Water Leave In Conditioner
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 to stabilize its pH, resulting in body and bounce for your wash-and-go styles.
Best for Detangling: Kinky Curly Knot Today Detangler
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.
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 on the ingredient list.
Low Alcohol or Mineral Oil Content
Pay attention to the ingredient list, and note the placement of any alcohol or mineral oil-based ingredients. 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 noted, you'll want to look for leave-in conditioners with a low content of alcohol or mineral oil 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 and author of The Curl Revolution, 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, or creams.
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 (or, a quarter-sized amount), 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.