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Dry hair, breakage, damage—these things happen. Those beautiful curls, coils, and waves are certainly particular, and finding the right care and styling products is the first step to curl appreciation. As such, we're taught to mask, condition, and stay away from heat tools.
Another popular way to keep things hydrated is to invest in a product you won't have to wash out. Enter: leave-in conditioners. They're the smoothing, protecting, and moisture-infusing creams, milks, and serums that do your hair good.
Read on for the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair on the market below.
Best Overall: Davines All In One Milk Lotion
Packed with rich roucou oil and amino acids, this antioxidant-rich cream also contains ellagic acid, which can help protect strands from UV radiation and fight off free radicals. Spray the formula 10 to 15 times on the roots and ends of your hair after shampooing to keep them soft, hydrated, and strong.
Best Budget: TGIN Green Tea Super Moist Leave-in Conditioner
This blend of green tea, shea butter, and argan oil feels like an indulgence for your senses just as much as it is for your curls. Not only will this work wonders for stubborn knots and split ends, it also penetrates the scalp to help prevent damage and keep frizz at bay. Its lightweight formula will leave your hair feeling smooth, hydrated, and enhance shine tenfold.
Best Volumizing: DevaCurl B'Leave-In Miracle Curl Plumper
Use this lightweight gel to add shine, volume, and plumpness to your curls. The formula boasts a conditioning mix of wheat protein, lemongrass, and chamomile—the perfect trio to help keep hair hydrated.
Best Friction Control: Living Proof No Frizz Leave-In Conditioner
Living Proof's formula conditions the hair to protect against frizz and block humidity from taking its toll. Apply it on dry, parched hair and ends after your shower and let it do its magic.
Best Drugstore: SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Leave-In Conditioner
Infused with Jamaican black castor oil and certified organic shea butter, this leave-in conditioner is chock-full of reparative omegas. You can count on this creamy formula to nourish and moisturize while helping support the hair's elasticity against breakage. It'll help address your split ends, stimulate your scalp (thanks to invigorating peppermint), and detangle without ripping your precious hair out.
Best Cream: Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
Use this argan oil–infused styling and conditioning formula for soft, bouncy curls (notcrunchy). It'll smooth, hydrate, and style your hair all in one sweet-smelling product.
What Our Testers Say
"The 8.5-ounce bottle provides a lot of product and the pump makes it easy to apply the precise amount of product than you need. I found that a little went a long way." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
Best Spray: Vernon François Leave-In Conditioner
Lupita Nyong'o's long-time hairstylist, Vernon François, developed a comprehensive line of products for every curl. This non-sticky spray defines curls without making them feel heavy while smoothing the hair. You can thank the nourishing and strengthening formula for that, which is chock full of good-for-your-hair ingredients like African tulip tree extract and amino acids.
Best Natural: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Leave-in Defining Crème
Nourish your curls with Briogeo’s naturally derived formula, which is free of harsh parabens, artificial dyes, and sulfates. It's packed with powerful ingredients like amino acids, avocado oil, and quinoa extract and leaves curls frizz-free, defined, and hydrated.
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 Hydrating: Pattern Leave-In Conditioner
Perfect for curls that need extra hydration, this lightweight formula is made up of nourishing oils and honey. Featuring floral notes like neroli, rose, and patchouli, this product will wake up dry strands while providing soft curl definition. Use it as a post shampoo pick-me-up or before putting hair into protective hairstyles to lock in moisture.
Runner-Up, Best Hydrating: Matrix A Curl Can Dream Moisturizing Cream
Speaking of honey, another intensely hydrating leave-in conditioner is this new launch from Matrix. Formulated with Manuka honey, which hails from New Zealand and Australia, this supremely nourishing cream provides curls with both moisture and definition, sans flaking or crunchy feel. More importantly, it’s formulated without questionable ingredients like silicones, sulfates, parabens, mineral oil, petrolatum, and paraffins.
Best Reparative: Curls Blueberry Bliss Reparative Leave In Conditioner
Your curls can get overworked from day to day detangling and styling, but this hydrating leave-in conditioner is clinically proven to bring hair back to life. It repairs damaged hair and prevents future breakage, so you can get the most out of your curls. The organic blueberry extract makes it smell amazing, and we especially love that this product is lightweight enough for daily use.
For super soft, bouncy curls and overall protection, our fave is the Davines All In One Milk Lotion. We’re also really loving the super hydrating ingredients in the SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Leave-In Conditioner. It contains the cocktail—black castor oil, a slew of omegas, and certified organic shea butter—your curly strands crave. Need something more lightweight? The Vernon François Leave-In Conditioner is infused with amino acids and strengthens the hair (all in a handy spray bottle), and the Pattern Leave-In Conditioner feels weightless, even though it packs a serious punch.
What to Look for in a Leave-In Conditioner For Curly Hair
Because curly hair can be more prone to dryness, hairstylist and artistic director at Matrix Michelle O’Connor says that intensely hydrating ingredients should be a priority for the products you use. Be on the lookout for oils like argan, grape seed, coconut, and similar emollients. Also, it’s best to keep away from products that include sulfates, which can further dehydrate your hair.
If you have curly hair, then you know just how knotty it can get after washing. That’s why O’Connor recommends looking for a formula that will help detangle your curls, which will lead to less breakage and damage in the long run.
Nowadays, it all comes down to personal preference. It used to be that creamier, thicker textures meant a more moisturizing formula, but this “rule” has changed as formulas and technologies have evolved. O'Connor is a fan of lightweight conditioners since they won't weigh down your curls. Still, even the lightest formulas can contain some pretty supercharged ingredients—which means you ultimately get to choose based on your lifestyle and hair routine.
Meet the Expert
Michelle O’Connor is a professional hairstylist and the Artistic Director at Matrix.