After shampooing and conditioning your hair, you should utilize a leave-in-conditioner formulated for your hair type and texture to reap both functional and cosmetic benefits, according to hair experts we consulted. But what exactly makes a leave-in conditioner? It typically comes in spray or lotion form and is designed to minimize shedding and maintain “proper humectant, lipid and moisture levels on the hair fiber,” explained trichologist and hair colorist Bridgette Hill — trichologists are experts who specialize in hair and scalp health.
SKIP AHEAD Best leave-in conditioners
Leave-in conditioners help promote elasticity and manageability of your hair fibers and minimize “unnecessary strain, tension or damage to the hair follicle and hair fiber” that occur when styling or brushing your hair, according to Hill. Leave-in conditioners also help detangle your hair and provide heat protection from styling with hot tools like hair dryers, curling irons and flat irons, added hairstylist Courtney Foster.
Because hair contracts and expands when exposed to environmental factors — sunshine, wind and humidity — the process can zap moisture from your hair, explained Hill. “The hair fibers on the scalp should be treated like a delicate fabric that requires nourishment,” she explained. “Incorporating the proper leave-in conditioner will mitigate this loss of moisture as a result of external and environmental factors.” Aesthetic benefits of leave-in conditioners vary — some volumize fine hair while others minimize frizz — and the results depend on your hair texture and the specific product that you’re using. For example, if you have curly hair, you can use a leave-in conditioner to help enhance your curls.
These expert-recommended leave-in conditioners are made with various ingredients tailored for a diverse range of hair textures and densities. They are available for purchase at Shopping reader-favorite stores like Amazon, Walmart and Target. You can also order these leave-in conditioners at popular beauty retailers like Sephora, Ulta, Dermstore and Skinstore.
Best overall leave-in conditioner: Kiehl’s
Hill called this a “universally beneficial” leave-in conditioner because it is “lightweight” enough for fine hair, “yet can be built up” on dry hair “to lock in hydration and moisture.” It’s made with hydrolyzed wheat and soy proteins, which help moisturize and smooth hair. This leave-in hair conditioner from Kiehl’s received a 4.7-star average rating from more than 70 reviews at Kiehl’s.
Best affordable leave-in conditioner: The Honest Company
Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company created a leave-in conditioner made with moisturizing shea butter and argan oil, plus fatty acids and proteins that nourish and strengthen the hair fiber, according to Hill. The plant-based shampoo also earned the Target Clean seal, meaning it is free of 14 ingredients like phthalates and formaldehyde.
Best luxury leave-in conditioner: Oribe
Both Foster and Hill recommended Oribe’s lotion because it features avocado and jojoba oil, which together help hydrate and soften the hair. Foster noted this leave-in conditioner is helpful for those looking to recreate a “salon quality blowout” at home. Oribe’s lotion received a 4.4-star average rating from nearly 360 reviews on Amazon.
Best leave-in conditioner for color-treated hair: Rahua
After using a color-safe shampoo and conditioner, Foster recommended using Rahua’s leave-in conditioner because it features hydrating ingredients like sacha inchi oil and mango sugars. This leave-in conditioner is also formulated with morete oil which offers UV protection, according to Rahua. The Hydration Detangler + UV Barrier leave-in conditioner received a 4.5-star average rating from more than 190 reviews on Amazon.
Best leave-in conditioner for natural hair: Design Essentials
Foster called this her “favorite and go-to” lightweight leave-in conditioner for a silk press because it detangles and offers heat protection. It boasts a sulfate-free formula and combines bamboo and silk proteins which strengthens, softens and smooths the hair. This Design Essentials leave-in conditioner received a 4.6-star average rating from nearly 900 reviews on Amazon.
Best leave-in conditioner for high porosity natural hair: Rene Furterer
If you have high porosity hair, you’ll benefit from a leave-in conditioner rich in fatty acids like the shea butter found in this product, according to Hill. She likes cream-based humectants for high porosity hair because it helps “fill and seal the hair fiber to lock in moisture” and provides slippage which minimizes breakage. It received a 4.7-star average rating from 55 reviews on Amazon.
Best leave-in conditioner for low porosity natural hair: Carol’s Daughter
Hill recommended using this leave-in conditioner with glycerine because it softens the hair cuticle and allows the hair bonds to maintain their moisture level. It also features plant and flower extracts, like soothing aloe vera and calendula. Monoi Repairing leave-in conditioner received a 4.4-star average rating from more than 160 reviews on Carol’s Daughter.
Best leave-in conditioner for straight hair: Kevin Murphy
Foster likes this “lightweight” leave-in conditioner because it moisturizes and smoothes the hair. Kevin Murphy’s leave-in conditioner is infused with a blend of six Australian fruit extracts, antioxidant-rich bamboo extract and soothing Tasmanian pepper. Un.Tangle received a 4.7-star average rating from nearly 670 reviews on Amazon.
Best leave-in conditioner for wavy hair: Ouai
Foster called this leave-in conditioner spray “perfect for frizz-free waves while adding moisture and shine.” Ouai combined vitamin E with hydrolyzed proteins and tamarind seed extracts to help strengthen your hair. It also smells like a combination of lemon, bergamot, rose and violet, according to the brand. Ouai’s leave-in conditioner boasts a 4.7-star average rating from nearly 4,500 reviews on Amazon.
Best leave-in conditioner for curly hair: Design Essentials
Those with curly hair will benefit from emollient-rich humectants that “properly coat the hair and weight to elongate and define the curl,” according to Hill. Although this is not a leave-in conditioner, Hill recommended the Almond Butter Express Conditioner and noted it is a “fan favorite must-have” for her curly and coily haired client’s at-home routines. It earned a 4.7-star average rating from nearly 5,200 reviews on Amazon.
Best leave-in conditioner for fine hair: Grow Gorgeous
When it comes to fine hair, Hill said the main goal is to use a leave-in conditioner that offers water-based moisture, protection and manageability and is “weightless while leaving the hair feeling soft and detangled.” She recommended this spray that combines soothing green tea extract and panthenol which helps detangle and hydrate.
Best leave-in conditioner for thick hair: Briogeo
Briogeo’s spray leave-in conditioner is “ideal” for thick hair because it layers with other heavier styling products, “without making the hair feel dirty or greatest,” according to Hill. Another perk is that it features two lightweight fatty acids — rosehip and argan oils — for hydration. This Black-owned business earned a Clean at Sephora seal of approval and it received a 4.3-star average rating from nearly 1,240 reviews at Sephora.