When it comes to hair qualms — whether it’s damage, dullness, frizz or something else entirely — chances are you might be in need of some hydration. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to help make sure your hair gets the TLC it deserves: conditioners, hair masks, hair oils and of course leave-in conditioner. Perfect for those of us who don’t want to spend a whole lot of time on a complicated hair care routine, leave-in conditioners are one of the simplest ways to provide your hair with tons of benefits, sans the effort.
What is a leave-in conditioner?
“Leave-in conditioner, much like traditional conditioner, is used to detangle and provide additional moisture for the hair,” explains hairstylist and John Paul Mitchell Systems brand ambassador Paula Peralta. “Unlike traditional conditioner, which is meant to be rinsed out, a leave-in conditioner is left in the hair.”
However, it’s not a replacement for a rinse-off conditioner, adds celebrity hair colorist and founder of TO112 Luis Pacheco. While he agrees that a leave-in conditioner should protect and add additional moisture to dehydrated or damaged hair, “it should also serve additional purposes like UV protection, anti-breakage and anti-frizz properties.”
“Think of leave-in treatment as the third step to your normal shampoo and conditioner regimen,” explains Castillo Bataille, celebrity hairstylist and Matrix brand ambassador. It’s a great way to add moisture and protection back into your hair, especially when it may have been lost throughout the day or after a long, hot shower.
“The great thing about leave-in treatments is that everyone can and should be using them, no matter what your texture is,” Bataille adds. Ouai director of education Diana Pratasiewicz agrees. “It’s the ultimate multitasker and could bring world peace to the beauty world,” she raves. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?
Ahead, we talk to five hair experts that share 22 of their holy grail leave-in conditioners. They break down the best options for those with curly hair, fine hair and frizzy hair and pick out some drugstore options that just go to show you don’t have to spend a lot to see a big difference in your hair.
Best leave-in conditioners for curly hair
$17 at Ulta
“Leave-in conditioner is most important for curly hair,” explains celebrity hair stylist Marty Harper, who has worked with stars like Alexandra Daddario, Naomi Osaka and Halsey. “It helps to detangle, hydrates and acts like a primer for any additional product added after.” One of his favorite options, this product from NatureLab features ingredients like camellia oil and alpine stem cells that “help to elevate the hydration and create soft and bouncy curls.”
From $9 at Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross
Pratasiewicz and Harper are fans of this product from Pattern, Tracee Ellis Ross’s hair care line. “It can be used on both wet and dry hair, and most importantly benefit people with curly hair when it comes to detangling and providing hydration,” shares Pratasiewicz. Harper adds that the product is able to penetrate the cuticle, making the hair “feel incredibly soft.”
$39 at Nordstrom
“The first line of defense for curls is a moisture-rich rinse-out, shampoo, conditioning and mask regimen,” explains Pacheco. “Then, a lighter leave-in to help protect the curls against moisture lost from heat styling and environmental dehydration.” One of his recommendations is this mist, which he opts for when it comes to less-dense curls that are prone to dehydration. It also boasts aloe vera — an ingredient that’s both hydrating and shine-inducing.
$25.50 at Walmart
“This leave-in treatment provides moisture and definition without any flaking or crunchy leftovers,” shares Bataille. “It’s formulated with manuka honey extract, leaving coils and curls coated and defined without feeling weighed down or greasy.” Plus when it comes to this cream, a little goes a long way.
$22 at Ulta
According to Peralta, the best kind of leave-in conditioners for curly hair balance moisture to maintain elasticity — which is what ultimately helps curls thrive. She calls this option “a great choice because it contains vitamin E and panthenol, which help to lock in moisture.”
$82 at TO112
“The green orange and oakmoss scent on this product is incredible,” shares Pacheco of his line’s mask. “It’s formulated with cupuaçu butter, which is an ultra-lightweight mega hydrator.” He explains that it works great as a leave-in on thick, coarse curls to moisturize and also define hair texture.
Best leave-in conditioners for fine hair
$28 at Sephora
“For fine hair, nothing beats this leave-in conditioner,” Pratasiewicz shares. “When you’re dealing with fine hair, you’re always looking for weightless but effective hydration that doesn’t weigh your hair down or compromise your style,” she explains. And this product achieves just that.
$17 at Amazon
Harper opts for this leave-in treatment when dealing with fine- to medium-textured hair. “It’s formulated with prickly pear oil,” he explains, “which helps protect against UV rays and doesn’t weigh the hair down.”
$50 at Ssense
“I like this leave-in because it’s really light and formulated for fine and long hair,” shares Pacheco. “But don’t use it in place of conditioners for fine hair types,” he cautions. “Fine hair types would only need a leave-in conditioner if they are extremely prone to tangles, or wear their hair really long so the ends are most likely to split.” Ideally, those with fine hair types should “find a good conditioner that they can rinse out to alleviate any added weight they might get from a leave-in.”
$21 at Amazon
This leave-in treatment spray boasts 20 beautifying benefits for your hair including heat protectant, anti-frizz and porosity control, explains Bataille. “It’ll leave your hair softer and more manageable without any of that heavy product feeling,” he says.
From $14 at Amazon
“The best leave-in conditioners for fine hair deliver hydration and shine without weighing it down,” explains Peralta. “Some of the key words to look for include aloe vera or argan oil, which nourish and hydrate — transforming dull hair while keeping it soft and touchable.”
From $14 at Sephora
Harper calls this “the ultimate leave-in conditioner,” adding that you shouldn’t let its name fool you.
Best leave-in conditioners for frizzy hair
$27 at Living Proof
A favorite for both Harper and Pratasiewicz, this leave-in conditioner from Living Proof is a cult fave for a reason. Harper shares that it’s never let him down when it comes to frizzy hair, and Pratasiewicz calls it “a beautiful cream formulation that helps control frizz and flyaways.”
$28 at Ulta
“This is great for those with medium to thick hair and helps smooth out frizz caused by damage,” shares Pacheco. For those that need extra TLC, pair it with the Olaplex No. 3 Hair Repair Perfector treatment a couple times a week. Pacheco also notes that Olaplex No. 6 serves a secondary benefit of helping to speed up the blow-drying process.
From $14 at Lolavie
Harper is a fan of this multitasking cream product. “I apply this to damp hair and it immediately permeates and helps to calm frizzy hair down,” he explains.
$19.50 at Amazon
“The best leave-in conditioner for frizzy hair hydrates and transforms texture,” explains Peralta. This classic option contains Hawaiian awapuhi, which Peralta calls “an incredible ingredient for smoothing hair, reducing static and preventing dryness.”
$49 at TO112
“This leave-in eliminates frizz,” shares Pacheco. “It is heat-activated and creates a lightweight, glass-like finish on the cuticle layer to seal in moisture and create a brilliant shine,” he explains. Ingredients like tamanu, grapeseed and blackseed oils hydrate and strengthen the hair shaft. “The hair is left so incredibly soft and shiny — it lasts for days and stands up to humidity.”
$21 at Amazon
“Infused with shea butter, this leave-in cream smoothes hair, protects from heat and controls frizz all day,” shares Bataille. He recommends using this product before blow-drying your hair for a super smooth finish.
Best drugstore leave-in conditioners
$9.90 at Amazon
This is “the best drugstore leave-in treatment” according to Bataille, who raves that “it truly does it all.” In addition to heat protection, this spray also helps manage frizz and static, and creates a super-silky finish.
According to Pratasiewicz, this option “gets the job done at a great price.” Reviewers love that it’s lightweight (you won’t feel any of the gunk or weight that’s common with some leave-in conditioners), the subtle yet enjoyable scent and how fine the mist is.
$11.62 at Amazon
“This is the leave-in from my childhood,” shares Pacheco. “It was a professional salon formula when I was first starting out in the salon industry,” he explains, adding that he still reaches for it often.
$6.99 $5.97 at Amazon
Harper loves this leave-in conditioner treatment for all hair textures. He describes it as light, noting that it helps to “wake up your texture with some much needed hydration.”