If your hair isn’t cooperating lately, there’s a good chance it just really wants a quality leave-in conditioner. Leave-in conditioners may sound extra (especially if you’re already using a rinse-out one), but that’s because they are, and in the best way possible.
Consider everything your hair endures once you step out of the shower: rough towels, rough pillows, combing, brushing, heat styling, twirling, tying, possibly bleaching — it’s the perfect recipe for dryness and damage, and leave-in conditioners are one of the easiest ways to shield your hair from it all.
As someone who tests products for a living and has hair that is going through it (think: hormonal changes that led to hair-texture switches, the stress of living through “unprecedented times,” etc.), I can attest to the 19 leave-in conditioners below, which will leave your hair smoother, shinier, healthier, and happier in the long run.
Wavy hair in the front. Curly hair in the back. Frizz everywhere. That’s a quick run-through of my hair. Luckily, this leave-in conditioner from Ceremonia manages to tackle it all thanks to its formula full of safflower extract, tamarind, and avocado, which help strengthen, hydrate, and repair my long locks. It also smells like a dream.
This leave-in spritz boasts an impressive 25 benefits, ranging from heat-protecting to damage-repairing, but its true superpower lies in being a nongreasy miracle potion for basically every hair type and texture. It’s achieved cult status among those with fine hair, straight hair, coarse hair, curly hair, and everywhere in between.
The One That Does Damage Control
If you’re suffering from brittle strands and breakage, my condolences, and please get in contact with this leave-in cream. Despite the brand’s recent infertility controversy, t’s a member of the cult-favorite hair-repair system loved by professional stylists, celebrities, and reviewers alike, thanks to its ability to relink the hydrogen-sulfur bonds that can break whenever you heat style, chemically style, color, or bleach your hair. A little of this stuff goes a long way, and you’ll want some in your corner if you’re dealing with damage that’s more serious than the occasional split end or two.
The Cult Classic
This leave-in ascended to cult-favorite status thanks to its ability to do a million things (smooth, detangle, add shine, color-protect, heat-protect) in very convenient spray form. Great for on the go, it can be spritzed on damp or dry hair to quickly deliver benefits in dire times of need. Case in point: Multiple cool surfer girls credit it for saving their hair from sun, wind, and salt damage once they’re back on land.
The One That Handles Air-Drying Well
The Best Leave-in Conditioner for Frizz
This natural leave-in spray is the perfect way to lightly and evenly distribute the moisturizing and repairing benefits of coconut oil without greasing your hands up or weighing your hair down in the process.
The Best Leave-in Conditioner for Waves
This leave-in treatment from the curl experts at Ouidad is on the lightweight side, making it well suited for looser curls and waves that have a hard time living up to their potential, especially when annoying things like humidity get in the way.
The Best Leave-in Conditioner for Fine Hair
If additional product translates to “greasy grease” on your hair, try this spray. It’s extremely lightweight, making it a great option for fine to very fine hair that needs some help in the breakage, manageability, or color-retention department. And rest assured, the chic packaging comes with an equally chic, unisex scent that’s usually reserved for very expensive candles.
The One That Gets You Heartthrob Hair
This shine-boosting leave-in conditioner transforms crispy or dull hair into something you’ll actually want to touch. Seriously, this is the same hydrating cream stylists use on Timothée Chalamet’s heavenly waves, and we all know how much we all want to touch that.
The One That Won’t Weigh Curls Down
This lighter-weight leave-in is a nice pick-me-up for curls that are a little bent out of shape. It infuses curls with just enough hydration to get them back to their usual, bouncy selves, instead of overloading them with extra weight and residue. Every subsequent hair flip will waft a clean, refreshing scent you’d usually find in a fancy candle.
The Salon Experience in a Spray
Spritz this multitasking conditioner through damp hair and proceed to heat-style to your heart’s desire. Once you unplug, you’ll end up with the touchable softness, high shine, and, most important, expensive smell you expect to carry with you every time you step out of the salon.
The One That Smells Like Vacation
This detangling and UV-protecting formula is like a delicious, tropical smoothie for thirsty hair that’s hungover from heat styling or one too many dips in the pool. Just a few spritzes of coconut oil– and banana pulp–infused formula not only nourishes strands on the verge of split ends but instantly transports you to somewhere sunny, even if you’re stuck inside the house.
The Best Leave-in Conditioner for Tighter Curls
Anyone with curly hair will tell you that a leave-in conditioner is nonnegotiable. This rich blend is loaded with ample moisturizers, including almond and avocado, so tighter curl patterns, thicker textures, and heat-styled hair can fight frizz and breakage — without having to go through an entire bottle of product in one use.
The One That Handles Blowouts Well
Leave-in conditioners get a lot of credit for hydrating and repairing, but they’re also great for styling. This fancy cream doubles as a glossy heat protectant and disguiser of split ends, making it the perfect prep for an at-home blowout that could use some finessing.
The Milky One
As weird as “hair milk” sounds, this one contains shine-boosting roucou oil (a plant oil some say is even better than argan oil), and hair loves it. If a silky, commercial slo-mo hair shake situation is what you seek, regular use of this smoothing leave-in spray will help get you there.
The Best Leave-in Conditioner for Color-Treated Hair
Last year, I decided to color my hair for the very first time, and this leave-in conditioner from Amika was my hair’s best friend. I already loved the brand’s detangling spray but was just as pleased with this product — it really restored the shine and smoothness of my hair. If you have fine hair, though, I do suggest you avoid spraying it too close to your roots to avoid them getting greasy.
The One That Helps With Detangling
If your hair is prone to knots and you want a product that detangles while it also nourishes, consider Playa’s Monoi Milk leave-in conditioner. According to the product’s description, its formula manages to detangle and seal the hair cuticle to lock in moisture, restore luster, and diminish frizz, and after a few weeks of trying it out, I can attest it does just that.
The Extremely Hydrating One
While the scent of this product is unusual (not unpleasant, just odd), the results are worth it. Along with Oribe, it is on the pricier end of the leave-in conditioner spectrum, but if you want a product that will not only make your hair look and feel hydrated but will also look great on your vanity, this one is it.
The Best Drugstore Leave-in Conditioner
Gwen Stefani has had this product in her hair every day of her platinum life. Technically, it’s called a “combing creme,” but it’s more like a “smooth and supersoft hair cream.” Her hairstylist, Danilo, uses it for styling and conditioning, dabbing a little on each strand before he curls it.
This article was originally published August 14, 2018. It has been updated throughout. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.