"Leave-in conditioners allow you to continue nourishing your hair past your in-shower conditioner," celebrity hairstylist Clariss Rubenstein tells Shop TODAY.
How, exactly? Not only do these products help to hydrate and protect the hair, but they can also add shine and minimize frizz. In other words, no matter what hair struggles you may be facing, a quality leave-in conditioner can help take your locks to another level. But finding the right one can be a daunting task.
To make life easier, we’ve rounded up the 16 best leave-in conditioners to revive dry, damaged hair of all types, as well as asked the experts what you need to know when looking for one. From nourishing lotions to hydration-packed sprays, these products will help you achieve shiny, healthy locks in no time.
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Benefits of leave-in conditioners | What to look for | Best for all hair types | Best budget | Best for fine hair | Best for dry, damaged hair | Best for color-treated hair | Best for curly hair | Best for frizzy hair | Best for detangling | Best drugstore | FAQs | How we chose | Meet our experts
What are the benefits of leave-in conditioner?
"Leave-in conditioners contain a high level of humectants that attract moisture into the hair," says Davide Marinelli, founder and creative director of Davide Hair Studio in New York City.
Leave-in conditioners contain a high level of humectants that attract moisture into the hair.
Davide Marinelli, Founder and Creative Director, Davide Hair Studio
"They often contain glycerin, which keeps hair hydrated and lubricated, and volatile silicones, which gives your hair shine and smoothness," Marinelli adds.
Aside from the hydrating benefits, leave-in conditioners "also give the hair 'slip,' which creates less friction when you brush and detangle," says Xavier Velasquez, celebrity stylist at Jerry Perry Hair Studio in New York City.
Products with detangling characteristics can also make hair easier to manage and thus easier to style with a blow dryer or other hot tool. As an added bonus, some are even formulated with heat protectant.
What to consider when shopping for a leave-in conditioner
Leave-in conditioners don't all look the same — they come in the form of liquids, creams and sprays. Some are created for specific hair types, while others are formulated for certain hair needs or textures.
And there is certainly no shortage of options on the market. So how do you narrow it down? We asked Natalie Palomino, master stylist, hair care expert and founder of North Authentic, to share five factors to consider when shopping for a leave-in conditioner.
- Hair type. “Every leave-in conditioner, like every head of hair, is not created equal," shares Palomino. The stylist explains that, while some can be used on all hair types, others are formulated for specific hair types (fine, medium, thick, curly, color-treated, etc.). Finding the right product for your hair type will help ensure that you get the results you're looking for.
- Consistency. "The general rule is that liquid leave-in conditioners are lighter and therefore are a safer bet for fine hair types than cream-based leave-in conditioners, but there are exceptions to the rule," explains Palomino. "It is important to read the description and reviews before investing in any product to make sure it is a good option for you."
- Key benefits. "It’s also wise to consider your goals in choosing your leave-in conditioner," Palomino tells Shop TODAY. For instance, are you looking for more volume or moisture? Less frizz? Detangling benefits? Make sure to look for a product that offers the key benefits you're after.
- Scent. Although Palomino recommends looking for fragrance-free options when available, fragrance will ultimately come down to personal preference. If you do choose a scented product, finding one with a scent you like can help make the experience of using the product more enjoyable.
Best leave-in conditioners for all hair types
Formula: Lotion | Key ingredient(s): Babassu oil, witch hazel, rosemary, vegetable protein | Scent: A bright oriental composition, with hints of juniper berries, blood orange, rhubarb, leather accord, violet and dark woods | Best for: Fine to medium and extra-long hair
Rubenstein calls out this lotion from R+Co as a pick she "loves for everyone." The lightweight formula delivers hydration for fine to medium hair types. It can be applied to wet hair before blow-drying or used on dry hair in order to tame flyaways and give moisture to dry ends.
"Use more for thicker, dryer hair and less for thinner," Rubenstein suggests.
Best budget leave-in conditioner
Formula: Cream | Key ingredient(s): Sustainably-sourced honey and beeswax | Scent: Notes of vanilla, mimosa flower and honey | Best for: Dry, damaged hair
If you’re on the hunt for a budget option that doesn’t skimp on benefits, then look no further. This leave-in conditioner touts a range of uses from detangling to repairing and preventing future split ends and breakage. Many reviewers share how soft their hair feels after using this product, as well as how much they love the scent.
"My fine, frizzy hair is SO sensitive to heat so I don't use hot tools (though this has heat-protection properties). And I realized after using this for a while that my hair actually looks like it’s been styled when it dries,” raves former associate SEO editor Fran Sales.
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Roucou oil | Scent: Musky and floral notes of amber and rice, with balsamic undertones and a citrus accent | Best for: All hair types
This lightweight leave-in spray is another top pick for all hair types, according to Rubenstein — and the nearly 10,000 verified five-star ratings on Amazon agree: Reviewers with fine hair, mixed-texture hair and curly hair (and more) all say this product is an effective moisturizer.
The citrus-scented formula is a multitasker, helping to detangle, protect hair from heat damage and reduce frizz. It delivers softness and shine with just a few pumps.
Best leave-in conditioners for fine hair
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Tamarind seed extract, panthenol, vitamin E, hydrolyzed proteins | Scent: Blend of rich florals and sheer white musk, featuring notes of bergamot, Italian lemon, Rose de Mai and violet | Best for: All hair types
Not only does this leave-in help fight dryness and frizz, it also offers heat protection up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and can be used as a pre-heat styling primer. Just make sure, as some reviewers advise, to leave your hair a bit wet and section it before you apply.
It's also a favorite of Shop TODAY associate editor Shannon Garlin and production associate Jill Ortiz. "This one is the best. Period! I will buy it until they stop selling it," raves Ortiz, who adds that the bottle usually lasts her between four and six months.
Best leave-in conditioners for dry, damaged hair
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Argan oil, superfood blend (sunflower seed oil, quinoa extract and barley extract), pure amino acids | Scent: Notes of spicy amber and musk, with sweet floral | Best for: All hair types
This hydrating formula is designed to condition the hair, adding softness and shine, while also making it easier to detangle those knots that seem to inevitably come with dry hair. While this is a personal favorite for my dry hair, more than 7,100 verified five-star Amazon ratings share similar sentiments.
"I use it on damp hair as a leave-in, detangler and heat protectant before I blow dry, and it really helps to reduce breakage. Plus, it makes my hair feel super soft," says Shop TODAY production associate Audrey Ekman.
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Rose water, vanilla bean, white truffle, marula oil, biotin, ginseng | Scent: Pink grapefruit, sweet orange and raw nectar, with finishing notes of lime | Best for: All hair types and textures
This super fine mist is packed with hydration and moisturizing benefits to revive your dry damaged hair, without weighing it down. It restores nutrients, enhances shine, calms frizz and reduces breakage — ultimately leaving you with noticeably healthier locks. As an added benefit, this is truly a product designed for everyone, including those with hair extensions.
But as if all those benefits weren’t enough, there’s more! From my personal experience, the Goldie Locks signature scent will make you feel like you’re relaxing in a tropical destination — and my hair stylist would agree, as she raves about the product's scent — as well as its benefits — to all her clients!
As a newer addition to the Drybar lineup, this leave-in conditioning milk has become a popular choice — and a personal go-to. The product is formulated with hydration in mind and is designed with drybar’s Smart Moisture Technology™, which targets dryness, adding hydration and forming a barrier to prevent moisture loss. It also helps reduce tangles and make hair softer and more manageable.
Best leave-in conditioners for colored and chemically treated hair
Formula: Cream | Key ingredient(s): Bis-Aminopropyl Diglycol Dimaleate | Scent: N/A | Best for: All hair types and textures
Olaplex's hair treatment system has been making waves in hair care. No. 6 is a styling cream that helps eliminate frizz, enhance curls and treat damaged hair. "This is an excellent product for chemically treated hair," Maria Elizabeth, Founder of Salon deZEN, tells us. "An additional bonus is that it speeds up blow-dry time while simultaneously eliminating flyaways or frizz."
The vegan and cruelty-free formula is free of parabens and sulfates and also comes in recyclable packaging.
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Camelina oil, coconut oil, olive oil | Scent: Notes of rose and floral ginger, combined with cedarwood | Best for: Color-treated hair of all types and textures
This leave-in spray from Pureology is a must-have for anyone with color-treated hair. The 21-in-1 formula (yes, you read that right) helps to nourish, detangle and protect against UV exposure while providing frizz control so your color looks vibrant and healthy.
Along with over 10,000 verified five-star ratings on Amazon, reviews aplenty rave about the multitude of benefits they've experienced while using the product. From the shine and softness it leaves to its lightweight texture that doesn't weight hair down.
Best leave-in conditioners for curly hair
Formula: Lightweight lotion | Key Ingredients(s): Sunflower seed extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, glycerin | Scent: Light grapefruit and oatmeal scent | Best for: Wavy, curly and coily
If you have curly or coily hair, this Verb leave-in conditioner is a must. Its lightweight formula contains sunflower seed extract to nourish curls while delivering hydration and softness — without weighing down the hair.
It also contains hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which helps to strengthen and protect against breakage. As an added benefit, it offers UV protection to prevent color-fading, making it a great option for anyone with waves, curls or coils of any type.
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Alpine rose extract, camellia oil, green sea grape extract, blue algae extract | Scent: Matcha mint | Best for: Wavy, curly, coily and naturally textured hair
This leave-in conditioner utilizes the power of botanical plants to add moisture and shine to the hair, while promoting softer, bouncier and frizz-free curls. It also acts as a heat protectant and detangler, helping to prevent breakage and improve the overall health of your hair.
It's also a favorite of Shop TODAY associate SEO editor Kamari Stewart. "It leaves my hair feeling soft, my curls defined and super bouncy. Plus, it leaves my hair looking and feeling hydrated until my next wash day," she raves.
Best leave-in conditioners for frizzy hair
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Mirsalehi honey, argan oil, baobab extract | Scent: Notes of honey and delicate spring florals inspired by the Gisou Mirsalehi Bee Garden | Best for: All hair types
This lightweight mist is formulated with actual honey from the Gisou Bee Garden in The Netherlands. As a natural humectant, the Mirsalehi honey helps attract and retain moisture in the hair. It works to knock down the dreaded frizz, soften hair and get rid of those pesky knots.
And I can attest that it does all of that and more. From the first use, my hair not only looked shinier and healthier, but it also felt soft, hydrated and easier to manage. And most importantly: I noticed significantly less frizz!
Best leave-in conditioner for frizzy hair
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Rosehip oil, argan oil, coconut oil, vitamin E | Scent: N/A | Best for: All hair types
This lightweight leave-in conditioner from the female-owned brand Briogeo helps tame frizzy, damaged hair with the help of natural ingredients, like rosehip, argon and coconut oils. It's amassed over 2,300 verified five-star ratings on Amazon, with many customers calling out its pleasant scent and visible results.
Best detangling leave-in conditioners
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Pomegranate oil, apricot oil, coconut oil, amino acid complex and Oribe signature complex | Scent: Notes of Calabrian bergamot, white butterfly jasmine and sandalwood | Best for: All hair types
Reviewers praise this product's ability to get rid of those pesky knots and tangles. Marinelli agrees, sharing that this primer from Oribe can also help make hair softer and more manageable.
The lightweight formula helps seal the hair cuticle for added shine and protects the hair from heat damage, oxidative stress and environmental elements. It can be used alone or as the first step in your styling routine.
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Tea tree leaf oil, peppermint leaf extract, rosemary leaf extract, nettle extract | Scent: Notes of tea tree oil, menthol and peppermint | Best for: Medium and thick hair
Bumble and Bumble's Tonic Lotion is formulated with vitamins, herbs and nourishing tea tree oil for an all-around hair and scalp treatment. It's a great pick for detangling and refreshing dry hair, making it easier to style.
Rubenstein says the light spray is also great for your scalp, as it can also help stimulate circulation and regulate oil production. Reviewers agree, with some saying they were pleasantly surprised by the smoothing, tingling sensation — especially great for those with itchy scalps.
Best drugstore leave-in conditioner
Formula: Spray | Key ingredient(s): Sunflower seed extract, green tea leaf extract, silk amino acids, aloe vera and panthenol | Scent: N/A | Best for: All hair types
Velasquez says It's a 10 is an affordable drugstore alternative for anyone looking to try a leave-in conditioner. The nourishing spray helps protect against split ends and breakage, which aids with eliminating frizz and restoring shine.
It can be used on wet hair after a shower or as a styling cream on dry hair in between washes.
Questions about leave-in conditioners, answered by experts
Can I use regular conditioner as a leave-in conditioner?
Palomino doesn’t recommend it. “Conditioners are thicker than leave-in conditioners and are formulated to be rinsed out,” she explains.
Aside from that, she says that leave-in conditioners offer additional benefits other than just hydration, such as detangling and protective properties.
“For instance, most leave-in conditioners these days can provide heat and UV protection, which you don’t get from regular conditioners,” she says.
Can I use a leave-in conditioner every day?
According to Palomino, there’s nothing wrong with using a leave-in conditioner every day.
“You can absolutely use a leave-in conditioner daily if that is what your hair requires. Leave-in conditioner is generally your first step out of the shower to prep your hair for your styling routine, or it can be your only styling product, so you may only need to use it as often as you shampoo,” she explains.
Can I use leave-in conditioner on dry hair?
Leave-in conditioners can generally be applied to dry or wet hair, although some products may specify one or the other.
However, Palomino explains that leave-in conditioners are typically best applied to wet hair for help with detangling.
“The slip of leave-ins on wet hair make it one of the safest times to brush and detangle, as your hair has greater elasticity, preventing it from breakage that can be caused during the detangling process. However, there is no rule that they cannot be applied to dry hair to add shine and help with detangling,” she says
How we chose the best leave-in conditioners
The Shop TODAY team spoke with experts in the hair industry to identify key factors that make a quality leave-in conditioner, as well as their top-recommended products. We then pored over reviews and ratings from customers, narrowing down the contenders to find the best leave-in conditioners for each type of hair.
Finally, as a self-proclaimed expert on leave-in conditioners (and really anything that can add moisture to my hair), it wouldn't feel right to not include my top tried-and-true picks that have helped keep my hair healthy through years of bleach, color and hot tools.
Meet our experts
- Maria Elizabeth is the founder and owner of Salon deZEN in Alexandria, Virginia.
- Davide Marinelli is the founder and creative director of Davide Hair Studio in New York City. His expertise includes everything from precise bobs to men’s cuts to the Balayage color technique.
- Natalie Palomino is a master stylist, hair care expert and founder of North Authentic. She is based in Aliso Viejo, California.
- Clariss Anya Rubenstein is a celebrity hairstylist based in Los Angeles. She attended the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Los Angeles and later worked under top stylists at the Chris McMillan Salon.
- Xavier Velasquez is a celebrity stylist at Jenna Perry Hair Studio in New York City. He specializes in a "natural, effortless and sophisticated style," according to the salon's site.