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The Best Conditioners, According to Hairstylists and Salon Owners

Photo: 2016 Getty Images

Recently we dove into the best shampoos for every hair type — but if you want to get the most out of your wash, it’s a good idea to follow that shampoo with conditioner, of course. “It’s very similar to skin care,” says Brooke Jordan, co-owner and master stylist at the Bird House in Gowanus. “You don’t want to wash without also moisturizing, unless you’re insanely oily. You want to give equal attention to moisture as you do to washing.” Advice on the application of conditioner will vary depending on your hair type — some stylists will tell those with thin hair to stick to a dime-size-amount applied just on the ends, while Jordan prefers to “really goop it on,” adding that, “I think people don’t use enough conditioner.” And so, while you’ll probably want to take advice on the amount of conditioner you should use from those who know your head best, as far as what brands you should buy in the first place — to help with everything from taming frizz to repairing heat damage — our panel of hairstylists and salon owners have you covered. Read on for their go-to conditioners for hair of all kinds, including some worthy of really gooping on.

Best conditioner overall

Stephanie Louis, owner of Stylebox Salon in Prospect Heights, calls this conditioner a staple at her salon. “It’s so good,” she says. “The best for weekly conditioning, detangling, and hair softening.” The detangling properties of the conditioner can be attributed to the inclusion of moringa oil, an essential oil derived from trees, known for its ability to moisturize and loosen up knots. The ingredient list also includes green tea extract, which is meant to protect against free radical damage and environmental stress; jojoba oil, which will help with split ends; and sunflower seed extract, which, according to Verb’s site, is a natural source of UV protection that will help prevent color fading.

We’ve heard good things about Verb’s shampoos and conditioners before — Sephora reviewers raved about both this conditioner, which one said was “neither too light and watery nor too thick and oily,” and the brand’s hydrating conditioner, which many said “moisturizes the hair without weighing it down.” And since the conditioner can be used on all hair types — according to Verb’s site, this includes “curly, fine, kinky, straight, thick, and wavy” hair — is gentle enough to use daily, and is one of the more affordable options on the list, we’re calling Verb’s Ghost conditioner best overall.

Best conditioner for normal hair

For those looking for something that will soften hair without weighing it down, Jordan suggests Sachajuan’s Normal Hair Conditioner. “It’s going to give your standard level of moisture — not particularly for dry hair, or particularly for super-damaged hair,” but for normal hair types, “it’ll be just moisturizing enough and not overly moisturizing,” she says. The product’s moisturizing properties in part come from the brand’s “Ocean Silk Technology,” which Jordan tells us is derived from sea algae and used in all of the brand’s products. “It’s supposed to be incredibly moisturizing without being heavy at all, and we find that to be true.” (According to Sachajuan, “Ocean Silk” refers to Rhodophycea and Chondrus crispus extracts, which are harvested from algae in the ocean and can be used for strengthening hair and protecting it from damage.)

Best lightweight conditioners

If you want something very lightweight, Masami Hosono, hairstylist and creative director at Vacancy Project, suggests Malin + Goetz’s Cilantro Conditioner. “We really like it because we don’t want anything too moisturizing, which can make hair super flat and heavy,” says Hosono. That’s largely because the stylists at Vacancy Project prefer to have the hair’s natural texture come forth, rather than forcing it with a very deliberate type of blow dry or brush curl. The Malin + Goetz conditioner is gentle enough for daily use, and has fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and shea butter to help hydrate (but not overly hydrate) the hair and scalp. It’s even lightweight enough that it can be used as a leave-in conditioner or styling product, according to brand’s site.

Another lightweight option comes recommended by Dhiran Mistry, stylist at David Mallett salon. “Amino acids help with water retention of the hair,” he says. Mistry says this can be used by all hair types, and that it contains coconut and jojoba oil, both moisturizing ingredients that won’t add weight to hair, and notes that the conditioner is free of parabens and silicone. And while, like the Malin + Goetz conditioner, this one is light enough for daily use, it should be rinsed out after a few minutes (so don’t try to use this one as a leave-in conditioner, like the Malin + Goetz could be). Also, if a cilantro-scented shampoo sounds a little too gourmet for your shower — though we should note that reviewers say the smell really isn’t that strong — lots of Kiehl’s reviewers raved about the pleasant scent on this one. “The fragrance smells of heavenly coconut,” comments one.

Best conditioner for dry hair

“This is one of our staple conditioners that detangles any hair type or texture while treating dryness and virtually eliminating dandruff,” says Louis. “It’s especially amazing for tightly coiled hair.” The conditioner is packed with strengthening ingredients like soy and wheat keratin, which also add shine to hair. The dandruff-eliminating properties of the conditioner include menthol, camphor, and peppermint oil extracts, which soothe itchy scalps, and a botanical extract blend of chamomile, horsetail, nettle, and henna is also said to help aid scalp health and make hair shinier. (Safe assumption that these extracts would make this conditioner smell pleasantly minty, too, as has been noted in reviews.)

Best conditioner for damaged hair

“The reparative work this does is second to none,” says Jordan. “I have found to be absolutely amazing when used in moderation — it can be heavy if you use it every day, so use it no more than once a week. But it is excellent.” The conditioner is so thick and restorative that Jordan compares it to a hair mask, and says that one of the best things you can do for damaged hair is an Olaplex treatment. According to Olaplex’s site, the conditioner works by “re-linking” bonds of hair, therefore restoring split ends and frizz to a healthier state — so this could be one to use even just to extend the time between haircuts, if you’re prone to split ends. Over on Amazon, this conditioner receives some high praise from reviewers — one, who says she has bleached hair, calls this her “holy grail” — and many report that “a little goes a long way,” so you can count on the bottle to last you more than a few months.

Best conditioner for frizzy hair

If you want something lighter than Olaplex but that will still tame frizz, Davines Love conditioner is the one to try. To be clear: It’s not exactly “lightweight.” As Jordan noted: “It’s going to be a little on the heavier side because it’s intended for smoothing.” But consider going this route if your hair is more prone to flyaways and uncooperative in the humidity rather than damaged. Like the brand’s Love Shampoo, the conditioner has Minuta olive extract, which is full of fatty acids and vitamin E — known for their softening and nourishing effects. The conditioner can be especially helpful for those with thick and curly hair looking to fight unwanted frizz — but if you have hair that’s fine and still frizzy or fluffy, Jordan recommends using the moisturizing Davines Love shampoo and following that with a leave-in conditioner rather than a traditional conditioner.

Those who can’t go a day without their curling brush or tend to be reckless with the blow-dryer — say you’ve got it turned up to the hottest setting and are pressing it against the brush as a way to straighten your hair — will likely want to look for a conditioner that protects against heat damage. Dhiran Mistry, hairstylist at the David Mallett salon, says that Kerastase’s Resistance Ciment Thermique is “a lovely strengthening conditioner, really good for protecting” because of ingredients like its Pro-Keratin Complex, which is a protein that helps rebuild damaged strands, and resurrection plant sap, which soothes and heals broken hair. The Resistance formula helps hair stand up to the force of that flat iron, and Mistry told us that it works well for straight, wavy, curly, and coiled hair types. “I love the smell,” he adds.

Best conditioner for color-treated hair

Color-treated hair needs special attention — as Blackstone NYC colorist Patti O’Gara told us when we asked her about the best shampoos for color-treated hair. “Color processing of any sort can damage the bonds of your hair,” she said. Damaged bonds means coarser hair, split ends, and broken strands — not to mention that color treatments are expensive and a good conditioner for color-treated hair should help you stretch out the time between trips to the salon. R+Co’s Gemstone Color Conditioner, which comes recommended by Jordan, will do just that. The conditioner counts hibiscus, pea, and rice extract among its ingredients, which each work to moisturize and strengthen hair, while the pea extract is specifically meant to preserve hair color and protect against discoloration. The conditioner also has SPF protection, like all of R+Co’s products, which will help protect your hair color from fading in the sun (especially useful if you’re planning any trips to the beach), and the brand’s “ChromoHance Complex” helps enhance color while also conditioning and repairing strands.

Best conditioner for thin or fine hair

If you have very thin or fine hair, the stylists we talked to suggested forgoing a traditional conditioner altogether. “For people who have really fine hair, you don’t even need conditioner — just leave-in conditioner is enough,” says Jordan. “For my clients with really fine hair, I recommend they use a superlight shampoo for volume, and then instead of putting a conditioner on, instead put on a leave-in conditioner because they tend to be more lightweight and super-moisturizing at the same time.” Jordan calls Sachajuan’s leave-in conditioner “amazing,” and recommends it for those with fine hair, as well as for those who have coarse hair and need a little extra moisture even after conditioning in the shower. The leave-in conditioner can also be used as a primer for styling hair, and to protect against heat when blow drying.

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The Best Conditioners, According to Hairstylists