best in class

The 9 Very Best Leave-in Conditioners

Photo-Illustration: Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

In this article

It’s no exaggeration to say that leave-in conditioners can be a lifeline for thirsty or damaged hair. A good leave-in conditioner can even prolong the life of your dye job. “No matter how great the color turned out, it won’t thrive unless the hair is healthy,” says Austin Medearis, a master colorist at Butterfly Studio Salon.

It’s easy to get confused by what makes a leave-in conditioner different from a mask, spray, or serum. Essentially, a leave-in should offer more moisture than a wash-out conditioner, but won’t be as heavy or greasy/oily as a hair mask often is (leave-ins are, on the whole, surprisingly lightweight). A leave-in conditioner can also detangle more efficiently and offer better shine, and has the bonus of heat protection over its rinse-out counterpart. And while a protective styling spray may well shield hair effectively from heat, it won’t necessarily deliver on moisture, detangling, and next-level shine the way a leave-in conditioner can.

While not every hair type will respond to them in the same way, there is certainly a leave-in for every hair type. Someone with straight, fine, or low-porosity hair (a tight cuticle layer resistant to moisture intake and loss, which means wash-out conditioners have to work harder to penetrate) might be pleasantly surprised by the extra shine that a leave-in affords them. Similarly, a person with curly, coarse, or high-porosity hair (meaning there are larger gaps in the cuticle that absorb and lose moisture easily) who’s already using a rich shampoo may like the extra layer of locked-in hydration and protection to safeguard against heat styling. 

What we’re looking for

Nongreasy hydration

A leave-in conditioner needs to give intense moisture but shouldn’t leave the hair feeling greasy. I’ve focused on products that contain ingredients like vitamin E, aloe vera, amino acids, and naturally derived oils and butters, which, since they’re not washed out, maximize hair health along with offering hydration. 


Fragrance preferences are extremely personal, so I’ve listed the scent profiles of each conditioner throughout.


A product’s price is relative to its size, so I’ve highlighted how many ounces each one is to give an easy indicator of value for money.

Best overall leave-in conditioner

Non-greasy hydration: Vitamin E oil | Scent: Citrus, floral, white musk | Size: 4.7 ounces

Three of our experts recommended the Ouai Leave-in Conditioner for its hydration across all hair types. As well as vitamin E, it contains moisturizing ingredients like tamarind seed extract and amino acids. Karen Miller, a stylist at Spoke and Weal, recommends the Ouai Leave-In Conditioner “for any hair type.” For straight to wavy hair, Miller says you can spray it on with the option of letting it air-dry or styling it because it “acts as a heat protectant as well.” For more coily textures, she loves how it leaves the hair “feeling silky rather than oily” after you straighten it. Giovanni Vaccaro, artistic director of Glamsquad, says he likes to use it on clients who love beachy waves: “I’ll spray it in to detangle before using a wave spray.” He adds that on top of it being color-safe, he loves its bergamot-, lemon-, and magnolia-laced scent. It’s also a favorite of Strategist beauty columnist Rio Viera-Newton, who used it to nourish her double-processed hair, saying that it gave her hair that “final kick of moisture and nourishment it needs to ensure it feels perfectly silky and smooth once dry.”

Best (more expensive) leave-in conditioner

Non-greasy hydration: Keratin amino acids | Scent: Floral, white tea | Size: 6.8 ounces

This serum is seriously versatile. Medearis explains that it works for most hair types, is lightweight enough for air-drying or heat-styling, and contains keratin amino acids and hydrolyzed silk protein for maximum shine. “My clients are always impressed with this leave-in. It’s their heat protectant, it’s their styling gel, it’s a one-stop shop — all without weighing the hair down,” he explains. Kenna, super stylist and founder of the Kennaland Salon in Brooklyn, agrees. “I use this on every client, every model, every celebrity, even my daughter … it’s magic!” He especially likes how it gives protection against heated tools, UV, color fade, and humidity, as well as the “suppleness” that it delivers to the hair. “If you’re blow-drying, your hair will be as shiny as hair-campaign hair, and will hold style and texture all day,” he adds.

Best (less-expensive) leave-in conditioner

Non-greasy hydration: Biotin | Scent: Floral, fresh | Size: 10.1 ounces

Stylist Koni Bennett calls this a “low-cost hidden gem.” While it’s good for all hair types, Bennett says it works particularly well on kinky-curly hair as it “adds the perfect ‘slip’ to textured hair, making detangling a breeze.” It also protects against different forms of damage, including bleaching, coloring, curling, flat-ironing, and more, while the biotin in the formula actively repairs damage already done. Bennett recommends interchanging this with the new (and equally good-value) TRESemme Pro Collection Keratin Repair Leave-in Treatment, which offers excellent shine and manageability by repairing split ends. “This treatment adds an instant surge of softness and moisture, which really simplifies the detangling process for even the most resistant textures!” she explains. “The added bonus is the heat protectant protects the hair from both environmental heat damage and heated tools.” Her advice is to use it post-wash and before applying stylers for a really intense boost of hydration.

Best leave-in conditioner for curly hair

Non-greasy hydration: Cupuacu and mango seed butters | Scent: Exotic fruits | Size: 8.4 ounces

Medearis is a colorist but also a self-proclaimed “curl enthusiast” who uses this product when he’s working with curly hair that’s color-treated, too. For clients with curly hair, he recommends silicone-free products like this one (which instead contains cupuacu and mango seed butters as well as a host of nourishing oils, including olive, avocado, and jojoba) and to look for ingredients that will restore the natural pH (he advises to look for aloe vera on the ingredient list). “The Oribe Priming Lotion does all of the above,” says Medearis. “Highly textured curly hair [often high porosity] is naturally lacking moisture — and color-treated curls are even more at risk of damage. I’m always recommending products with natural-based ingredients that will penetrate the curls and preserve their texture and bounce.”

Best less-expensive leave-in conditioner for curly hair

Non-greasy hydration: Shea and coconut butters | Scent: Fruity, flora | Size: 6.7 ounces

A-list stylist Mark Hampton recommends Bumble and Bumble Curl 3-in-1 Conditioner, which is rich in hydrating shea and coconut butters. Leave-ins “can be a great way of getting rid of frizzy, flyaway hair,” says Hampton. “Trying different amounts to gauge the perfect balance for your own hair is key: Start with less, and if it’s still too frizzy, apply a little more!”

Best lightweight leave-in conditioner

Non-greasy hydration: Aloe vera | Scent: Aromatic, fresh | Size: 5 ounces

“You could not overuse this product,” says Mark DeBolt, a celebrity colorist and co-founder of Mark Ryan Salon. DeBolt likes that it offers “featherlight hydration” (it literally just mists the hair) while still effectively nourishing it thanks to ingredients like aloe vera and flaxseed extract. This is good news for those with fine, thin, very straight, or low-porosity hair. It’s also a top-of-the-class detangler and gives great suppleness to the hair, which in turn gives next-level smoothness and shine. The best part, though, says DeBolt, is the scent: “It’s a beautiful perfume that reminds me of an evening summer walk upstate.”

Best leave-in conditioner for color-treated hair

Non-greasy hydration: Omega-3 oils | Scent: Floral, spicy, woody | Size: 6.7 ounces

Lundy, a stylist at Le Shag, uses Pureology’s line of products generally for the high-quality vegan ingredients, but specifically likes this leave-in for color-treated hair because it not only helps to keep color intact but also doubles as a heat protectant. “Color-treated hair, especially chemically lightened hair, is more fragile and can benefit from extra moisture and definitely needs a good heat protector,” she says. “When hair is delicate from being colored, it’s important to prevent breakage and further damage. Brushing out very tangled hair, or using hot tools and blow-dryers without heat protection, can all add to breakage.” This leave-in, Lundy explains, has “multiple benefits” including being great for detangling, conditioning (thanks to camelina and olive omega-3 oils), and acting as a heat and UV protector. “I’ll spray this in before a blowout, and even hair that’s been through multiple color services still looks shiny and smooth.”

Best leave-in conditioner for frizz

Non-greasy hydration: Vitamin C | Scent: Resinous, woody, smoky | Size: 4.2 ounces

DeBolt is a fan of this spray leave-in from R+Co. “It helps to soften, seal, detangle, and fight frizz,” he says. It also has a scent that DeBolt describes as “a very modern Le Labo–esque vibe,” with notes of palo santo, tobacco leaf, white cedarwood, and pine needles (R+Co calls this its Stars Align fragrance). And as well as being great for styling, the spray protects hair from sun damage and environmental stressors thanks to its hero antioxidant ingredient, vitamin C.

Best leave-in conditioner for badly damaged hair

Non-greasy hydration: Olaplex (bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate) | Scent: Citrus, fruity, floral | Size: 3.3 ounces

This product strays slightly into bond-building territory — products that chemically repair hair’s damaged and broken protein bonds — but Olaplex No.6 Bond Smoother Leave-In Styling Treatment can be applied after every shampoo, so it works like a leave-in conditioner. Olaplex (the line’s main ingredient, not the brand) is designed to repair and protect, which is why Lundy recommends this to clients with damaged and overprocessed hair. Not only does it work as a leave-in treatment, but it also doubles as a styling cream that “protects hair, hydrates, and gives you a smooth blowout.” Bonus: “It’s also super concentrated, so a little goes a long way.”

Some other leave-in conditioners we’ve written about

Our experts

Koni Bennett, stylist
Mark DeBolt, a celebrity colorist and co-founder of Mark Ryan Salon
Mark Hampton, stylist
• Kenna, founder of the Kennaland salon
• Lundy, a stylist at Le Shag
Austin Medearis, master colorist at Butterfly Studio Salon
• Karen Miller, a stylist at Spoke and Weal
• Giovanni Vaccaro, artistic director of Glamsquad
Rio Viera-Newton, Strategist beauty columnist

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The 9 Very Best Leave-in Conditioners