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The Best Leave-In Conditioners, According to Hairstylists

Photo: Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

Leave-in conditioners can be a lifeline for adding hydration, but not all hair types respond to them the same way. Someone with straight, fine, or high-porosity hair (meaning there are gaps in the cuticle that absorb and lose moisture quickly) using a volumizing shampoo and conditioner might be disappointed by a formula that adds extra weight, says stylist Koni Bennett. Meanwhile, another person with curly, coarse, or low-porosity hair (a tight cuticle layer resistant to moisture) who’s already using a moisture-rich shampoo, may like the extra layer of protection from heat or locked-in moisture to safeguard against styling products that follow. But hands down, the one group that could surely benefit from a leave-in are those who dye their hair. “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.

Since a leave-in conditioner can make or break your style, we asked Medearis, Bennett, and six other hairstylists about their favorite formulas for hydrating every hair type, from curly to damaged to color-treated.

Best overall leave-in conditioner

Karen Miller, a stylist at Spoke and Weal, recommends the Ouai Leave-In Conditioner “for any hair type,” because it’s “water-based and gives more of a protein conditioning,” which means it won’t weigh hair down but still gives hydration. Among its ingredients, tamarind-seed extract and vitamin E help pack in added moisture. 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 more silky rather than too oily” after you straighten it. It’s also a favorite of Rio, who uses it to keep her hair silky smooth while traveling. Last month, she wrote about how it gave her overly bleached hair a nice shine, and in her roundup of products for double-processed hair says it gives her that “final kick of moisture and nourishment it needs to ensure it feels perfectly silky and smooth once dry.” 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. Celebrity stylist

Best leave-in conditioner for all hair types

According to Vaccaro, a hard-working leave-in conditioner should do a few things — hydrate, heat-protect, and detangle — which is why he loves BrioGeo’s Rosarco Reparative Leave-In Spray so much. “This stuff is vegan and cruelty free and leaves your hair feeling amazing,” he says. “It’s perfect for all hair types — its coconut, rosehip, and argan oils won’t weigh hair down, but it’s nourishing enough to de-frizz any head of hair.” Vaccaro says it’s even safe for color-treated hair, and people with textured or curly hair will benefit from the “detangling agents.”

Garrett Bryant, owner of Hawthorne salon, says that he’s obsessed with this leave-in milk “because it absorbs into the hair and treats the strands, as opposed to sitting on top of the cuticle, giving the illusion of shine and hydration.” Some of its hydrating ingredients include coconut, olive, and almond-oil extracts. Bryant thinks this milk “is a perfect balance of moisture,” using it on a variety of clients from those with long, fine hair pre-blowout to those with textured, curly hair who want to wear their hair natural. This leave-in works with a number of styles, as Bryant notes, it “layers well with other products, like mouses, gels, and balms for added moisture.” In a conversation with Rio, Emaly Baum, a colorist at Suite Caroline, said despite its “really nice creamy consistency” she uses “a ton” in her really fine hair and adds, “it’s really great for wavy-haired girls too, on day two of no hair washing.”

This serum leaves a lot of room for versatility, as Medearis says it works for most hair types, and is lightweight enough for air-drying or heat-styling. Not to mention, it serves a number of purposes: “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.”

Best leave-in conditioner for curly hair

For curly hair, leave-in conditioners tend to be the base layer of a more intricate styling routine, so it’s important that they both seal in the moisture of the conditioner and play nicely with your oils, gels, and creams. This one from African Pride is a favorite of Deeper Than Hair founder and hairstylist Kee Taylor, who likes that it helps with detangling. “It’s a cream base with incredible slip,” she says, noting that it moisturizes the hair, too. The conditioner contains a blend of coconut and baobab oil, which, when combined, help protect hair from breakage, making it more manageable and easier to style.

Medearis is a colorist but also a self-proclaimed “curl enthusiast” who turns to Oribe’s moisture-and-control line when he’s working with curly hair that’s also color-treated. He recommends silicone-free products (because silicone doesn’t penetrate the hair or add nutrients — it just creates buildup) for curly hair along with something to restore the natural pH (look for aloe vera in the ingredient list). “The Oribe Priming Lotion does all of the above,” says Medaris. “Highly textured curly hair 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 natural texture and bounce.”

If your strands are fine and thin, this might not be for you, but it’s Vacarro’s go-to for “really curly, textured hair.” He says it’s “rich and carries weight,” but “this leave-in will have your hair feeling shiny and silky due to its shea butter, castor oil, and reparative omegas.”

Adding a leave-in conditioner into your wash day routine is already an added expense, but Bennett thinks this “low-cost hidden gem” is the perfect solution. She thinks it works particularly well on kids with kinky-curly hair as it “adds the perfect ‘slip’ to textured hair, making detangling a breeze.”

While one of our writers swears by the entire line of DevaCurl products for her curly hair (“The products are my miracle drugs and I don’t care how much they cost”), Miller is specifically in love with the leave-in for her curly to coily clients. The formula is free from drying sulfates and rich with pequi oil and chufa milk. “It leaves your curls so moisturized and nourished.”

Best lightweight leave-in conditioner

Leave-in conditioners should be “easy to use, multitasking, and not leave your hair feeling greasy,” says Takamichi Saeki, creative director at Takamichi Hair. He likes this all-in-one beauty balm because it treats, moisturizes, protects, corrects, and fights frizz. “It does all this without leaving you with that greasy feeling,” he says. “It’s easy to over apply when hair is wet, and then you might need to wash again.” For “very dehydrated, brittle hair,” Saeki mixes it with a few drops of hair oil.

Celebrity hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons (who has been known to manage the manes of the Kardashian clan) swears by this leave-in conditioner from Daily Dose. It has a lightweight, creamy texture that simultaneously moisturizes, detangles, and nourishes hair from root to tip. “It works on all hair types and makes hair manageable,” says Fitzsimons. If you’re a stickler about ingredients, know this leave-in is formulated without sulfates, parabens, and petrolatum, along with being vegan and cruelty free.

“You could not overuse this product,” says Mark DeBolt, a celebrity colorist and co-founder of Mark Ryan Salon, of the Christophe Robin Hydrating Leave-In Mist. DeBolt likes that it offers “featherlight hydration” while still nourishing hair thanks to ingredients like aloe vera and flaxseed extract. The best part, though, he says, is the scent: “It’s a beautiful perfume that reminds me of an evening summer walk upstate.”