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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

$18

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.

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

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 Jennifer Yepez has styled the hair of the Hadid sisters, Laura Harrier, and Jessica Alba, but this is the leave-in conditioner she uses on her own hair. She uses it daily and swears “it smooths and hydrates [her] dry ends, but never leaves them feeling greasy.” Fans of the power pony, take note: “It’s also perfect second-day styler, if you want to put your hair in an up-do and just need to smooth out the ends.”

Best leave-in conditioner for damaged hair

$21

Olaplex’s at-home hair repair system has a genuine, unpaid endorsement from Kim Kardashian, who, according to our friends at the Cut, said, “When your hair is really damaged, if you sleep in that, it really works,” during her master makeup class back in 2015. This leave-in is an add-on to the cult favorite system that Lundy, a stylist at Fringe Salon, loves. 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 over-processed hair. Not only is it a leave-in conditioner, but it also doubles as a styling cream that “protects hair, hydrates and gives you a smooth blow out.” Bonus: “It’s also super concentrated, so a little goes a long way,” she adds.

Best leave-in conditioner for color-treated hair

Lundy 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 the color intact but also doubles as a heat protector. “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 more fragile from being colored, it’s important to prevent breakage and further damage. Even brushing out very tangled hair, or using hot tools and blow dryers without heat protection can add to breakage.” This leave-in Lundy explains has “multiple benefits” including being great for detangling, conditioning, 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 extending your shampoos

“This is the best for people who don’t like a ton of product in their hair, but still want a little moisture and hold to their style,” says Bryant. He particularly recommends it for people who don’t wash their hair everyday. “When you apply it to wet hair and allow it to air-dry completely, it sets like a gel in the hair. But once you break it up with your hands, there’s no residue-y product feel in your hair at all.” It also rinses out nicely, he adds, which is great for people who don’t want to wash their hair every day but still want to wet their hair in the shower.

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The Best Leave-In Conditioners, According to Hairstylists