Hot tools can do a number on your hair — and that's true no matter your texture, affinity for trying new colors, or the season. That's why leave-in conditioners are a godsend, particularly for natural, curly, and color-treated strands, because they can help save you from a world of damage.
While liquid formulations typically get a bad rap during colder months because they can harden (making hair brittle and prone to breakage), they're perfect for the more hospitable seasons — so, whenever it's not freezing cold outside. And while the handy product won't make your overall routine any less time-consuming, by making your hair more manageable, it will making getting out the door in the morning that much easier.
Keep reading to see pro and staff picks for the leave-in conditioners and treatments that leave our hair soft as can be.
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Best On A Budget: Not Your Mother's Royal Honey & Kalahari Desert Melon Leave-In Conditioner
If you're currently working with dry, overprocessed curls, this $8 leave-in spray is a must-have. Just spritz it through damp hair as a primer before adding your usual curl-defining gels, creams, or oils for a boost of softness.
Not Your Mother's Royal Honey & Kalahari Desert MelonLeave-In Conditioner, $4.49, available at Ulta Beauty
Best For Coily Hair: Mizani 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Treatment
There are some products that don't live up to their own names, and then there's Miracle Milk: a xylose and coconut oil-based formula that gives the driest curls a brand-new lease on life with a few spritzes all over. Naturalistas love it so much that Mizani upgraded the size to a jumbo 13.5 ounce bottle.
Mizani 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Treatment, $30, available at Ulta Beauty
Best For Dry Hair: Taliah Waajid Daily Leave-in Conditioner
If you forget to re-twist your hair on a late night, a few spritzes of this magic elixir will hydrate your curls instantly. Pro tip: Spray it directly into your hands then finger-comb it through for the best results.
Taliah Waajid Daily Leave-in Conditioner , $8.98, available at Amazon
Best For Colored Hair: Cantu Leave-In Conditioning Repair Cream
Leave it to argan oil to nourish and replenish curls even on your worst day. Safe for colored, relaxed, and textured hair, this repair cream penetrates deep to soften strands — without a ton of fuss. Our editors swear by it.
Cantu Leave-In Conditioning Repair Cream, $7.26, available at Walmart
Best For Thick Hair: Leonor Greyl Tonique Hydratant
"For thick hair, it's all about replenishing [lost] moisture," says hairstylist Adir Abergel. He loves applying this treatment once a week.
Leonor Greyl Tonique Hydratant, $43, available at Leonor Greyl
Best For Definition: Iles Formula Finishing Serum
"I love using Iles Forumla Hair Serum as a leave-in conditioner," says Gregory Russell, whose clients include Lily Collins, Nicole Richie, and Hailee Steinfeld. "It softens the hair without being heavy, provides a light amount of definition, and makes your hair feel hydrated. For coarser textures, be a little more liberal with the product."
Iles Formula Finishing Serum, $44, available at Neiman Marcus
Best For Baby Hairs: SheaMoisture Strengthen & Grow Conditioning Shine Gel
A-list celeb hairstylist Marcia Hamilton recommends this castor oil-packed leave-in conditioner/shine gel hybrid for smoothing and adding definition. "I really love this gel for shaping all baby hairs," she says. "It's alcohol-free and sulfate-free, so it doesn’t cause dryness. Plus, it leaves a really nice shine."
SheaMoisture Strengthen & Grow Conditioning Shine Gel, $10.69, available at Target
Best For Blondes: Unite Hair Care 7 Seconds Detangler
"Three or four quick sprays into my hands is enough to make my dry, knotty hair far more manageable," says R29 senior beauty editor Lexy Lebsack. (Tip: Never mist leave-in sprays directly onto hair, which practically ensures an uneven application.) "Whether I air-dry overnight or blowdry, my hair is smoother, softer, and free of tangles. It's lightweight and never greasy, with a hit of protein for stronger hair. It's nothing like any detangler I've tried, because as soon as you apply it, it soaks in instead of coating strands or adding a heavy feeling."
Unite Hair Care 7 Seconds Detangler, $29.5, available at Unite Hair Care
Best For Frizz: SheaMoisture Strengthen & Restore Leave-In Conditioner
"My favorite leave-in is Shea Moisture's," says Danielle Priano, who works with Selena Gomez and several Victoria's Secret Angels. "I would only use this one if you're going to wear your hair curly to keep the frizz out. If you have thin, straight hair, it will make it look a bit greasy."
SheaMoisture Strengthen & Restore Leave-In Conditioner, $12.86, available at Walmart
Best For Second-Day Hair: Living Proof Restore Repair Leave-In
This curl-friendly formula works wonders for vacation days you want to keep frizz at bay. While it works just as well on freshly-washed hair, if you need a second-day revival, just dampen curls with some water and you can reapply another pump of this — no added buildup included.
Living Proof Restore Repair Leave-In, $30, available at Amazon
Best For Fine Hair: Carol's Daughter Mirabelle Plum Leave-In Conditioner
"My clients who [have] weak, overly dry, and thinning hair benefit from this product greatly," says Lisa Scott, MC Lyte 's hairstylist. "It's somehow both weightless and intensely moisturizing." We don't get it, but we won't question it.
Carol's Daughter Mirabelle Plum Leave-In Conditioner, $11, available at NaturallyCurly
Best For Dull Hair: Kristin Ess Weightless Shine Leave In Conditioner
"This spray is my life," celebrity stylist Kristin Ess said in a product description. "It creates completely weightless shine and detangles better than any other leave-in I've ever used. It seals in moisture and can bring dull hair back to life over time."
Kristin Ess Weightless Shine Leave In Conditioner, $10, available at Target
Best For Waves: Vernon François Leave-In Conditioner
Tight coils that suffer from an extreme case of dull frizz will benefit most from this leave-in formula. With a few pumps, your curls are revived to their shiniest form. Bonus: Continued use helps strengthen your hair so that, in the future, you might not have to worry so much about a dehydrated style.
Vernon François Leave-In Conditioner, $28, available at Sephora
Best For Targeted Application: DevaCurl SuperCream
“Leave-in conditioner is to curly hair what gas is to a car. And finding a good leave-in that gives your curls definition without weighing the hair down is a task," Shan Boodram, author, sexologist, and YouTuber tells us. "DevaCurl is my boo, but I only use it on the top pieces — I prefer the middle to have zero product, so I get frizzy volume goodness!”
DevaCurl SuperCream , $28, available at DevaCurl
Best For Fine Hair: Sachajuan Leave In Conditioner
"It's super silky, but doesn't weigh your hair down," celeb stylist Jenny Cho says. "It's great for thinner hair that needs conditioning, but doesn't leave it feeling greasy."
Sachajuan Leave In Conditioner, $31, available at Sephora
For Color-Treated Hair: Amika Silken Up Dry Conditioner
Ask any colorist how to best maintain your dye job and they'll just tell you to wash it less. Each wash can fade your color, but that doesn't mean you can't condition your hair between washes. This conditioner can be applied to dry hair to smooth, detangle, and moisturize.
Amika Silken Up Dry Conditioner, $24, available at Sephora
Best For Curls: O&M Know Knott Conditioning Detangler
Color-treated, damaged, and dehydrated hair can all reap the benefits of this lightweight leave-in. It's formulated with macadamia oil and vitamin B5 to soften tangled strands and give them shine. It also has UV protectants to keep your color from fading in the sunlight.
O&M Know Knott Conditioning Detangler, $30, available at Sephora
Best For Heat-Damaged Hair: It's A 10 Miracle Leave-in Product
Consider this leave-in treatment a multivitamin for your hair. It's packed with bond-building amino acids that leaves any texture softer, smoother, and shiner after one use.
It's a 10 Miracle Leave-in Product, $18.52, available at Ulta Beauty
Best For Heat Styling: Kérastase Discipline Anti Frizz Smoothing Spray
Engaging in unprotected heat sessions with your hair can end in a blow-fried disaster — especially if your strands are naturally curly. If you're giving up the heat to embrace your curls, using this leave-in will ensure that your hair is silky and frizz-free, even while it's in recovery mode. If you're not yet ready to give up the hot tools, you can also use some of this to protect your hair from heat up to 450 degrees.
Kérastase Discipline Anti Frizz Smoothing Spray, $37, available at Sephora
Best All-Around: Bumble & Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Heat & UV Protective Primer
Consider this Bumble & Bumble bottle the perfect one-size-fits-all spray for your hair. Apply it before you let your waves air-dry to reduce frizz and protect strands from UV rays. Or, use it as a detangler before you cocktail creams for a wash-and-go. And if you're heat styling, you can also spritz this on damp hair to get a silky blowout that doesn't feel greasy.
Bumble and bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Heat & UV Protective Primer, $13, available at Sephora
appearance by Lucie Fink.
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