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The All-Time Best Leave-In Conditioners for Curly Hair

Say goodbye to frizzy hair and hello to moisture-rich spirals.

best leave in conditioners
courtesy of brands

When it comes to the best hair products, leave-in conditioners are often underrated and overlooked. But the truth is, a good leave-in conditioner should be your best friend — especially if you have curly hair. "Leave-in conditioners are important because they add moisture, layer on an extra barrier of protection before any heat styling and guard against UV damage," says celebrity hairstylist Derick Monroe. Plus, if you've got frizz-prone locks, using a leave-in conditioner before applying a cocktail of curl cream and/or curly hair gel can help smooth your spirals into bouncy, healthy ringlets.

To find the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair, we spoke with professional hairstylists, scoured online reviews and tapped the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab experts, who regularly test all kinds of products designed for curly hair in our Labs, from moisturizing shampoos and cleansing conditioners to hydrating hair masks and mousses for curly hair. Read on for the best leave-in conditioners you can buy for lush, bouncy curls, including affordable drugstore picks and luxury options for natural hair:

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Best Overall Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair
Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Heat & UV Protective Primer
Bumble and bumble

  • Protects against UV damage
  • Offers thermal protection from hot tools

It's no secret that curly hair is naturally dry, so priming your brittle locks with this oil-rich leave-in is a game-changer. But don't let the word oil scare you: Bumble and bumble's formula is so lightweight, your curls will drink it up and it won't leave an ounce of greasy film. Adding this fan-favorite to your curly hair routine will not only smooth and hydrate your strands, it'll also help to protect it against UV damage and heat tools, too. "My hair is super soft and I've never gotten the oily look or feel while using this spray," one reviewer says.

Best Value Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair
Jamaican Black Castor Oil Leave-In Conditioner

  • Softens and hydrates curls
  • Bargain price

  • May be too heavy for fine hair

Finding a quality leave-in conditioner for curly hair doesn't mean you have to break the bank. This drugstore option is a cult-favorite with rave reviews — and it's less than $10. With a consistency closer to a styling cream, this formula is extra rich and hydrating. Fans say it makes their curls feel healthier, plumper and more moisturized. Bonus: Reviewers say adding a dollop of this leave-in to a twist-out delivers bouncy, soft and hydrated twists every single time.

Best Cream Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair
Curl Charisma Rice Amino Avocado Leave-In Defining Creme

  • Made with natural ingredients
  • Boosts curl definition

  • Doesn't offer strong hold

Curly girl-favorite Briogeo claims this leave-in formula is composed of 94% naturally derived ingredients, so it's basically like green juice for your spirals. Rice amino acids help to keep frizz at bay, while avocado oil adds a kiss of moisture and tomato fruit ferment gives definition that makes your curls pop. "I would give it six stars, if I could," one reviewer says. "It does not weigh my hair down and is exactly what my porous 3C curls need."

Best Spray Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair
Miracle Leave-In Product
It's a 10
It's a 10

  • Protects color-treated hair
  • Adds mega shine

  • May take a lot of product to coat curls

This do-it-all fixer is a must for anyone who wants to streamline their arsenal of hair products. It's a frizz-fighter, color-protector, tangle-reducer, dullness-eraser and heat protecting spray in one that will transform your locks for the better. "It has helped so so much with my breakage and just makes my hair look overall healthier and so shiny," says one Ulta reviewer.

Best Leave-In Conditioner for High-Porosity Curly Hair
Leave-In Conditioner
Pattern Beauty

  • Hydrates hair and scalp
  • Smoothes hair

  • Some say the scent is too strong

Thanks to a blend of oils and honey, this leave-in conditioner is chock-full of moisture. Yet it's not too heavy for those with finer locks, say reviewers. Add a few pumps of this to your curls during the cold winter months to prevent knots, tangles and brittleness caused by the freezing cold temps.

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Frizz and Flyaways
No Frizz Leave-In Conditioner
Living Proof
Living Proof

  • Fights frizz
  • Safe for color-treated hair

  • May be too lightweight for thicker textures

Frizz isn't always a bad thing, but if you do want to nix those flyaways then reach for this conditioning leave-in formula, which acts like a shield to block humidity — frizz no more! It's also gentle enough to use on color-treated and chemically-processed hair and works as a great leave-in conditioner before a blow out.

Best Lightweight Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair
Knot Today Natural Leave-In Detangler
Kinky Curly

  • Easily removes knots and tangles
  • Not too heavy

  • May create a stiff gel-like cast

If you've got tight curls or coils that are always getting tangled up, this leave-in is for you. Not only does it help to prep the hair for styling products, but it makes detangling a breeze. Simply apply from root to tip, rake through with your fingers and say hello to perfectly separated, smooth curls. "It is amazing. I actually get the curl definition I want and very minimal frizz," raves one Amazon reviewer. "My hair is extremely dry and even on the second day my hair still feels moisturized."

Best Natural Leave-In Condition for Curly Hair
OI All-In-One Milk Leave-In Spray Hair Treatment

  • Softens dry, wiry textures
  • Helps protect against environmental stressors

This leave-in spray's milky texture brings dry, tired curls to life. It can be used on damp or dry hair and is a true multi-tasker, softening hair, removing tangles and even protecting against environmental damage thanks to an infusion of antioxidant-rich roucou oil. Since I'm a pretty rough sleeper, I like to apply it to my edges and ends before bed and I wake up to soft, shiny hair that's a whole lot more manageable in the morning.

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Damaged Curly Hair
No. 6 Bond Smoother

  • Mends split ends
  • Repairs chemical, thermal and mechanical damage

Split ends, breakage and dullness can all spoil a good hair day. That's why any hot-tool obsessed, curly-haired person should reach for this leave-in creme. It goes deep to repair damaged and broken bonds in the hair to make it, well, like new. Fun fact: This brand's bond-building formulas are essentially the reason A-listers can go from platinum blonde to neon pink locks overnight. Plus, it claims to keep frizz at bay for up to 72 hours.

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Thick Curly Hair
Leave-In Decadence Conditioner

  • Super hydrating

  • May be too heavy for finer hair types

If you're working with type 4 curls, you need a rich product that will deliver major moisture. This affordable leave-in conditioner is made with thick coils and coarse locks in mind, absorbing quickly into the hair and keeping curls smooth, defined and hydrated. Reviewers love how soft and defined it makes their curls and the coconut scent is amazing.

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Color-Treated Curly Hair
Dream Cocktail Kale-Infused Strengthening Leave In Treatment
Color Wow
Color Wow

  • Helps reduce breakage
  • Super lightweight

Formulated with blue sea kale and kelp extract to protect against color-fading and breakage from hot tools, this leave-in conditioner was clinically tested to reduce comb-induced breakage by 50% in just one use, according to the brand's own data. It's also super lightweight, so it won't weigh down fine to medium hair types.

How to choose a leave-in conditioner for curly hair

When shopping for a leave-in conditioner, first look for products that are specifically designed to be left in hair. Products that are labeled as leave-ins won't cause product build-up or greasy residue — and they'll be formulated with super hydrating ingredients that your hair will literally soak up. Then look at:

✔️ The Formula: Of course, you'll want to first consider what type of curly hair you have when shopping for a leave-in conditioner that meets your needs. Those with fine, curly hair who want to add body should opt for a lightweight spray formula, says Monroe. Meanwhile, those with thicker, coarser 4C curls need all the moisture they can get, so it's best to choose a cream formula.

✔️ The ingredients: "Look for products that have humectants and natural oils in them, plus extracts and other nourishing vitamins," Monroe advises. Combining humectants like glycerin, keratin and hyaluronic acid (which help draw moisture into the hair and lock it in) with lightweight oils delivers a leave-in conditioner that can keep dry, frizzy hair at bay and give your ringlets the natural sheen and bounce you've been dreaming of.

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