To take a cue from the Backstreet Boys, I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, or what you did to your hair — you can probably benefit from a leave-in conditioner. In addition to melting through knots, these multitasking products do pretty much every good thing for your hair: repair damage, smooth frizz, enhance shine, provide heat protection, soften rough ends, and, almost always, make your hair smell great. That said, you’ll need to choose the best leave-in conditioner for you in order to reap all those benefits.
Here are some general guidelines: If you have fine or thin hair, opt for a lightweight spray over a cream; the latter might weigh your hair down, which is the opposite of what you want. People with thick or curly hair can handle richer formulas — the best are spiked with nourishing oils, like argan, and help give your curls some volume and definition. Those with color-treated hair are best served by a leave-in conditioner that shields the hair cuticle from color-degrading aggressors (heat, sun, time), while repairing the damage your bleach or dye may have wrought on your hair. And if your hair is very damaged, look for a formula loaded with proteins and other strengthening ingredients.
Or you can skip the research, and opt for whichever of these 10 leave-in conditioners best suits your hair type and budget from the list ahead.
1. The Best Budget Leave-In Conditioner For Color-Treated Hair
This Amika Vault Color-Lock Leave-In Conditioner is designed just as much to detangle your hair as it is to preserve and prolong your color. The lightweight spray formula contains a unique chloride compound that absorbs color-dulling UVB rays, while a host of amino acid complexes provide even more protection and cuticle-repairing benefits. That, plus the brand’s signature star ingredient, sea buckthorn berry (a do-it-all antioxidant), all work together to restore the softness and shine the dye or bleach probably leached from your hair.
2. The Best Luxury Leave-In Conditioner For Color-Treated Hair
All of Pureology’s products are safe for people with dyed hair to use (sulfate-free is the brand’s MO). So if you’re looking for a leave-in from a salon brand, you can’t really go wrong with the Pureology Colour Fanatic Leave-In Treatment Spray. Along with conditioning, this flexible spray provides 21 hair-care benefits, like protecting against heat damage, boosting shine, and preventing split ends. Basically, you can spray on this hardworking mist whenever you want, for whatever you want — it's capable of fixing and enhancing just about anything when it comes to dyed hair.
3. The Best Budget Leave-In Conditioner For Damaged Hair
Consider this L’Oreal Paris Elvive Total Repair 5 Protein Recharge Leave-In Conditioner your hair’s equivalent of a post-workout recovery shake. The protein-loaded cream formula repairs your hair’s natural proteins that’ve been broken or damaged from excessive heat styling, dye, or natural degradation over time. If hair loss is a concern for you, this leave-in treatment might help — a few reviewers say it’s curbed shedding and noticeably enhanced their hair’s thickness. Brush it through washed and conditioned wet hair, then style it as usual. It doubles as a heat protectant, so you can use heat tools on it without undoing all its repairing effects.
4. The Best Luxury Leave-In Conditioner For Damaged Hair
The end-all be-all of repairing products, Olaplex's patented, scientist-developed technology restores broken bonds at a molecular level. The Olaplex No. 6 Bond Smoother, one of the five products the salon brand makes for consumers, is a super concentrated, repairing product designed for leave-in use. Along with its bond-building complexes, the formula contains vitamin E and coconut oil to visibly soften hair and give it some extra luster. Apply a little bit to wet or towel-dried hair, concentrating on the ends (where your hair is older, drier, and generally more in need of help), then style it as usual. Bonus points if you use this as a follow-up to their Bond Maintenance Shampoo and Bond Maintenance Conditioner.
5. The Best Budget Leave-In Conditioner For Fine Hair
This Verb Leave-In Mist is perfect for managing tangly, frizzy, or generally unruly fine hair. The airy-light mist won’t weigh down thin strands, and the formula contains tons of strengthening ingredients that this fragile hair type really needs, like bamboo and green tea extracts. Botanical oils, like argan and moringa seed, help tame flyaways, soften knots, and add smoothness and shine (but with a super-light touch).
6. The Best Luxury Leave-In Conditioner For Fine Hair
Reviewers are obsessed with this Sachajuan Leave In Conditioner, an oil-free mist designed for all types of fine hair. It tames frizz, has an expensive herbal scent, adds serious softness and shine, and is super easy to use — just give your hair a few mists and walk away. But this miracle product can do even more for fine hair: one reviewer said it helped calm their dandruff, another used it as a beard conditioner, and another used it to prolong a good-hair day.
7. The Best Budget Leave-In Conditioner For Smoothing Frizz
There are so many reasons to love this Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Intensely Smooth Leave-In Conditioner. Suffused with argan oil and vitamin E, this leave-in treatment nourishes and strengthens strands from the inside out, works on every hair type, and claims to maintain smoothness and shine for three full days. But quite possibly the best thing about this drugstore product is that it costs $3 (!) on Amazon. Other than a slice of pizza, which you should absolutely have but probably won’t do your hair any favors, I can’t think of anything this good that only costs $3.
8. The Best Luxury Leave-In Conditioner For Smoothing Frizz
Lots of smoothing products use silicones as a synthetic sealant to ward off the heat and humidity that cause frizz. That definitely works in the short-term, but silicones have their downsides, too: they can weigh down fine hair, prevent moisture (but the good kind) from penetrating your hair, and attract dirt and oils, which leads to drier and duller hair in the long-term.
In place of silicones, the Living Proof No Frizz Leave-In Conditioner uses the brand’s patented Healthy Hair Molecule. It forms a lightweight “shield” around each strand that repels buildup, protects hair from humidity, and seals in moisture for clean, polished hair. Essentially, this conditioner ensures that your hair will be just as shiny and smooth a few months (or years) down the line as it is when you apply it (which you'll be doing on damp hair, focusing the product on your ends) for the first time.
9. The Best Budget Leave-In Conditioner For Natural Or Curly Hair
Pantene’s entire Gold Series line was developed by black scientists and stylists to moisturize, strengthen, and protect black hair, but reviewers seem particularly in love with their Leave-On Detangling Milk. This grease-free styling cream is infused with nourishing argan oil to soften and moisturize dry hair and ease through knots and tangles without weighing down coils or curls. It works equally well for fine and thick curls, but people with straight and relaxed hair love this, too. You can leave the product to work on its own (it’s a pretty luxurious overnight treatment), or use it as a styling cream to protect your hair from heat styling tools.
10. The Best Luxury Leave-In Conditioner For Natural Or Curly Hair
If you’re into argan oil, that iconic floral/coconut/amber/unidentifiably delicious scent, and have some more cash to burn, go for the Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream. It’s intensely moisturizing, gives your curls some bounce and controlled volume, and keeps everything lush, shiny, and crunch-free for a few days. This curl cream is pretty thick, so a little bit goes a long way.
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