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When you’re shopping for the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair, the first thing to do is identify the type of curls you have, Irinel De León, celebrity hairstylist and Ouidad brand ambassador, tells Elite Daily. “The reason why this is so important is that you could be using products that are either too light or heavy for your curls, which could either cause frizz, leave buildup, or leave your strands limp.” She explains that a good leave-in conditioner will give your hair an added layer of moisture and protect your hair from damage caused by over-styling, among other things.
Look for a leave-in conditioner with ingredients to help boost hydration and protect your hair from UV rays, which can cause damage to your curls, De León says. “Anything with butters, oils, or UV protectants will help give your curls a good base and act as a primer to styling products.” She admits that it can feel daunting to scour INCI lists, but weeding out the following ingredients will help you choose the right products:
Alcohols to avoid: ethanol, SD alcohol, SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, propanol, propyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat
Silicones to avoid: D4, D5, D6, dimethicone (Silicones aren’t dangerous, but non-water-soluble silicones can build up over time and weigh down your curls.)
Sulfates to avoid: SLS, SLES (Sulfates aren’t typically found in leave-in conditioners, but it’s good to steer clear of them in all your hair care products if you’ve got curls, since they can be drying.)
Even easier than referencing this list every time you shop is to choose from the leave-in conditioners below. They’re all free from the aforementioned ingredients and will support your curls beautifully. A final tip from De León: keep your leave-in conditioner in the fridge during the summer months. “The cooler temperature will act as a sealant to your curls and lock in the moisture on another level by closing the cuticle [while] also giving your heads and strands a nice cooling effect.”
1. The Best Curl-Defining Leave-In Conditioner
amika’s Curl Corps Defining Cream is made with all sorts of lightweight moisturizing ingredients, like glycerin, jojoba, oat peptides, panthenol, and two different types of proteins to leave your curls feeling strong and soft, and looking bouncy and defined. This lovely-smelling cream is great for giving your curls lighter hold and just-the-right-amount of conditioning, while the brand’s star ingredient — sea buckthorn berry — delivers good-for-hair antioxidants (including vitamins C and A) and fatty acids (like omega 7) to your curls.
2. The Best Coconut Oil Leave-In Conditioner
100% pure, virgin coconut oil is the hero ingredient in this leave-in treatment from curl experts Shea Moisture. Coconut milk, sweet almond oil, and shea butter round out the deeply nourishing formula, which works to detangle your hair, temporarily seal split ends, and leave your curls smooth, shiny, and soft. This also gets bonus points for its yummy, coconut scent. Since this is a pretty rich product, start with a small amount — you can always apply more.
3. The Best Leave-In Conditioner For Type 4 Curls
Specifically designed for type-4 curls to restore moisture and detangle knots, Mielle Organics Pomegranate & Honey Leave-In Conditioner is loaded with all sorts of botanically derived oils, butters, and extracts to do everything a good leave-in conditioner should: restore moisture, enhance softness and shine, and strengthen your hair so it’s less susceptible to damage. Though this is ideal for type-4 curls, anyone with any type of curl pattern can use it.
4. The Best Leave-In Conditioner & Pre-Shampoo Treatment
This versatile pudding from Oyin Handmade boasts a simple ingredients list of moisturizing all-stars like honey, shea butter, aloe vera, cocoa butter, and several plant-derived oils (including sweet almond, coconut, and olive). You can use it as a leave-in conditioner after shampooing, of course, but the brand also suggests mixing it with a bit of honey and using it as a pre-shampoo treatment. It can even be used as a moisturizer on dry skin, including on your hands and face.
5. The Best Leave-In Oil For Curls
If you’re prone to dryness, De León suggests giving your hair a little extra hydration by pairing your leave-in conditioner with a nourishing oil. She suggests the Ouidad Mongongo Oil in particular, describing it as “liquid gold in a bottle.” “It’s comprised of all the nourishing oils your curls need for moisture and definition,” she says. Apply some leave-in conditioner to wet hair, but wait until your hair is dry to apply the oil. “Wet hair and oil don’t mix, just as oil and water in a bottle don’t. You’ll want to wait until your strands are dry so your hair can absorb it as much as possible.” This will pair nicely with any of the creamier leave-in conditioners featured above.
Irinel De León, celebrity hairstylist and Ouidad brand ambassador