Cosmopolitan May 23, 2024



The 15 Best Leave-In Conditioners for Curly Hair Will Change Wash Day Forever


Your rinse-out conditioner could never.

Whatever your curl type or pattern, you can bet that finding the best leave-in conditioner for curly hair—especially one tailored to your individual concerns and needs—can be a game-changer. As someone who straightened her hair for decades (!) before finally embracing her naturally 2B curls, I'm basically walking, talking proof of the difference a good curl product can make.

And a leave-in conditioner can offer benefits that gels, creams, and oils just can't. For one, "a leave-in conditioner will aid in detangling by adding some slip to the hair so you can comb out your curls without causing damage," says Shelly Aguirre, a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, IL. Plus, it can offer longer-lasting moisture than your rinse-out conditioner, as well as other benefits like UV and heat protection. To find the very best ones, though, staffers, experts, and I shared our tried-and-true faves, as well as top-rated formulas worth trying rn. Just peep the list here:

Our Top Picks for Best Leave-In Conditioners for Curly Hair in 2024

With that, scroll ahead to discover the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair—and get ready for your wash-day routine to change for the better.

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair Overall

Color Wow Money Mist Leave In Conditioner



  • Actually repairs damage
  • Can be used to smooth before blowouts


  • Not as hydrating for very dry hair

Let me count the ways I love this leave-in, which not only smooths frizz and shapes my curls, but actually makes my hair look and feel healthier in the process. Along with nourishing ingredients like baobab and amaranthus extracts, it also uses a complex made up of amino acids to strengthen and repair hair. The shine and softness I get is unmatched. FYI: Since it's oil-free, it's a good option if you tend to get oily at the roots throughout the day—or are just allergic to that telltale slip.

Key Ingredients: Amino acids, amaranthus extract, baobab extract
Silicone-Free: No

Glowing Customer Review: "Smells great and I love how it can be used on wet hair without needing to blow dry. Favorite leave in conditioner and i love the mister/sprayer. Holy grail"

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Type 2 Curls

Verb Curl Leave-In Conditioner



  • It has light but touchable hold
  • Fights frizz


  • Can feel a little heavy on fine hair

I've sworn by Verb's Curl Cream for years, but it can be a little much in the summer. Enter this lightweight cream, which is a little less tacky but still works wonders for defining and shaping my curls. While it doesn't have a ton of hold—so you might need to add a gel for that—it still does the trick for nixing frizz and flyaways when I air-dry.

Key Ingredients: Sunflower seed oil, vegetable protein
Silicone-Free: No

Glowing Customer Review: "I love this leave in. It smells so nice, reminds me of a salon. It takes care of my frizz and the extra hydration keeps my hair light and free to curl or wave depending on what my hair wants to do that day. I got my mom into it too!"

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Type 3 Curls

SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Leave-In Conditioner



  • Helps repair damaged or over-processed hair
  • Smooths and softens coarse hair


  • Too heavy for finer hair textures

Cosmo temporary digital visuals editor Cristina Coppin swears by this formula for her 3B and 3C curls. "I love the way it smells and leaves my curls nice and soft without them ever feeling heavy," she says. "I even like using it when I'm going to slick my hair back." It uses a blend of oils, including castor, jojoba, macadamia, and buriti oils, to replenish moisture and add a glossy (but not greasy) sheen to hair.

Key Ingredients: Castor oil, shea butter, jojoba oil
Silicone-Free: Yes

Glowing Customer Review: "Every single time I wash my hair, I put a glob of this in my hair into my long curly hair. It does the trick to make my hair super conditioned/silky/moisturized and takes out any remaining/lingering tangles. It's magical. It also has a really pleasant, light fragrance. It's not overpowering and it's not greasy or too heavy at all. I highly recommend it for people with wavy or curly hair."

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Type 4 Curls

Amika Hydro Rush Intense Moisture Leave-In Conditioner



  • Absorbs quickly
  • Can be used to refresh curls


  • It doesn't control frizz as well as other options

Genius: This spray uses beloved skincare-inspired ingredients like hyaluronic acid and squalane to hydrate hair and amp up shine. "I love the spray bottle applicator because it makes distribution so easy," says Cosmopolitan associate editor Chaise Sanders, who has 4B and 4C hair. "It leaves my hair super moisturized before I go in with heat products and it leaves my hair smelling a-m-a-z-i-n-g for a couple days after wash day."

Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, squalane, coconut water
Silicone-Free: No

Glowing Customer Review: "I'm in love with this leave-in -- after deciding to take care of my hair more seriously, this was the perfect after-shower product for me. It smells amazing and leaves my hair feeling soft and hydrated!"

Best Silicone-Free Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair

Lush Super Milk Conditioning Hair Primer



  • It's vegan and cruelty-free
  • It's super lightweight


  • Fragrance can be polarizing

Quick story: After a TikToker posted about this stuff—and its fresh, clean scent—it became the brand's best-selling product in the U.S. It uses a blend of almond and oat milks to nourish hair without weighing it down. (And, like all things Lush, is vegan.)

Key Ingredients: Oat milk, almond milk, olive oil
Silicone-Free: Yes

Glowing Customer Review: "I have coarse wavy hair and this is amazing! It adds hydration and smoothness to my frizzy mane. Love the scent too! Id recommend trying it out even if you dont have curly hair"

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Damaged Curls

K18 Leave-In Molecular Hair Mask



  • Helps split ends and breakage


  • Not as moisturizing as other options
  • On the pricey side

Got damage? We got you: Commerce writer Sarah Maberry's hairstylist recommended this for her Type 3A curls, and it's turned into a full-blown obsession. "It's one of few bond builders that I've seen genuine results from using," she says. "Just a pump or two on my ends after wash day and my ends feel noticeably smoother, softer, and less prone to breakage." It uses K18's proprietary peptide, which repairs bonds broken by coloring and heat-styling hair, to leave hair healthy and soft.

Key Ingredients: Peptides, wheat protein, vitamin E
Silicone-Free: Yes

Glowing Customer Review: "I about choked at the price but oh my goodness this is a great product! It restored some of my curl that had been gone for a long time and my frizz is more manageable. I waited to write a review until I knew how effective it is in preventing damage and I'm happy to say that it really does. I have less new split ends and breakage since I started using it."

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Fine Curls

Crown Affair The Leave-In Conditioner Cream



  • Lightweight and absorbs fast


  • Not hydrating enough for very coarse hair

For days when I want more of a wave than a curl—my curl patterns make it more of a Choose Your Own Adventure situation—I reach for this leave-in, which smells like ~heaven~ and feels like nothing. It has a nice slip that makes it easy to work through my hair, but never weighs down my fine hair.

Key Ingredients: Meadowfoam seed oil, tsubaki seed oil, gluconolactone
Silicone-Free: Yes

Glowing Customer Review: "This stuff is magic! I LOVE it. I have thick long and curly/wavy hair. I definitely feel a difference after rough drying with a flat brush then flattening with a straightener. It is so silky and smooth."

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Tangle-Prone Curls

Innersense Beauty Sweet Spirit Leave-In Conditioner



  • It feels weightless


  • Some reviewers didn't love the herbal scent

New York curl specialist Candace Witherspoon is a fan of this hydrating formula, which makes it "easy to detangle extra knots out of the hair after conditioner," she says. It's also great for all hair textures. It pairs aloe vera, tamanu oil, and rosemary extract with a touch of honey for shine and easy styling without leaving a residue on hair.

Key Ingredients: Aloe vera, tamanu oil, honey
Silicone-Free: Yes

Glowing Customer Review: "My hair loves this stuff! Leaves my waves looking so happy and moisturized!! Definitely does smell of essential oils, but with the hair results I don’t mind."

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Color-Treated Curls

Pureology Color Fanatic Multi-Tasking Leave-In Conditioner



  • The light floral smell has mass appeal
  • Offers a plethora of benefits


  • Doesn't detangle as well as other options

A little of this conditioner goes a long way, according to Witherspoon. It's "great for color-treated curls, and smells amazing," she says, noting that it works for all hair textures, too. Along with the usual moisturizing suspects (read: botanical oils) it contains xylose, which protects hair against heat, as well as the brand's proprietary complex, which helps keep color vivid and bright.

Key Ingredients: Camellia seed oil, olive oil, coconut oil
Silicone-Free: No

Glowing Customer Review: "This leave-in conditioner/detangler works great! After washing, my hair is a tangled mess and just a couple sprays of this, I can easily comb out. There is no sticky residue, my hair is soft and natural. I don't notice any scent (which I like). This works so much better than a rinse out conditioner on my fine hair, which still leaves tangles. I highly recommend this!"

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Thinning Curls

Aveda Nutriplenish Leave-in Conditioner



  • Works well to control frizz


  • The nozzle can get clogged

This lightweight leave-in is a good option for someone with hair thinning or shedding, says Witherspoon. Plus, it "has a UV filter, which helps protect the hair from the sun," she says. A blend of botanical oils delivers moisture, and it also contains sand ginger, which actually helps prevent sunlight from sapping hair of hydration.

Key Ingredients: Sunflower seed oil, jojoba oil, pomegranate seed oil
Silicone-Free: Yes

Glowing Customer Review: "My curly hair tends to be very coarse and dry. I use this product every time I shampoo my hair. My hair becomes silky-smooth and easy to manage. Pair it with Aveda daily moisturizing cream, for days when you need a little extra smoothing and moisturizing !"

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Second-Day Curls

Moroccanoil All in One Leave-In Conditioner



  • Protects against heat damage up to 450 degrees


  • Some reviewers really hate the scent

If you only wash your curls once in a blue moon, try this multitasker, which hydrates hair for days (and days). It uses a blend of argan oil, amino acids, quinoa extract, and other ingredients to defend hair against breakage and hydrate hair until your next wash.

Key Ingredients: Argan oil, amino acids, sunflower seed oil
Silicone-Free: No

Glowing Customer Review: "makes my hair super soft and easy to brush through. I also love the smell and how the product feels pretty lightweight on the hair. definitely recommend!!"

Best Heat-Protecting Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair

Dae Mirage Mist Leave-In Conditioner



  • Has versatile benefits
  • Works for second-day hair


  • Contains fragrance and silicone

For desert-dry curls and coils, this mist is the G.O.A.T. It does a little bit of everything—detangles, strengthens, boosts shine, controls frizz—in just a few spritzes, thanks to a combo of prickly pear extract, moringa oil, and cactus flower. It also adds a touch of volume, which is perf if you're looking for bigger, better curls.

Key Ingredients: Prickly pear extract, moringa oil, and cactus flower
Silicone-Free: No

Glowing Customer Review: "I am speechless this does wonders for my curly hair and was not expecting such amazing results from this hair product but I am very pleased with the outcome of this product"

Best Leave-In Conditioner for Wavy Hair

Ouai Leave In Conditioner



  • Super hydrating
  • Makes detangling a breeze


  • Doesn't offer a ton of hold
  • Might be too lightweight for type 4 curls

Ouai's ~iconic~ Wave Spray was my ride-or-die for years, but I always found it a little tacky when scrunching it into my ends. I've found this to be a perfect alternative; it nixes frizz and flyaways with a combo of tamarind seed extract, panthenol, and vitamin E, with a light hold that gently shapes my waves and curls without feeling crunchy. Sorry, Wave Spray—there's a new winner in town.

Key Ingredients: Tamarind seed extract, panthenol, vitamin E
Silicone-Free: No

Glowing Customer Review: "I love this product. I originally bought the travel size for a trip and loved it so much, I purchased the larger one. The scent of it is great and it adds the perfect amount of moisture on the days I don’t wash my hair."

Best Clean Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair

Ceremonia Guava Hydrating Leave-In Conditioner



  • Adds moisture but not weight


  • The scent is polarizing (notice a trend?!)
  • Doesn't offer great curl definition

We gave this bb a Clean Beauty Award 2024 for its ability to deliver deep hydration and unmatched smoothing, courtesy of naturally derived ingredients like guava extract and avocado oil. Even better? Despite those heavy-hitting moisturizing ingredients, it doesn't weigh hair down.

Key Ingredients: Guava extract, aloe vera, avocado oil
Silicone-Free: Yes

Glowing Customer Review: "Love love love this product! Not only it smells amazing but it leaves my hair soft and hydrated, without feeling greasy or leaving a film. The texture penetrates so quick and it is so easy to apply from mid to ends."

Best Multitasking Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair

Unite Hair 7Seconds Detangler Leave-In Conditioner

An HG product for many, this multitasking formula detangles, fortifies, and protects hair from UV and heat damage. It makes hair way easier to comb through and leaves hair noticeably soft—which, bonus, minimizes breakage and damage if you have fragile hair.

Key Ingredients: Panthenol, rice protein
Silicone-Free: No

Glowing Customer Review: "This detangler lives up to its name, working its wonders in mere seconds. No more tugging or breaking my hair during the detangling process. It effortlessly glides through knots and tangles, leaving my hair smooth and manageable. It's a true time-saver and has spared me from hair-related frustration."

Are leave-in conditioners good for curly hair?

Duh. There's no downside to leave-in conditioners, especially if you have naturally wavy, curly, or coily hair. That's because these hair types tend to be dry, since the scalp's naturally moisturizing oils can't slide down a curved hair shaft as easily as they can with straight hair. So, "leave-in conditioner helps add moisture to curls before styling products," says Witherspoon.

Plus, it can be good for hair in general. "The leave-in conditioner aids in detangling by adding some slip to the hair—so you can comb out your curls without causing damage," says Shelly Aguirre, a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago

Is curl cream better or leave-in conditioner?

It's not a matter of either, but both. "Most people think a leave-in is a curl cream—but is not," says Witherspoon.

Instead, they're separate products that can and should be layered, depending on your exact curl type. "Conditioner will help keep the hair hydrated and a curl product is used for adding hold, if so desired," says Aguirre. Consider the LOC method, which stands for Leave-in, Oil, and Cream—and is a guide to cocktailing curl products to get your healthiest, bounciest hair.

How many times a week should I use leave-in conditioner for curly hair?

Up to you, tbh! "Depending on the density of the hair, you can use a leave-in conditioner every day—even on the days you don’t wash your hair," says Aguirre. She tells her clients to use a lightweight leave-in conditioner to rehydrate curls and smooth frizz in the A.M.

How to choose the best leave-in conditioner for curly hair

Look for moisturizing ingredients

Since curls tend to be thirsty, pick a product that has moisturizing ingredients. These can be botanical oils, like olive oil, jojoba oil, or shea butter, as well as popular conditioner ingredients like panthenol. FYI: If you have fine hair, you might want to steer clear of these.

Factor in your curl type

Not all leave-in conditioners are created equal (clearly). "Some are creamier than others, while some are light sprays," says Witherspoon. She recommends choosing one based on the density of your curls; for instance, if you have very dense or coarse curls, opt for a heavier formula. If you're working with looser, 2B curls like me, your best bet might be a more lightweight spray that you can scrunch in with your hands.

Meet the experts:

  • Shelly Aguirre is a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, IL who specializes in precision hair cutting and hair extensions.
  • Candace Witherspoon is a curl specialist and founder of Candace Witherspoon Salon in New York, NY.


Why trust 'Cosmopolitan'?

Deanna Pai is the interim deputy beauty editor at Cosmopolitan with more than 12 years of experience covering skincare, makeup, haircare, and beyond. She’s an authority in all haircare categories, but is an expert when it comes to curls. When she's not testing curl products, you can find her talking to hairstylists and trichologists about anything scalp-related.