Good Housekeeping February 10, 2023

Good Housekeeping


14 Best Leave-In Conditioners for Curly Hair, According to Experts


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

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.

The Good Housekeeping Institute's Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab experts regularly test all kinds of products designed for curly hair in our Lab, from moisturizing shampoos and cleansing conditioners to anti-frizz treatments and detanglers for curly hair. To find the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair, we spoke with professional hairstylists, scoured online reviews and tapped our own beauty product pros. 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.

Read on to the end of this guide for what to look for when choosing a leave-in conditioner for your curly hair. For more help on curating your curly hair routine, check out our tips on the curly girl method and plopping hair.


Bumble and bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Heat & UV Protective Primer


  • Claims to offer thermal protection from hot tools
  • Creamy, hydrating oils


Some reviewers needed to apply extra coats of product

When curly hair feels particularly parched, prime dehydrated locks with this oil-rich leave-in. Don't let the word "oil" scare you: Bumble and bumble's formula feels so lightweight, your curls will lap it up. The combination of coconut, argan and macadamia oils works to hydrate every inch. "My hair is super soft, and I've never gotten the oily look or feel while using this spray," one Sephora reviewer says. Adding this fan-favorite to your curly hair routine will not only smooth and hydrate your strands, but its UV filter ingredients also claim to protect against UV damage and heat tools. Note that reviewers used more diligence when applying it to ensure that all strands were prepped and ready for hot tools.

Size 8.5 oz.
Key ingredients Coconut oil, argan oil and macadamia oils
Hair type Straight, wavy and curly; medium and thick


SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Leave-In Conditioner


  • Softens and hydrates curls
  • Bargain price


  • Those with thicker curls may need more coverage

Scoring a quality leave-in conditioner for curly hair doesn't mean you have to break the bank. This drugstore option is backed by rave reviews while ringing in at less than $10. With a consistency closer to a styling cream, this shea butter formula is extra rich and hydrating. Fans say it makes their curls feel healthier and more moisturized. Bonus: Amazon reviewers enjoyed adding a dollop of this leave-in to a twist-out for bouncy, soft and hydrated twists. Those with fine, thin hair got great use out of it, while some shoppers found they needed light touch-ups to tame frizz.

Size 11 oz.
Key ingredients Jamaican black castor oil and shea butter
Hair type Curly and textured


Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino Avocado Leave-In Defining Creme


  • Made with natural ingredients, according to brand
  • 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. We appreciate that its rice amino acids help to keep frizz at bay, while avocado oil adds a kiss of moisture and tomato fruit ferment promises definition that makes your curls pop. Stylist Leigh Hardges at Maxine Salon says it's a great leave-in for bringing the bounce in curls without adding extra steps to a curl routine. "The amino acids help to fortify curl structure while adding moisture," she says. However, some noted that while it made a difference in reducing frizz, it didn't completely tame flyaways.

Size 6 oz.
Key ingredients Avocado oil and rice amino acids
Hair type Wavy, curly, coily and textured


OUAI Detangling and Frizz Fighting Leave in Conditioner


  • Lightweight, hydrating formula
  • Claims to protect against heat damage


  • Some online reviewers found its scent overpowering

Find your waves with this sheer leave-in conditioner that feels lightweight on loose curl patterns. Quench thirsty ends with its conditioning vitamin E and hydrating panthenol formula. One GH editor enjoys using it on damp hair to help detangle texture while drying. Its hydrolyzed proteins claim to provide heat protection of up to 450°F. Pro tip: Hardges says that water-based sprays are ideal when working with low-porosity hair. Plus, its spray bottle makes it easier to evenly distribute product. A potential con is that a few Sephora reviewers noted that it left behind a strong flowery scent.

Size 4.7 oz.
Key ingredients Panthenol and vitamin E
Hair type Straight, wavy, curly and coily; fine, medium and thick


Garnier Whole Blends Coconut Oil and Cocoa Butter Leave in Conditioner Treatment


  • Noticeably tames frizzy hair
  • Works on damp and dry hair


  • A thicker consistency

A favorite among Beauty Lab experts and staffers, Garnier's cream with argan oil, aloe and coconut oil doubles as a leave-in conditioner and smoothing styler. Beauty Lab data evaluation found that among women with frizzy hair, 84% reported their hair felt smoother and 80% felt that it did not look frizzy after use. "My hair texture is an odd mix of both wavy and curly hair, meaning it frizzes like crazy, and I have a hard time controlling it," says Editorial Assistant Adrianna Freedman. "This product saves me every time I use it with wet or dry hair."

Size 5.1 oz.
Key ingredients Argan and coconut oils, aloe and cocoa butter
Hair types Wavy and curly; dry and damaged


Mielle Organics White Peony Sulfate-Free Leave-In Conditioner


  • Won't leave residue behind
  • Makes curls feel springy and bouncy


  • Some online reviewers complained about the scent

When winter months suck out all the moisture from your curls, this spray leave-in refreshes without leaving any stiffness or flakiness. The brand recommends this spritz-and-go mist for conditioning 3A to 4C hair types. "I love how it makes my curls feel super hydrated and bouncy," says Staff Writer Cameron Jenkins. "I typically use it after washing my hair along with the Mielle Organics Babassu Brazilian Curly Cocktail Curl Mousse, and it really helps define my curls without weighing my hair down." Hardges adds that she finds it perfect for detangling and hydrating curls before adding any creams or gels: "This first layer will seal in moisture and help prevent frizz it smells amazing." One notable con online reviewers highlighted was that they didn't find the light fragrance pleasant.

Size 8 oz.
Key ingredients White peony oil, green tea leaf extract and grapefruit seed extract
Hair type Curly


Camille Rose Honey Hydrate “The Leave-In Collection”


  • Lasting softness
  • Helps detangle hair


  • Not as effective at defining curls

Let this leave-in be your one-step product to achieving softer curls. "I took all other leave-ins out of rotation after I tried this one from Camille Rose a year ago," says Jodhaira Rodriguez, Home Care & Cleaning Lab reviews analyst. "Sometimes, I’ll just apply this and won’t add any other curl creams or mousses." Praised for its ability to smooth curls and noticeably reduce frizz with its honey ingredient, it leaves curls feeling softer and more manageable for "at least three or four days," according to Rodriguez. Just note that you may have to sacrifice curl definition, she says.

Size 9 oz.
Key ingredients Honey, castor seed oil, aloe leaf juice and olive fruit oil
Hair type All


It's a 10 Miracle Leave-In Product


  • Protects color-treated hair
  • Improves the appearance of dullness


  • 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. We like that one of its main ingredients is panthenol, a rich hydrator often used in face moisturizers for dry skin. "It has helped so so much with my breakage and just makes my hair look overall healthier and so shiny," says one Ulta reviewer. Others found that spraying directly into their hands helped control the amount of product they used to coat curly hair.

Size 10 oz.
Key ingredients Panthenol, silk amino acids and aloe vera
Hair type All


Kinky Curly Knot Today Natural Leave-In Detangler


  • Helps remove knots and tangles
  • Not too heavy


  • May not be as effective on thicker hair textures

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 can be rinsed or left in for deep conditioning. "It's not greasy and goes in [hair] smoothly," says one Target reviewer. "It was very easy to comb [hair] after using a dime-sized amount."

Size 8.0 oz.
Key ingredients Marshmallow root
Hair type Curly and textured


PATTERN Leave-In Conditioner


  • Hydrates hair and scalp
  • Helps smooth and detangle


  • Some online reviewers 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 Ulta reviewers. Add a few pumps of this to your tight curls during the cold winter months to prevent knots, tangles and brittleness caused by the freezing cold temps. Another fan called it their holy grail: "I have type 3A curly hair that for the longest time I didn't know how to manage." If you prefer a scent-free leave-in conditioner, just keep in mind that this one comes with a powdery floral smell, according to shoppers.

Size 25 oz.
Key ingredients Panthenol, jojoba oil, castor oil, avocado oil and coconut oil
Hair type Curly and textured


Davines OI All-In-One Milk Leave-In Spray Hair Treatment


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


  • Can leave a slippery residue if not shaken first

Bring dry, tired curls to life with this leave-in spray's milky texture. It can be used on damp or dry hair and is a true multitasker, softening hair and removing tangles. It even claims to protect against environmental damage thanks to an infusion of antioxidant-rich roucou oil. One GH writer with dry, wiry hair likes to apply it to their edges and ends before bed. "I wake up to soft, shiny hair that's a whole lot more manageable in the morning," she says. Just make sure you shake the bottle before using as many online reviewers noted that the formula separates.

Size 4.56 oz.
Key ingredients Roucou oil and panthenol
Hair type Curly, wavy and textured; fine


Johnson's Baby Curl Defining Tear-Free Kids' Leave-in Conditioner


  • Detangling
  • Defines and lifts curls


  • May not hold curls for a long time

Got kiddos with unruly curls? This conditioner is a game-changer for bedhead and tangles. "Nothing compares to this," according to Lexie Sachs, the Executive Director of the Textiles, Paper and Apparel Lab, who uses it on her two kids. "It makes their hair so smooth and easier to manage in the mornings." Its shea butter softens, while lifting and defining curls. Some online reviewers recommended polishing off hair with a gel or a cream to lock in curls.

Size 6.8 oz.
Key ingredients Shea butter
Hair type Curly


Olaplex No. 6 Bond Smoother


  • Reduces the appearance of split ends
  • Great for color-treated hair


  • A bit heavier

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 cream — it goes deep to repair damaged and broken bonds in the hair to make it, well, like new. Hardges notes that creamy formulas (like this one) are a match for more porous hair. 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. Its creamy formula can weigh down hair, so it's best to go in with a light hand.

Size 3.3 oz.
Key ingredients Coconut oil
Hair type All


Color Wow Dream Cocktail Kale-Infused Strengthening Leave In Treatment


  • Helps reduce breakage
  • Super lightweight


  • Must use heat to activate

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. Keep in mind that it's designed to be activated by heat — like the brand's star product, the Dream Coat, it doubles as a heat protectant, so using it as a leave-in won’t do much.

Size 1.6 oz.
Key ingredients Blue sea kale, kelp extract and propriety blend
Hair type Straight, wavy, curly and textured; fine, medium and thick

How we chose the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair

From skincare products to haircare products like clarifying shampoo, the Good Housekeeping Institute's Beauty Lab runs rigorous testing across every beauty category. We found the best picks out there after researching popular options and scouring online reviews as well as brands that performed well in testing over the years. Based on our product expertise, we also included a few that our staffers and experts adopted into their own routines.

What to look for when shopping for the best 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 will be formulated with super hydrating ingredients that your hair will literally soak up. Then, consider:

  • 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.
  • Curl type: 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, low-porosity 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. "It is OK to alternate leave-ins depending on what your hair needs at the moment," adds professional curl stylist Candace Witherspoon.

Is leave-in conditioner good for curly hair?

Yes! According to Witherspoon, leave-in conditioners help hydrate as the curls absorb and maintain styling products. It simultaneously helps reduce frizz for more curl definition, too. Hardges adds that it helps seal in the moisture from water.

Is leave-in conditioner or oil better for curly hair?

Both are great, according to Witherspoon. "It really depends on when you use them." She prefers using oils on dry hair to add shine or help take crunch out of curls. Hair oil also works great to use for post-wash hair and scalp treatments. "I usually use leave-in [conditioner]s on wet hair," she says. "Apply it on wet hair before styling on wash-n-go’s or twist-outs."

Why trust Good Housekeping?

Freelance writer Andrea Jordan originally wrote this guide, based on insights from the Good Housekeeping Beauty Lab experts and interviews with celebrity hairstylist Derick Monroe.

Commerce Editor Jacqueline Saguin most recently updated this story to include additional insights from interviews with curl stylist Candace Witherspoon and stylist Leigh Hardges, as well as add in new picks recommended by GH's beauty product pros.