New York Magazine August 1, 2023

New York Magazine

The Strategist

The 15 Very Best Conditioners  


“The reparative work this does is second to none.”

The dream dollop of conditioner will deeply nourish, add radiance, and smell delightful. And it has the power to make your shampoo shine too. “It’s very similar to skin care,” says Brooke Jordan, co-owner and master stylist at the Bird House salon in Gowanus. “You don’t want to wash without also moisturizing, unless you’re insanely oily. You want to give equal attention to moisture as you do to washing.” Advice on the application of conditioner will vary depending on your hair type — some stylists will tell those with thin hair to stick to a dime-size amount applied just on the ends, while Jordan prefers to “really goop it on,” adding that, “I think people don’t use enough conditioner.” And while you’ll probably want to take advice on the amount of conditioner you should use from those who know your head best, our panel of hairstylists and salon owners have recommendations for which brands to look out for. Read on for their favorite conditioners for hair of all kinds, including some worthy of really gooping on.

What we’re looking for

  • Sulfate free vs. non–sulfate freeScentSize
  • Scent
  • Size

Best overall conditioner

Verb Ghost Conditioner

Sulfate free | Scent: Floral | Size: 12 ounces

Stephanie Louis, owner of Stylebox Salon in Prospect Heights, calls this conditioner a staple at her salon. “It’s so good,” she says. “The best for weekly conditioning, detangling, and hair softening.” The detangling properties of the conditioner can be attributed to the inclusion of moringa oil, an essential oil derived from trees known for its ability to moisturize and loosen up knots. The ingredient list also includes green tea extract, which is meant to protect against free radical damage and environmental stress; jojoba oil, which will help with split ends; and sunflower seed extract, which, according to Verb’s site, is a natural source of UV protection that will help prevent color fading.

Strategist managing editor Kelsie Schrader is also a fan of the conditioner. She incorporated it into her routine after her hair stopped responding well to her usual products. She was impressed by how much shinier and softer her hair was after a single wash, but wondered if the effects were just a fluke. “They were not,” she confirms. She recently went home for a few days “and didn’t bother bringing any conditioner with me, figuring I’d use whatever my mom had.” After just one non-Verb conditioning, she saw the difference: “My curls were less shiny, less soft, and less defined.”

We’ve heard good things about Verb’s shampoos and conditioners before — Sephora reviewers raved about both this conditioner, which one said was “neither too light and watery nor too thick and oily,” and the brand’s hydrating conditioner, which many said “moisturizes the hair without weighing it down.” And since the conditioner can be used on all hair types — according to Verb’s site, this includes “curly, fine, kinky, straight, thick, and wavy” — is gentle enough to use daily, and is one of the more affordable options on the list, we’re calling Verb’s Ghost Conditioner best overall.

Best less-expensive conditioner

Bondbar Bonding Conditioner

Sulfate-free | Scent: Fresh | Size: 8 ounces

This Bondbar conditioner is a budget-friendly option. “It’s for every hair type and texture, even fine hair,” says Gregory Patterson, a celebrity hairstylist. “It rinses completely clean, protects color, repairs splitting hair while rebuilding, and hydrates.” Patterson also says he finds it easier to detangle a client’s hair after applying the Bondbar conditioner. Thanks to its anti-tangling properties, he recommends it for coily textures that nestle together when wet.

Best conditioner for all hair types

Iles Formula Haute Performance Conditioner

Sulfate free | Scent: Clean, slightly fruity | Size: 6.8 ounces

“Fine to medium, coarse or frizzy, Iles has got you covered,” says Greg Ruggeri, owner of Salon Ruggeri. “That’s the thing I love about this product: It crosses over on so many levels.” The vitamin-B5-rich conditioner is sulfate free and has a truly “clean” scent, according to Ruggeri, who uses it in his salon daily. “It performs like nothing you’ve seen before,” he tells us.

Best conditioner for “normal” hair

Sachajuan Normal Hair Conditioner

Non–sulfate free | Scent: Fruity floral | Size: 8.4 ounces

For those looking for something that will soften hair without weighing it down, Jordan suggests Sachajuan’s Normal Hair Conditioner. “It’s going to give your standard level of moisture, which might not be enough for dry hair or super-damaged hair,” but for normal hair types, “it’ll be just moisturizing enough and not overly moisturizing,” she says. The product’s moisturizing properties in part come from sea algae, which is used in all of the brand’s products. “It’s supposed to be incredibly moisturizing without being heavy at all, and we find that to be true.” According to Sachajuan, it also includes Rhodophycea and Chondrus crispus extracts, which are harvested from algae in the ocean and can be used for strengthening hair and protecting it from damage.

Best conditioner for thin or fine hair

Sachajuan Leave In Conditioner

Non–sulfate free | Scent: Fresh | Size: 8.4 ounces

If you have very thin or fine hair, the stylists we talked to suggested forgoing a traditional conditioner altogether. “For people who have really fine hair, a leave-in conditioner is enough,” says Jordan. “They tend to be more lightweight and super-moisturizing at the same time.” She calls Sachajuan’s leave-in conditioner “amazing,” and recommends it for those with fine hair as well as for those who have coarse hair and need a little extra moisture even after conditioning in the shower. The leave-in conditioner can also be used as a primer for styling hair and to protect against heat when blow-drying.

Best conditioner for thick hair

Joico Moisture Recovery Conditioner

Sulfate free | Scent: Floral, fruity, musky | Size: 8.5 ounces

Hairstylist and owner of Aesthetics Salon Yene Damtew, whose clientele includes former First Lady Michelle Obama, calls this conditioner from Joico a staple because of its ability to simultaneously condition and detangle hair. “It has good slip and can work for all hair types,” she says, but it’s formulated specifically for thicker, coarser hair types that need a bit more moisture.

Best lightweight conditioner

Malin + Goetz Cilantro Conditioner

Sulfate free | Scent: Cilantro | Size: 8 ounces 

If you want something very lightweight, Masami Hosono, hairstylist and creative director at Vacancy Project, suggests Malin + Goetz’s Cilantro Conditioner. “We really like it because we don’t want anything too moisturizing, which can make hair super-flat and heavy,” says Hosono. That’s largely because the stylists at Vacancy Project prefer to have the hair’s natural texture come forth, rather than forcing it with a very deliberate type of blow-dry or brush curl. The Malin + Goetz conditioner is gentle enough for daily use and has fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and shea butter to help hydrate (but not overly hydrate) the hair and scalp. It’s even lightweight enough that it can be used as a leave-in conditioner or styling product, according to the brand’s site. Malin + Goetz also makes our favorite shampoo.

Best conditioner for kinky, curly hair

Oribe Moisture & Control Deep Treatment Masque

Sulfate free | Scent: Côte d’Azur | Size: 8.4 ounces

Joann Gruny, a texture expert at the Maggie Rose Salon, recommends using deep conditioners for textured, coil-y hair types like this one from Oribe, which uses ingredients such as murumuru and mango seed butters to repair damage while also nourishing and smoothing hair. It also contains Illipe nut butter, which helps with moisture retention and manageability, along with coconut oil, which seals strands’ cuticles to help enhance shine.

Best conditioner for wavy and curly hair

R+Co Cassette Curl Conditioner + Superseed Oil Complex

Sulfate free | Scent: Earthy, citrus | Size: 8.5 ounces

In our deep dive into all the best products for curly hair types, this conditioner from R+Co. was recommended by Ash Fritzler, a master stylist who specializes in cutting and styling curly hair at the Bird House salon, for “pretty much anyone with curly hair.” Fritzler says it works to keep the scalp balanced while still giving hair a clean feeling. “It has a good anti-humectant in it, which means it tames frizz, making it really good for the summer when it’s hot and humid.”

Best conditioner for frizzy hair

Davines Love Smoothing Conditioner (8.45 oz.)

Sulfate free | Scent: Citrus | Size: 8.45 ounces

If you want something lighter than Olaplex but that will still tame frizz, Davines Love Smoothing Conditioner is the one to try. To be clear: It’s not exactly “lightweight.” As Jordan noted, “It’s going to be a little on the heavier side, because it’s intended for smoothing.” But consider going this route if your hair is more prone to flyaways and uncooperative in the humidity rather than damaged. Like the brand’s Love Shampoo, the conditioner has Minuta olive extract, which is full of fatty acids and vitamin E — known for their softening and nourishing effects. The conditioner can be especially helpful for those with thick and curly hair looking to fight unwanted frizz. But if you have hair that’s fine and still frizzy or fluffy, Jordan recommends using the moisturizing Davines Love Shampoo and following that with a leave-in conditioner rather than a traditional conditioner.

Best strengthening conditioner

Olaplex No. 5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner

Sulfate free | Scent: Citrus | Size: 8.5 ounces

This conditioner nursed my brittle, parched hair back after several DIY-bleach jobs in lockdown. Jordan says its reparative work “is second to none. I have found it to be absolutely amazing when used in moderation — it can be heavy if you use it every day, so use it no more than once a week.” And even then, you don’t have to do much — a pea-size amount does more than enough for my shoulder-length hair.

As it’s so thick and restorative, Jordan compares it to a hair mask, and says that one of the best things you can do for damaged hair is an Olaplex treatment. Amy Abramite, a creative director, stylist, and educator at Maxine Salon, is also a fan and uses it herself. “All hair textures and densities can benefit from its strengthening and hydrating properties,” she says. Like Jordan, she noted the conditioner’s thick texture, which gives hair an “impressive amount of slip” and makes it look noticeably healthier when washed out. A third stylist, Christin Brown, also name-checked Olaplex: “I’m not sure what I love more, the way it makes my hair so silky or its ability to glide through any hair type or knot.” According to Olaplex’s site, the conditioner works by “relinking” bonds of hair, therefore restoring split ends and frizz to a healthier state — so this could be one to use even just to extend the time between haircuts, if you’re prone to split ends.

Best conditioner for color-treated hair

R+Co Gemstone Color Conditioner

Sulfate free | Scent: Earthy, citrus | Size: 8.5 ounces 

Color-treated hair needs special attention — as Blackstone NYC colorist Patti O’Gara told us when we asked her about the best shampoos for color-treated hair. “Color processing of any sort can damage the bonds of your hair,” she said. Damaged bonds means coarser hair, split ends, and broken strands — not to mention that color treatments are expensive and a good conditioner for color-treated hair should help you stretch out the time between trips to the salon. R+Co’s Gemstone Color Conditioner, which comes recommended by Jordan, will do just that. The conditioner counts hibiscus, pea, and rice extract among its ingredients, which each work to moisturize and strengthen hair, while the pea extract is specifically meant to preserve hair color and protect against discoloration. The conditioner also has SPF protection, like all of R+Co’s products, which will help protect hair color from fading in the sun (especially useful if you’re planning any trips to the beach), and the brand’s ChromoHance Complex helps boost color while also conditioning and repairing ends.

Best conditioner for vibrancy

Honey Blond

Sulfate free | Scent: Botanical | Size: 6.8 ounces

For clients with color-treated hair, Siobhan Benson, stylist and owner of CutLoose salon in Brooklyn, recommends a color-depositing conditioner “to extend vibrancy.” One of her particular favorites is the Honey Blond by Mr. Smith, which has calming lavender oil and cleansing orange-peel oil, which is high in vitamin C. Benson says it “keeps the tones buttery while adding shine.”

Best conditioner for blondes

Redken Blondage High Bright Conditioner

Non–sulfate free | Scent: Floral | Size: 33.8 ounces

Another conditioner high in blonde-friendly vitamin C comes from Redken. “The difference between these and your typical violet-tinted shampoo for blondes is that they actually deposit and dull out blonde hair more,” says New York–based stylist Tara Burke. Instead, this conditioner’s formula “brightens blondes or highlights by removing impurities that darken or dull your color.” And while Burke recommends the conditioner for keeping your color bright, ingredients such as glycerine and wheat protein will nourish it to keep it feeling glossy too.

Best conditioner for sensitive scalps

Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Aloe + Oat Milk Ultra Soothing Conditioner

Sulfate free | Scent: Fragrance free | Size: 8 ounces

“All Briogeo conditioners are magic,” says Damtew. We’ve written about Briogeo’s offerings in the past (its co-wash is a favorite of former Strategist intern Aisha Rickford, and Rio Viera-Newton is a big fan of its deep conditioning mask), but Damtew recommends this conditioner from the Be Gentle, Be Kind line. It’s formulated for people who are sensitive to fragrance, essential oils, lactose, soy, or gluten. It also contains soothing ingredients like aloe vera and oat milk to gently hydrate hair.

Our experts

Amy Abramite, creative director, stylist, and educator at Maxine Salon
• Siobhan Benson, stylist and owner of CutLoose salon in Brooklyn
• Christin Brown, hairstylist
• Tara Burke, New York–based hairstylist
• Yene Damtew, hairstylist and owner of Aesthetics Salon
• Ash Fritzler, Bird House master stylist
• Joann Gruny, texture expert at Maggie Rose Salon
Leigh Hardges, hairstylist and natural-hair specialist at Maxine Salon
• Masami Hosono, hairstylist and creative director at Vacancy Project
• Brooke Jordan, co-owner and master stylist at Bird House
• Stephanie Louis, owner of Stylebox Salon
• Greg Ruggeri, owner of Salon Ruggeri
• Patti O’Gara, Blackstone NYC colorist