New York Magazine October 28, 2020

New York Magazine

The Strategist

The Best Conditioners, According to Hairstylists and Salon Owners


Recently we dove into the best shampoos for every hair type — but if you want to get the most out of your wash, it’s a good idea to follow that shampoo with conditioner, of course. “It’s very similar to skin care,” says Brooke Jordan, co-owner and master stylist at the Bird House 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 so, while you’ll probably want to take advice on the amount of conditioner you should use from those who know your head best, as far as what brands you should buy in the first place — to help with everything from taming frizz to repairing heat damage — our panel of hairstylists and salon owners have you covered. Read on for their go-to conditioners for hair of all kinds, including some worthy of really gooping on.

Best conditioner overall

Verb Ghost Conditioner

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.

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” hair — 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 conditioner for normal hair

Sachajuan Normal Hair Conditioner

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 — not particularly for dry hair, or particularly for 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 the brand’s “Ocean Silk Technology,” which Jordan tells us is derived from sea algae and 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, “Ocean Silk” refers to 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.)

Oribe Conditioner for Brilliance & Shine

“This conditioner is well worth the splurge,” says celebrity hairstylist Matilde Campos, who recommends it for normal to dry hair. “It fights frizz and untangles your tresses in seconds,” she says, noting that “a little bit goes a long way,” and that it gives hair extra body and bounce. It’s packed with nourishing ingredients like grapeseed oil, sunflower seed extract and ginger root extract (which nourish and soften hair), and reparative ones like sweet almond, jojoba, rice, and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins. It also contains Oribe’s signature complex which includes watermelon, lychee, and Edelweiss flower, all of which work together to protect hair from oxidative stress and photoaging.

Best lightweight conditioners

Malin + Goetz Cilantro Conditioner

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 brand’s site.

Kiehl’s Amino Acid Conditioner

Another lightweight option comes recommended by Dhiran Mistry, stylist at David Mallett salon. “Amino acids help with water retention of the hair,” he says. Mistry says this can be used by all hair types, and that it contains coconut and jojoba oil, both moisturizing ingredients that won’t add weight to hair, and notes that the conditioner is free of parabens and silicone. And while, like the Malin + Goetz conditioner, this one is light enough for daily use, it should be rinsed out after a few minutes (so don’t try to use this one as a leave-in conditioner, like the Malin + Goetz could be). Also, if a cilantro-scented shampoo sounds a little too gourmet for your shower — though we should note that reviewers say the smell really isn’t that strong — lots of Kiehl’s reviewers raved about the pleasant scent on this one. “The fragrance smells of heavenly coconut,” comments one.

Aveda Sap Moss Weightless Hydration Conditioner

Celebrity hairstylist Christin Brown, who’s worked with the likes of Halle Berry and Yara Shahidi likes this lightweight, vegan, detangling conditioner for wavy, coily, and straight hair types. “It’s a moisture balancing conditioner that helps fight frizz,” she says. An added bonus: it smells like a rainy day.

Best conditioner for dry hair

Eufora Nourish Urgent Repair Treatment

“This is one of our staple conditioners that detangles any hair type or texture while treating dryness and virtually eliminating dandruff,” says Louis. “It’s especially amazing for tightly coiled hair.” The conditioner is packed with strengthening ingredients like soy and wheat keratin, which also add shine to hair. The dandruff-eliminating properties of the conditioner include menthol, camphor, and peppermint oil extracts, which soothe itchy scalps, and a botanical extract blend of chamomile, horsetail, nettle, and henna is also said to help aid scalp health and make hair shinier. (Safe assumption that these extracts would make this conditioner smell pleasantly minty, too, as has been noted in reviews.)

Aveda Dry Remedy Moisturizing Conditioner

“This stuff right here is amazing,” says Leigh Hardges, a hairstylist and natural hair specialist at Maxine Salon. “It works best on hair that is visibly dry and hard to the touch,” she says, noting that oils like buriti and olive help to nourish and restore dry hair. It’s also important to wash this conditioner out thoroughly, says Hardges, to ensure there’s no residue from the conditioner left on the hair. It’s also color-safe. Hardges, who has color-treated, high-porosity, type 4 hair, uses it regularly and calls it her “weekly go-to.”

Maria Nila True Soft Conditioner

For dry, thick hair, Campos recommends this conditioner from Maria Nila, which happens to be vegan, paraben and sulfate-free. “If your hair needs a pick me up, this conditioner may be your answer,” she says. Formulated to make detangling easy, it softens, moisturizes and also reduces frizz. It’s also a great option if you live in an dry climate, says Campos, because it helps hair retain moisture throughout the day thanks to its inclusion of ingredients like Argan oil.

Best conditioner for damaged hair

Olaplex No. 5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner

“The reparative work this does is second to none,” says Jordan. “I have found 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. But it is excellent.” The conditioner is so thick and restorative that 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 The Maxine Salon is also a fan, and uses it on 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 the hair an “impressive amount of slip” and makes the hair 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 “re-linking” 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. Over on Amazon, this conditioner receives extremely high praise from reviewers — one, who says she has bleached hair, calls this her “holy grail” — and many report that “a little goes a long way,” so you can count on the bottle to last you more than a few months.

Oribe Gold Lust Repair and Restore Conditioner

Ideal for hair that’s been over processed or otherwise damaged, this conditioner from Oribe comes recommended by Hardges, who calls it “amazing,” and uses it after she gets her hair lightened. The conditioner contains nourishing ingredients like Mediterranean Cypress extract and maracuja oil, known for being deeply moisturizing, along with biotin plant collagens and caffeine, which penetrate the hair shaft and work to rebuild damaged hair. It also contains amino acids, which provide the hair and scalp with added moisture (necessary for damaged strands) and help to strengthen damaged hair cuticles.

Redken Extreme Conditioner

Another good conditioner option is Redken’s Extreme Conditioner, which Hardges calls “an oldie but goodie.” She likes that the conditioner uses a blend of lipids and proteins to restore hair and notes that “it’s a good fortifying conditioner that also adds moisture to the hair.” The brand’s Extreme line is formulated specifically for damaged strands, and the conditioner in particular contains soy protein that adds structure at the root of the hair and arginine, which helps to repair hair from the inside out. It also contains a protein called sepicap, which helps with the look of split ends and can reduce future breakage.

Joico K-Pak Conditioner

“With one use, you will notice a difference and feel a complete change in your hair,” says Campos. “As you use it more and more you will see your hair transform and become manageable again.” It works particularly well, she says, for someone who is heat styling a few times a week, because it’s capable of repairing and bringing hair back to life. If your hair is damaged and frizzy this is also a good option because in addition to fortifying it smooths, too.

Wella Fusionplex Conditioner

Formulated specifically for hair that’s been mechanically damaged (think excessive brushing and combing), this conditioner from Wella is a favorite of hairstylist and owner of Hair Addict Salon Michelle Cleveland. In addition to helping to repair hair it also protects hair from future damage and uses silk amino acids and lipids to repair hair from the inside.

Best conditioner for frizzy hair

Davines Love Smoothing Conditioner

If you want something lighter than Olaplex but that will still tame frizz, Davines Love 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.

Kérastase Resistance Ciment Thermique

Those who can’t go a day without their curling brush or tend to be reckless with the blow-dryer — say you’ve got it turned up to the hottest setting and are pressing it against the brush as a way to straighten your hair — will likely want to look for a conditioner that protects against heat damage. Dhiran Mistry, hairstylist at the David Mallett salon, says that Kerastase’s Resistance Ciment Thermique is “a lovely strengthening conditioner, really good for protecting” because of ingredients like its Pro-Keratin Complex, which is a protein that helps rebuild damaged strands, and resurrection plant sap, which soothes and heals broken hair. The Resistance formula helps hair stand up to the force of that flat iron, and Mistry told us that it works well for straight, wavy, curly, and coiled hair types. “I love the smell,” he adds.

Best conditioner for color-treated hair

R+Co Gemstone Color Conditioner

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 your 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 enhance color while also conditioning and repairing strands.

Kérastase Blond Absolu Strengthening Conditioner

For blonde hair, Abramite recommends this lavender conditioner from Kerastase, which she says works on blondes of every hair type and works well as a detangler. “It’s a game changer because it boosts color by neutralizing brassy tones while repairing color-treated hair,” she says. The conditioner contains Edelweiss flower, a powerful antioxidant, which smooths the cuticle and fills in holes in the hair shaft, helping to repair hair from the inside out. It also contains hyaluronic acid, which Abramite says helps to reduce future breakage.

Best conditioner for thin or fine hair

Sachajuan Leave In Conditioner

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, you don’t even need conditioner — just leave-in conditioner is enough,” says Jordan. “For my clients with really fine hair, I recommend they use a superlight shampoo for volume, and then instead of putting a conditioner on, instead put on a leave-in conditioner because they tend to be more lightweight and super-moisturizing at the same time.” Jordan 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.

Shu Uemura Muroto Volume Lightweight Care Conditioner For Fine Hair

If you’d want a traditional conditioner, Abramite recommends this one from Shu Uemura which she says moisturizes and nourishes without weighing the hair down. It’s also good for making thin, fine hair look thicker and fuller. “Its hydrates and volumizes, especially on dry straight hair that lacks fullness,” she says. “The light milky texture plumps strands for a thicker feeling after usage, and doesn’t strip them of their natural oils.”

Best conditioner for thick hair

Joico Moisture Recovery Conditioner

Celebrity hairstylist and owner of Aesthetics Salon Yene Damtew, whose clientele includes the 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 conditioner for wavy and curly hair

DevaCurl Heaven in Hair Intense Moisture Treatment

Curly and textured hair types benefit from deeply hydrating conditioners like this one, which Brown calls a “game-changer.” Unlike most conditioners, which should be fully washed out, this one can also be left in and used as a styler. “It’s one of the best deep conditioners,” she says.

Best conditioner for kinky curly hair

Oribe Moisture & Control Deep Treatment Masque

Joann Gruny, a texture expert at the Maggie Rose Salon, recommends using deep conditioners for textured, coily hair types like this one from Oribe, which uses ingredients like 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 hypoallergenic conditioner

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

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