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The 13 Best Clean & Natural Leave-In Conditioners For Curly Hair

Hannah Frye
Author:
August 23, 2023
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
best leave in conditioner photo of woman brushing wet hair with products
Image by Asya Molochkova x mbg creative
August 23, 2023
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Even within the curly hair type, there's plenty of variety—from oil production to thickness and, of course, styling habits. This means one curly hair routine might look completely different from the next, even if the shape of the hair is the same. 

To celebrate variety, we've compiled a lengthy list of the very best leave-in conditioners (a crucial step to many curly hair routines) for each preference and need. Below, our picks and what made these products stand out. 

A preview of the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair

Is leave-in conditioner good for curly hair?

First up, why should anyone prioritize this step in the first place? "The product typically works for all hair types," certified trichologist and founder of Act+Acre Helen Reavey previously told mbg

"But [it] specifically targets concerns such as dryness, frizz, or damaged hair, working particularly well for wavy and curly textured hair to add some definition to the curl," she added. 

Not to mention, many leave-in conditioners contain antioxidants that can help to protect your strands from environmental damage from pollutants and UV rays. 

The moisture boost can be particularly beneficial for natural styling purposes, as hydrated curls and coils will be able to hold shape better than extra dry strands. 

In short, leave-in conditioner isn't just good for curly hair but is actually pretty essential for maintaining moisture. There are plenty of products out there, but we've compiled the best natural options for each curl and preference.

How we chose

High-quality formulas

We sought out leave-ins with innovative formulas and clinically backed, time-honored ingredients known to nurture hair health. 

Testing & testimonials

Everything on this list comes recommended and tested by trusted professionals and editors. We also used real customer reviews to inform our choices.

Variety

We know everyone's hair is different, so we included a variety of textures, formulas, and product types to suit your unique needs and preferences.

Affordability & accessibility

Affordability & access: This list includes products at a variety of prices with options from both larger and smaller retailers.

mbg's picks for the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair 2023

Best overall: Briogeo Leave-In Defining Crème

Pro

  • Doubles as a styling cream
  • Softens rough strands

Con

  • May be a bit heavy for some

Key ingredents:

Avocado oilRice amino acidsTomato fruit fermentQuinoa extract

Best for:

WavesCurlsCoilsHeat protectionFrizzDefinition

This 2-in-1 leave-in is a dreamy product for anyone dealing with frizz, dryness, or lack of definition. The ultra-nourishing cream doubles as a styling assistant, helping you maintain healthy moisture and producing defined, bouncy curls as a result. The healthy fats from avocado oil help to tame flyaways while rice protein and quinoa extract help to nourish the strands and enhance their shape. It even helps to prep hair for diffusing, protecting strands from unnecessary heat damage. The formula is truly A-1.

What reviewers say:

Reviewers adore this product for the deep hydration it delivers, many deeming it the best leave-in conditioner they've ever used. A variety of wavy and curly hair folks appreciate the frizz-taming formula leaving their hair soft and defined but never ever crunchy.

Best spray: Vegamour HYDR-8 Leave-In Conditioner

Pro

  • Adds shine
  • Lightweight yet hydrating

Con

  • Thinner hair types may feel weighed down

Key ingredents:

Avocado oilCoconut oilKarmatin™Amino acidsMushroom extract

Best for:

WavesCurlsCoilsDry hairDamageHeat protectionFrizz

This nourishing formula is packed with botanical superstars—from avocado oil to coconut oil to mushroom extract to seed butters and Vegamour's unique vegan keratin (Karmatin™) that helps to strengthen each strand. This one is great for anyone who needs serious hydration and nourishment but prefers to skip the feel of cream on their strands. For those who prefer to comb or brush their hair, this doubles as a wonderful detangler as well.

What our tester says:

I'm absolutely obsessed with this leave-in spray. It's the first product I've found that delivers the hydration of cream but in an easy-to-use, mess-free vessel. It leaves my hair super soft and shiny, without feeling weighed down or preemptively oily. It's truly a game-changer.

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Best for damage: Olaplex No.6 Bond Smoother

Pro

  • Helps repair damaged strands

Con

  • May be heavy for some

Key ingredents:

Coconut oilBis-Aminopropyl Diglycol DimaleateSunflower seed oil

Best for:

WavesCurlsCoilsDry hairDamageFrizz

Olaplex is known for their reparative products, worshiped by many with color or heat-damaged hair—and this leave-in is no exception. Their patented ingredient Bis-Aminopropyl Diglycol Dimaleate helps to repair broken bonds for stronger, healthier hair.

What our tester says:

I've always been a fan of Olaplex and this product is one of my favorites in their line. The leave-in makes my hair feel so smooth and provides some intense restorative treatment when my strands are feeling extra dry. I reserve it as a treatment for those times only, as the formula is a tad heavy for my hair. However, those with dry curls or coils may find the thicker consistency just right.

Best for definition: Kérastase Crème De Jour Fondamentale Hair Cream

Pro

  • Visibly defines curl shape
  • Eases frizz

Con

  • Pricey

Key ingredents:

Sunflower seed oilManuka honeyCeramides

Best for:

CurlsCoilsHeat protectionDefinition

If you want your leave-in conditioner to aid in definition and styling, you'll need a formula that's hydrating, yet light enough to allow your curls to shape as they please—this formula is the perfect balance. With an ingredient profile including ceramides, honey, and sunflower seed oil, your curls will be nourished by the rich cream without feeling weighed down.

What reviewers say:

Rest assured, reviewers note this formula is never crunchy or sticky, even if the addition of honey may have you questioning the consistency. Some reviewers see this product as a pre-diffusing staple, as it helps create gentle hold while providing heat protection up to 450 degrees.

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Best budget: Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Deep Moisturizing Leave-In Conditioner

Pro

  • Affordable
  • Deeply hydrating

Con

  • May be too heavy for some

Key ingredents:

Sunflower seed oilShea butterArgan oil

Best for:

CurlsCoilsDry hairDamage

Shea butter is a best friend for curls and coils alike. The rich nourishment is just what dry strands need and one amazing ingredient to encourage better hold without any crunch. This cream from Shea Moisture is simple, yet effective, combining shea butter with other curl-loving ingredients like sunflower seed oil and Argan oil to boost shine.

What reviewers say:

Many of the reviews praise this cream for its detangling power. While many folks with curly hair choose to skip traditional brushing, some may choose to use a wide-tooth comb before styling. If that's your method, then this product will help you gently separate your curls while adding moisture. Say goodbye to manual damage and unruly knots. Regardless, don't overdo it your first time trying the product out, as a little goes a long way.

Best for frizz: Davines OI All In One Milk

Pro

  • Easy to use
  • Boosts shine

Con

  • Fragrance isn't for everyone

Key ingredents:

Sunflower seed oilBixa Orellana seed extractPanthenol

Best for:

WavesCurlsOily hairFrizz

This one is pretty lightweight, which is great for those with thinner strands or anyone concerned about volume. The feather-like formula still provides hydration via seed oils and soothing panthenol, but skips the rich butters. Consider this pick a great option for waves and curls, but not the best for coils or dry and damaged strands—as the latter calls for richer products.

What our tester says:

I'm with the many reviewers that adore this product for the unbelievable shine it gives off. I first came across this product as a recommendation from a hairstylist when I was searching for a frizz-taming product and it definitely delivered. This one makes curls feel soft and silky without weighing them down. I've even layered it on top of other, heavier leave-ins to reap the benefits but check off the moisture box as well.

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Best for waves: EVOLVh SmartCurl Leave In Conditioner

Pro

  • Lightweight
  • Great for tangles

Con

  • Not hydrating enough for coils

Key ingredents:

Coconut oilShea butterRice bran extract

Best for:

WavesCurlsHeat protectionFrizz

This is another great pick for the spray-in product lovers out there. The silicone and paraben-free formula is packed with natural hydrators like shea butter, coconut oil, pumpkin seed oil, and even rosemary oil which is A+ for growth when used on the scalp. The consistency is great for waves and light curls or those refreshing their curls on the second day after washing.

What reviewers say:

Many users deem this product great for waves, but not the best for true curl definition. It's not a styling product so it won't create much hold but users do love how hydrated and soft their strands feel. If you have super-defined curls or coils, consider pairing it with a styling mouse, gel, or cream.

Best for dry hair: Act+Acre 2% Squalene Anti-Frizz Leave In Conditioner

Pro

  • Replenishes dry & dehydrated hair

Con

  • Pricey

Key ingredents:

SqualaneMeadowfoam seed oilSnow mushroom

Best for:

WavesCurlsDry hairFrizz

Developed by trichologist and celebrity hairstylist Helen Reavey, this leave-in conditioner is truly iconic. The rich formula contains 2% squalane, which explains why so many users (myself included) can't get over the remarkable shine and frizz reduction power. Snow mushroom helps to hydrate dry hair while meadowfoam seed oil locks in all of the moisture. Reavey recommends using one pump for fine hair, two or three pumps for medium hair, and four or five pumps for coarse hair.

What our tester says:

This leave-in conditioner is so hydrating and versatile. It's rich enough to provide lasting moisture for dry hair types but it doesn't weigh down bouncy curls or waves. When testing this leave-in, I noticed my waves looked shiner, more defined, and felt super soft to the touch. It's a pricey product, but it performs better than many out there.

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Pro

  • Super hydrating
  • Affordable

Con

  • Some reviewers note lack of definition

Key ingredents:

Avocado oilCastor seed oilJojoba oilShea oilHoney

Best for:

CurlsCoilsDry hairFrizz

Coily hair can easily become dry, so a leave-in conditioner is a perfect addition to a hydrating hair routine, especially a product that contains loads of botanical oils. This formula, created for curls and coils, wraps each strand in hydration with tons of oils to lock that moisture in long-term. It has some hold, but not enough to entirely replace a curl gel.


What reviewers say:

The photo reviews of this leave-in are filled with defined, shiny, and luxe-looking coils after use. Many people adore the light scent but, like any fragrance, it may not be for everyone. The product seems to work best when applied to super damp hair, as many curl products do.

Best for rough strands: Sienna Naturals Dew Magic Leave-In Conditioner

Pro

  • Softening
  • Safe for sensitive scalps

Con

  • Not the best for detangling

Key ingredents:

Coconut oilShea butterBaobab oil

Best for:

WavesCurlsCoilsDry hairFrizz

If your curls have been looking brittle or dull lately, this product is for you. The minimal ingredient list includes curly staples like shea butter and coconut oil along with baobab oil for hydration, lavender oil for natural fragrance, and vitamin E for deep nourishment.

What reviewers say:

The reviews for this product make the word "magic" seem like a perfect fit. Many users note improvement in their hair texture, hydration, and even definition. Some folks with thinner and straighter hair didn't love it, so it may be better for super thick curls and coils.

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Best lightweight: Innersense Sweet Spirit Leave In Conditioner

Pro

  • Weightless
  • Soft fragrance

Con

  • Not the best for dry hair

Key ingredents:

HoneyRosemary oilTamanu oilOrganic rice proteins

Best for:

WavesCurlsOily hairVolume

Some leave-ins produce a residue on your strands, which some people love and others hate. If you're a part of the latter group, you'll adore this spray-on formula that's nourishing, yet breezy as can be. It also provides the perfect boost in between washes if your curls begin to look dull or frizzy.

What our tester says:

This leave-in is perfect for post-swimming, keeping curls in tact during travel, and freshening up between washes. While it is quite lightweight, I definitely feel a difference when I don't use it, proving its efficacy. Plus, the fragrance is so relaxing, aiding in a mindful hair care routine.

Best for color-treated hair: Philip B. Lovin' Leave In Conditioner

Pro

  • Enhances color
  • Strengthens damaged strands

Con

  • Scent may not be for everyone

Key ingredents:

Aloe veraSoy proteinHazelnut seed oil

Best for:

WavesCurlsCoilsDry hairFrizz

This one is perfect for anyone with color-treated hair as it's rich with restorative proteins, helping to mask damage and strengthen brittle strands. The addition of hazelnut seed oil and aloe vera creates slip, leaving touchable curls with a dewy shine.

What reviewers say:

Many curly hair users adore the formula for its frizz-fighting power. Even though it's a cream formula, most users say it's easy to work through strands either wet or dry. The fragrance is a tad strong, so skip this one if you're sensitive.

Best for flexible hold: Odele Leave-In Conditioner

Pro

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight

Con

  • May not be hydrating enough for some curls

Key ingredents:

Hydrolyzed rice proteinAmaranthus caudatus seed extract

Best for:

WavesCurlsOily hairVolume

If you despise crunchy-hold curls, this leave-in is sure to fit your standards. The lightweight formula creates flexible hold for your texture while still delivering adequate hydration and detangling power. Amino acids help to strengthen the hair simultaneously, multi-tasking for better, healthier strands.

What our tester says:

"This water-based, lightweight leave-in is perfect for my 2c waves. It provides just enough hydration without making my strands fall limp, and it includes hydrolyzed rice protein to address broken hair bonds. I will say, I have long hair and have to use multiple pumps of product to fully rake the formula through my ends—good thing it comes in a relatively large size (8 ounces) at $12 a pop." - Jamie Schneider, mbg Beauty & Health Editor

Shopping tips

When shopping these products, keep the following in mind: 

  • Texture is everything: "Leave-in comes in many different textures. Depending on hairstyling technique, make sure you're using the right leave-in for the best result," curl specialist Candace Witherspoon tells mindbodygreen. If your hair tends to lack volume, maybe steer clear of a super-dense cream formula. For those with strands dry as can be, lean into those thicker consistencies. Otherwise, look for an in-between. 
  • Figure out your hair type: Within curls there are even more detailed hair types, so take this test to determine which category you may fall in. This isn't the end-all-be-all for hair care 101, but it can help to guide your search. 
  • Have two on hand: In my opinion, having one lightweight and one heavier leave-in conditioner in your cabinet isn't a bad idea. Use the lighter product as a touch-up and the deeply nourishing cream when your hair really needs a drink—think after a clarifying shampoo, after long days in the sun, post-swim, and so on.

FAQ

Is leave-in conditioner good for curly hair?

Because curly hair runs on the dry side, leave-in conditioner is a great step to replenish moisture often lost while cleansing, revive dull or second-day curls, and enhance natural curl shape.

How do you apply leave-in conditioner without ruining curls?

When applying leave-in conditioner to curly hair, gently run the product through your strands while they are soaking wet—this will ensure your hair absorbs the product without breaking shape. Then, follow up with your styling routine.

Is leave-in conditioner good for curly hair overnight?

Leave-in conditioner is designed to be left in the hair until washed out. However, this product should be applied to wet hair, and you'll want to let your hair dry before falling asleep—here's why.

The takeaway

Leave-in conditioner is a staple in many curly hair routines, but everyone's needs are different. When shopping leave-ins, make sure to find a texture that suits your hair goals, be it deep hydration or stimulating volume. For more curly hair tips, check out this story.

Meet The Experts

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.

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