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Leave-in conditioners fall somewhere between everyday haircare and styling products—and they're amazing for the curly-haired set. As a hair expert and licensed cosmetologist specializing in multiracial haircare, Cataanda James explains, "They prep the hair and nourish it prior to applying a styling product."
Byrdie Researched & Approved
Many products are designed to target different issues, but all the best leave-in conditioners, especially our fast-working top pick Kerastase Curl Manifesto Crème De Jour, will keep frizz levels to a minimum. Luckily, you can find products that do this at all price ranges, and our top budget choice, the African Pride Moisture Miracle Leave-In Conditioner, is strong enough to keep your curls looking good all day long.
Not only that, veteran stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, Jenna Spino says the rich formulas deliver ample moisture, which curly hair craves. "It can help cut down on frizz and keep hair looking and feeling healthy, protecting it from damage and restoring shine," she adds.
Whether you're rocking tight coils, soft waves, or spirals, the right treatment will give you a shiny, supple mane while taming flyaways and protecting it from damage. The best part? You don't have to wash it out.
Scroll down for the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair.
Best Overall: Kérastase Curl Manifesto Crème De Jour Curl Enhancing Leave-In Cream
Encourages healthy growth
High price per ounce
Who else recommends it? Today also picked Kérastase Curl Manifesto Crème De Jour Curl Enhancing Leave-In Cream.
What do buyers say? 89% of 150+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
"Kerastase Curl Manifesto Crème De Jour reduces frizz instantly, softens hair, and enhances curl," says Spino. And that's not all: The leave-in calls on ceramides to hydrate dry, weakened strands as manuka honey soothes the scalp and encourages healthy growth.
In a clinical study, about 75% of users had more curl definition, less frizz, and stronger strands. If you're wary about heavy products weighing your hair down, you can rest assured this one adds light-as-air moisture. We also like that it safeguards your hair from heat as high as 450 degrees.
Size: 5.1 oz. | Scent: Sweet, floral, musk | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Budget: African Pride Moisture Miracle Leave-In Conditioner
Good for sets
Needs to be shaken and mixed before each use
If you're on a budget but don't want to sacrifice great curls, good news: This stylist-recommended pick comes in at just $7. "Moisture Miracle Coconut Milk & Honey is a great leave-in conditioner to add to your cleansing and styling routine," says Monae Everett, a celebrity hairstylist, brand ambassador for African Pride, and creator of the Texture Style Awards. "Try it on your hair when creating curly styles or sets like braid-outs and rod sets." At play are multiple moisturizers, including coconut, grapeseed, sweet almond, avocado, sunflower oil, and castor oil—especially a boon if you're looking for longer, stronger curls.
Size: 8 oz. | Scent: Coconut | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Drugstore: SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Leave-In Conditioner
Encourages healthy growth
Infused with Jamaican black castor oil and organic shea butter, this leave-in conditioner is chock full of reparative nourishment and two forms of strengthening protein. It also contains vitamin B3 and peppermint oil to stimulate the scalp and encourage healthy growth. And the invigorating scent doesn't hurt either.
Size: 11.5 oz. | Scent: Peppermint | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Curl-Defining: Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
If it's definition you're after, your best bet is this pick from Moroccanoil. In addition to nourishing argan oil, it strengthens strands with vegetable proteins and leans on polyquaternium for a lightweight hold.
Size: 8.4 oz. | Scent: Amber, musk, floral | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Testers Say
"The 8.5-ounce bottle provides a lot of product and the pump makes it easy to apply the precise amount of product that you need. I found that a little went a long way." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
Best for Tight Textures: Pattern Leave-In Conditioner
Formulated with natural hair in mind, Pattern's Leave-In Conditioner promises to detangle, hydrate, and define tight textures. Although, even shoppers with waves rave about the frizz-free shine it leaves behind. Standout ingredients include biotin, honey, and plant oils, and it smells amazing thanks to jasmine, bergamot, and sandalwood.
Size: 9.8–25 oz. | Scent: Floral, sandalwood | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Nourishing: The Mane Choice Manetabolism Rejuvenation Solution Extra Healthy Leave-In Recovery Cream
"This leave-in conditioner coats the strands to help maintain moisture and manageability," James says. "It's infused with nourishing ingredients, including plant oils, biotin, and vitamins to improve the appearance of hair."
Size: 8 oz. | Scent: Fruity | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Moisturizing: Matrix A Curl Can Dream Moisturizing Cream
Not ideal for wavy hair
"Matrix A Curl Can Dream provides definition and uses manuka honey extract to provide moisture," Spino tells Byrdie (as you can probably tell, honey is a gift for curls). "Since it can be heavy on wavy hair, [it's] better for curly and coily hair." Vitamin E, avocado, sunflower, and wild flax oil also lend moisture, while pectin helps create juicy spirals.
Size: 17 oz. | Scent: Sweet, fresh | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Detangling: Davines All In One Milk Lotion
Provides environmental protection
Good for bleached hair
Too light for very dry or frizzy textures
Packed with plant oils and amino acids, this antioxidant-rich leave-in mist effortlessly untangles your hair and protects it from UV radiation while fighting off free radicals. Spray it on from root to tip and revel at your strong, supple, oh-so-soft soft strands.
Size: 4.6 oz. | Scent: Citrus | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Softening: TGIN Green Tea Super Moist Leave-in Conditioner
Formulated for natural hair
Product is bit too thick for the pump dispenser
Want softer locks? TGIN has you covered. This well-formulated leave-in conditioner delivers moisture with argan oil, shea, cupuacu, and cocoa seed butter. It then softens and strengthens brittle strands with a generous dose of green tea extract and vitamin B5. And yes, this one has honey, too—the trend is undeniable.
Size: 13 oz. | Scent: Fresh | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Anti-Frizz: Kevin Murphy Killer Curls
You want Kevin Murphy's Killer Curls on your side in the battle against frizz. Amino acids fortify weakened strands and minimize friction from your comb or brush while baobab oil conditions and smooths to keep flyaways in check. People who've tried everything under the sun to tame their unruly curls call it the best since it leaves hair looking thick and soft without the crunch.
Size: 6.7 oz. | Scent: Fresh | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Lightweight: Philip B. Lovin' Leave-In Conditioner
Seals dry ends
High price per ounce
If your hair is on the thinner side or you prefer lightweight products, go with Philip B. This leave-in cream offers weightless moisture and a hint of shine while sealing dry ends and protecting your hair from heat damage. Hazel seed oil, panthenol, soy protein, amino acids, horsetail, and nettle leaf extract are at work behind the scenes.
Size: 6 oz. | Scent: Fruity, fresh | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Wet/Dry: Rucker Roots GTC Daily Leave In
We like that this leave-in spray can be used on wet or dry hair. The natural formula promises to hydrate and enhance your curls without weighing them down, thanks to sunflower seed oil, ginger root oil, panthenol, and vitamins C and E.
Size: 8 oz. | Scent: Fresh | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Growth: Curls Dynasty Kalahari Smoothie Leave-In
Leaves behind slight residue
If you're growing your hair out, you can count on this leave-in conditioner to support your strands along the way. In addition to moisturizing plant oils, the kicker is an omega-rich Kalahari seed extract, which offers strength and nourishment. For $13, the thoughtful formula makes for behaved, beloved coils.
Size: 8 oz. | Scent: Tropical | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Clean: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Leave-in Defining Crème
If you prefer clean formulas, you'll love Briogeo Curl Charisma. Free of parabens, sulfates, and artificial dyes, it earned a perfect 5-out-of-5 score from our home tester, who appreciated the impressive curl definition, frizz control, and lasting hydration. If your hair loves protein, this one's foolproof. Three forms of plant protein, hydrolyzed quinoa, and keratin amino acids boost strands' elasticity.
Size: 6 oz. | Scent: Fresh | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
What Our Testers Say
"My curls were not only soft to the touch but defined, and the moisture lasted all week." —Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
The best leave-in conditioner for curly hair is Kérastase Curl Manifesto Crème De Jour, a stylist-approved formula that tackles frizz, softens strands, adds definition, and encourages healthy growth. For something a little more affordable, go with the stylist-recommended African Pride Moisture Miracle Leave-In Conditioner.
Meet the Expert
- Cataanda James is a beauty expert and licensed cosmetologist specializing in multiracial haircare. She is also a brand educator for The Mane Choice.
- Jenna Spino is a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois. She's seasoned in everything from bobs and blowouts to long layers and chic up-dos.
- Monae Everett is a celebrity hairstylist and brand ambassador for African Pride. She is also the creator of the Texture Style Awards.
What to Look for in a Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair
"Leave-in conditioners are used to hydrate, strengthen hair, smooth hair, and reduce frizz," says Everett. "These are the main concerns associated with curly hair." When browsing formulas, think about what you're trying to achieve. Do you want more moisture, healthy growth, fewer flyaways, or better definition? Your primary hair concern and goals can provide clues as to which product is right for your hair.
Since leave-in conditioners are meant to moisturize and condition, they often contain various plant oils, like argan, jojoba, castor, coconut, baobab, and sunflower. Curly hair usually tolerates these ingredients well, and lubrication can help with detangling. However, if your hair is relatively thin, too much oil can weigh it down, in which case, a lighter formula may be best.
Leave-in conditioners formulated specifically for coily, kinky, and wavy hair often include ingredients that add definition. If your goal is to define your curls, look for products containing polypeptides, polyquaternium, and other polymers that help your hair retain its natural shape and pattern.
What are the benefits of leave-in conditioners for curly hair?
According to James, the advantages depend on your concerns and hair goals. "Some common functionality call-outs are hydration, moisture retention, ease in detangling and styling, more cared-for hair in feel and appearance, and frizz control."
How long should you use a leave-in conditioner for curly hair?
Since leave-in creams and sprays aren't meant to be rinsed out, you can leave them on your hair until the next time you wash it. "If you have curly hair, your hair will benefit most if you use leave-in conditioner during each wash-day routine, following the shampoo-and-conditioner or co-wash process," says James.
How often should you use leave-in conditioners for curly hair?
"Leave-in conditioner can be used every day or every wash," Spino tells Byrdie, explaining that it can be treated like any styling product: applied to wet or towel-dried hair after showering. However, she notes, "If you're not shampooing often, using it daily can be a bit much and can build up.
Is leave-in conditioner good for curly hair?
Curly hair can tend to be dry, which makes leave-in conditioner a fabulous choice in your hair care routine. Using a leave-in conditioner can help add moisture and make your curls appear shinier and softer.
When should I use leave-in conditioner on my curly hair?
Leave-in conditioner is generally applied after washing and conditioning your hair and before styling it. If you’re going to air dry your hair, it’s recommended that you apply products just before you scrunch it. Halli Bivona of the John Barrett Salon at Bergdorf Goodman tells Byrdie that “Curly-haired girls should take small sections all over and twirl each curl in a different direction. You’ll look a bit like Shirley Temple, but don’t worry! When the curls fully dry, massage your scalp to loosen the curls.”
Do I need leave-in conditioner and curl cream for my curly hair?
Leave-in conditioner and curl cream are not considered interchangeable and can both be used in your hair care routine. A leave-in conditioner is used to add moisture and slip to your hair. A curl cream is more of a styling product. Curl creams are used to enhance the natural shape of your curls and to help define them. They aren’t always designed to moisturize your hair, though some definitely add moisture while they define curls.
Why Trust Byrdie
Theresa Holland is a freelance beauty writer specializing in hair care, skin care, and makeup. She interviewed three experts for this story, including a celebrity hairstylist and a licensed cosmetologist specializing in multiracial hair. Before making her final selections, she compiled their product recommendations, reviewed insights from our testers, and referenced several peer-reviewed studies about the effectiveness of various ingredients. You can find more of Theresa's bylines on The Spruce, MyDomaine, and Verywell Health.
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