When it comes to building a solid hair-care routine, there’s no easier way to level up your hair game than with the best leave-in conditioner. Unlike traditional rinse-out formulas, these leave-in versions offer an extra dose of conditioning to help detangle, nix frizzy hair and flyaways, resist split ends, protect against heat damage and breakage, and address a multitude of other hair needs.
The main difference between rinse-out versus leave-in conditioners is the latter’s long-term perks, says Clint Wilson, cofounder of and stylist at Salon SCK in New York City. “A leave-in conditioner continues nourishing and protecting the hair throughout the day, while a regular conditioner stops working and actually needs to be rinsed out to prevent your hair from becoming greasy,” he explains. Plus, leave-in formulas tend to be more multitasking than their in-shower counterparts, offering a host of targeted benefits, such as defining wavy hair, protecting color-treated hair, or prepping for a blow-dry (or any kind of heat styling).
Their usage may vary too. Although leave-in conditioners are usually applied to wet or damp hair, some can be applied to dry hair, depending on your hair type. For example, says Wilson, “If you have naturally curly hair and want to refresh your hairstyle the next day without washing, using a leave-in conditioner is a great way to revitalize your style.”
For wash day, you can either use a leave-in conditioner after your usual wash-out conditioner——or if you’re short on time, skip one, says Wilson, who suggests you keep the leave-in version. However, the amount of product you use depends on your hair type; someone with fine hair should use a smaller amount, since too much product can leave the hair feeling heavy.
Speaking of: If your hair leans fine, Shelly Aguirre, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, recommends using a leave-in conditioner spray. “That way you concentrate on the ends so you don’t weigh the hair down from the scalp,” she says. She also suggests skipping it for a few days if you notice that your hair feels limp, which could be from the weight from product buildup. (If that’s the case, consider avoiding formulas that contain silicones, since these can contribute to buildup.)
Clearly, not all leave-in conditioners are created equal. Keep scrolling for 15 of our favorite leave-in conditioners, along with a slew of expert product recommendations.
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