Whether you’re just starting on your curl journey or you’ve been on the path for a while, chances are you’ve probably heard about leave-in conditioners for curly hair. Leave-in conditioners are a super popular hair product among people with naturally wavy, curly, and coily hair, and for good reason. Curls are naturally dry and require lots of added moisture to prevent frizz, breakage, and excessive heat damage. Today, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about leave-in conditioners for curly hair, what they do, who they’re made for, and how to use them. We will also highlight the products that are worth your attention.
What are Leave-In Conditioners?
Leave-in conditioners are similar to conditioners that you use in the shower, but they’re not meant to be rinsed out. You apply it after washing and conditioning in the shower while your hair is still wet (don’t worry, we’ll get into the full routine later!)
Most leave-in conditioners offer a multitude of benefits such as extra hydration, strength to damaged hair, help with detangling, shine, and they can even act as a heat-protectant. Leave-in conditioner can also help protect your curls from harmful UV rays, pollution, and other environmental damage!
While different leave-in conditioners target different needs, the main purpose of a leave-in conditioner is to moisturize the hair after you’re finished in the shower! Think of a leave-in conditioner like a lotion or moisturizer for your hair—you leave it in and it provides hydration to your strands until the next wash day!
Should You Use Leave-In Conditioner?
Contrary to popular belief, leave-in conditioners can and should be used by everyone, no matter if you have straight or curly hair. People with naturally textured hair should consider using a leave-in conditioner more than their straight-haired counterparts since curls tend to dry out easier. Because of the spiral shape of a curly hair strand, it’s more difficult for the natural oils produced by the scalp to travel down the hair shaft to moisturize it. That’s why it’s usually more difficult for curly-haired people to keep their strands hydrated and shiny. That is where products like leave-in conditioners come in! A good leave-in conditioner can be the perfect elixir for common curly hair problems like dryness, knots, undefined curls, and frizz.
Curly hair is fragile and prone to breakage and damage from brushing, coloring, heat styling, and even sleeping at night! Using a leave-in conditioner as part of your styling routine can help protect and strengthen your hair strands to lessen the chance of damage and make your hair look healthy again.
Match It to Your Hair Thickness
Although leave-in conditioners can be used by anyone, you do want to be mindful of the type of leave-in conditioners that you use based on your hair density and thickness.
People with finer hair will want to choose leave-in products that are lightweight and can be sprayed onto the hair. This will ensure the strands are still getting the benefits of a leave-in conditioner but won’t look weighed down or greasy.
If you have thicker strands that need all of the moisture they can get, opt for a leave-in conditioner that feels like a thick cream. This will make it super easy to detangle your hair and will leave your curls feeling hydrated and healthy-looking.
What Ingredients to Look for in a Leave-In Conditioner?
When choosing the right leave-in conditioner for you, there may be a few ingredients that you notice are commonly used in most leave-ins. Here are a few ingredients to look out for and what their purpose is:
- Protein: If you’re suffering from heat/chemical damage or you like to brush and heat style your hair often, you’ll want to grab a leave-in conditioner that contains hydrolyzed proteins. Different forms of protein are commonly used in hair care products that help repair and strengthen hair from different types of damage.
- Coconut oil: Many hair care brands incorporate coconut oil in their products because it’s a natural ingredient that hydrates and softens the hair.
- Shea butter: Shea butter is an awesome leave-in ingredient because it not only provides lightweight moisture, but it’s also rich in vitamin A and E to help repair damage, soften hair, and add shine.
- Glycerin: While glycerin is a great addition to leave-in conditioners, it shouldn’t be used if you live in a dry climate with low humidity. Glycerin is a humectant which means it draws moisture out of the air to hydrate your strands. Now, if your hair has more moisture than the air around you, glycerin can work the opposite way and draw out the moisture from your hair to hydrate the air!
- Fatty alcohols: Many curly people are afraid of the word ‘alcohol’ because they associate it with alcohols that can dry out your strands and make them feel crunchy but we’re here to tell you that not all alcohols are bad! Fatty alcohols such as Cetearyl alcohol are great for curly hair and add moisture and shine!
How to Use a Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair
Wash and rinse your hair as you normally would with shampoo and conditioner. Rinse your hair with cool or lukewarm water and then gently scrunch any excess water out of your hair before wrapping it in a microfiber hair towel or turban. Some products are meant to be used on wet hair, while some others can even be used on dry hair, so read the instruction carefully.
If you struggle with curly hair that looks a little flat near the roots, try rinsing your hair with your head upside down as you gently scrunch your hair up toward your scalp. Your roots will get a little lift and your curls can start taking shape before you even hop out of the shower.
Since leave-in conditioner tends to be extra thick and moisturizing, be sure to avoid applying it to your roots – focus on the ends and lengths of the hair. Also, don’t use a leave-in conditioner every day – just when you wash your hair or when it needs a little extra moisture.
Now that’s we’ve talked about what the purpose of leave-ins actually are and who should use them, let’s break down how to incorporate them into your routine based on your hair type!
If you have finer, wavy hair, make sure you’re using a lightweight leave-in conditioner that won’t weigh your stands down. After cleansing and conditioning, apply your leave-in conditioner to damp, towel-dried hair, and then use your fingers or a wide-tooth comb to evenly distribute it. After applying your leave-in, scrunch a mousse or foam into your waves for added body and volume. Then, apply a gel by scrunching upwards to form your waves and hold them throughout the day. Let your hair completely dry and fluff it out for mega volume and shine!
- OUAI Leave-In Conditioner (heat protectant, helps with detangling, and takes away the frizz)
- Moroccanoil All-in-One Leave-In Conditioner (lightweight moisturizer and detangler)
Got curls? You can either use a spray leave-in if you have finer strands or a cream leave-in if your strands are thicker and thirsty. Once you’re out of the shower, rake your leave-in conditioner through your damp curls with your fingers to help avoid breakage. Follow it up with a lightweight cream styler for added hydration and definition and then finish your styling routine off with a strong hold gel. Once your curls are fully dry (and not a second before!), spray a bit of oil onto your hands and fluff out your curls.
- SheaMoisture Curl and Style Milk for Thick, Curly Hair, (chemical-free formula, great for natural hairstyles and wash-and-go styling)
- TGIN Rose Water Smoothing Leave-In Conditioner for Natural Hair (for low-porosity hair)
If you have tightly textured hair, you’re more prone to dryness and breakage due to the tightly coiled shape of your hair strands. Apply a hydrating cream leave-in conditioner to your wet or damp hair and use a wide-tooth comb to distribute the product evenly. Then, cocktail a moisturizing cream styler and ultimate hold gel together and rake it through your strands to promote definition and elongation. Let your coils dry completely and you’re ready to take on the day!
- Mielle Organics Pomegranate & Honey Leave-In Conditioner (moisturizing and detangling conditioner for curly hair- type 4)
- MIZANI 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Conditioner (heat protectant, eliminates frizz and static)