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You’re deep conditioning weekly, getting regular hair trims, and sleeping on satin pillowcases so you can finally have the hydrated, defined, and frizz-free curls of your dreams. So why are they still dry, dull and damaged? Your hard work may feel pointless because you’ve yet to get familiar with a leave-in product for natural hair. And we see no better time than now to change that.
Simply put, leave-in conditioners, primers and treatments make hair less prone to breakage by allowing the hair to hold on to more moisture for longer periods of time. And like styling products for natural hair, there are enough options to leave you feeling so overwhelmed, that you never make a decision. So to help us nail down the best of the best, we turned to Kendall Dorsey, celebrity hairstylist to Solange, Lizzo, Usher, Nicki Minaj, and Cutler Salon senior stylist, Mike Martinez.
Here, they explain their favorite leave-ins for those who regularly put their hair through the wringer and loathe product build-up, and even offer suggestions for those looking for a quick refresher.
Bumble and bumble Tonic Lotion
Modeled after old school barber elixirs, this primer hydrates and de-tangles all types of hair. “It goes on wet or dry, but the real charm is that you can’t use too much of it,” says Martinez. “It layers well with just about any other product and the tea-tree is a nice touch on the scalp.”
$25 at Sephora
Camille Rose Naturals Curl Love Moisture Milk
With green tea and macadamia nut, this lightweight milk ensures you’ll get stronger, moisturized hair that enhances curls while giving you a healthy (non-oily!) hint of shine. It’s also gentle enough to use on color-treated hair which is a definite bonus in our book.
$15 at Camille Rose Naturals
Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Leave-In Conditioner
Give your curls some TLC with this mix of wheat protein and pro-vitamin B5 that fortifies your curls so they are healthier and won’t break when detangling. If you’re a sucker for floral scents, the lavender and Japanese honeysuckle notes will instantly put you in a trance.
$12.49 at Ulta
Davines OI All In One Milk
We love that this lightweight multi-purpose milk can be used as a primer or a leave in. It also prevents and controls frizz while also softening the hair. “Some clients swear they don’t even need a conditioner with this because this milk de-tangles so well,” says Martinez.
$34 at Davines
Evolis Professional Promote Activator
This leave-in is a must for daily use, says Dorsey. Aside from the fact that it leaves absolutely no residue or buildup, it will grow your hair by 20% (it increases hair length up to 2 extra inches) and make it strong.
$65 at Neiman Marcus
Oyin Handmade Frank Juice
Frankincense and myrrh, the OG natural treatment for moisturizing and treating hair loss is a go-to for all the right reasons. It’s known to help condition and stimulate the scalp while encouraging hair growth. We love that Frank Juice is excellent for daily pick-me-ups on braids or twists, and it also conditions the scalp.
$13 at Oyin Handmade
Leonor Greyl Paris Tonique Hydratant Leave-In Treatment Mist
Inside the bottle? Rich seaweed and amino acids that nourish and fortify your curls. The end result? Stronger, healthier hair. “Finally, a moisturizing treatment that packs a punch,” says Martinez.
$43 at Nordstrom
Oribe Priming Lotion Leave-In Conditioning Detangler
“All curly girls should start their styling process with a prep product like this,” says Stacey Ciceron, celebrity hairstylist and Oribe Brand Ambassador. “It’s a non-negotiable first step prep product that I use on all hair types to hydrate, detangle, balance porosity and prepare the hair for styling products.” Her pro tip? Start by adding a small amount to damp hair and detangle with fingers, then use a Denman brush or a wide-tooth comb before layering on styling products.
$38 at Oribe
Redken Frizz Dismiss Rebel Tame
The secret to this cult-favorite leave-in conditioner? It also doubles as a heat protectant. “Unlike other leave-in conditioners, this one blow dries into the hair really well,” says Martinez. “And, don’t be afraid to just let it air dry as well.”
$24 at Ulta
The Mane Choice Soft As Can Be Revitalize & Refresh Conditioner
Want smooth, refreshed, longer, knot-free hair? Look no further than this 3-in-1 conditioner formulated to revitalize and refresh your hair instantly. It’s infused with biotin and tea tree to help promote growth and retention. And of course, no mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, sulfates, or formaldehyde are included.
$13.99 at The Mane Choice
Tresemme Botanique Curl Hydration Conditioner
Think of this leave-in conditioner as a therapist for your hair. It’s made up of three different systems to help you tailor the perfect detoxing package to get your hair back into balance. It hydrates and nourishes curls to restore their natural strength and definition, and what’s better than that?
$4.99 at Target
Voloom Thermal Protection Mist
Are you looking for a touch of volume, but still need a heat protectant that gets the job done? For that, Dorsey looks to Voloom. “It’s lightweight and protects hair when using heat tools, but leaves hair full of body, with Chamomilla Recutita Flower extract,” he says. “Which conditions the scalp in a soothing way.”
$18.95 at Voloom