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6 best leave-in conditioners for curly hair that hydrate and protect

Lock in moisture and prevent damage with these haircare saviours

Nateisha Monique
Monday 07 June 2021 11:42
<p>We wanted to test how our hair felt when styling – did it help to detangle our curls without pulling them, did it feel softer and did our curls remain frizz free?</p>

We wanted to test how our hair felt when styling – did it help to detangle our curls without pulling them, did it feel softer and did our curls remain frizz free?

Curly hair is complex. Whether we’re used to a looser and wavy curl pattern or a kinky and coily type curl, there is one thing that all curls need, and that’s moisture.

The structure of curly hair is different to other hair types, as when we lack moisture in our hair, our curls can become dry and brittle, reflected in lacklustre and often lifeless curls. To ensure that moisture and vibrancy is restored and maintained, introducing conditioners into our wash day is essential.

However, curly hair often needs more than just a standard conditioner – that’s where leave-in formulas come into play. Celebrity Hair Stylist, Ben Skervin shares: “Leave in conditioners are a great way to keep your curls moisturised and defined.”

Often formulated with essential oils and extracts, effective leave-in conditioners help to detangle the hair, add shine, prevent further damage and breakage and most importantly moisturise the hair to help it look and feel healthy, full of volume and vibrancy.

The thickness of your hair and curl type will also determine how often you need to use a leave-in conditioner. If you have thick dry hair, Ben recommends using a leave-in conditioner on a daily basis. Whereas if you have finer curls you wouldn’t need to use it every single time you style your hair.

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We know working an extra step into your wash day can seem like a chore – especially when you aren’t sure which leave-conditioner will work its magic – so, we took it upon ourselves to do the testing for you.

We wanted a conditioner that detangled our curls without pulling them and helped them remain both frizz free and vibrant and voluminous for longer. These are the best leave-in conditioners for curly hair.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best leave-in conditioners for curly hair for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Cantu shea butter natural hair leave-in conditioning cream: £7.99,
  • Best for de-tangling – Oribe priming lotion leave-in conditioning detangler: £34,
  • Best for redefining curls – Hairstory hair balm: £39,
  • Best for dry hair – Living Proof no frizz leave in conditioner: £22,
  • Best for weightless and easy application – Vernon François leave in conditioner: £17,
  • Best for beating frizz and softening curls – Ouidad moisture lock leave-in conditioner: £26,

Cantu shea butter natural hair leave-in conditioning cream, 340g

Best: Overall

The perfect leave-in conditioner for those wanting to treat their hair more regularly, especially outside of wash day. We have to mention the sweet but subtle scent created by the shea butter and the cream-texture, perfectly coating the strands without adding weight or saturating the hair.

We do recommend, if using on a frequent basis, to perhaps use a coin-sized amount as overloading this conditioner can have the hair feeling greasy. But using the right amount, after consistent use, you will certainly notice the difference. Hair will be left moisturised, de-tangled and perfectly primed for styling.

Oribe priming lotion leave-in conditioning detangler, 250ml

Best: For detangling

If there is one thing that damages curly hair, it’s having to constantly detangle and pull on the strands. The conditioning detangler comes as the perfect option for those wanting to moisturise the hair whilst helping the styling process after wash day.

Boasting of a hydrating formula that is infused with coco seed butters, avocado and jojoba seed oils as well as olive oil, the leave-in conditioner coats the hair generously while reinforcing each strand and diminishing the effect of breakage or dryness.

Taking two-coin sized amounts, we applied this to clean, damp hair and worked it into the hair before combing through with a wide tooth comb. We loved how easy the comb slid through our hair and managed not to pull or stretch our curls out of shape whilst providing enough moisture. After a few hours we noticed how soft and lightweight our hair felt while it remained moisturised for days after without a top up or need for further oils and butters to help retain the frizz and moisture.

Overall, we loved this for helping to detangle our hair without ruining the curl definition or pulling at our roots (amongst the top hair concerns when looking after curly hair).

Hairstory hair balm, 4oz

Best: For redefining curls

Considered as skincare for the hair, Hair Balm is the moisturiser we didn’t know our curls needed. Repairing our hair with vitamin E, hydrolysed yeast protein and hydrolysed soy protein, as well as conditioning the hair with evening primrose oil. The carefully curated ingredients help to nourish dry hair as well as soften and soothe curls.

After shampooing and conditioning our hair, we went in with two pumps in the palm of our hands before massaging into our hair from root to tip. The thick and creamy consistency meant that a little goes a long way, leaving the hair feeling moisturised.

What we especially love and recommend the hair balm for is redefining curls. It can be so difficult to strike a balance between the perfectly volumized curl and over-saturating the tresses and we loved how the hair balm balanced out this problem. Even used on dry hair, we worked the balm through our mid-week styling and found it was the perfect top up to the hair after facing the outdoors. With curls looking more defined, our hair was left feeling coated in the right way.

Living Proof no frizz leave in conditioner, 118ml

Best: For dry hair

One thing our hair craves the most is moisture and due to its structure, it can so easily feel dry which in turn reverts to breakage. We were so used to typical conditioners moisturising our hair for a few days before reverting back to its dry state that when we used this conditioner, we were pleasantly surprised that, even after a week, our hair remained hydrated. We know that consistent nourishment is vital for maintaining our hair’s health and that is why we loved this leave-in conditioner so much.

Aside from its incredible anti-frizz technology, the conditioner softens our hair strands to make styling more manageable. Applied on damp hair, focusing only on the drier areas and roots, the conditioner was able to work its magic as we left it to absorb naturally into our hair. After a few washes as part of our hair routine, frizz had significantly reduced whilst remaining hydrated for longer. Granted our frizz didn’t diminish completely but it’s the strongest contender we have found and loved on the market so far.

Vernon François leave in conditioner, 200ml

Best: For weightless and easy application

If there is one thing that Vernon François masters it’s hair. As a celebrity-based Hairstylist with clients such as Serena Williams and Lupita Nyongo, Vernon certainly knows curly, kinky and afro hair at great length. His leave-in conditioner is perfect for those wanting a quick, effective and lightweight application without needing to wash your hair on a daily basis.

Infused with enriching ingredients such as African tulip tree extract, castor oil, tea tree leaf oil and lavender oil, the leave-in conditioner coats each strand quenching the thirst that so commonly dries and damages curly hair.

We recommend using this product on dry hair as a top up conditioner throughout the week and then spending time shampooing and conditioning your hair as normal. It’s the perfect daily pick me up your curls have been asking for.

Ouidad moisture lock leave-in conditioner, 250ml

Best: For beating frizz and softening curls

When we hear the words frizz-free we immediately draw a critical eye, especially those of us with curly hair. Due to the way our tresses are set up, as soon as it hits humidity, we can say goodbye to any sort of definition. So, when we tested the moisture lock leave-in conditioner we were blown away by the results.

Formulated with prickly pear extract to hydrate the hair and cactus extract to nourish and replenish, the conditioner generously coats the hair with a protective veil of moisture, free from the vulnerability of our environment. Lightweight enough not to saturate our curls but strong enough to replenish our hair, the leave-in conditioner makes it difficult for frizz to occur. In fact, we put this to the test on practically dry hair after washing and our curls took to the conditioner like never before.

Hydrating and moisturising each section, we love this for anyone who is wanting to maintain the bounce and vibrancy of their curls without frizz getting in the way or those wanting to extremely hydrate their hair post wash day.

The verdict: Leave-in conditioners for curly hair

Finding the perfect leave-in conditioner is a very personal decision that ultimately depends on the type of curls you have and the type of hair you have, whether thick or super fine. However the Cantu shea butter natural hair leave-in conditioning cream struck the perfect balance between hydrating and moisturising our hair without it becoming overbearing as well as keeping our curls defined and easier to style and detangle post-wash day.

We found that the Oribe priming lotion leave-in conditioning detangler was top tier when it came to detangling our curly tresses and we tried this on both a type three and type four hair to see how much easier it made styling and de-tangling our hair post-cleanse.

We also would recommend the Vernon François leave in conditioner as the ideal conditioner to apply daily to the hair – it provided the perfect amount of hydration whilst not compromising on conditioning the curls, ensuring it was easier to keep the curl definition between washes.

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We tried Living Proof’s new curl haircare range – here’s what we thought

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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