Leave-in conditioners are the unsung heroes of the hair world. These multi-taskers are often a quick and easy way to reap the rewards of several products in one handy bottle, saving you time, effort and money. All it takes is a simple spray or dollop or product and off you go – what’s not to love?
While it is true that the conditioner you use in the shower will do much of the heavy-lifting when it comes to hair hydration, a leave-in conditioner will provide an additional level of moisture, which can be a lifeline for dry hair.
If you’ve had your hair dyed, a leave-in conditioner can also help to make your colour last longer, and reduce the damage caused by chemical treatments, bleaches and dyes. And, if you’re a fan of using your hair-dryer, curling iron or straighteners, then many leave-in conditioners can also add a layer of heat protection while you’re styling.
Essentially, they can help to reverse many hair sins, leaving your hair looking its very best. All you need to do is find the right leave-in conditioner for your individual hair type.
How we tested
We tested the products in two ways. The first was by applying the recommended amount of leave-in conditioner to clean hair that was wet but not soaking, and then blow-drying with a hair dryer. The second way was by applying it to damp hair and then leaving it to air dry.
Products that impressed us added an additional level of hydration and promoted softness, without leaving the hair feeling sticky or heavy. They were tried on long hair that has been bleached from the middle down using a balayage technique and, as a result, has a tendency to feel dry and brittle.
The best leave-in conditioners for 2021 are:
- Best overall – L’Oréal Elvive dream lengths no haircut cream: £4, Boots.com
- Best everyday luxury – Davines OI all-in-one milk: £23.50, Davines.com
- Best for life on the go – Moroccanoil hydration all in one leave-in conditioner: £22.65, Feelunique.com
- Best for frizzy hair – John Frieda frizz-ease daily miracle leave-in conditioner: £5.99, Boots.com
- Best multitasker – Aussie miracle hair insurance leave-in hair conditioner spray: £2.99, Superdrug.com
- Best for dry hair –Joico hydra splash replenishing leave-in, £15.15: Feelunique.com
- Best for styling – Alterna Caviar anti-aging replenishing moisture priming leave-in conditioner: £25.20, Beautyflash.com
- Best for damaged hair – Noughty intensive care leave-in conditioner: £4.66, Superdrug.com
- Best for fine hair – Sachajuan leave-in conditioner: £22, Feelunique.com
L’Oréal Elvive dream lengths no haircut cream, 200ml
This decadent conditioner is proof that you don’t have to break the bank to tame your hair. Coming in at just a few pounds, it’s a brilliant find for those with hair that’s long, thick or both. The rich, fawn colour reminded us of thick caramel but without the stickiness – we rubbed a dollop the size of a 50 pence piece between our hands and worked it through the mid-lengths and ends of our hair.
Offering heat protection up to 180C, it’s a must-use before blow-drying and styling using hot tools – it stopped our hair looking parched and split ends were sealed. It was also equally great when we left our hair to air-dry – curls and waves looked more defined and free from frizz. Not only is it a great bargain, but a must-buy for those with wayward tresses who like a product that’s a little on the heavier side.
Davines OI all-in-one milk, 135ml
Best: Everyday luxury
Davines products are known for combining a sense of luxury with useability, and this multi-tasking marvel is no exception. It isn’t a large bottle, but this spray is full of nourishing ingredients carefully selected for their beneficial properties, so it’s worth the investment
Provitamin B5 provides deep hydration, while Roucou oil protects the hair – the brand says it has been long used by inhabitants of the Amazon rainforest for this purpose. It also includes ellagic acid, which fights free radicals caused by UV exposure, making it a good option for those who find that sunshine tends to stress out their hair.
A light mist of this milk was enough to reduce puffiness, helping our hair to stay looking lovely throughout the day. A small spritz on our split ends also helped them to look less ragged. Just make sure not to spray it too close to your roots if you have an oily scalp, as it could make your hair feel a little greasy.
Moroccanoil hydration all in one leave-in conditioner, 160ml
Best: For life on the go
Moroccanoil products famously contain argan oil, which has been used by women for thousands of years to keep hair feeling supple and looking beautiful. This leave-in conditioner is infused with the hero ingredient along with quinoa extract and natural sugars that claim to create an anti-dehydration shield.
The spray applicator meant that it felt lighter than many other leave-in conditioners, and it was very easy to control the amount of product that we were using. It has a milky texture and a lovely, clean fragrance – if you don’t like florals or fruity smells, then this sophisticated scent is for you. It felt like it not only smoothed our hair, but also thickened it too. Our split ends were less visible, and it felt like our hair was stronger, although it didn’t feel particularly soft.
A quick spritz during the day also added a hit of hydration to dry hair – this product is definitely one to throw in your overnight bag or keep in your desk drawer.
John Frieda frizz-ease daily miracle leave-in conditioner, 200ml
Best: For frizzy hair
This spray is a delight to use – and it’s even better when you consider the fact that it costs only £6. Full of vitamins A, E, and C along with green tea extract, it’s a good detangler that will fit right into your wash-day routine. With heat-protective properties, it’s an especially good buy for those who aren’t ready to give up their beloved blow-dries quite yet.
Although it didn’t leave our strands feeling particularly silky, it did reduce static and the dreaded “halo” of fuzz that can surround your crown. We would especially recommend it for those with a slightly oilier scalp, as it’s not going to overwhelm the hair – rather it has a gently smoothing effect. It also could be a good option for little kids (or big kids) with tangles, enabling you to comb through wet hair with minimal fuss.
Aussie miracle hair insurance leave-in hair conditioner spray, 250ml
This feels a million miles away from thick conditioners – it’s a really lightweight spray that you can mist all over your hair without it feeling greasy. Full of Australian eucalyptus, it smells deliciously exotic and reduces fuzz while providing a dose of moisture.
We found plenty of uses for this surprisingly affordable product on both wet and dry hair. It makes a great detangling spray for damp hair that’s full of tugs, and we loved spraying it during the day for a quick burst of fragrance and a hit of moisture. It’s also a great product to use before plaiting your hair or putting it into a bun, making it easier to manage during the styling process and ensuring it feels fabulously soft when you take it down later. And, with a price tag like this one, you can afford to use it quite liberally.
Joico hydra splash replenishing leave-in, 100ml
Best: For dry hair
For parched hair that needs a hit of moisture, you can’t go wrong with this clever product. It’s a smooth formula that has a fresh maritime scent, thanks to the infusion of sea kelp and coconut water, both of which are said to provide the hair with some much-needed vitamins.
We rubbed it between our hands before applying it to our hair, and found that the cream transformed into a lighter, serum-like consistency. This made it easy to apply exactly where we wanted it, and also meant that it wouldn’t be too heavy, even on thinner hair. It provided an additional splash of hydration after a wash, and our hair felt more supple and responsive to styling. We could still feel the effects the day after using it – the next morning our hair was easier to work with and felt much silkier than usual.
Alterna Caviar anti-aging replenishing moisture priming leave-in conditioner
Best: For styling
The pump dispenser and smooth consistency of this leave-in conditioner give it the feel of high-end skincare, and the packaging wouldn’t look out of place in a dermatologist’s office. Just a few pumps were, surprisingly, enough to cover the lengths of our hair – it’s not the cheapest option, but we can imagine this product lasting us a good few months.
The rosehip oil is said to provide fast hydration, while the caviar extract constructs a protective barrier around the hair shaft. After styling, we noticed fewer flyaways and it stayed that way throughout the day – even in humid weather there was less frizz than usual. It’s also a great pick for those who use heated tools on their hair, as it provides thermal protection up to 232C, and our hair didn’t feel at all parched after a blast with a hair dryer.
Noughty intensive care leave-in conditioner
Best: For damaged hair
This deep conditioner is ideal for calming down the kind of hair that can be left looking a little out of control after washing. Thanks to the combination of shea butter and almond oil the formula is pretty rich, so you don’t need to use a lot, even if your hair is thick. And, with a price that’s already on the lower side, that makes this sweet-smelling cream a great pick for those on a budget.
We smoothed a little through our hair which helped our brush to glide through, detangling as it went. It left our slightly weak hair feeling much stronger and more hydrated. It also helped to hide our split ends, making them less frayed and noticeable. If you’re due a haircut but haven’t got round to it yet, or are trying to grow out your hair without getting it chopped, then this leave-in conditioner will help to tide you over. And as an added bonus, it’s also suitable for vegans.
Sachajuan leave-in conditioner
Best: For fine hair
This chic little bottle of leave-in conditioner looks great in a minimalist bathroom and promises to give you the Scandi-chic hair of your dreams. It’s infused with what the brand calls “ocean silk” technology, which is a blend of proteins and mineral extracts derived from sea algae that are said to create shine and improve hair health.
The spray application makes it easy to disperse it through your lengths without overloading the strands. We found that it worked best when used on hair before blow-drying, creating a salon-worthy look that didn’t compromise on volume. It left our hair feeling soft without being sticky or heavy. And, if you do crave something a little stronger, Sachajuan also now offers an intense version of the product (£24.15, Feelunique.com) – an ideal option for those with thicker hair.
The verdict: Leave-in hair conditioners
L’Oréal Elvive’s dream lengths no haircut cream combines a deeply nourishing formula with excellent value for money. Those with fine hair would be best opting for the Aussie hair insurance leave in hair conditioner spray, which makes styling a breeze, while the Alterna caviar anti-aging replenishing moisture priming leave-in conditioner is a more decadent buy that would suit all hair types.
For the latest discounts on hair tools and other beauty products, try the links below:
Looking for more haircare tips? Read our guide to the best products for maintaining platinum blonde hair
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in