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These are the best leave-in conditioners of 2024, tested and reviewed

Our top-rated picks, including K18, Marc Anthony, Pureology and more, detangle and fight frizz while leaving hair soft and smooth.

Three leave-in conditioners.
Leave-in conditioners can leave your strands bouncier, shinier and younger looking. (Amazon)

Leave-in hair conditioners (and their extra-restorative cousin, hair masks) can seem unnecessary, something made for the unruly hair of kids. In fact, before working on this story, the last time I'd used a leave-in conditioner was in the '80s, when my mom untangled my hair with that purple bottle of Aussie spray before brushing it. However, as it turns out, there are myriad reasons to use leave-in conditioners on grown-up hair (even if you're already using the best shampoo and conditioner you can find).

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No matter your hair type, leave-in conditioners can be nourishing. They help tame annoying flyaways and puffed-out texture by providing smooth, soft frizz control. They repair split ends and can even — as they did for me while reporting this story — make your hair bouncier, shinier and younger looking than it's been in years. In addition to testing myself, I reached out to celebrity colorist Cassondra Kaeding (her client list includes Demi Moore, Natalie Portman, Kendall Jenner and the cast of the latest Mean Girls) to find out how these formulas work and why we should try them. What I learned? If we want the best-looking hair, most of us should use leave-in conditioners — starting today.

Hair Type: All | Formula: Lightweight cream | Ingredients: sh-Oligopeptide-78 (K18Peptide™), Hydrolyzed wheat starch | Scent: Floral with notes of jasmine and peony

This is, by far, not only the best leave-in conditioner I tried, but is the best hair product I've come across in ... as long as I can remember. Kaeding agrees: "I personally love K18’s Leave-in Molecular Repair Mask. It contains a patented peptide which works at the innermost layer of the hair (the cortex) and is clinically proven to repair damage from bleach, color, chemical services and heat in just four minutes. Because it works on this molecular level (where all hair is the same), this product is effective on all hair types — so I recommend it to literally everyone."

My experience with this mask is it made my hair silkier and shinier than it's been since my high school yearbook portrait. I wish it wasn't close to $30, but also I felt like the quality was worth it.

  • Leaves hair soft, silky and shiny
  • Helps dry or damaged strands
  • Reduces split ends
  • Eradicates frizz
  • Zero sticky residue
  • Lightweight
  • A little goes a long way
  • Expensive
  • Comes in a small bottle
$23 at Groupon
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$29 at Amazon$29 at Kohl's

Hair Type: Fine and long hair | Formula: Lightweight spray | Ingredients: Biotin, coconut oil, shea butter

The best drugstore pick we came across, Marc Anthony's leave-in conditioner is effective and gentle (it's paraben-, sulfate- and phthalate-free) without breaking the bank. It's an excellent lightweight detangler, good for fine hair and long hair, moisturizing without weighing down your strands. One minor complaint: It's more of an old-school, everyday leave-in conditioner, and it won't repair damaged or ultradry hair like some of the pricier items on this list. 

  • Affordable
  • Great for long hair
  • Fights frizz
  • Excellent detangler
  • Highly rated
  • Spray nozzle is a bit wonky
$8 at Amazon
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$8 at Walmart$9 at Rite Aid

Hair Type: All | Formula: Lightweight moisturizing spray | Ingredients: Fennel seed oil, coconut oil | Scent: Floral, with notes of ginger, amber, and musk

Mizani is a trusted shampoo brand for curls of all types, and its leave-in conditioner follows suit. It's made with coconut oil but is somehow not the least bit greasy. It protects hair from heat, detangles, moisturizes, gets rid of frizz and helps repair damaged hair. Best of all, it can be used on any hair type: natural, relaxed, straight, any kind of curl and even wigs and weaves.

  • Lightweight
  • Fights frizz
  • Specially formulated to protect from heat damage
  • Helps maintain curls
  • Some users complain that the texture can be a bit sticky
$26 at Amazon
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$26 at Sephora$26 at JCPenney

Hair Type: All; color-treated, damaged | Formula: Lightweight spray | Ingredients: Sunflower seed extract, green tea leaf extract, silk amino acids, aloe vera, panthenol

One of the few leave-in conditioners you can spray on wet OR dry hair, It's a 10's Miracle formula includes both keratin and silk amino acids, which leave any type of hair softer, smoother and more manageable. The cult-favorite product has close to 20,000 reviews on Amazon, and almost 90% of them are good. 

  • Affordable
  • Can be used on wet or dry hair
  • Moisturizes and softens
  • Protects against heat damage
  • Color safe
  • Not the best for frizz
$15 at Amazon

Hair Type: All, including curly, coily and wavy | Formula: Liquid spray | Ingredients: Coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, olive fruit oil, silicones, humectants, vegetable protein | Scent: Fresh and floral with notes of rose, floral ginger and cedarwood

This leave-in conditioner detangles, adds shine and helps smooth frizz, plus the combination of coconut, olive and camellia seed oils hydrates dry strands. Said Yahoo Shopping Deputy Editor Izabella Zaydenberg: "Now that my bleach blonde days are behind me, I've resolved to make 2024 the year I'm way gentler on my hair. I'm a big fan of one-and-done products, and this Pureology spray is it: I just spritz it on damp hair and style as usual. I love that it provides heat protection, too, so when I choose to give myself an at-home blowout, my strands don't look or feel fried. It's also safe on color-treated hair, plus it smells incredible. I'm still on my first bottle, but I already bought a second as a backup, in case Pureology ever stops making this stuff (and if they do, I'll absolutely buy out their stock)."

  • Safe for color-treated hair
  • Heat protection
  • Pleasant scent
  • Detangles
  • Adds shine
  • Pricey
$35 at Amazon
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$35 at Ulta Beauty$35 at Sephora

Hair Type: All, including straight, wavy, curly and coily | Formula: Cream | Ingredients: Bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate, coconut oil, fermented argan oil, vitamin E

This leave-in "bond smoother" from the ultra-beloved Olaplex line (this product alone has nearly 40,000 five-star Amazon reviews) started as a salon-only treatment, but during the pandemic, it was made available to its devoted fans (including Margot Robbie) for at-home use. Kim Kardashian loved the hair-softening, hair-strengthening effects of this formula so much, she once used "Olaplexing" as a verb. I wrote all about Olaplex last year and I had to know: Does it work? Yes, yes it does. My hair was noticeably smoother, less frizzy and softer after just one use. 

  • Strengthens hair
  • Leaves strands silky and shiny
  • Good for damaged hair
  • Nearly 40,000 5-star Amazon reviews
  • Some users complained it weighs down their hair
  • Pricey
$27 at Walmart
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$30 at Amazon$30 at QVC

Hair Type: Extra-dry hair | Formula: Heavy-duty spray | Ingredients: Squalane, hyaluronic acid, blue algae | Scent: Vanilla with notes of citrus

I love nearly every product I've tried from Brooklyn-based Amika, and this heavy-duty, ultra-hydrating formulation is no exception. It's made with serious skin-care ingredients like squalane, hyaluronic acid and blue algae, but the scent is not sterile at all — it's a luxurious vanilla with a hint of citrus. Plus, it feels great in your hair. Pro tip: Avoid spraying at the very crown of your head, as the extra moisture might make your roots look oily.  

  • Cruelty free
  • Ultra-moisturizing
  • Detangles
  • Leaves hair soft and easy to style
  • Product may look greasy if used at hair roots
$29 at Amazon
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$29 at Kohl's$29 at Sephora

Hair Type: All | Formula: Ultra-lightweight mist | Ingredients: Aloe barbadensis leaf juice, propanediol, glycerin, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, behenamidopropyl dimethylamine, linum usitatissimum (linseed) seed extract | Scent: Light aloe scent

It's pricey, yes, but if your scalp is easily irritated or dandruff-prone, this high-quality French leave-in is worth the investment. The ingredients here are 98% natural; it's also cruelty free and contains zero silicone, parabens, harsh oxidants or phthalates. Plus, it works: It sprays on in a fine mist (making it ideal for thinner or finer hair), detangles handily and adds moisture and shine. 

  • Won't irritate skin
  • Chemical free
  • Hydrating
  • Leaves hair soft and smooth
  • Lightweight
  • Some users found the product to be too lightweight
  • May not work for greasy hair
$31 at Nordstrom
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$39 at Amazon$39 at Dermstore

Hair Type: All, including dry hair | Formula: Light serum | Ingredients: Plant-based proteins, niacinamide (vitamin B3), glycerin | Scent: Floral

If your hair is totally wrecked from sun damage or heat damage or color damage — any kind of damage — this is your (rather spendy) pick. It transforms hair literally overnight with a creamy, nutrient-packed formula and smells amazing. It also accomplishes all the other stuff you want — detangles, protects against heat damage — but it's the retexturizing, body-building, high-charge smoothing and moisturizing where this product shines. Pro tip: Use it sparingly, roughly once a week, for best results. 

$60 at Amazon
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$60 at Sephora$60 at Kérastase USA

I tested 30 leave-in conditioners for this story. Some were highly rated online but gloopy and weird in person, and a few made my hair drier than it had been before (I love JVN so much but his Hair Styling Creme made my hair feel like hay). Others were pricey but ineffective (for example, the Drunk Elephant Wild Marula Tangle Spray was stupid expensive without feeling particularly special). Then there were a handful of leave-in conditioners that I liked fine, but for one reason or another, weren't quite right, at least for me and/or our team. Here's our list of honorable mentions.

This was almost perfect: It has a good spray and luxurious texture, and it detangled and softened. But after I blew my hair out, I realized the strands felt crunchy and sticky all day — a pet peeve for me, might work for you.

$9 at Amazon
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$9 at Walmart$12 at Rite Aid

I wanted to love this popular leave-in conditioner, but while it definitely moisturized and detangled, it also weighed down my hair in a way that wasn't cute. Still, it's less than $10 and — with 30,000 positive reviews — worth a try. 

$5 at Walmart
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$7 at Amazon$4 at Rite Aid

This is not a bad leave-in conditioner in any way— it softens and smoothes, for sure. On my hair, it didn't achieve any particularly notable results, and I felt the scent was too "beach vacation" for every day. 

$15 at Amazon
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$17 at Macy's$17 at Ulta Beauty

I tried dozens of leave-in conditioners for our roundup, considering weight, texture, scent, detangling ability, softening results and price.

When choosing a quality leave-in hair mask, it's important to consider certain factors to make sure the product really helps your hair. According to Kaeding, it’s essential to find a leave-in hair mask that repairs damage rather than simply concealing it, particularly if your hair frequently undergoes coloring or other styling treatments that can lead to stress and damage. Here's what to look for:

  • Hair Type: When choosing a product, consider your hair’s texture — fine, straight, wavy, curly or coily, and whether it’s dry, oily or normal. Products like the K18 Mini Leave-In Molecular Repair Hair Mask are versatile, but others are specially formulated for curly, color-treated or dry hair.

  • Formula: Choose from sprays, serums and creams, looking for a lightweight formula that strengthens and repairs without causing buildup. Heavy products can weigh down your hair and make it look greasy, which defeats the purpose of keeping it fresh and healthy. For instance, the Marc Anthony Leave-In Conditioner Spray provides a light, non-greasy finish.

  • Scent: The fragrance of a leave-in conditioner can have a major impact on how much you enjoy it. Some have a light, pleasant scent, while others may be stronger. Pick a scent that you like and can handle every day.

  • Hair Health: When choosing a hair mask, it's important to pick one that tackles visible problems and improves the overall health of your hair. Look for ingredients that deeply nourish and hydrate, like the ones in Pureology Color Fanatic Leave-In Conditioner, or ones that repair damage and frizz to leave your hair shiny and smooth, like Olaplex No.6 Bond Smoother.

"Leave-in hair masks are designed to provide additional moisture and detangle the hair," Kaeding said. "They are great to use regularly to help combat dryness and frizz — adding softness, smoothness and bounce to compromised strands."

It honestly couldn't be more simple: After your normal cleansing routine, apply the leave-in treatment, either by spraying on or rubbing onto your towel-dried hair, if you're using a cream. Pay particular attention to your ends and go light on your roots. Comb it through, then style as usual. Occasionally, a leave-in mask will require an additional step. In most cases, follow product instructions for best results.

"Absolutely!" Kaeding said. "They're more of a treatment product, so they are a wonderful addition to your hair care routine even if you're already using a regular conditioner. Leave-in hair masks often offer more intense benefits, while regular conditioners tend to be a bit lighter and more suitable for everyday use."

Leave-in hair masks are often thicker and richer and provide more intense benefits, while regular conditioners and leave-in treatments are typically lighter and more suitable for daily use, according to Kaeding. Hair masks are typically left on from a few minutes to overnight and are often washed out afterward, depending on the formula.