What Leave-In Conditioner Actually Does For Your Hair (& Our Top Picks)

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

In the world of haircare, leave-in conditioners have become increasingly popular and seem to promise a multitude of benefits for our locks. But what sets leave-in conditioner apart from its traditional counterpart, and why should it be a staple in your hair routine? "A leave-in conditioner continues nourishing and protecting the hair throughout the day, while a regular conditioner stops working and actually needs to be rinsed out to prevent your hair from becoming greasy," hairstylist Clint Wilson told Glamour.


The beauty industry currently loves leave-in treatments, with celebrity hairstylist Castillo Bataille explaining to CNN, "The great thing about leave-in treatments is that everyone can and should be using them, no matter what your texture is." Now, if that itself hasn't convinced you that you need to add a leave-in conditioner to your routine, here are some benefits you can expect when you start using it. From detangling to combatting frizz, adding shine, and protecting against environmental elements, leave-in conditioner emerges as a crucial haircare product for anyone who wants their hair to always look its best.

Leave-in conditioner is excellent for detangling

While everyone can benefit from leave-in conditioners, those who are prone to hair tangling should really avoid skipping this step, as leave-in conditioners are haircare heroes when it comes to detangling. Say goodbye to the days of pesky knots and tangles, as adding leave-in conditioner to your routine is nothing short of a game-changer. Unlike traditional conditioners that you have to rinse out, leave-in ones continue working their magic throughout the day. They turn the annoying task of combing through your hair into a breeze, always leaving your hair smooth and completely tangle-free. Suddenly, detangling your hair without damaging it is in sight.


When choosing a leave-in conditioner, it's crucial to check the label for "detangling" as one of its primary attributes. This ensures that the product is specifically formulated to address the challenges of unruly hair. What's more, Adam Federico, the vice president of technical education at the haircare brand R+Co, suggests incorporating one specific hair tool into your routine for optimal results. "Work the product through with a wide tooth comb," Federico told Byrdie. Easy-peasy!

Leave-in conditioner is great for fighting frizz

Fighting frizz can be a daily battle, but with the help of a leave-in conditioner, consider it one you'll always win. "Frizz comes from the hair absorbing moisture in the air," celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin explained to Allure. "So making sure you're conditioning and masking will help your hair combat that and leave it moisturized without wanting to absorb the moisture outside."


Leave-in conditioner works wonders in the fight against frizz by smoothing down the hair cuticle, leaving you with sleek and shiny locks — but not oily. Unlike regular conditioners that are rinsed out, leave-in conditioners provide continuous moisture throughout the day, ensuring your hair remains frizz-free. While any leave-in conditioner will help with frizziness to an extent, we recommend always checking the label for anti-frizz properties when selecting a leave-in conditioner if you have frizzy hair. By doing so, you better ensure that your hair receives targeted care, addressing the unique needs of frizzy locks.

Leave-in conditioner can minimize the appearance of split ends

Split ends, be gone! Leave-in conditioner can help minimize the appearance of split ends, as it temporarily seals them, making them look smoother and healthier. However, keep in mind that leave-in conditioner is only covering up the problem; your split ends will still be there, but they'll be much less noticeable. "Any product on the market for split end repair is targeted more to the appearance of split ends," hairstylist Michelle Cleveland told Allure. "Once the strand has split and separated at the end, there's absolutely nothing that will bring it back together."


Because of this, it's still crucial to get haircuts regularly, as they help get rid of split ends entirely. "If your hair gets dry at the tips, trim the ends every two months; it'll boost the global texture," hairstylist Flavien Heldt told Vogue. Of course, how frequently you should get hair trims to prevent split ends is specific to you, as lifestyle habits and haircare play a major role in one's hair health.

Some leave-in conditioners also offer heat protection

Some leave-in conditioners also come with built-in heat protection, which means you can style your hair with hot tools without needing to worry about damaging it. "It's a perfect product to prep hair before heat styling, regardless of the type of styling tool," Jen Atkin explained to Vogue.


Products like the Redken Extreme Play Safe Heat Protectant Spray & Leave-In Conditioner, which has a 4.6-star rating from more than 3,000 reviews on Amazon, are designed to tackle two things at once: nourishing your hair and protecting it from heat damage. "This is a staple item in my hair care! I am a strawberry blonde with hair down to my lower back. I use heating tools often, and this is a must-have! I will not use my heated items without putting this in my hair first. I don't let it run out," one satisfied buyer raved about the product in their Amazon review. 

Regardless of the leave-in conditioner you choose, always check the label to see whether it can shield your hair from heat damage. If your label doesn't specify this, you still need to use a regular heat protectant in addition to your conditioner.


Leave-in conditioner adds shine to your hair

Leave-in conditioner can give your hair that enviable healthy-hair glow. It smooths the hair cuticle, allowing light to bounce off it and resulting in perfectly shiny hair. And you don't have to worry about looking oily, as most leave-in conditioners add just the right amount of moisture to help your hair look healthy, not greasy. "Think of a leave-in conditioner as a balm that kind of does it all," hairstylist Dimitris Giannetos told Allure. "It can tame flyaways and add shine — even if the hair is a bit dry or damaged." If your hair tends to look dull and lifeless after washing, adding a leave-in conditioner to your haircare routine can make a ton of difference.


While having healthy-looking and shiny hair is always good, the shine is particularly necessary for any slicked-back hairstyles you may want to try out. In fact, if your leave-in conditioner can be used on dry hair in addition to wet hair — another fact you can check on its label — you can also add some more to your hair when creating a sleek bun or ponytail, regardless of how long it's been since you washed your hair.

Leave-in conditioner can help prevent further damage

One of the best aspects of using leave-in conditioner is that you can achieve long-lasting hair health — you just have to ensure you're using it regularly. Beyond its beautifying effects, a good leave-in conditioner acts as a guardian against future damage thanks to its nourishing formula strengthening your strands and creating a protective shield that helps keep your hair healthy for longer (via Healthline). This is particularly true for folks with dry hair, but anyone can benefit from using it.


A popular choice here, thanks to its silky effect, is the OUAI Leave-In Conditioner, which has become a staple for many. "We have long curly and long wavy hair in my household, and leave-in conditions are not a luxury. They're a necessity. Given the different textures of our hair (coils vs waves), we don't always agree on the best product, but this is one place that we do. This leaves our hair so soft and manageable there is a visible difference if we don't use it," a satisfied buyer shared in their Amazon review.

Leave-in conditioner gives your hair long-lasting hydration

A good leave-in conditioner infuses your hair with moisture that lasts all day, keeping it super soft and hydrated. Regular conditioners don't quite compare, as they get washed out quickly and any softness and moisture they provide is shorter-term. "Regardless of your hair type, hydration is important for the health of your hair," Jen Atkin explained to Vogue. Because of this, skipping out on leave-in conditioner isn't something we'd recommend.


As far as what to look for when buying a leave-in conditioner, humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid are the way to go. "Leave-in conditioners contain a high level of humectants that attract moisture into the hair," Davide Marinelli, the founder and creative director of Davide Hair Studio, told Today. "They often contain glycerin, which keeps hair hydrated and lubricated, and volatile silicones, which gives your hair shine and smoothness." While you can expect softer and more manageable hair immediately after using it, a leave-in conditioner really shines when you use it consistently.

Some leave-in conditioners have UV filters to protect your hair's color

As much as we love the sun, our hair needs protection from it just like our skin does. "The sun's rays act very much like bleach on hair," dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld told Byrdie. "The good news is that you can take precautions to protect your hair from the summer sun." What's more, the sun's rays can be especially tough on color-treated hair, though all hair lengths, colors, and types should use some form of sun protection. 


Luckily, some leave-in conditioners — like the Rahua Hydration Detangler + UV Barrier, which has a 4.4-star rating on Amazon — come with UV filters that act as a shield, preserving your hair's color and vibrancy. While you can use them year-round, using them during the summer when the sun is out the most — and at its hottest — is very important. However, even if you protect your hair with a leave-in conditioner, we still recommend avoiding the sun during its peak hours.

Leave-in conditioner enhances natural curls

If you've got curly hair, leave-in conditioner should be your best friend. It helps enhance your natural curls or waves, making them defined and bouncy.

"The first line of defense for curls is a moisture-rich rinse-out, shampoo, conditioning, and mask regimen," celebrity hairstylist Luis Pacheco explained to CNN. "Then, a lighter leave-in to help protect the curls against moisture lost from heat styling and environmental dehydration."


But regardless of your haircare routine, leave-in conditioner works incredibly well for curly hair due to its capability to provide long-lasting moisture. "Leave-in conditioners are a great way to moisturize hair, especially curly or coiled hair, which tends to be drier as it takes longer for the oil to distribute from the scalp down the hair strands," hairstylist Neil Moodie explained to The Independent. So, if you have wavy or curly hair, avoid skipping this step — and, if necessary, add some leave-in conditioner on your dry hair once it begins looking frizzy or lifeless.

Pick a leave-in conditioner that won't weigh fine hair down

Just because your hair is fine doesn't mean you can't enjoy the benefits of leave-in conditioner. You can find lightweight options that provide all the benefits without the heaviness. "When you're dealing with fine hair, you're always looking for weightless but effective hydration that doesn't weigh your hair down or compromise your style," Diana Pratasiewicz explained to CNN.


The consistency of the leave-in conditioner is essential when deciding which product you should get for your hair. "If you have thick, coarse hair, you'll likely be better suited to a creamy leave-in conditioner, whereas if your hair is very fine, a light spray will work better and not weigh the hair down," hairstylist Neil Moodie explained to The Independent, adding that "thicker, creamier formulas tend to be better for moisture and frizz control" while "spray formulas tend to be lighter and are not only easier to apply but are a good choice for heat protection, detangling, and smoothing." 

As always, use any new product sparingly at first to ensure your hair doesn't become greasy-looking or flat. If you have fine hair, using leave-in conditioner daily won't be necessary — instead, try applying it two to three times a week.


It adds a layer of environmental protection to your hair

Think of leave-in conditioner as your hair's personal bodyguard. It creates a protective shield that guards against environmental stressors like pollution and UV rays. With this added layer of defense, your hair can stay healthy and vibrant for longer, no matter what the world throws at it. "When it comes to environmental damage on hair, the biggest culprit is sunlight," Diane Minar, senior scientist at Nexxus New York Salon Care, told Harper's Bazaar. "Once you've weakened the integrity of hair, and bonds have been broken in the hair fiber, you have to strengthen it from the outside in."


Apart from the sun, pollution and harsh climates can also affect your hair's health. Luckily, having a layer of leave-in conditioner around your hair can help keep them protected. Often, we don't even notice these hair-damaging culprits around us, which is another reason why consistency is so important when using leave-in conditioner.

Leave-in conditioner reduces static

No one likes hair that's full of static electricity, and having it happen to you without you knowing definitely isn't fun. "Static hair occurs when your hair builds up an electric charge, meaning it has gained some extra electrons thanks to friction or a change in humidity," celebrity hairstylist Bridget Brager revealed to Good Housekeeping. "Winter is typically the worst season for static hair as the air often has low or no humidity, and taking a hat and scarves on and off causes friction." Luckily, there's a way for you to take your hat off without your hair flying up.


Leave-in conditioner helps to minimize static, keeping your hair looking its best. In fact, if hair static is consistently appearing, using a leave-in conditioner every day can make all the difference in the world. The nourishing properties of leave-in conditioner combat the root cause of static, leaving your hair smooth, sleek, and ready to defy the challenges of changing weather conditions.

Some leave-in conditioners help restore the hair's pH balance

The pH balance of your hair matters, and some leave-in conditioners are designed to help restore it, which can lead to healthier, more manageable hair. "The pH of hair naturally lives between 4.5-5, which is in the acidic family," hairdresser Sadi Evans told Byrdie.


The conditioner you use should have a low pH, according to 2014 research published in The International Journal of Trichology, especially if your shampoo has a pH of 5.5 or higher. This way, your hair products' pH levels will balance each other out. "When you use hair care that is not pH balanced, your hair becomes temporarily acidic or alkaline, depending on the pH level," hairstylist Jill Turnbull told The Everygirl. "This causes the cuticle to stay open and become more receptive to damage." 

Now, you're probably wondering how you can figure out whether your haircare products are within the right range. To do this, examine the label first, as most haircare brands tend to print their products' pH levels on their packaging. However, some hide this information, in which case you might need to do some additional research online or by contacting the company directly.


Leave-in conditioner can add a fragrance to your hair

Who doesn't love hair that not only looks great but also smells amazing? Many leave-in conditioners come with delightful fragrances that linger in your hair throughout the day. Of course, making your hair smell amazing isn't the most important thing in a leave-in conditioner, but it's an added benefit that will remind you to use the leave-in conditioner regularly.


The Super Milk Conditioning Hair Primer by Lush became a fan favorite on TikTok, with the hashtag having over 24 million views on the platform. Considering that it smells like a heavenly mix of almond, vanilla, and lemon, it's not surprising it has gained such massive popularity. "Thick, long, and straight hair here, I absolutely LOVE Super Milk. The scent is heavenly and stays forever, it's not too heavy (I use two sprays and comb it into the lengths of my hair), and [my hair] stopped being frizzy and looks super healthy," one satisfied user raved on Reddit

However, it's important to remember that while a nice-smelling leave-in conditioner is great, the true priority when picking one for yourself should always be the long-term benefits of moisture and protection. The lovely scent should simply be a plus.