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Learning how to tame our hair, I’d argue, is the great equalizer of humanity. Frizzy, dried ends and hair that just isn’t working — we’ve all been there. And people with naturally curly hair can often feel this struggle a little more deeply, unless preventative measures are taken.
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As anyone with curly hair can attest, they usually fall within two categories: Those who embrace their natural texture and those who fight tooth and nail against it. But however you choose to style your curly hair, starting with a solid foundation of healthy, hydrated hair is not as simple as it sounds. In fact, sudsing up with regular shampoos and conditioners will leave curly hair dry, dull and frizzy — a definite no in our book.
Why does curly hair need a specific conditioner?
“Curly hair tends to be much drier than those with straight hair because the natural oils from the scalp are unable to travel throughout the hair shaft and distribute moisture evenly, resulting in dry and fragile hair,” explains celebrity stylist Andrew Fitzsimons.
What’s even more challenging, says celebrity hairstylist and co-founder of Flawless by Gabrielle Union, Larry Sims, is “the tighter the curl, the drier it becomes.” And the solution? “You have to make sure that you consistently give your hair deep conditioners. It’s moisture, moisture, moisture for curly hair.”
And yet, even with all the curly hair products out there, it’s not so simple to find the best conditioner that will enhance your specific hair type and curl pattern while addressing common curly hair concerns, like frizz and damage.
“There are many factors that go into finding the best conditioner for your hair type,” says stylist Annagjid “Kee” Taylor, who adds that each hair type is further broken down to subcategories to reflect various hair textures. “This makes it easier to pinpoint the best ways to manage your hair type. You want to pay close attention to your curl pattern, porosity and thickness.”
For example, a lightweight hair conditioner designed for wavy type 2 hair just won’t cut it when it comes to type 4 ringlets or coils. “Type 4 needs significantly more hydration,” says Taylor. “Type 4 requires products that are thicker and creamier in consistency, but these products would weigh down type 3, making it flat, oily and without bounce.”
Top Conditioners for Curly Hair of 2022
Best Leave-In Conditioner: Flawless by Gabrielle Union Detangling Leave-In Hair Conditioner
Best Conditioner for Thick Curly Hair: Living Proof Curl Conditioner
Best Natural Conditioner for Curly Hair: Dphue Apple Cider Vinegar Detangling Conditioner
Best Shampoo and Conditioner for Curly Hair Set: Bumble and bumble Curl Starter Set
Best Deep Conditioner for Curly Hair: Ouidad Coil Infusion Triple Treat Deep Conditioner
Best Detangling Conditioner For Curly Hair: Davines Love Curl Conditioner
Most Affordable Conditioner for Curly Hair: Twist Primed & Co. Conditioner
Best Drugstore Conditioner for Curly Hair: Miss Jessie’s Soften Me Up Triple Soft Daily Conditioner
Best Smelling Curl Conditioner: Philip B Mega-Curl Enhancer Leave-In Conditioner
Best Luxury Conditioner for Curly Hair: Balmain Hair Couture Moisturizing Conditioner
Best Conditioner for Coily Hair: DevaCurl CurlBond Re-coiling Cream Conditioner
Best Curl Defining Conditioner: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Shea Curl Defining Conditioner
Best Protein-Based Conditioning Treatment for Damaged Hair: Kevin.Murphy Repair Me Rinse
Conditioner Bar for Curly Hair: Lush Big Pressed Conditioner
Best Conditioning Mask: Deeper Than Hair Resurrection Masque
What should I look for in the best conditioners for curly hair?
“All curls have different needs,” says stylist Christin Brown. “Someone with straight to wavy hair may only need light moisture, versus type 3 or 5 curls that need maximum moisture and maybe even a leave-in conditioner, too.”
She recommends staying far away from conditioners with sulfates and silicones, which can dry out hair in a snap. Look for coconut-derived ingredients or avocado and grapeseed oil as opposed to “ingredients you can’t pronounce.”
Conditioners for Type 2 Hair: “Type 2 hair ranges from slightly S-waved hair and it’s usually fine, to a wave pattern closer to a true curl that tends to frizz easily,” says Fitzsimons, who adds that people with this hair type should use products that won’t weigh their hair down. “Avoid products that are heavy, so lots of waxes, oils and creams fall into the no-go category.”
Conditioners for Type 3 Hair: Sims describes type 3 as a solid step up from type 2, forming a clean, definitive S-shaped curl that tends to be thicker at the root. “With 3, you definitely have to make sure you have moisture in your hair,” he says. “Go for products that feel a little heavier, like creams, for type 3 texture because it’s a little more absorbent and I’d also do a leave-in conditioner.”
Conditioners for Type 4 Hair: “The jump to type 4 is hair that’s coarser and way more thick than type 3,” says Sims, who suggests looking for heavy, oil-based creamy conditioners. “The biggest challenge for type 4 is moisture, and I would do a leave-in on a daily basis.”
Learn how to master your curl regime — once and for all — with these celeb stylist-approved recommendations and tips.
Flawless by Gabrielle Union Detangling Leave-In Hair Conditioner
Best Leave-In Conditioner for Curly Hair
Sims recommends a leave-in conditioner for every type of curly hair and his go-to is this multi-use conditioning spray. “It’s infused with Brazilian Bacuri butter, shea butter and coconut oil,” he says. “It’s lightweight, super moisturizing and it’s great for people who want to do blowouts but it’s also great for people that rock their curly or natural hair, that kind of wash-and-go type of girl.”
Living Proof Curl Conditioner
Best Conditioner for Thick Curly Hair
One of the cult brand’s more recent launches, this do-it-all curl conditioner is worth the hype. Living Proof moisturizes, detangles and defines curl groupings, courtesy of their innovative emollient-based curl technology — developed with MIT scientists — blended with strengthening amino acids for more manageable curls. This is a heavier formulation best suited for thick hair and S-shaped curls; the mix of shea butter and oils could make type 2 wavy hair look a little too shiny.
DpHue Apple Cider Vinegar Detangling Conditioner
Best Natural Conditioner for Curly Hair
This vegan, ultra-light conditioning rinse from celebrity stylist Justin Anderson‘s brand, DpHue, is perfect for wavy and type 3 hair. It capitalizes on a mix of natural ingredients, starting with a base of the gently powerful apple cider vinegar to moisturize and sunflower seed extract to protect hair color, along with super conditioners argan oil, aloe vera and lavender extract for a boost of shine and softness.
Bumble and bumble Curl Starter Set
Best Shampoo and Conditioner Set for Curly Hair
This Bumble and bumble set provides everything you’ll need for a top-notch curl care regime. The smartly formulated 3-in-1 conditioner is especially beginner-friendly and can be used as a traditional rinse-out, a leave-in or a co-wash.
Ouidad Coil Infusion Triple Treat Deep Conditioner
Best Deep Conditioner for Curly Hair
“Deep conditioners are great for curly hair,” says celebrity stylist Irinel del León, who is known for her curly hairstyles. “This one by Ouidad has nourishing ingredients, like black castor oil to strengthen the strands against breakage, as well as avocado and grapeseed oils for moisture.”
Davines Love Curl Conditioner
Best Detangling Conditioner For Curly Hair
“Hair is weaker when it’s wet,” says Taylor. “You want to make sure that when you’re handling wet hair, you’re being as gentle as possible, no matter the curl type.” She recommends using a conditioner, like Davines Love Curl Conditioner, with lots of slip and this lightweight conditioner filled with proteins and vitamin B help to make curls elastic and bouncy — and easy to comb. “Always use a wide tooth comb and take your time when brushing your hair.”
Twist Primed & Co. Conditioner
Most Affordable Conditioner for Curly Hair
Use this ultra-rich nourishing conditioner as a normal daily conditioner or as a primer before styling to add extra moisture into hair. “Conditioner is super important for curly hair because it holds in moisture, especially after shampoo, which can strip away natural oils,” says stylist Sabrina Porsche. “Conditioner helps bring that lost hydration back.” And this everyday conditioner by Twist proves that you don’t have to shell out the big bucks to attain healthy, frizz-free curls. Plus, Porsche says, this option “deeply conditions your hair to help restore moisture to damaged hair.”
Courtesy of Amazon
Miss Jessie’s Soften Me Up Triple Soft Daily Conditioner
Best Drugstore Conditioner for Curly Hair
Safe for colored and chemically-treated hairstyles, Miss Jessie’s Soften Me Up is a creamy, velvety conditioner leaving thick, parched curls and coils soft, touchable and supremely smooth. “Keeping type 4 hair hydrated is the most crucial thing you can do because coils are dry, coarse and prone to breaking,” says Taylor. Stay away from sulfate-filled blends, which Taylor says can trigger a dry, flakey scalp. This hydrating conditioner goes the extra mile for scalp health by addressing moisture imbalances at the root to keep you flake-free.
Philip B Mega-Curl Enhancer Leave-In Conditioner
Best Smelling Curl Conditioner
Despite its feather light texture, this conditioner for curly hair is surprisingly potent. Brimming with hydrating amino acids, botanical extracts and natural, long-lasting conditioning oils, like safflower seed oil, Philip B.’s conditioner for curly hair wins two major bonus points: The sweet blue lupine peptides protect colored treated hair while the woody, pure oud essence smells lush and feels very fancy.
Balmain Hair Couture Moisturizing Conditioner
Best Luxury Conditioner for Curly Hair
Yes, that Balmain. Formulated with organic argan oil, this moisturizing cocktail repairs and fortifies damaged hair, leaving curls silky and shiny. Maximize every drop by massaging the conditioner into your hair from root to end, letting strands drink it up for a few minutes before rinsing. The hydration and the irresistible fragrance will stay with you all day long.
Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Shea Curl Defining Conditioner
Best Curl Defining Conditioner
“Porosity is the most important factor in treating any hair challenge,” says Kevin.Murphy educator, Sarah Lund, noting that high porosity hair means that a cuticle is wide open and can easily accept — and lose — styling products. To ensure that high porosity hair soaks up the styling products and keeps them in place, Lund says it is crucial to “seal hair the cuticle with extra moisture,” which will lock curls into place. This naturally-derived conditioner from Briogeo is rich with rice amino acids, mollis leaf extract and tomato fruit ferment to seal the hair cuticle for frizz-free curl definition.
Kevin.Murphy Repair Me Rinse
Best Protein-Based Conditioning Treatment for Damaged Hair
“Hair is primarily composed of keratin protein, so when looking to remedy damage, we need to replenish the protein loss,” explains Lund. “My go-to hero is Repair.Me.Rinse by Kevin.Murphy. It’s the perfect blend of green pea protein, coupled with an enzyme to ensure protein delivery without the possibility of protein overload.”
Lush Big Pressed Conditioner
Conditioner Bar for Curly Hair
This power-packed conditioning bar will turn skeptics into believers. Lush’s Big Pressed conditioner gives curls body and shine with strengthening-yet-lightweight ingredients like coconut oil and seaweed, while the sea salt sparks wavy hair into those easy and effortless beach waves that normally require heat styling tools.
Deeper Than Hair Resurrection Masque
Best Conditioning Mask
According to Taylor, breakage is a serious challenge for curlies, especially for those with tighter coils, but the addition of a deep treatment, like her go-to from Deeper Than Hair, promotes intense damage repair via it’s “keratin-infused, super-charged formulation” packed with proteins and free of anything even remotely drying, like alcohol, sulfates and parabens.
How to find the right hair conditioner for your curly hair concerns
To fight frizz, damage or any other curly hair challenge you’re having, you’ll need to strategize your plan of attack to address different needs.
“Selecting a conditioner depends on the most pressing needs of the hair,” explains Lund, who suggests taking a look at what your hair is lacking the most.
Parched + dehydrated: “Look for water-loving ingredients, like Kakadu plum, or a light oil or even a vegetable-based glycerin,” says Lund.
Dry + frizzy: “Go for emollients that lock in moisture, like shea or cocoa butter,” says Lund. “You can also rely on thicker oils, such as Brazilian nut or Monoi oil.”
Damaged: “When faced with damaged curls, that is an issue that needs to be addressed first,” says Lund of the drop-everything, do-not-pass-Go hair problem. “To remedy damage, we need to replenish protein loss with products using a vegetable-based protein to avoid the possibility of protein-overload, and coupled with a good moisturizer for the best feeling hair possible.”
Brittle split ends: “If you don’t keep your hair moisturized, you can cause split ends faster,” warns Taylor, before noting that the solution can be as easy as using a very good moisturizing conditioner, but beware of sneaky marketing tactics. “I’ve seen a lot of conditioners that say they can mend split ends, but that is totally wrong — nothing you put in your hair can mend your ends. Once they’re split, they’re split.”
How often should I wash my curly hair?
“To be proactive, make sure that you use moisturizing conditioners every time you wash your hair,” cautions Taylor. And if you have a spare 20 or 30 minutes, she suggests pulling the hair conditioner from root to tip and putting a shower cap on “to get that moisture into those strands really well.” If time isn’t on your side, Taylor recommends washing your hair as soon as you get in the shower to let the conditioner soak in as you go about your business and rinse your hair as the last step.
How do I use a leave-in conditioner?
“Frizziness and curly hair go hand-in-hand,” says Sims. “A great leave-in conditioner is super important in terms of combating frizz and preventing damage by keeping hair moisturized.”
His favorite method of applying a leave-in is always on wash day, starting with a hydrating shampoo for curly hair followed by a moisturizing hair conditioner. Then while hair is still damp, apply a leave-in and pleat hair down at the top of your head, allowing it to air dry so that when you unravel it, the curls are really defined. “A leave-in is really going to have an impact on the amount of moisture in your hair,” says Sims. “But if you have thinner hair and waves, you want to use less product. If you try to do the most with products, you risk having to start from scratch because it looks greasy.”