How Do I Choose the Best Leave-In Conditioner?

A bottle of leave-in conditioner.
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  • Written By: Amy Hunter
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 12 April 2014
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There are several ingredients that make up a good leave-in conditioner. Reading the ingredient list allows you to make sure you are selecting one that will work. Other reasons to choose a particular leave-in conditioner include consistency and scent. These are a matter of personal preference, rather than there being one specific best choice for all.

Ingredients to look for in a leave-in conditioner include acidifiers, oils, surfacants, detanglers, thermal protectors, reconstructors, glossers, and moisturizers. Each of these products have a different purpose in the conditioner. Acidifers, such as citric acid, lower the pH of the conditioner. This creates a stronger bond between the keratin structures of the hair. The result is sleeker, frizz-free hair.

Oils are added to leave-in conditioners to moisturize hair and make it softer and less coarse. Surfacants work by helping the conditioner bond to the hair shaft, creating a protective layer on the hair. Detanglers are polymers that coat the hair surface, and alter its structure, making it easier to comb.

Thermal protectors are not always included in leave-in conditioner. Thermal protectors protect the hair from heat styling. Conditioners that have thermal protectors add heat absorbing polymers to the conditioner. Choosing a leave-in conditioner with thermal protectors is important for those who routinely blow dry or heat style their hair.


Reconstructors are a type of protein that can penetrate the shaft of the hair, strengthening it. Glosses are chemicals such as dimethicone and silicone that attach to the surface of the hair, reflecting light. Moisturizers trap moisture in the hair, rather than letting it evaporate.

Leave-in conditioners come in several different consistencies. Leave-in conditioners in a spray bottle are lightweight and a particularly good choice for fine, thin hair. Leave-in conditioners are also available as heavier creams. These make a better choice for thick or curly hair. The added weight of a heavier conditioner can reduce fly-aways, and keep curls under control.

Scent is often consideration when choosing the best leave-in conditioner. Because the conditioner is not rinsed away, more of the smell remains than in a traditional conditioner. It is important to choose one that does not clash with perfumes or body sprays; unscented varieties are available for those concerned about this problem.

Price is also an important consideration when selecting a leave-in conditioner. You do not typically use leave-in conditioners every day, so you may feel comfortable paying a bit more for a product that contains all the ingredients you are looking for. Less expensive products may not contain oils and thermal protection. They may also use lower quality ingredients such as detanglers, which may not provide the best results. A mid-range brand from an established company that lists all of the components you are looking for in a leave-in conditioner is often the safest option if you are on a budget.


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