Not all leave in conditioners for natural hair are formulated the same.
Some are formulated with moisture in mind, containing a plethora of film-forming humectants and conditioning agents to soften and moisturize the hair.
There are some that contain varying-sized proteins that aim to promote strength in the hair’s cortex, increasing the hair’s rigidity.
And then there’s everything in between: products that are moisture-protein balancing, are heat protecting, fill in cuticle gaps, etc.
It can be overwhelming trying to navigate the expansive world of natural hair products, especially leave-in conditioners.
To help you, we’ve broken down what you should look for in your leave-in conditioners, and our recommendations for the best leave in conditioner for natural hair. Let’s get into it!
Why Do We Need Leave-in Conditioners?
Leave-in conditioners are essential for all natural hair types, regardless of curl type, porosity, hair density or width.
Not only do leave in conditioners for natural hair provide a source of moisture until the next wash day, they condition the hair and reduce friction between the hair.
Curly and coily hair experience curl interlocking, meaning that the curls and coils tend to tangle on top of one another. This causes deep tangles and knotting, resulting in accelerated breakage and shedding, if left unchecked.
Leave-in conditioners provide enough friction-reducing conditioning agents that keep your curls in check. Definitely a must in all natural hair routines.
Before we get into the best leave in conditioners for natural hair, there’s an important piece to the puzzle that needs to be understood. And that’s your porosity.
Natural Hair Porosity
Natural hair porosity is the ability of your hair to absorb water and/products.
Low porosity natural hair has a low absorption rate, because the cuticles are stubbornly closed. It is difficult for this hair porosity to absorb moisture.
High porosity natural hair has a high absorption rate, because the cuticles are always open. It is difficult for this hair porosity to retain moisture.
Essentially, your porosity will dictate how your hair will interact with moisture and products.
Because low porosity hair has tight and flat cuticles, moisture absorption is the name of the game. That means using light-weight products that inhibits product buildup and can actually penetrate into the hair strands.
On the other hand, high porosity, with lifted and raised cuticles, must focus on moisture retention. Evaporation and rapid moisture loss occurs frequently in high porosity hair, so using strengthening and conditioning products that fill in your cuticle gaps will combat this issue.
What To Look For In a Leave-in Conditioner
Here’s a general guide on what you should look for in your leave-in conditioners.
As we know, water is nature’s only true “moisturizer”. Water should be included as the first ingredient in your products, especially your leave-in products. This is true for both high and low porosity hair.
You should also look for film-forming humectants. Regular humectants, like glycerin and honey, draw in moisture from the surrounding environment.
Film-forming humectants take it one step further – they also create a barrier around the hair shaft, protecting the moisture from evaporation.
This encourages moisture retention for a longer period of time. Examples include aloe vera, slippery elm, flaxseed, marshmallow root and hydrooxycellulose. These ingredients are especially great for high porosity hair looking to increase moisture retention for longer but can also be used by low porosity naturals.
These ingredients strengthen the hair, fill in broken gaps and help fortify the cuticles to avoid further breakage along the hair cuticle.
Examples include proteins and amino acids, ceramides, coconut oil and henna. Low porosity hair should opt for protein-free or smaller-sized proteins in their leave-ins, while high porosity hair should look for proteins in their leave-ins.
These agents condition the hair, and provide slip to your products, reducing friction between your strands. Examples include fatty alcohols (cetyl alcohol, triglycerides). This is mandatory for all naturals, especially Type 4 natural hair who experience knots and tangles.
The Best Leave in Conditioners for Natural Hair
Before we get into the top leave in conditioners for natural hair, remember that you don’t need to own all of these products to have happy, hydrated coils.
Choose a leave in conditioner based on your hair needs. If you have high porosity hair and/or fine strands, opt for leave-ins that contain film-forming humectants and proteins of varying sizes for long-lasting hydration.
If you have low porosity hair and/or coarse strands, look for products that are light-weight and have a higher penetrability, and also very conditioning.
Remember: as water is nature’s only true moisturizer, make sure your hair is wet before applying your products. This not only makes the curls pop but it mobilizes the leave in conditioner, making application much more seamless.
Camille Rose Curl Love Moisture Milk
Best for TYPE 3 – 4, all porosities
This product is well-loved by low porosity naturals, but the film-forming humectants, such as aloe vera and slippery elm, is great for high porosity naturals experiencing moisture loss. The plethora of conditioning ingredients will also make your hair feel soft, supple and conditioned for days. A fan fave leave-in conditioner for all naturals!
Mielle Organics Moisturizing Avocado Hair Milk
Best for TYPE 4, high porosity
A Mielle cult classic, this moisturizing hair milk is formulated with film-forming, moisturizing humectants such as aloe vera, nettle and horsetail extract. It also includes various strengthening ingredients such as rice and wheat protein. A perfect staple product for high porosity strands in need of some TLC.
Soultanicals Knot Sauce Coil Detangler
Best for TYPE 4, fine strands
The formulation of this leave-in conditioner is almost unmatched for fine hair – not only is it jam packed with moisturizing film-forming humectants such as flaxseed and aloe vera, it contains conditioning ingredients that will soften the hair and make detangling enjoyable. A cult favourite leave-in conditioner for Type 4 naturals of all porosities, especially for fine strands looking for plump and juicy coils.
Mielle Organics Pomegranate & Honey Leave-in Conditioner
Best for TYPE 4, low porosity
This light-weight leave-in conditioner is great for low porosity hair struggling with moisture absorption. Key ingredients such as include babassu oil and sugar cane extract are highly moisturizing, will not result in product buildup and will ensure every coil is hydrated for days.
TGIN Miracle Repairx Protective Leave-in Conditioner
Best for TYPE 3-4, low porosity
This light-weight formula is perfect for low porosity naturals looking for moisture without the product buildup. It adds definition while replenishing moisture to curls and coils, resulting in soft, supple and defined hair.
Kinky Curly Knot Today
Best for TYPE 3-4, all porosities
A cult classic leave-in, this formula is perfect for both curly and coily hair. Packed with fortifying and film-forming humectants such as slippery elm and marshmallow root, it will keep your moisturized your hair for days to come. The conditioning agents will also allow for easy detangling, making your hair feel like butter. A fan favourite for good reason!
Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Leave-in Conditioner
Best for TYPE 2-3, high porosity, fine strands
A fan favourite amongst high porosity and protein-loving naturals. The proteins in this formulation will create a moisture retaining film, reducing frizz and increasing moisture retention over time. A win-win!
For best results, follow up with a gel to lock in your curl definition and further seal in the moisture. Much like leave-ins, not all gels are formulated the same. Look for gels that contain a plethora of plant extracts and are non-flaking.
Camille Rose Aloe Whipped Butter Gel
Best for TYPE 4, all porosities
The most superior ingredient list of any gel on the market. This gel is formulated with film-forming plant extracts that will hydrate the heck out of your curls. Works swimmingly for Type 4 naturals, especially for twistouts and braidouts. A definite must-try!
Earthtones Naturals Curl Enhancing Jelly
Best for TYPE 3-4, low porosity
A Canadian-based brand, Earthtones Naturals focuses on holistic, natural ingredients – and this gel is no exception. Its formulated with some hydrating ingredients such as aloe leaf juice, panthenol and sea kelp.
Kinky Curly Curling Custard
Best for TYPE 3-4, high porosity
This gel is a cult classic. Long before the plethora of hair gels for natural hair, this gel was holding it down for the curls. Jam packed with film-forming plant extracts such as marshmallow root and aloe vera, this gel will keep your coils hydrated and ensure every coil is defined. A fan fave for high porosity naturals!
Final Thoughts on the Best Leave in Conditioners for Natural Hair
It’s not about the quantity of your leave in conditioners for natural hair, it’s about the quality.
You don’t need a million products to have healthy, moisturized coils. Look for high quality, plant-based and conditioning leave in conditioners and if used consistently, you should see an improvement in your hair’s moisture retention.