The best leave-in treatments for curly hair

Insider Picks writes about products and services to help you navigate when shopping online. Insider Inc. receives a commission from our affiliate partners when you buy through our links, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

best leave in treatments for curly hair

Briogeo/Business Insider

  • Conditioners, mists, gels, and creams are just a few of the options for leave-in treatments that are suitable for use on curly hair.
  • The best ones hydrate and revitalize strands while cutting down on frizz.
  • Our top pick is Miss Jessie's Pillow Soft Curls, a multi-use product that detangles and styles all different types of curls.

A lifetime spent with curly hair has taught me a few things. Mostly, that I'm too lazy to do much with my hair after a shower. But I've also learned that a little effort and the right products make me 10 times happier with my style.

In my opinion, getting a good haircut is the single most important thing you can do. I go to Devachan in New York City's SoHo neighborhood, but there are many curl specialists located throughout the United States. Once you have your ideal cut, you can focus on using the right styling products and treatments to enhance your curls.

I never use heat on my hair, so I'm always looking for gels, creams, and serums that will cut down on frizz and add definition to my curls on their own. But there are countless leave-in treatments for curly hair that will help you get your desired effect, whether you air dry or not. I've researched the most beloved curly hair products on the market for this list of favorites you're guaranteed to love.

Here are the best leave-in treatments for curly hair in 2019:

Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Find all the best offers at our Coupons page.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Picks team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at


View As: One Page Slides

The best leave-in treatment for curly hair overall

The best leave-in treatment for curly hair overall
Why you'll love it: Miss Jessie's Pillow Soft Curls is a do-it-all styling lotion that softens and defines curls without weighing them down.

Miss Jessie's Pillow Soft Curls is one of those amorphous hair products that seems to do everything (besides cleanse) all at once. Described as "a super soft styling lotion," the product combats frizz, defines ringlets, and prevents the "ramen noodle" effect some products have on curls.

Per the brand's instructions, Pillow Soft Curls should be applied to damp, clean, detangled hair before styling. Afterwards you can air dry or diffuse curls. The product itself is quick-drying and promises not to leave a detectable film or make your hair crunchy and stiff. You can also use Pillow Soft Curls to refresh your strands between washes.

With a 4-star Amazon rating based on 1,100+ shopper reviews and mentions in InStyle, Total Beauty, Self, and BuzzFeed, this is a tried-and-true favorite.

"I have been a hairdresser for 31 years,this is, by far the BEST PRODUCT I've ever used," writes one shopper. Keep in mind that a little of this will go a long way. This is also a fantastic option for replenishing color or heat damaged hair.

Pros: Free of sulfates, mineral oil, petroleum, and paraffins, vegan and cruelty-free, multiuse

Cons: Pricey

Buy Miss Jessie's Pillow Soft Curls at Walmart for $18.22 (originally $21.97)

The best gel for curly hair

The best gel for curly hair
Why you'll love it: Get hold minus the crunch with the DevaCurl Light Defining Gel, a flexible, nourishing styling product.

Gels used to remind me of the tight, hard styles I wore for dance recitals growing up. Armed with AquaNet hairspray and globs of gel, my mom would mold my fly-aways into submission. And so I was initially hesitant when a stylist handed me a bottle of DevaCurl Light Defining Gel after my first cut at the brand's salon in New York City.

I decided to give it a try the next time I washed my hair, and I was impressed. This product defines my ringlets and locks without drying my hair out. I apply a nickel-sized amount to sopping wet hair and scrunch toward my scalp, following up with a microfiber towel to absorb excess moisture.

Light Defining Gel comes in two sizes, 12 ounces or 32 ounces. The smaller bottle has lasted me a long time, because I only use a tiny amount. If you have longer or thicker hair, you may want to grab the larger size.

"This has been my holy grail styler. My 2B/3C waves and curls respond so nicely to it — no hard, heavy cast — just light, bouncy curls. Cut my morning routine in half, as it also allowed my low-porosity hair to dry super quickly," writes one Ulta reviewer.

The product has a 4.3-star rating on the site, based on 406 reviews, and has been featured in Glamour and BuzzFeed.

Pros: Lightweight gel, doesn't crunch, a little goes a long way

Cons: Pricey

Buy the DevaCurl Light Defining Gel on Ulta for $24 to $46

The best drugstore leave-in treatment for curly hair

The best drugstore leave-in treatment for curly hair
Why you'll love it: Kristin Ess Weightless Shine Air Dry Creme is the only product you need for a quick and easy wash-and-go style.

I love when my hair looks good but I don't love actually doing my hair. If I could roll out of the shower and have my strands dry perfectly on their own, I'd be forever happy. Ever since I discovered the Kristin Ess Weightless Shine Air Dry Creme, which I've written about here before, I've gotten a tiny step closer to that goal.

I've loved every Kristin Ess product I've tried so far — other faves include The One Signature Hair Water and Frizz Management Cleansing Conditioner — but this one really stands out. I apply this silky, floral-scented creme when my hair is still damp but not soaking.

It eliminates frizz, defines my curls, and keeps them looking better for longer in between washes. Target shoppers seem to agree: The Air Dry Creme has 4 stars at the retailer, based on 53 reviews.

One customer writes, "My wavy/curly/frizzy hair loves this stuff. I've been looking for a product to give me wash and go hair that tames frizz and this is it! It has just enough weight to tame my hair but not enough to make my hair greasy or flat. I've found that not touching your hair too much after putting in this product is also super important."

Pros: Cuts down on frizz, paraben-free, aluminum-free

Cons: Has a strong scent

Buy the Kristin Ess Weightless Shine Air Dry Creme at Target for $10

The best leave-in treatment for dry curls

The best leave-in treatment for dry curls
Why you'll love it: The SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie quenches curls that are in need of some serious moisture.

Moisture is always key for curls, but some types require more hydration than others. If your hair is very coarse and dry, reach for the SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie.

The product uses coconut oil, silk protein, and neem oil to hydrate and combat frizz. You can apply throughout damp or dry hair for a dose of moisture or use on wet hair as a styling cream for whatever look you're trying to achieve. It's important to use sparingly so the product doesn't weight down your strands.

Amazon shoppers give the Curl Enhancing Smoothie a 4.2 rating based on 1,981 reviews.

"I live by this stuff makes my curls bouncy and soft, just full of life! I use this everyday and couldn't live without it!" writes a reviewer named Roxanne.

Another says, "Great value and a must have [for] natural hair. Super easy to use. The jar lasts a long time."

It's also been recommended by Self, Glamour, TotalBeauty, and BuzzFeed.

Pros: Moisturizing, good for coarse hair types, no sulfates, cruelty-free

Cons: Jar packaging, can be greasy if applied too heavily

Buy the SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie on Amazon for $8.97 (originally $13.20)

The best conditioning spray for curly hair

The best conditioning spray for curly hair
Why you'll love it: The Briogeo Rosarco Milk Reparative Leave-In Conditioning Spray can be used to revitalize hair on no-wash days and to condition damp strands after a wash.

Many curly-haired folks swear by leave-in conditioner, but it can be intimidating since some formulas are very heavy. The Briogeo Rosarco Milk Reparative Leave-In Conditioning Spray is a lightweight hydrator that can be used to condition wet strands or to revive dry ones between washes.

Made with a blend of nourishing oils like rosehip, argan, and coconut, this milky mist eliminates frizz and moisturizes dried-out strands without added greasiness. It's free of additives, artificial dyes, sulfates, and gluten, plus it's cruelty-free.

This product has a 4.2 Sephora rating based on 827 reviews and has been featured by The Cut.

"I got a sample of this leave in and I was amazed at how great my hair looked after using it so I immediately bought the full size. It is lightweight and very moisturizing. My hair is curly and as result it is dry — this product makes it look healthy, moisturized, shiny and tames my frizz," writes one customer.

Pros: Can be used on wet or dry hair, no additives, cruelty-free, gluten-free

Cons: Pricey

Buy the Briogeo Rosarco Milk Reparative Leave-In Conditioning Spray on Amazon for $19.98

Add Comment()
Comments ()
Sort By:
Be the first one to comment.
We have sent you a verification email. This comment will be published once verification is done.