10 best leave-in conditioners

Bernadette Fallon
Say goodbye to frizzy, frazzled hair: iStock

Parched winter hair, savaged by central heating, attacked by wind and rain – we hear you. Frizz, split ends, colour damage, over-styling and breakage – we feel your pain. It doesn’t have to be like this.

The key is to lock in moisture, tame frizz, de-tangle and repair the hair shaft, and a leave-in conditioner is one of the most effective ways to do this at any time of year. We tested a variety of products in a range of prices to beat frazzled hair nightmares.

label.m Leave-in Conditioner: £12.95, Look Fantastic

Fashionistas take note, label.m is the only official haircare product of London Fashion Week and is used to create hairstyles for over 40 shows each season. Which is all very well and good, but how would it cope with our frizz? It claims to be perfect for enhancing curls, which is a good sign at the start of any frizz journey, and has some nice natural ingredients including aloe vera leaf juice and ginger root extra for moisture and softness. And the funky bottle will look good on your bathroom shelf.

Applied straight after shampooing, it didn’t say to towel-dry hair but we did anyway to avoid it all running off into the shower. After combing through, hair felt slightly brittle, though we do concede we may have been slightly over-zealous in our application – because the end result was fantastic; soft, silky hair, with not a touch of frizz. The conditioner worked as a styling product too, so no extra creams or serums were required, leaving hair feeling light and looking extremely healthy – a look that lasted day after day. A big hit.

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Philip Kingsley Daily Damage Defence Conditioning Spray: £13.20, All Beauty

This spray is designed to use after washing your hair – though it’s recommended to use both shampoo and conditioner first, which might be a bit off-putting if you thought this was doing the conditioning job for you.

Still, that extra burst of conditioner does a very good job in tackling frizz and coarseness and with the Philip Kingsley brand you’re getting a strong injection of scientific technology as well. Formulated with amino acids and proteins that bond to the hair, it contains elastin to improve damaged hair and repair breakage. Philip Kingsley products are formulated by the world’s leading trichologists and have a good rep in the industry so with this one, you’re pretty much in safe hands. Hair afterwards looked soft and silky.

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Giovanni Hair Care Direct Leave-In Weightless Moisture Conditioner: £7.99, Look Fantastic

This leave-in treatment promises to plump up each strand for "thickness that lasts" – restoring strength, lustre and nourishment to abused hair. Well my hair certainly feels abused these days so that was re-assuring, as were promises to "moisturise and build body, and de-tangle for easy comb-out styling". To use, you just apply after shampooing to towel dried hair and comb through.

Hair was left soft and manageable and silky smooth, it banished all trace of frizz and cured all coarseness, so yes a great initial result. However, the results were not as long-lasting over the course of a few days and so, while this gives a very good result, you will probably need to use it more often. Ideal if you’re the type of person who likes to wash your hair every day or two.

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Grow Gorgeous Full Bodied Volumising Leave-in Conditioner: £16, Grow Gorgeous

This lightweight serum is formulated to add volume and shine and is a great multi-tasker too – working as a leave-in conditioner as well as a blow dry serum. Pea peptides act as a film former to help to build up each hair strand and create added volume, while amino acids mock the proteins found in hair fibres to condition and add shine. Apply after shampooing to towel-dried hair.

We really liked the non-greasy serum formulation which is nice and light to apply. Hair was smoothed out beautifully afterwards, with no residue. It looked naturally soft and had a bit of bounce. And the volume boosting? Oh yes. There was a noticeable volume boost, which in fact had to be tamed down a bit with a styling wand. But a brilliant way to create full, bouncy curls if that’s the look you’re going for.

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KMS Moist Repair Leave In Conditioner: £17.50, Look Fantastic

This lightweight spray-in conditioner is designed for use on towel-dried hair after shampooing, promising to instantly de-tangle and weightlessly condition to create instant moisture. Ingredients include lactic and malic acid to support internal reconstruction and to help restore the hair’s natural surface.

It sprays in easily, doesn’t weigh the hair down and dries to a silky soft finish. Hair was left feeling smooth and groomed, with no product residue. While we loved the smoothing effect, the results weren't long term.

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Odylique Ultra Rich Balm: £19, Odylique

Now here’s something a little bit different – an intense hydrating balm for very dry or sensitive skin on face, body or scalp, which can be used as an intensive treatment for dry hair ends. Certified as 100 per cent organic by the Soil Association, ingredients include extra virgin olive oil, raw Fairtrade shea butter, coconut oil and beeswax – a combination that feels wonderfully moisturising on the skin.

After washing hair, we conditioned as usual then applied to the ends of our tresses and left to dry. If your hair is looking and feeling dry, then this is a great moisture boost and works well as a texturising cream to separate hair strands, or as a pre-heat treatment. Be careful how much you apply though as the oil-based cream can leave hair looking greasy – particularly when using heated tongs or straighteners straight after.

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Iles Formula Haute Performance Conditioner, 200ml: £43, Net-A-Porter

It’s clear what attracted us to this one – the promise to transform “rough straw-like hair into spun silk perfection”, instantly repairing and revitalising even the most damaged hair in less than 60 seconds. Rough, straw-like hair? Yes, we’re there!

Strictly speaking, this is not a leave-in conditioner but a finishing serum. However, you leave it in and it promises to transform hair into spun silk perfection so we’re not, if you’ll pardon us, splitting hairs over the name.

We applied it after using Iles Formula shampoo and conditioner and were very impressed with the results. Hair was noticeably smoother, a bit shiner, and completely frizz free – and while “spun silk perfection” might be stretching it a tad, this hard-working serum did work magic on extremely damaged hair.

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Maria Nila Structure Repair Leave In Cream: 200ml: £19.54, Amazon

This leave-in creamy conditioner hails from Sweden, is 100 per cent vegan and contains an algae extract that promises to repair and rebuild damaged hair structure. It provides, it says, moisture and nutrition to the hair, seals split ends and protects it against heated styling products.

With vegan beauty products attaining an almost cult-like status these days, we were very interested to try this. And it didn’t disappoint. Applied after shampooing to towel-dried hair, we were left with a shining mane of hair that remained soft through the days that followed. We like.

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MorrocanOil Intense Hydrating Mask: £25.45, Feel Unique

Sometimes even a heavy-duty conditioner struggles to combat the damage that the weather, the environment and you with all of your heated hair gadgets wrecks on it. So, give it a helping hand with a hair mask.

Ever since MorrocanOil products appeared on the market, we’ve been big fans. Using richly nourishing argan oil as their key ingredient, the products are deep moisturising catnip for dry, frizzy hair. The Intense Hydrating Mask comes in two formulations for thick or fine hair, and should be applied to shampooed, towel-dried hair and left for five to seven minutes before being rinsed off.

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Rita Hazan Weekly Remedy Treatment: £34, Selfridges

This heavy-duty offering has been created by Rita Hazan, celebrity colourist to stars like Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez, and touts itself as an innovative treatment to repair severely damaged, colour treated hair.

Unlike other deep conditioning hair treatments that frequently involve a period of waiting around with a towel on your head for the mask to do its magic, this one is quick and easy and takes no longer than the time it takes you to shower.

It’s a two-step process; after shampooing, apply the first product to treat the hair and open the cuticle, washing off immediately after. Then apply product number two to seal the cuticle and add nutrients, including rice proteins, to strengthen the hair and protect colour.

We loved the ease of use and hair was certainly nice and smooth afterwards.

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The Verdict: Best leave-in conditioners

The label.m leave-in conditioner was the pick of the bunch and, in our opinion, a veritable miracle worker, turning hair so frazzled it was almost straw into soft, silky, smooth strands – and best of all, the results lasted for days.

For a lovely light creamy product that banished frizz and came up trumps in softness and frizz, we loved the Maria Nila Structure Repair Leave In Cream.