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Let's face it: While we all endeavor to take painstaking care of our hair by using hand-picked shampoos and conditioners, leave-ins, and other haircare products, we still need a deep conditioning every once in a while. Some of the most common, bothersome hair woes are, indeed, caused by dryness, including frizz, split ends, and dullness—and switching to a shampoo and conditioner regimen formulated for dry hair doesn't necessarily solve this problem all by itself. This is especially the case when it comes to curly and natural hair.
"I always end up recommending that people with natural hair use a deep conditioner, because it helps restore hair and makes it more moisturized," says Kim Kimble, celebrity hairstylist and founder of her eponymous haircare brand. "Natural hair tends to be a little drier than naturally straight hair, so using a deep conditioner helps hair gain those essential oils and minerals that it needs to be smooth and moisturized."
But what is a deep conditioner, and how does it differ from the run-of-the-mill conditioner you use in the shower after shampooing? Kimble explains, "Deep conditioners are pretty much hair masks that are used to bring moisture back to the hair and help reduce hair breakage." But that doesn't mean that deep conditioners and hair masks should only be used to repair damage. On the contrary, they can be used regularly—particularly by those with curly and natural hair—in order to maintain long-term hair health and moisture. Kimble agrees, "A deep conditioner is usually used to make hair healthier and help defend against dry, brittle hair in the future."
If you, like me, are in the market for a deep conditioner that hydrates and defines your curls alongside your favorite curly hair products, you're in luck. We've consulted Kimble, along with other experts and editors, to find the best deep conditioners for curly and natural hair, along with how to best use these mane-saving wonder products.
What To Look For in a Deep Conditioner
Like all haircare products, not all deep conditioners are built alike. Some contain ingredients that nourish curls and coils, while others contain components that are better suited for straight hair or that can even harm the long-term health of your hair.
"My recommendation is to look for natural ingredients in the deep conditioner," Kimble advises. "Using natural ingredients in your hair, like coconut oil and honey, will benefit your hair more than using harsh minerals and chemicals. Staying away from deep conditioners that have sulfates and parabens is also a really good idea. Sulfates and parabens are known to strip vital oils and minerals away from hair and will continue to make hair dry and brittle."
How To Use a Deep Conditioner
As aforementioned, deep conditioners are not quite the same as your run-of-the mill, everyday conditioners. Because they're so hydrating, they should be used in a different manner and frequency than normal conditioners.
Kimble clarifies, "I believe that someone should use a deep conditioner at least once every week or once every two weeks. People with natural hair should deep condition on their wash days to regain those vital minerals."
Deep conditioners also differ from normal ones when it comes to how they're used. Kimble advises, "First, you should go along with your regular hair washing routine. Use the shampoo of your choice and the conditioner of your choice. After you are done with your wash routine, you should put in the deep conditioner." In other words, deep conditioners should only be used on freshly cleansed hair. "Your hair should be wet when putting the deep conditioner in, as it will benefit your hair a lot more," Kimble explains.
Furthermore, deep conditioners should be left in for much longer than normal ones. "Unlike a regular conditioner," says Kimble, "deep conditioners stay in the hair overnight and should be washed out the next morning." Other deep conditioners call for shorter intervals of time, like 10, 15, or 30 minutes. Kimble recommends wearing "a shower cap or a bonnet for sleeping to make sure that there is no mess when it comes to the deep conditioner." She also adds that it helps keep the conditioner in place. Personally, I like wrapping a shower cap over my hair while deep conditioning because it minimizes mess and optimizes the conditioning by adding an element of humidity. The cap also keeps my hair off my face and back, protecting my skin from conditioner-induced breakouts.
- Best Deep Conditioner for Wavy Hair: Davines OI Hair Butter
- Best Deep Conditioner for Type 3 Curly Hair: Davines LOVE CURL Curly Hair Mask
- Best Deep Conditioner for Type 4 Curly Hair: Shea Moisture High Porosity Finishing Elixir
- Best Lightweight Conditioner for Curly and Natural Hair: Camille Rose Rosemary Oil 5 Minute Strengthening Hair Mask
- Best Deep Conditioner for Curly and Natural Hair Overall: RSL Healing Power Hair Masque - Avocado + Banana Oil + Coconut Milk + Agave
The Best Deep Conditioners for Curly Hair
Best Deep Conditioner for Protective Styles
“I constantly rotate between curly and straight styles. Catch me in the summer and it’s 90 percent curly, but if my vibe calls for a longer style, then I’ll wear it straight without hesitation. Variety is great; however, the sudden changes can leave my hair in major need of TLC. Enter this strengthening mask that quickly nourishes my scalp and strands without weighing it down. I love the rosemary oil that stimulates hair growth, while soothing my scalp after wearing curly or protective styles.” — Deena Campbell, Beauty Director
Pros: editor-approved; affordable; Black-owned brand; works well on protective styles; free of parabens
Cons: none found
Customer Review: "When I finally rinsed out the conditioner, my hair felt soft, and moisturized, and it definitely defined my curl pattern." -Target
Best Multi-Purpose Deep Conditioner for Curly Hair
Chicago-based hairstylist Ryan Babbitt has over 15 years of experience styling hair of all types, and he swears by this shine-enhancing, sulfate-free formula from Mizani. "This is so rich and nourishing, but somehow still light," he says, adding that he also uses the product as a detangler, cutting lotion (a milky product used during hair trims that eases the friction and potential irritation of scissors and shears), and daily leave-in conditioner for curly hair. To top it all off? He raves that the formula smells "fresh and honest."
Pros: expert-approved; free of sulfates, SLS, SLES, and mineral oil; shine-enhancing; reduces frizz
Cons: strong smell
Customer Review: "It’s been a few months. I never had buildup and this soothes my dry scalp issues. Love using this for blow drying my prone to breakage hair." -Sephora
Best Deep Conditioner for Thin, Curly Hair
Davines' protein-rich hair mask is specifically formulated for curly hair, and Babbit swears by it. "This is one of the most softening products I've ever used, and to be honest the whole Love range is softening," he gushes, noting that it's gentle enough for use on finer curls in particular. The formula also promises to detangle hair, preventing breakage. To apply, simply apply to towel-dried hair and comb through for even application, Then, leave on for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing it all out.
Pros: free of sulfates, parabens, pthalates, talc, and silicones; cruelty-free; expert-approved
Cons: not as suitable for thick hair
Customer Review: "This mask is very, very concentrated so even though the container is small, you can get many uses from it. My curly hair goes to the middle of my back. It’s naturally very dry, and the ends tangle like crazy. When I use this mask two times a week for 15 to 30 minutes at a time, my hair stays softer, and it doesn’t tangle nearly as easily —even overnight!"-Davines
Best Deep Conditioner for Damaged Curly Hair
This versatile, moisture-rich formula is made for any hair type that needs an emergency boost of hydration. "It really works for hair that is flimsy and lacks shine," Babbitt attests, adding that it’s lightweight enough to sit in coily and natural hair for long periods of time, too. Plus, Babbit says, “color-treated curly hair soaks it right up.” For best results, apply to towel-dried hair and either wash out or, if you have thick hair, leave in until your next regular wash day.
Pros: free of sulfates, gluten, and parabens; expert-approved
Cons: contains silicones
Customer Review: "This is my new favorite leave in cream. I regularly heat style, lighten and color my hair. Using this gives me the strength and hydration I look for in a treatment cream. Smells just like a vacation!" -Ulta
Best Fast-Acting Deep Conditioner for Curly Hair
This hair mask comes highly recommended by Priscilla Valles, a celebrity hairstylist who has worked with the likes of Chrissy Teigen, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, and Christina Aguilera. She calls this product "a strengthening hair mask that repairs and restores while preventing breakage with intense hydration and nourishment for dry and damaged hair." Plus, it’s perfect for the hair aficionado on the go: Simply apply the formula through mid-lengths and ends, leave on for five to 10 minutes, rinse, and go!
Pros: shine-enhancing; expert-approved; works on all hair types and curl patterns
Cons: contains silicones
Customer Review: "I started using this mask once a week in the shower and have noticed that my hair feels softer and shinier and my hair is less damaged. My hair feels hydrated, and I have less split ends and breakage." -Sephora
Best Softening Deep Conditioner for Curly Hair
For those with thick, dense, or wavy hair, Babbitt recommends yet another Davines product: Its rich, frizz-fighting OI Butter. This antioxidant-infused formula is completely free of sulfates, parabens, phthalates, silicones, talc, and mineral oil, and its ingredients are sustainably sourced. Plus, it promises to both soften hair and protect it from dangerous UV rays that can weaken and dry out strands. Simply leave the formula on for five to 10 minutes (depending on your hair type and how much moisture you need), rinse, and voilà!
Pros: expert-approved; offers UV ray protection; free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, silicones, talc, and mineral oil
Cons: none found
Customer Review: "I have fine, color treated hair and wanted a hair mask that hydrated my hair. I found that in order to get the best results with this product you have to section off your hair (after showering) when applying, saturate the product in your hair, and leave in overnight. Make sure to completely wash off the product next morning before blow drying. Your hair will feel the best it's ever felt with this product. Highly recommend!" -Nordstrom
The Best Deep Conditioners for Natural Hair
Best Heat Protecting Deep Conditioner for Natural Hair
This product from Kimble’s brand is infused with argan oil, collagen, and honey, culminating in a formula that promises soft, smooth, frizz-free hair. “Not only is this my product,” Kimble admits, “but I believe that this product brings the right amount of moisture to natural hair and will help it become silky and smooth.” It works within 20 minutes, and is formulated for every curl type, from wavy to kinky. The formula is completely hypo-allergenic, but because it’s heat-activated, it induces a warming, tingling sensation on the scalp during use that mimics the feeling of sitting under a dryer at a salon.
Pros: expert-approved; softening; color-safe
Cons: creates a tingling sensation on the scalp that some users find uncomfortable
Customer Review: "After applying the leave in conditioner and hair oil, I allowed my hair to dry naturally. It was surprisingly soft and hydrated." -Walmart
Best Leave-In Deep Conditioner for Natural Hair
According to Babbitt, this leave-in product from Shea Moisture is a perfect deep conditioner for those who want to condition and go instead of having to rinse the product out. "Curly hair tends to have higher porosity and less shine than other textures, and this product really deals with that, he explains, noting that it can be used on either dry or damp coils. On the popular, affordable brand behind the formula, he adds, “I'm always into Shea Moisture. The company is so responsible, the ingredients are so clean, the products are easy to find, and they really work."
Pros: expert-approved; easy to use; affordable; made with natural hair in mind
Cons: small bottle
Customer Review: "Leaves your hair really soft and moisturized and has a nice smell to it." -Influenster
Best Deep Conditioner for Breakage
"This product stops breakage while nourishing and strengthening hair," Kimble attests. She adds that it's "great for dry, damaged and thinning hair," and that it's packed with nourishing natural ingredients like black castor seed oil, chebe powder, shea butter, mango seed butter, and proteins, which strengthen hair follicles and prevent frizz. Plus, she says, it's "deep conditioning and formulated to penetrate the root and the cuticles while it moisturizes and eliminates frizz." The net effect? She promises, "It leaves hair smooth and manageable."
Pros: affordable; expert-approved; uses natural ingredients
Cons: some users found it difficult to distrubite in hair
Customer Review: "My hair is dry living up north, so I can always use some more moisture. One treatment of Kim Kimble Star Treatment and my hair felt amazing. It was great how manageable and smooth my hair was." -Walmart
Best Natural Deep Conditioner for Natural Hair
Suffering from dull, overworked, and over-styled hair that’s in desperate need of TLC? Look no further than this formula from Raw Sugar Living (or RSL) which, per its name, is made with organic, cold-pressed ingredients like avocado, banana, coconut, and agave. Kimble recommends it, writing, “This product contains natural ingredients, which is essential for natural hair.” It’s also cruelty-free, color-safe, and vegan. And for every product purchased from RSL, the brand donates a bar of soap to a family in need.
Pros: vegan; cruelty-free; color-safe; expert-approved; uses natural ingredients
Cons: none found
Customer Review: "It's thick and glides into my thicker hair like a dream, smells nice and added more shine that I thought would be impossible. It made my hair so soft and shiny even after styling with a flat iron. For me personally, this is the holy grail of hair products." -Sally Beauty
Best Scented Deep Conditioner for Natural Hair
Dae is an Arizona-based haircare brand focused on using organic ingredients, derived from the desert, to moisturize and nourish hair for lasting strength. Kimble sings their praises, writing, “This brand really caters to people with natural hair.” In particular, she recommends this mask, which is meant to be left on for 5 to ten minutes, depending on your hair type and needs. Kimble says that the product “really does help nourish the hair,” and dozens of reviewers agree, lauding both its efficacy and its signature scent.
Pros: free of parabens, sulfates, SLS, and SLES; clean; expert-approved
Cons: contains silicones
Customer Review: "The smell is incredible and the texture is so luxe and feels so good on my hair. It rinses out beautifully and does not leave my hair feeling heavy or greasy like other masks I have tried." -Sephora
Best Vegan Deep Conditioner for Natural Hair
"I’ve been using hair masks in lieu of traditional conditioners for a while now; moisture is my routine’s primary goal, even if you don’t leave them on for as long. This mask has a thick butter-like texture as opposed to the standard thick lotion. This mask makes my hair easy to detangle, soft and shiny. Also, the vegan formulation ensures that my hair isn’t weighed down by too many proteins. Also, the fragrance is fresh and herbaceous and turns my shower into a spa." -Brittany Holloway-Brown
Meet the Experts
Kimberly Kimble, better known as Kim Kimble, is a celebrity hairstylist, beauty expert, and business owner who has styled the likes of Shakira, Rihanna, Halle Berry, Beyoncé, Zendaya, and others. She also owns her own beauty brand, Kim Kimble, which provides high-quality haircare, extensions, and more—with a focus on keeping natural hair healthy and well-styled. Originally from Chicago, she is now based in Los Angeles.
Ryan Babbitt is a hairstylist with a passion for educating his clients about how to keep their hair healthy and well-maintained. Comfortable with both cutting and coloring, he is particularly enthusiastic about creating lasting, structured looks. He is currently based in Chicago, where he has worked for 15 years, and can be booked via the Klicked Salon.
Priscilla Valles is a celebrity hairstylist and extension expert. She has worked with a number of high-profile celebrity clients, including Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, Britney Spears, and Chrissy Teigen. She is currently based in Los Angeles.
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Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal since 2018. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.
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