Leave-In Conditioner vs Moisturizer: What's the Difference?

Moisturizer VS Leave-In Conditioner: What’s the Difference? 

Moisturizer VS Leave-In What's the Difference

Curly, kinky hair is beautiful! It’s versatile. It’s resilient. It’s unique. Like a magnificent crown. There’s so much you can do with curly, kinky hair–from natural coils to relaxed tresses. Yes, your kinky, curls are wonderful, girl! But they need moisture.

Lots of it!

We often get so caught up styling our hair that we forget to care for it too. From knot outs to blow outs, our beautiful curls and coils need moisture to remain healthy, shiny and long. Curly hair is prone to dryness and breakage so it’s important to keep it moisturized. There are plenty of hair treatment options available (Check out Consumers Advocate for the latest reviews), but for the most part folks are turning towards leave-in products and moisturizers to care for their hair.

So how do I moisturize my hair?

Moisturizer VS Leave-In What's the Difference

Using a good leave-in conditioner or moisturizer regularly is the key to keeping your hair moisturized. Makes sense, right? Here’s where it gets tricky. You also need to know which kind of products to use to moisturize your hair. Should you use a leave-in conditioner? Or should you use a moisturizer? Is it possible to need both? Is there a difference?!

It’s hard, girl. I get it!

So let’s break it down.

What is leave-in conditioner?

Leave-in conditioner is a non-rinse conditioner meant to moisturize, detangle and smooth frizz and fly-aways for sleek styling. Leave-in conditioner works best when the hair is wet or damp as it provides enough “slip” to make detangling and styling a breeze. Using a leave-in conditioner can be very effective if you wash your hair often (once or more a week) or you need a little extra help detangling during wash day. You may also prefer leave-in conditioner if your hair is thin or fine. Leave-in conditioner is typically loaded with silicons or humectants that can’t fully penetrate into strands. Which is great for lots of slip and lightweight moisture in between washes.

Moisturizer VS Leave-In What's the Difference

What is moisturizer?

Think of moisturizer as leave-in conditioner’s bigger sister. It’s more rich, dense and moisturizing than leave-in conditioner. Moisturizer is typically formulated with more nourishing ingredients like Shea butter, Aloe vera, oils and more. All of the good stuff curly hair needs to be healthy! As a result, moisturizer is better suited for thick, kinky curly hair that requires extra moisture and care. Using a good moisturizer for your hair type will keep your strands healthy and protected for much longer than a leave-in conditioner.

What’s the difference?

The similarities between leave-in conditioner and moisturizer are striking. Both can effectively moisturize your hair. So is there a difference between leave-in conditioner and moisturizer? Yes. In a nutshell, leave-in conditioner is more lightweight and less moisturizing than a moisturizer. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. It mostly depends on your hair type and routine.

As I stated above, thin or fine hair may benefit more from using a leave-in conditioner instead of a moisturizer. Leave-in conditioner isn’t as thick or heavy as moisturizer so it won’t weigh your curls down or make your hair feel greasy. On the other hand, thick, dense curly hair will benefit more from using a moisturizer that can deeply penetrate strands offering long lasting hydration.

Would I ever need both?

There’s other factors that come into play, too. Like your routine. How often you wash and style your hair may mean that you need to use a combination of both. I use a leave-in conditioner and moisturizer because my hair is thick, dry and tangles easily. I relax my hair so it’s also very fragile and prone to breakage if I’m not careful. After washing my hair, I follow up with a leave-in conditioner to help detangle and style my hair. I normally air dry so using a leave-in conditioner is important for my routine because it helps minimize frizz and keeps my hair smooth, shiny and moisturized after wash day.

I don’t always wash (or co-wash) my hair as often as I should. I try to wash my hair at least once a week but that doesn’t always happen. So around, day 3 or so, I switch from leave-in conditioner to moisturizer to make sure my hair is still being penetrated with luscious moisture 24/7. For years, I’ve relied on leave-in condition to moisturize my hair and it just didn’t cut it for me. It wasn’t until I began using a moisturizer regularly that my hair held more moisture and retained more length and thickness.

Which is better?

The answer truly depends on your needs and your routine. I recommend using a leave-in conditioner if you have thin, fine hair that you wash often. Or a moisturizer if your hair is more thick, dense and curly or you don’t wash it too often. You can even use a combination of both (like I do) if your hair needs a little extra TLC and moisture. You’ll never know until you try for yourself!

Want to learn more? Here’s some extra hair care tips for you:

  • Learn how to properly moisturize + lock in moisture here
  • Is shampoo drying out your hair? Try co-washing! Learn how here