June 8, 2023

It’s important to give your hair a break from the damaging hot tools, UV exposure, dyeing chemicals and other factors that contribute to frizz-prone, lackluster hair. And for hair that needs a bit of extra help, air-dry cream provides a restorative and low-maintenance treatment that makes hair more manageable overall. It tames frizz, conditions the hair and boosts shine while offering a touch of heat-free hold to enhance your natural texture.

“Air-dry creams are formulated in a very similar way to classic leave-in conditioners but tend to be thicker in texture and incorporate some of the holding capacity of styling products typically more geared towards curly or textured hair,” explains Tom Smith, celebrity stylist and international color creative director for Evo Hair, Tom Smith. “This is to aid them in their ability to define, polish and support your natural texture, even if it forms more of a loose bend or wave rather than a fully formed curl.

“Air-dry creams will help the locks of your hair stay in place while the hair dries (moving the hair too much as it dries tends to cause excessive frizz) and are soft enough to be invisible in the hair once fully dry,” he adds.

That said, air-dry treatments can come in a variety of formats, including leave-in conditioners, creams, gels, sprays and oils. The differences can be nuanced and, oftentimes, the varied consistencies provide similar benefits depending on your hair type and texture, which is why the experts we consulted recommended a mix of air-dry products.

According to Michelle O’Connor, NAHA-winning hairstylist and artistic director of Matrix, those with straighter hair will want to “look for protein-based products that will give the hair hold/strength,” while curly and coily hair types should look for moisturizing ingredients such as Manuka honey.

Along with paying attention to the ingredient list, Smith recommends choosing the right air-dry product based on its weight and texture. “The less wavy or curly your hair type, the lighter product you should choose. This means opting for a ‘runnier’ product if your hair is fine or flatter, and a thicker cream if your hair is coarser or has a stronger wave or curl,” he explains.

Air-dry creams and treatments are super easy to incorporate into your hair care routine. While specific usage can vary depending on the consistency of the product, most can follow these general steps:

  1. After towel drying, apply the cream, gel or spray to the length of your hair. Depending on your hair type and the weight of the product, you may want to apply it only from the mid-length to ends to avoid over-conditioning your roots.
  2. Comb the product through with a wide-tooth comb (this helps prevent breakage) or scrunch into hair to enhance curls and waves.
  3. Style your hair as desired, or simply go on with your day.

And with that, check out the experts’ 17 favorite air-dry creams for different hair types:

New York City-based colorist and hairstylist Reece Walker loves this repairing treatment, which is technically a leave-in hair mask. It plays well with other styling products and gives “immediate and lasting results to restore strength, softness, smoothness and bounce to hair,” Walker says. “This is the first thing I would put in the hair after shampooing!”

Underscored editors tried and loved this air-dry cream from Jonathan Van Ness’ hair care line. It worked on our range of hair types — from stick-straight to 3C curls — making our locks softer and tamed.

This long-standing favorite hair oil, which Walker recommends, is a weightless product that keeps frizz at bay while adding shine (without looking greasy). You’ll see and feel the results long after your hair has dried.

A pro-approved choice from Walker, reviewers of all hair types love the condition and shine this leave-in product brings. Even those in humid climates say it can keep hair smooth and frizz-free.

Smith recommends this smoothing leave-in treatment for those with very coarse or dry hair types. The stylist says it “will support and reduce waves or curls, plus help to smooth frizz.”

Editorial hairstylist Akihisa Yamaguchi says this air-dry cream is great for taming frizz and providing a light hold for coarse, wavy and straight hair types.

One of Walker’s picks, this cream restores dry, thirsty strands. Suitable for all hair textures, the treatment contains soy protein biopolymer for frizz control, wheat amino acids for conditioning and the Oribe signature complex to defend against environmental elements.

Walker also recommends this repairing treatment that acts like a leave-in conditioner for damaged, dry hair. With keratin and green pea proteins, it strengthens the hair while restoring softness.

Whether your hair is damaged and dry from coloring, heat styling or environmental factors, Walker loves this treatment that helps repair the hair’s bonds for less breakage and smoother locks.

O’Connor loves the entire A Curl Can Dream collection for those with curly or coily hair. She recommends the Moisturizing Cream for those who prefer air-drying, as it provides “the ultimate hydration without the added crunch or flake.” Infused with Manuka honey, the cream gives hair weightless moisture so curls stay bouncy and defined.

Smith loves this leave-in spray for those with waves or curls. “The thicker or curlier the hair, the more product you can apply,” the hairstylist says. “A great thing about this product is the unique viscosity allows you to choose between spraying directly into the hair or spraying into your palm and using your hands to apply and twist the product into the hair.”

Yamaguchi recommends this curl-enhancing, flexible gel that adds shine and body without weighing the hair down or getting crunchy as the hair dries.

Another one of Yamaguchi’s picks for curly and coily hair, this hair cream has thousands of 5-star reviews for keeping curls conditioned and frizz-free.

This restorative multipurpose cream can be used as an air-dry cream or heat protectant if blow-drying. It helps detangle the hair, and Smith says it’s best for those with “baby fine hair with minimal wave” since it will “support the hair without a noticeable hold.”

O’Connor says this spray, which you apply to damp hair from mid-lengths to ends, is best for straight and wavy hair types. “[It’s] great because the vitamin B5 and protein controls frizziness, strengthens and repairs the hair and is great for keeping color and shine,” the stylist shares.

“For medium to coarse hair with a tendency to frizz, Olaplex No. 6 is also a great choice, thanks to its rich texture,” Smith says. The bond-building leave-in treatment helps tame frizz while strengthening the strands to prevent damage and breakage.

A detangler, conditioner, shine enhancer and style primer all in one, this frizz-fighting spray is especially great for straight and wavy hair, according to Yamaguchi.


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