Conditioner is the Goldilocks of hair care products. There’s a delicate balance between formulas too light and too heavy, and you need to seek out one that’s jussssst right for you, or you’ll be left with strands that are dry as straw or greasy AF.
The good news? Hair-care technology is getting better and better, which means finding a “just right” product is easier than ever. “The ingredients are getting more sophisticated and smart, so we are able to use less or different textures—foam, gel, cream—and still get a fantastic result,” says Herbal Essences celebrity stylist Bridget Brager. “It really comes down to personal preference: how it feels in your hand, how it distributes through your hair, and ultimately, how the formula works to help your end styling result.”
Choosing the right conditioner depends not only on your hair type, but also on how much moisture it requires. “For me, the old-school rules have gone right out the window. We’re seeing individuality again, because you can’t just say ‘foam is good for fine hair,'” says Dove celebrity stylist Mark Townsend. “It’s really about what your hair needs.”
Thankfully, with all of this new technology, finding a product that fits exactly what your hair needs is easier than ever.
As anyone with fine hair knows, the biggest concern with conditioner is whether or not it’s going to weigh things down. While it may be tempting to forgo conditioner for the sake of sleek, non-greasy strands (and some stylists confirm that that’s okay), Townsend says that shouldn’t be your go-to solution. “Fine-haired women are the ones who are always skipping conditioner, [but] I want them to know you don’t have to,” he explains. “When your hair is wet, it’s in it’s absolute weakest form. Conditioner is there to strengthen it up and to reseal that cuticle.” To avoid the heavy feel, opt for a lightweight foam, and look for formulas that say “weightless” on the label. Start applying from the bottom to make sure the driest parts of your strands are getting enough moisture, and stop just above your ears to avoid a greasy scalp.
“Thick hair” doesn’t necessarily have to equate with rich, heavy conditioner. “Each one of your hairs may be thick in diameter, but they’re in great health,” says Townsend. “Maybe you don’t wash your hair every day, so your scalp is able to balance itself out and not over-produce oils. You can use a very light conditioner.” Consider switching between a foam and a cream every few washes to give your strands exactly what they need without weighing them down.
Simply put, if you have coarse hair, you’re going to need more nourishment. “Coarse hair literally feels coarse because the cuticle is so open. That’s when you want these heavier conditioners that sit on top of the hair, keeping it sealed,” Townsend explains. “You can have straight, coarse hair that’s been brought on by damage from styling, coloring, or anything else, but that coarse hair needs more of the rich nourishment of a heavier cream.”
Luck be the wavy-haired lady, because you can actually use whatever kind of conditioner you damn well please—with one caveat. “It really depends on the level of damage you’ve got in there,” says Townsend. “If you’ve been coloring your hair, it’s gonna need moisture. Or if you use a lot of heat styling products, you might need to help rebuild some of those keratin bonds, so this is where you could probably use a foam two or three times a week and then switch to gel.”
There’s no “one size fits all” for curly girls, but the golden rule is that you should always, always comb your conditioner through in the shower to make sure your entire strands are getting the appropriate levels of nourishment. “If you have curly hair, you want to look for something rich and creamy like Herbal Essences Bio Renew Coconut Milk Conditioner,” says Brager, who also suggests regularly using a mask, like Phyto Curl Hydration Mask ($39), to up the oomph factor on moisture.
The more textured your hair is, the more moisturizer it needs. “For women with natural, relaxed, kinky, and coily hair, I recommend the Royal Oils Moisture Renewal Conditioner,” says Head & Shoulders celebrity stylist Kiyah Wright. “It not only promotes a healthy scalp, but it restores moisture, leaving hair soft and healthy.” She also notes that different curl patterns should look for different formulations. “3A hair type is a slightly tighter curl—I would go for a product that has keratin and proteins in the conditioner to soften the cuticles and hydrate the hair,” says Wright. “4A is a kinkier texture. You should always choose a product for intense moisturization so the product gets into the cuticles and hydrates them, giving the hair shine and manageability.”
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