Just because you're using conditioner regularly, that doesn't mean your hair is being optimally conditioned. The goal of a conditioner is to lower your hair's pH after shampooing, which smooths down the cuticle (the fish-scale-like outer layer of the hair strand) to give you softer, shinier strands. Plus, it contains moisturizing emollients to help nourish and soften the hair. But if the formula you're using isn't right for you, you might not be getting all of those benefits—and your hard-earned haircare dollars are literally going right down the drain.
"Good hair days start on wash day. If you don't get a strong start with your shampoo and conditioner routine, styling will present one challenge after another, including dryness, breakage, frizz, or lifeless hair," says Quia Querisma, a hairstylist based in Dallas. "If you aren't using the right conditioner, it may do its job too well or not enough."
This is basically the Goldilocks Principle in haircare form: You need a formula that's just right for your texture. "If someone has hair that is fine in texture and density, a heavy conditioner will weigh the hair down, making it appear flat and greasy," says Querisma. "If someone has medium to coarse hair, a conditioner that is too light won't have enough of the moisturizing and emollient qualities that a thicker hair strand needs."
When choosing a conditioner, licensed cosmetologist Maya Smith says to read the labels carefully to find something specifically targeted to your individual concerns. "Pay attention to the language on the package," says Smith, who is the founder and CEO of haircare line The Doux. "It's easy to be seduced by the botanical ingredients listed on the front, but it is most important to focus on what the product claims to provide—moisture, anti-frizz, repair, reconstruct, etc."
To ensure you're getting the most out of your conditioning routine, learn about five signs your conditioner isn't working below.
5 signs your conditioner isn't working
1. Your hair is limp or flat
If your hair is feeling limp or flat, it may be because your conditioner is too heavy (fun fact: some stylists say that those with extra-fine hair may not even need conditioner at all for precisely this reason). To give your look new life, seek out a volumizing conditioner. These formulas tend to be super lightweight, and allow your hair to get the moisture it needs without weighing it down. Querisma recommends the Pureology Pure Volume Conditioner ($34 to $74) to create lift and movement. Another great option is the Living Proof Full Conditioner ($29 to $59), which is designed to make fine hair types look extra full.
2. Your hair is feeling dry or brittle
There's nothing worse than taking the time to condition your hair only to rinse it out and have your hair feeling just as dry and brittle as it was before. If this sounds familiar, Smith says you may need to use a deep conditioner. Deep conditioners take the place of your regular conditioner, and are meant to be left on for longer to give the moisturizing ingredients ample time to penetrate your strands. She recommends using The Doux Sweetest Thing Moisture Mask ($16), which "hydrates stressed hair beyond the cuticle layer to improve texture, reduce friction, and bring that elasticity and strength back." The Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Hair Mask ($14 to $120) is also an excellent, nourishing option.
3. Your hair feels sticky once it's rinsed
"Too heavy of a conditioner creates a waxy feeling," says Smith, so if you're getting that sticky feeling on your hair after using conditioner, it's time to switch to something lighter. For those with wavy, curly, or coily hair, consider using the Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross Lightweight Conditioner ($9 to $42). A great pick for all hair types is the Kérastase Aura Botanica Conditioner ($42). Both provide weightless moisture to nourish thin, fine hair without weighing it down.
4. You're dealing with excessive frizz
When your hair is frizzy, it's a sign that it needs a heavier conditioner. Frizz happens when moisture penetrates the cuticle of your hair, which is more likely to occur in dry, damaged hair because these hair types have raised, uneven cuticles that make it easier for water to get in. Because of this, moisturizing your strands with conditioner is key. "For drier, frizzy hair, I love Monat's Smoothing Deep Conditioner ($31)," says celebrity hairstylist Clariss Rubenstein. "It's super moisturizing, and battles frizz in a major way." The Amika Velveteen Dream Anti-Frizz Smoothing Conditioner ($20) is another fabulous option. Both smooth hair while protecting it from humidity.
5. You have a hard time detangling your hair
No matter your hair type, it shouldn't be difficult to get a comb through your hair, especially if you're detangling while your conditioner is in (most pros recommend using a wide-toothed comb in the shower to work through any knots). While tangles can usually tip you off that it's time to get your ends trimmed, using a slippery conditioner can help. The Christophe Robin Detangling Gelée Conditioner ($39) is great for detangling finer hair, while the Moroccanoil Hydrating Conditioner ($12 to $26) works well on coarser textures.
Once you've found the right conditioner, make sure you apply it correctly. "When applying your conditioner, start from the ends of your hair and work your way up," says Smith. "The ends are the oldest part of your hair strand, and they need the most TLC. And, if you struggle with a lack of volume or if you have fine hair, avoid applying conditioner to your roots." Then, it's nothing but good hair days ahead.
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