What You Need to Pick the Right Conditioner for Your Hair Type

Updated 04/30/19
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Most people out there are tragically unaware of the fact that they're not using the right conditioner. Due to the myriad of options, it's easy to pick a bottle in haste that will weigh your hair down, or leave it static, dry, and brittle. There are things you need to know before you buy a conditioner, starting with what it actually does.

Conditioner is typically used right after washing your hair and is meant to replace the lost moisture from shampooing. It also smooths the cuticle of your hair and evens out its pH, which in turn reduces tangling, increases shine, decreases static, and helps make your hair more manageable. Conditioner is very important for all hair types, but not every conditioner will work for your hair type.

The rule of thumb is this: shampoo should be chosen based on your scalp condition, conditioner should be used to treat and enhance the condition of your hair. If your scalp is oily and your ends are dry (which is common), choose shampoo that is best suited for an oily scalp and a conditioner that is best suited to hydrate your dry ends. Why? Like your face, treating the oil condition on your scalp begins with proper cleansing. Introducing the proper moisture back into your hair is done by selecting the right conditioner.

So, when you're browsing for a conditioner, the most important thing is the way the ends of your hair feel to the touch. Do you deal with a lot of static? Does your hair feel dry, damaged, or brittle? Is it oily, limp, or lacking shine?

Oily, Limp Hair

If your hair tends to be oily or greasy, you may skip conditioner altogether and likely often find that conditioner makes your hair feel worse. While some people can skip conditioner with good luck, there are conditioners out there that can help reduce oil. Here's what to look for and what to avoid when choosing a shampoo for an oily scalp:

  • Avoid conditioners that are "hydrating," "moisturizing," "smoothing," or otherwise considered good for curly hair. These conditioners tend to pack in too much moisture at once, and will cause your hair to be limp.
  • Look for labels that read "volumizing," "light," "strengthening," or "balancing." Added protein is a good thing for oily hair. These products are less moisturizing and more effective at removing excess oil.
  • When applying conditioner, keep the product off your scalp. Apply a small amount to the midshaft/ends of your hair (where the ponytail would be,) and be sure to spend extra time rinsing. Often, oily hair is actually the result of conditioner not properly rinsed. Rinse your hair for an absolute minimum of 30 seconds.
  • If your hair is fine and oily, try using conditioner first, then shampoo.

Dry, Damaged, Dull, or Brittle Hair

When your hair is dry, damaged, or brittle, choosing the right conditioner can make or break your good hair day. It's important to choose a conditioner that will help prevent future damage:

  • Avoid "strengthening," "fortifying," and "volumizing" conditioners.
  • For hair that is only a little dry, look for shampoo labels that promote moisture, hydration, smoothing, balancing, or help with curls. These products are great for balancing moisture without adding too much to weigh your hair down.
  • If your hair is particularly damaged, consider a conditioner that packs a harder punch. Look for labels that promote repair, frizz control, are good for highlighted hair, and protect from heat damage.
  • Deep Conditioners are a great investment for dry and damaged hair. With use 1-4 times per month, your hair's damage can be managed, and future damage can be prevented.
  • Try a coconut oil treatment for intense damage repair.

What Conditioner Types Actually Mean:

  • Hydrating/Moisturizing: great for adding moisture, shine, and smoothness to hair. Good for thick, curly, or course hair.
  • Volumizing: excellent choice when your hair is fine or limp. If your hair or style need a boost and lift, a volumizing conditioner won't weigh you down.
  • Strengthening/Fortifying: good for damaged, over processed, highlighted, weak, or brittle hair.
  • Balancing: balancing conditioners are typically a nice middle of the road option. Not too moisturizing, but won't dry your hair out.
  • Smoothing/Straight Hair: extra moisturizers and smoothing agents help seal the cuticle and provide a smooth start for your straight hairstyle.
  • Curly Hair: conditioners that are formulated for curly hair are typically very moisturizing and make an extra effort to reduce frizz.

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