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I laugh at this now, but when I was a kid, I remember thinking that the conditioner in our family’s shower was only for my mom and sister. It didn’t lather quite like the shampoo I used, so it felt like a pointless product. Plus I had short hair, so I never really experienced what having dry, brittle hair felt like.
But here’s a spoiler: Men should use conditioner, too. In fact, I use it three or four times as much as I do shampoo now, and I don’t even keep my hair that long—maybe a few inches at most. And conditioner is a lifesaver for me. It keeps my hair healthy, and works far harder than shampoo.
If you aren’t sold on needing conditioner yet, I hope you’ll at least hear the arguments in favor of it. (Though there aren’t many arguments against it, really…) Oh, and one thing I hope you’ll never try is one of those 2-in-1 shampoo-conditioners. Read on to understand why conditioner must stand alone in its use—and why it must always follow shampoo, and never precede it.
For expertise on the topic, I spoke with two different types of hair pros. First, from NYC- and Palm Beach-based trichologist Bridgette Hill and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman. We even spoke about the best kinds of conditioner for each type of hair, whether it’s short, long, straight, curly, thick, thinning, and plenty in between.
Meet the Expert
What Is Conditioner?
Conditioner, in essence, keeps your hair soft, strong, and hydrated. It is filled with hair-strengthening vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients, all of which seep into each strand to nourish hair while reversing damage and moisture loss.
“Using a conditioner prevents hair from becoming too dry and fortifies the cuticle to prevent damage and hair breakage,” says Hartman. “Conditioner also provides a protective coating to the outer layers of the hair shaft to give the hair sheen and a thicker appearance. It is especially important to apply if after shampooing (when hair, like skin, is prone to dryness).”
Should Men Use Conditioner?
Yes, men should absolutely use conditioner. If you have short hair, maybe you don’t need to use as much as people with longer hair. But guys with all kinds of hair can benefit from using a conditioner. Guys with any length, texture, or curl will particularly demand conditioner, as will guys whose hair is thinning rapidly and risking permanent loss. Conditioners can do so many favors in making each of these hair types healthiest, strongest, and style ready.
Most importantly, if you overuse shampoo—which is to say, if you shampoo more than 2-3 times a week—then you definitely, 100 percent need conditioner, and possibly even daily.
The Right Way to Use Conditioner
You can use conditioner after shampooing, or on its own.
If it’s after a wash, then Hartman says that conditioner should be applied immediately afterwards—but never before nor at the same time. “Most shampoos use chemicals that are harsh on hair follicles,” he says. To counter the moisture-stripping shampoo, conditioners employ a roster of refreshing and restorative ingredients. “Conditioners use fatty alcohols (derived from natural fats/oils), as well as humectants and oils to make hair soft, flexible, and less prone to static [or damage].”
You can also use it on the non-shampoo days, as a standalone boost for hair—and it also helps to flush out any product or grime buildup, though not as thoroughly as a shampoo. (This is why you should still shampoo 2-3 times per week.) “Just because shampoo is not used daily, doesn’t mean that the hair can’t benefit from extra hydration and moisturization [provided by a conditioner], Hartman says. “It is perfectly fine to use a conditioner daily or every other day, even if shampoo isn’t used prior.”
Whether you use a conditioner after shampooing or on its own, here is how to properly apply it: First, massage a nickel-sized amount into your hands and fingers. “Spread the conditioner evenly to the ends of the hair,” Hartman says. “If your scalp is also dry, apply conditioner from the root to the tip. Let it stay on your hair for a moment, typically about a minute, before rinsing.”
Conditioners and Scalp Care
What role do conditioners play in maintaining a healthy, balanced scalp? “Conditioners are not necessarily required for a healthy scalp,” Hill says. “In fact, in certain situations with problematic scalps that are excessively flaky, dry, prone to ingrown hairs, it is imperative that conditioners [be avoided] without a proper understanding of the causal factors creating the problematic scalp.” This is something your board-certified dermatologist can help you pinpoint (or which might be a quick fix with some good dandruff-fighting shampoo).
“With that being said, a proper conditioner can assist with maintaining proper moisture levels on the scalp, and help nurture the scalp’s microbiome, [as well as] assist with hair shedding.”
So, while you can always find a great scalp conditioning product or a scalp-targeting conditioner, it’s more important to shop for conditioners that align with your own hair type and texture, says Hill. Chances are, that good conditioner will deliver nourishment and hydration to the scalp as a happy side effect. However, one scalp-targeted conditioner that Hill especially loves is Paul Labrecque Daily Conditioner, $32.
The Best Conditioner For Your Hair Type
Here is Hill’s advice on the best types of conditioner for every type of hair under the sun.
For: Thinning Hair
“Look for conditioners that have active ingredients that aid with blocking harmful hormones like DHT (which thins hair) and aid in cellular turnover,” she says. Our suggestion: A conditioner with DHT-combatting saw palmetto.
For: Naturally Thin Hair
“Look for volumizing conditioners that add weightless moisture and lots of protein,” says Hill. This reinforces each strand and promotes volume and density.
For: Thick Hair
“Look for conditioners loaded with moisture that assist with giving the hair control, without build up or weighing it down,” Hill says. In essence, you want to deflate the hair, and prevent poofing and frizzing—all while keeping it hydrated.
For: Curly + Coiled Hair, Long Wavy Hair, and Dry Hair
“Invest in a deep or heavy mask or conditioner to be used after every shampoo,” Hill says. “Look for ingredients with fatty acids like shea butter and avocado.”
But the advice gets more prescriptive for curly and coiled hair. “These types and textures are [especially] prone to dryness because of the structure of the hair fiber,” she says “I suggest leaving the conditioner in for five minutes, then rinse out. [After the shower], I encourage applying a water-based or cream-based leave-in conditioner. Use a water-based leave-in if the hair has a looser wave, or a cream-based leave-in if the hair has a tighter curl or coil.”
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For: Short, Straight/Slightly Wavy Hair (Above the Ears—Even Buzzed and Crew Cuts)
Leave-in conditioners are great for this hair type, says Hill. “I suggest a water-based leave-in that can be left in the hair to retain moisture, is lightweight and can easily be layered with the gel or pomade of choice. Typically, these leave-ins are sprays and may or may not have an added emollient in the formulation. These can be applied from root to end. The scalp and hair fibers benefit from the water-based hydration without build up heaviness.”
For: Medium, Straight/Slightly Wavy Hair (Below the Ears)
Similar to short styles, Hill suggests using a leave-in conditioner, but this time it’s not a spray. “Use a light cream-based leave-in that can be applied from root to end and layered with a styling product for simplicity and ease,” she says. You might see a lot of these light cream conditioners targeted at curly hair, but it’s not like they’re going to turn your hair curly. Rather, they are superb at keeping even the highest-maintenance hair healthy—so your straight/slightly wavy hair should be a cinch.
For: Long, Straight/Wavy Hair (Below the Chin)
“This hair type requires a bit more attention,” Hill warns. “Because of longer hair fibers, it is essential to maintain the proper balance of moisture, lipids, and protein along the entire length of the fiber. The longer the hair, the dryer the older ends of the hair tend to become more brittle and drier. Apply from root to end and rinsed out after 2-4 minutes.”
For: Dyed + Bleached Hair
“Look for conditioners that combat oxidation of color and enhance color,” Hill says. “If hair color is blonde (or silver or platinum), look for purple-based conditioners.” These help tone any discoloration. “For bold fashion colors look for conditioners formulated to refresh the bold color weekly, and a general protection conditioner that has witch hazel extract.”
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Men need conditioner, without question. But the kind of conditioner you need is dictated primarily by the type of hair you have. And while you’ll have to read about your specific hair type and prescriptive conditioner above, one thing remains universal: Never combine your conditioner with a shampoo. Always apply it to freshly washed or rinsed hair, and always follow a shampoo with a conditioner. (You can use them daily if you like, but most importantly, you should always use them after shampooing.) Leave it in your hair for a minute—and as many as 5, based on dryness or texture.