Hair Conditioning

In my last post, HBK’s Shampoo Guide, we talked about the first step to healthy hair, shampooing. This post is a complete guide to step two, conditioning.

What is Conditioner?

Conditioner is a preparation of emollients and moisturizing ingredients used to improve or maintain the hair’s condition. Some ingredients include, but are not limited to silicone, natural oils, fatty alcohols and vitamin B5.

Why is it important to use conditioners?

Conditioning is a crucial step to hair health. Hair conditioner acts as a thin, protective barrier that shields the hair during styling or blow drying. Conditioners also replenish moisture that can be depleted during hair coloring, daily styling or exposure to the sun and natural elements. Using conditioner in tandem with shampoo is imperative and will allow for your hair to be more manageable, reducing static and split ends, ultimately resulting in softer, shinier, healthier hair.

Structure of the Hair Strand

A hair strand is made up of three layers: the medulla, the cortex and the cuticle. The medulla is the very thin, innermost layer of the hair. The cortex is the largest part of the hair strand and is responsible for the color of the hair; it contains melanin, a pigment that is also found in our skin, and keratin which determines the strength of the hair. Last is the cuticle, the outermost layer of the hair strand that is responsible for inhibiting water movement and protecting the cortex and medulla. Consider the cuticle as you would roof shingles. If a roof is missing some of its shingles, or if a roof’s shingles are lifted or spread far apart, the roof is susceptible to damage. If a hair’s cuticle is lifted or damaged, moisture can escape easily, resulting in dry, brittle hair strands.

How Do Hair Conditioners Work?

Conditioners feed your hair. Shampooing the hair lifts the cuticle, cleansing the hair of dirt and oils. Conditioners impart moisture after shampooing, replenishing the cortex. Acidity in conditioners helps to seal the cuticle, similar to setting a roof shingle, tight and flat. This in turn prevents tangles, moisture loss and gives the hair a healthy shine.

Different Types of Hair Conditioners

There are many conditioners out there such rinse-outs (or normal conditioner), masks and deep treatments, leave-ins and professional treatments.

Rinse-out Conditioners

Rinse-out conditioners are the most common type of hair conditioner. Rinse-out conditioners provide a thin protective coat that both strengthens and beautifies the hair. Types of hair conditioners include volumizing, smoothing, hydrating, strengthening and softening. Being prescribed the right conditioner, as well as the right shampoo, can make all the difference in the world. It’s important to note that rinse-out conditioners are only a short term fix that will add moisture and smooth the cuticle till the next shampoo. It is recommended that one uses a mask or deep conditioning treatment along with a rinse-out conditioner.

Masks and Deep Conditioning Treatments

Masks and deep conditioning treatments have long-term effects such as the repair of damaged cuticles and allowing for moisture to penetrate deeper into the cortex of the hair strand, providing longer lasting results.

There are different types of masks and deep conditioning treatments. For fine hair a lighter weight deep conditioning foam or mousse is recommended while medium or coarse hair needs more of a conditioning mask or cream. There are also different types of treatments for dry or damaged hair, it is recommended that you consult your haircare professional in order to identify the correct mask or deep conditioning treatment suited to your individual hair needs.

Your unique hair needs will determine how often you will need a deep conditioning treatment or mask application. A general guide to get you started is as follows:

  • extremely parched hair, 1-2x’s weekly
  • dry hair, 1x weekly or bi weekly
  • average hair 1-2x monthly

Leave-in Conditioners

Leave-in conditioners, in my opinion, are a must for every client! Leave-in conditioners are the first product that should be used in your hair after washing, then conditioning and then towel drying the hair. It works exceptionally well to fill in porosity holes which then will allow for other products to lay evenly on the hair when applied. My favorite is Pureology Color Fanatic 21 Benefits Leave-in Spray which primes, protects and perfects the hair. It’s safe for color-treated hair and can be used to air dry or heat style with amazing results. If you haven’t tried it yet I highly recommend you do!

Professional Conditioning Treatments

Professional conditioning treatments are highly concentrated forms of some of your favorite at-home treatments and can give you a more dramatic result. Professional conditioning treatments can vary from bond rebuilding (Olaplex and Redken PH Bonder) to hydrating and strengthening.

How to Apply Conditioner

Just as shampoo should only be applied to your roots, conditioner should only be applied to the mid-shaft and ends of your hair. Your scalp will naturally produce oil where your hair does not. Follow these steps for the best results:

  1. Shampoo, rinse.
  2. Apply conditioner by using the following guidelines: use an amount in your hand the size of a penny, a nickel or a quarter for extremely long hair. For thick hair more may need to be applied, but as a general rule, remember to think “less is more”. Apply the conditioner to the ends of your hair, raking your fingers through the hair in order to evenly distribute the product. Brush the leftover product from your initial application with your fingers through and over the top of your hair.
  3. Let the conditioner sit for one to three minutes.
  4. Rinse thoroughly. Leaving excess conditioner in your hair can cause a build-up, resulting in lackluster heavy hair, difficulties with styling, increased tangling, and excess oils that will create a need to wash or clarify more often.

    If it’s time to apply your deep treatments, wash and wring out the hair completely. Apply a penny, nickel or quarter size of deep conditioner to the hair following the manufacturer’s directions. Make sure to rinse out the deep treatment completely after you finish conditioning.

Hair Conditioning Tips & Tricks

  • When applying conditioner, make a low pony tail and apply from the pony tail down.
  • Rinsing your conditioner out with cool water will help to add shine.
  • Applying your masks and deep treatments to towel-dried hair will allow your hair to soak up more of the product.
  • If your hair is very dry or damaged, using regular conditioner after your treatments is a small but effective step.
  • For intense results, putting a plastic cap over your treatment will help to open the hair cuticle and allow for better penetration. You can also heat a towel in the microwave for 1-2 minutes and then place it on top of the cap for more heat.
  • Using an at-home treatment between salon treatments will give you longer lasting results.

A Special Tip for Frequent Hair Washers

If you need to wash your hair frequently, you have two options when it comes to conditioning.

  1. Shampoo normally, followed by a rinse-out conditioner, for every wash.
  2. Use a cleansing conditioner instead of a shampoo-conditioner combo. A cleansing conditioner is a conditioner that cleans and conditions the hair in one step. A cleansing conditioner is more hydrating and gentle compared to traditional shampoo.

People often wash their hair daily in response to the dry and “crunchy” feeling their hair can take on during the day. In an attempt to return softness to the hair with a daily washing, they are actually stripping the hair of its moisture. Using a cleansing conditioner, instead of the daily wash with a traditional shampoo and conditioner, or employing a cleansing conditioner in between every other traditional wash will give the hair a more gentle cleaning as well as return moisture to the hair in a single step.

Example Hair Washing and Conditioning Schedules by Hair Type

Example One: Washing and Conditioning Schedule for Oily Hair

Wash and condition every two days. On the off days, use dry shampoo to freshen the hair.

Examples Two and Three: Washing and Conditioning Schedule for Dry Hair

  1. Wash and condition every two days. On the off days use a cleansing conditioner or a regular conditioner only to restore the hair’s moisture and softness.
  2. Wash the hair with cleansing conditioner at the usual intervals at which you would normally wash with a traditional shampoo.

Good Luck and Happy Conditioning!