We know that conditioner seems like a pretty straightforward hair care product. After all, you’ve probably been using it for most of your life at this point. However, you may be surprised to learn that there are plenty of mistakes you can make when conditioning your mane. Using the wrong conditioner for your hair’s needs or overapplying conditioner, for example, can both impact how your hair looks and feels.
The good news is that fixing your conditioner routine is usually pretty easy once you know what you’re doing wrong. Ahead, we're breaking down how to use conditioner correctly so that you can get the most out of this basic hair care step. Plus, we’ll also share a few common conditioner mistakes to avoid and provide tips on how to find the right conditioner formula for your mane.
What Does Conditioner Do to Your Hair?
Conditioner helps restore hydration to your locks after shampooing—especially to your ends, which are more prone to dryness and breakage. Cleansing your hair removes dirt and oil but can also strip essential moisture from your mane, so conditioner helps restore that moisture. Conditioners also help smooth and detangle your hair, making it softer, more manageable, and less prone to damage.
But that’s not all conditioners can do. Some formulas, such as Redken Extreme Conditioner, deliver additional benefits like strengthening and fortifying weak areas. Other conditioners, like Pureology Pure Volume, even offer volume-boosting and color protection benefits. The best conditioner for your hair will depend on several factors, including your hair type, texture, and damage level.
How Do You Get the Best Results From Conditioner?
Conditioner is an important step in any good hair care routine. But in order to reap the full benefits of your conditioner, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Hair type: Firstly, you’ll need to find a conditioner that’s tailored to your hair type, texture, and density. Conditioners, like shampoos, are usually formulated for a specific type of hair, whether that’s straight, wavy, curly, or coily. Formulas for finer hair tend to be more lightweight, while those for thicker hair/curls are often richer and more nourishing.
- Correct application: Finding the right conditioner for your mane is only part of the equation—you also need to be sure you’re applying it correctly. Using too much may weigh down your hair, making it limp or even greasy-looking, while not using enough conditioner (or skipping it altogether) can leave your strands feeling dry or rough.
- Consistency: You’ll need to use conditioner consistently to get the best results from your chosen formula. Try sticking to a shampoo and conditioner system for at least a few weeks before judging whether or not you’re happy with the results.
How To Choose the Best Conditioner for Your Hair
If you’re still unsure where to start when it comes to choosing a conditioner, don’t stress. We’ve done the hard work for you below. Keep scrolling to discover our conditioner recommendations for oily hair, dry hair, curly hair, color-treated hair, and fine hair.
If your hair is oily, you might be tempted to skip conditioner altogether. However, this is probably not a good idea. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends always using conditioner after shampooing your hair—and that includes oily hair types, too. Even though removing natural oils from your hair may sound like a great solution for oily locks, it can actually have the opposite effect. Overdrying your strands may cause your scalp to produce even more oil, leaving you with slick, oily hair once again.
Try: Kérastase Symbiose Fondant Apaisant Essentiel Hydrating Conditioner. This daily hydrating conditioner is designed to soothe your scalp, strengthen your hair, and deliver moisture without weighing your oily strands down. The lightweight formula pairs perfectly with Kérastase Symbiose Bain Crème Antipelliculaire Antidandruff Shampoo.
Hydration is extra-important for anyone with dry hair. This type of hair lacks moisture, which can leave it prone to frizz, split ends, and breakage—and the right conditioner can help with these concerns. However, try to resist the temptation to apply conditioner directly to your entire head. Instead, focus on finding an intensely moisturizing formula and apply it from mid-length down to your ends.
Try: Pureology Nanoworks Gold Conditioner. This is Pureology’s richest, most luxurious cream conditioner yet, and it’s an excellent choice for dry locks. The color-safe formula with golden marula oil strengthens, restores, and adds serious shine to dull, tired hair. It’s also designed to keep improving your hair’s appearance the longer you use it, so you’ll want to grab your Nanoworks Gold Shampoo and stick with it for the long haul.
If you’re a curly gal (or guy), you probably already know that your curls require plenty of hydration to look bouncy, voluminous, and healthy. The coiled shape of your curls can make it harder for moisturizing natural oils to travel down your strands, leaving curly hair vulnerable to dryness and brittleness. The ideal conditioner for curly hair should help supply your mane with much-needed hydration and make your curls pop without weighing them down. You can also incorporate a leave-in conditioner for additional hydration (more on that ahead).
Try: Mizani True Textures Moisture Replenish Conditioner. Start with this moisturizing conditioner for all curl types and apply it to the mid-length of your hair down to your ends. This deep conditioner defines curls and seals the cuticle without any crunch. Next, apply a leave-in conditioner like Mizani 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Conditioner to clean, damp hair and comb through your curls prior to styling.
Color-treated or damaged hair
Color processing can be harsh on your hair, especially if it involves bleaching/lightening your strands. That’s why a color-safe shampoo and conditioner are must-haves for color-treated hair. These types of conditioners are designed specifically to help nourish and protect colored locks between salon visits. The right formula can even help prevent color fade and keep your color looking vibrant for longer.
Try: Redken Acidic Color Gloss Conditioner. This color care conditioner is perfect for extending your color’s vibrancy between coloring sessions. The revolutionary acidic pH glossing formula uses the latest in color care technology to seal the cuticle and provide salon-like shine. To learn more, head to our article on the benefits of acidic hair care products.
Fine hair can look flat and limp without much volume, and the wrong conditioner can make matters worse. For fine hair, you’ll want a lightweight conditioner that helps soften and smooth your strands without weighing them down.
Try: Biolage Professional Bond Therapy Conditioning Foam. Specially formulated for fine, overprocessed, and damaged hair, this lightweight foaming conditioner hydrates, detangles, and builds hair bonds from the inside out without making hair feel flat.
How To Use Conditioner in 5 Easy Steps
Step 1: Shampoo your hair
Begin by lathering up with your favorite shampoo—this step helps remove excess oil, dirt, and product buildup from your hair and scalp. Then, rinse with lukewarm water and wring out your hair before applying conditioner. If your hair is too wet, it may not be able to absorb conditioner as effectively.
Step 2: Apply your conditioner
Next, let’s talk technique. After squeezing out excess water from your strands, focus on applying conditioner on your mid-lengths and ends. The amount of conditioner you’ll need will vary depending on your hair type, length, and density. For many people, this will be roughly one or two quarter-sized dollops of product.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to applying conditioner is that less is more (especially for anyone with fine hair). Applying too much conditioner can leave your strands looking limp and greasy, so it’s best to stick to the recommended usage on the packaging when in doubt.
Tip: For thick, curly, or extra-long hair, try sectioning off your strands in the shower to help ensure you don’t miss any spots.
Step 3: Evenly distribute and detangle
Take the time to gently detangle your mane with your fingers or a wide-toothed comb. Removing knots while the conditioner sits in your hair can help eliminate tangles that may lead to breakage later on. Curly and textured hair types may want to opt for a wet brush or detangling brush for this step. Just make sure not to pull on your hair too harshly as you work through any knots—hair is more fragile when it’s wet.
Step 4: Allow it to absorb
In general, you should aim to let your conditioner sit for around one to three minutes. With that said, every product can vary slightly, so check the product label for specific instructions regarding how long to leave the formula on your hair. This is the perfect time to focus on your body care routine until it’s time to rinse.
Step 5: Rinse it out
Rinse out your conditioner thoroughly using lukewarm water. Try to avoid rinsing with hot water, which can dry out your strands. You’ll also want to take your time rinsing out every bit of conditioner in your hair—leftover product can build up in your mane and lead to greasy, flat hair. By the time you’re finished rinsing, the slick, slippery texture of the conditioner should be completely gone, leaving silky, soft hair in its place.
Hair Conditioner Basics
Do you apply conditioner to your scalp?
One common mistake people make when conditioning their hair is applying it to their roots. Conditioners are designed to add moisture where you need it most (the ends of your hair) and generally aren’t meant to be applied on your roots. In fact, this may actually do more harm than good, since applying conditioner all over your head can weigh your hair down.
Do you have to wash your hair after applying conditioner?
Conditioners are usually designed to be used post-shampoo without the need to wash your hair again. With that said, there are some cases where reverse hair washing can have some benefits. This technique is done by shampooing your hair first and conditioning second. It’s typically considered best for those with thin hair, oily hair (and scalps), and fine hair—but it may not be a good fit for dry hair, coarse hair, and curly hair.
The idea behind reverse hair washing is that it may help your hair absorb hydrating and nourishing ingredients more easily while removing some of the heaviness associated with conditioners.
How should I use leave-in conditioner?
Leave-in conditioners are hydrating hair treatments that remain on your hair until your next wash day. These products work overtime to make your locks look and feel soft, shiny, and healthy—without the need to rinse. This is different from regular conditioners, which are meant to be washed out in the shower. Leave-in conditioners can be sprayed or applied evenly onto damp, towel-dried hair after washing and conditioning. One of our favorites is Biolage Professional Hydra Source Daily Leave-In Tonic because it instantly makes your hair glossy and works behind the scenes to help nourish your strands from the inside out.
Do I need to use a deep conditioner?
Deep conditioner is also not a replacement for your regular conditioner. Instead, it should be treated as a supplement to your hair care routine, depending on your hair’s needs. Deep conditioners don’t just add extra moisture to your locks; they can also address several hair concerns at once. For locks with visible breakage, try L’Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Inforcer Anti-Breakage Mask. The indulgent reinforcing formula with vitamin B6 and biotin instantly reduces breakage and provides intense conditioning.
If you’re unsure how to incorporate a deep conditioner into your routine, we suggest starting with a once-weekly regimen using a deep conditioner that targets some of your hair concerns.