Hair Conditioners 101: How to Choose The Best One For Your Hair

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Hair conditioners come in many varieties—there are those for smoothing, volumizing, repairing, etc.—and it can be difficult to know which one to use, and when. So, with a little help from the pros, we broke it down to the basics of formulation (whether it’s a mask, a leave-in or a rinse-out), to get a better understanding. Here’s what you should know:

What it is: A regular conditioner, which requires that you rinse it out after using, that is designed to restore moisture and help detangle hair after shampooing. It is generally medium to heavy in weight and thick in consistency. “The effects of these conditioners are temporary due to the short-lived reparative effect,” says Ron Williams, celebrity stylist and national educator for PhytoSpecific. “It should detangle and make your hair shiny and soft, not weigh it down. Think quick fix.”

When to use it: Every time you shampoo

Who it’s best for: most hair types, but those with extremely dry or damaged hair may need a leave-in product or mask to really see a change in their hair

Product pick: Dove Hair Therapy Nutritive Solutions Daily Moisture Conditioner, $4, target.com

What it is: Often a very lightweight liquid that detangles and protects against heat while also adding shine. “It offers daily continuous repair and the effect is usually cumulative,” says Williams. “Think daily eye cream, daily hair cream.”

When to use it: Every time you shampoo or every other time

Who it’s best for: Wavy, curly, dry, damaged or color-treated hair

Product pick: Rene Furterer Karite Overnight Nourishing Treatment Leave-In, $33, renefurtererusa.com

What it is: A concentrated formula (usually very thick and heavy in both consistency and weight) that deeply penetrates the hair cuticle, allowing moisture or protein to repair and hydrate hair. The effects are generally longer-lasting than other types of conditioners. Masks provides serious improvement in hair quality, and most stylists highly recommend using them on a regular basis to ensure hair stays beautiful, shiny and radiant.

When to use it: “Once or twice a week, depending on the thickness of your hair, for at least five to 15 minutes each time,” says celebrity hairstylist Francky L’Official. “With repeated use, hair quality can change rapidly.”

Who it’s best for: any hair type with breakage, dryness, dullness, damage, split ends, frizz, or color processing

Product picks: Klorane Mango Butter Mask, $24, drugstore.com; Carols Daughter Tui Color Care Hydrating Hair Mask, $20, carolsdaughter.com

Inside Tip: According to L’Official, applying heat to your hair after you put on a mask can enhance the effectiveness of the formula by allowing it to absorb more easily. Blow-dry hair all over, even if it’s wrapped up inside a shower cap.

What is a cleansing conditioner?
A formula that blends shampoo and conditioner into one step. According to Chaz Dean, founder of Wen, cleansing conditioners cleanse hair thoroughly without creating a lather. “Anytime you lather, you are breaking down your hair and causing it to become finer, thinner and weaker, and even fading your color,” he says. “Cleansing conditioners are designed not to strip your hair and scalp, but rather gently cleanse and condition for hair that is healthier, shinier, stronger and more manageable.”

Product pick: WEN by Chaz Dean Sweet Almond Mint Cleansing Conditioner, $32, sephora.com

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