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If you have dry hair, deep conditioning may be your ticket to softer, more manageable hair.

“Dry hair lacks moisture from external sources and internal sebum, or oil, production,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, the president and co-founder of Modern Dermatology and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital.

Here’s what you need to know to choose the right deep conditioner and keep your hair moisturized.

Your hair’s moisture levels depend on how much sebum is produced by the sebaceous glands located in your hair follicles. Sebum is an oil that lubricates the skin, scalp, and hair.

The amount of sebum the scalp produces varies from person to person and fluctuates throughout life. It’s impacted by your age, hormones, stress, and environmental triggers, Mraz Robinson explains.

Your hair may also feel drier if you lighten it, since the bleaching process opens up strands to destroy melanin (pigment).

“This can leave strands dry, porous, and brittle,” Mraz Robinson says.

Heat styling’s another factor that can dry out your hair – so if you constantly reach for your blow-dryer or the curling iron, you may want to add deep conditioning to your hair care routine.

All conditioners contain a couple of key ingredients:

  • Humectants. These bind to water and add moisture to hair.
  • Emollients. Sometimes just called moisturizers, these are substances that soften hair and reduce moisture loss by creating a protective film around strands.

Deep conditioners contain higher concentrations of emollient and humectant ingredients than daily conditioners, Mraz Robinson says. They’re also left in the hair for much longer: 20 to 30 minutes instead of just 2 or 3 minutes.

“Deep conditioners will have a thicker, heavier concentration,” Mraz Robinson says. “They may also continue working for days after use, as they are formulated to penetrate the strand more deeply than surface-smoothing daily conditioners.”

Both regular conditioners and deep conditioners improve hair’s appearance. But deep conditioners have a more noticeable impact. They can:

  • detangle hair
  • decrease frizz
  • boost shine
  • increase smoothness

Because shampoo also removes sebum, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a quick rinse-out conditioner every time after washing hair.

Unless you have especially oily hair, you can likely benefit from also using a deep conditioner, Mraz Robinson says.

How often you should deep condition really depends on your hair texture and how often you wash and heat style it, she adds.

In general, once per week is a good rule of thumb for most people, as Mraz Robinson says using it too frequently could lead to product buildup.

Since sebum travels most easily down the hair to lubricate straight and loose curled strands, people with tight curls may find they need to deep condition more often.

It’s also a good idea to deep condition your hair before you get it chemically treated (i.e., lightened, straightened, or permed).

Mraz Robinson suggests the following steps:

  • Shampoo first, only if necessary. “If your scalp isn’t dirty or oily, then you can rinse and skip the shampoo before your deep conditioner,” she says.
  • Apply based on your hair type. If you have dry hair or tight curls, you’ll likely benefit from applying deep conditioner very close, if not all the way, to the root. If your hair is oilier, use deep conditioner from the mid-shaft to the ends of hair, and use your regular conditioner closer to your scalp.
  • Comb it out. Comb the product through with your fingers or a wide tooth comb to coat all your strands. “Most people will want to apply on the lower part of hair, concentrating on the ends,” she notes.
  • Follow the instructions. They vary, so read the packaging. “On average, I’d say [to leave it on for] about 20 to 30 minutes,” she says.
  • Rinse with cool water. “This will help seal the goodies into the hair shaft.”

Avocado, egg, and olive oil are the ideal ingredients for a homemade conditioner, because they’re “rich in omega-3 fatty acids to repair and strengthen strands,” Mraz Robinson says.

These recipes use some of her favorite ingredients.

Recipe #1

Ingredients

  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

Directions

  1. Mix the ingredients together using a fork or whisk
  2. Apply to hair, and rinse out after 20 to 30 minutes with cool water.

Recipe #2

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. honey

Directions

  1. Blend all the ingredients together.
  2. Apply to hair, and rinse out after 20 to 30 minutes with cool water.

Mraz Robinson suggests looking for the following emollient ingredients in a store-bought deep conditioner:

  • honey
  • avocado oil
  • shea butter
  • coconut oil

Don’t shy away from synthetic emollients. Research suggests they’re actually more effective than natural oils. Examples include:

  • dimethicone
  • dimethiconol
  • amodimethicone
  • cyclomethicone

Mraz Robinson recommends the following products:

Use caution if you have sensitive skin on your scalp, and especially if you have eczema or psoriasis.

“Many of these treatments are heavily fragranced and may trigger a flare-up of your condition,” Mraz Robinson says.

If you’re acne-prone, be sure to keep freshly conditioned strands away from your face and change your pillowcase regularly, she adds.

Deep conditioners have more concentrated emollient and humectant ingredients and are left on the hair longer than daily conditioners.

Most people can use a deep conditioner once per week. Comb through from the mid-shaft to the ends, leave on for 20 minutes, and rinse with cool water.

Look for ingredients, like avocado oil, shea butter, and coconut oil.


Colleen de Bellefonds is a Paris-based health and wellness journalist with over a decade of experience regularly writing and editing for publications including WhatToExpect.com, Women’s Health, WebMD, Healthgrades.com, and CleanPlates.com. Find her on Twitter.