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Leave-in conditioners, which are also called no-rinse or leave-on conditioners, are used after you wash your hair and before you style it. They’re usually applied to towel-dried hair.
Unlike traditional conditioners, they’re not washed out. Leave-in products provide extra moisture to the hair, protect it from damage, and help detangle the strands.
Nearly every hair type — curly or straight, natural or color-treated — can benefit from the use of leave-in conditioners, but you may find them particularly useful if you have dry, damaged, or frizzy hair. They may also be helpful if you use heat-styling tools like curling or straightening irons.
Leave-in conditioner is applied after shampooing. It can replace the conditioner that you’d normally use in the shower, but you can use both if you want — especially if your hair is particularly dry or damaged.
It’s best to apply the product when your hair is still damp. Follow the steps below for best results, but be sure to read the instructions provided on the bottle:
- After washing your hair in the shower with shampoo, rinse thoroughly.
- You can use a regular conditioner in the shower if you want, but be sure to rinse your hair thoroughly afterward.
- After exiting the shower, gently pat your hair dry with a towel to remove excess water.
- Apply a small amount of leave-in conditioner (per the guidelines on the bottle) through your hair.
- Brush your hair with a brush or comb to detangle it.
- Let the hair dry or style it as desired.
The process is relatively the same for all hair types. If you have thicker hair, you may need to use more leave-in conditioner than someone with fine hair.
Using a wide-tooth comb can help distribute the conditioner better if you have curly or thick hair. If your hair is very fine, you may want to only apply the leave-in conditioner to the ends of your hair.
When it comes to frequency of use, look to your hair for answers. If you’re using leave-in conditioner daily and your hair looks and feels healthy, continue using it as-is. But if you notice your hair becoming too oily or limp, you may want to use it less often.
The main benefit of using leave-in conditioner is increased moisture, which will in turn improve overall hair health. Most hair types can benefit from leave-in conditioner. Here’s how:
Leave-in conditioner provides the most benefit for people with dry hair, as it can provide the necessary moisture. Dry hair can eventually lead to damage, frizziness, and breakage.
If your ends are particularly dry, consider concentrating the leave-in conditioner there.
Frizzy hair is usually very dry. Even if you take great care of your hair, you may find that it tends to be frizzier if you live in a hot, humid, or very dry climate, or spend a lot of time in the sun.
Leave-in conditioner can help combat frizziness by adding moisture to the hair and helping to smooth it out. As the leave-in conditioner coats the hair, it can also protect it from the heat of the sun and harsh environments.
Hair gets damaged easily by using hot-styling tools, bleach, dyes, chemical straightening or perms, or if you routinely pull it back into ponytails or braids. These practices may damage the hair shafts, making hair frizzy and dull. Leave-in conditioner provides a protective effect when applied before styling or using heat tools. It can also add moisture to the hair.
Coarse or curly hair
Curly, coarse, and textured hair may benefit from the extra moisture provided by leave-in conditioner. Curly hair is susceptible to dryness and craves added moisture. This is because the natural oils produced by your scalp take longer to spread down the length of the curls.
Applying leave-in conditioner and combing it into the length of the hair can help your curls appear healthier and more defined with less frizz.
Bleached or color-treated hair
If your hair has been bleached or colored, it’ll likely have some damage. Look for a leave-in conditioner made for color-treated hair, which may help lock in color and add shine.
If you have fine hair, you may find that regular conditioners weigh down your hair, making it flat and heavy. Leave-in conditioner tends to be more lightweight, but it still provides the extra moisture and shine that your hair needs.
You may benefit from replacing a rinse-out conditioner with a leave-in conditioner. If your hair is very fine or limp, you may want to concentrate the leave-in conditioner only on the ends.
Compared with regular conditioners that you rinse out in the shower, leave-in conditioners are typically formulated to be more lightweight. This prevents weighing the hair down. These products don’t form rigid bonds and instead provide a detangling effect to help with combing and maintaining your desired style. This is why they tend to be used right before you style.
Leave-in conditioners do have a few risks.
Allergic reactions to the ingredients in leave-in conditioners are very rare, but they can happen. If the product is irritating or burning your scalp, rinse your hair immediately and discontinue use.
Try not to get any leave-in conditioner in your eyes, as it can burn. If you do, rinse your eyes with clean, cool water.
If you tend to have issues with acne, avoid getting any leave-in conditioner on your face.
You may want to avoid leave-in conditioner if you have naturally oily hair that collects product buildup. Those with oily hair may also have low porosity hair, or hair that tends to be more dense and oily and takes longer to dry.
With so many options on the market, it can be a bit overwhelming to choose the perfect product for you. As a general rule, avoid products that contain alcohol and dyes, as these can lead to dryness.
Leave-in conditioners typically contain ingredients like silicones (such as dimethicone) and glycerin, which help to protect and coat the hair without adding weight. They may also contain a variety of natural oils, botanical extracts, and vitamins.
The first step will be to determine your hair type — is it curly, straight, fine, thick, damaged, or colored? Many leave-in conditioners are formulated for specific hair types, so it’s important to read the label before buying. As a general guide:
- If you use heat-styling tools on your hair, such as flat irons or curling irons, look for a product that offers heat protection.
- If you color your hair, look for a leave-in conditioner specially formulated to preserve your color.
- For fine hair, opt for a lightweight leave-in conditioner or one that also adds volume to the hair.
- For curly hair, look for a creamy leave-in conditioner that contains lots of natural oils.
Leave-in conditioners can be found easily at drugstores, supermarkets, beauty supply stores, or online.
Leave-in conditioner may be a part of your regular hair care routine to add moisture and help detangle your hair. It can be especially beneficial if you have dry hair or use tools or products that tend to damage the hair, like heat-styling tools, bleach, or chemical perms.