The key to healthy, shiny hair lies in choosing the right conditioner. While shampooing your hair is necessary to remove dirt, dandruff, and pollutants, it can strip your precious cuticles of their natural oils and dry out your hair. Following up your shampoo with a conditioner adds moisture, leaving your hair soft, smooth, and more manageable for styling.
Conditioners run the gamut from hydrating ones for damaged hair, color-safe ones for dyed hair, and lightweight ones for oily hair. To complicate matters, there are leave-in and rinse-out conditioners, not to mention gel, foam, and cream formulas. We've created a guide to simplify matters, and we've included our top recommendations for conditioners. Our top pick is an ultra-rich conditioner for dry and damaged hair by Bumble and Bumble.
Considerations when choosing hair conditioners
Rinse-out conditioners are the most common type. They are applied after hair is shampooed and rinsed. We recommend leaving rinse-out conditioners on for a minute or so before rinsing out completely. This classic type of conditioner moisturizes hair and may also help detangle it. It works on all hair types.
Leave-in conditioners are also applied after shampooing, but they aren't rinsed out. They provide extra moisture throughout the day and help combat frizz. This type of conditioner is well suited for curly or kinky hair. They can also protect your hair from heat styling.
Deep conditioners are designed to stay on your hair anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight, after which they are rinsed away. They tend to be heavier than leave-in conditioners and are very thick and moisturizing. They are great to repair damaged hair from heat styling as well as dry hair. Weekly application restores health and shine.
For optimal results, it's best to pick a conditioner that suits your hair type and specific needs.
Oily or fine
Oily or limp hair requires a lightweight conditioner. While some conditioners are marketed for oily hair, any conditioner labeled volumizing or balancing also does the trick. If your hair is oily, you want to avoid super-rich cream conditioners and opt for gel or foam ones instead. Fine and thinning hair also fall into this category.
Dry or damaged
Very dry or damaged hair requires an ultra-moisturizing conditioner. Pick one marketed as restoring for damaged hair (if your curling iron habit's gotten out of hand), moisturizing, or smoothing. Cream formulas work best on this hair type.
Color-treated hair requires a conditioner that won't damage your dye job or highlights. Some conditioners even enhance your color by depositing pigment back into your hair to keep your salon color fresh.
Curly or frizzy
Curly or frizzy hair can benefit from formulas that deposit ample moisture to more porous hair shafts -- but without weighing down your curls. Using a good conditioner for curly hair defines your curls and keeps them shiny and bouncy.
Normal hair types that don't suffer from oiliness or excessive dryness have a wider range of conditioners to choose from, including ones marketed as fortifying, balanced, smoothing, and strengthening. A medium to lightweight conditioner is best for this hair type, and foam conditioners work well on normal hair that's fine.
Dandruff sufferers benefit from following up their dandruff shampoo with a matching conditioner designed to restore moisture after such a drying treatment.
Hair conditioner prices
Hair conditioners range in price from $5 to upwards of $30.
For an inexpensive drugstore conditioner, expect to pay $5 or less. Be prepared not to get as much nourishment as mid-priced conditioners at the drugstore, those between $5 and $10.
More expensive, luxury retailer conditioners range between $10 and $20. Premium, salon-quality conditioners cost between $20 to over $30. These contain high-quality ingredients and also name-brand recognition.
Q. What are the best ingredients to look for in a conditioner?
A. The ingredients that are best at moisturizing your hair are the following: panthenol, aka vitamin B5; plant oils like olive, avocado, coconut, and almond; glycerol; cetearyl alcohol, a fatty alcohol that attracts moisture; keratin; silk proteins; hydrolyzed collagen; and cetrimonium chloride, which helps detangle hair.
Q. What should I look for if I want a "clean" conditioner?
A. For a conditioner that uses nontoxic ingredients, opt for one that uses botanical extracts like essential oils to add moisture back to the hair. Avoid common chemicals like parabens, phthalates, formaldehydes, and sulfates like SLS and SLES.
Hair conditioners we recommend
Best of the best: Bumble and Bumble Super Rich Conditioner
Our take: An ultra-rich conditioner from a salon-preferred brand.
What we like: Ideal for damaged, curly, frizzy, and dry hair types. Leaves hair smelling and feeling luxurious. A small amount goes a long way.
What we dislike: Expensive.
Best bang for your buck: Peter Roth Mega Rich Conditioner
Our take: Vitamin-packed conditioner from a name brand at an affordable price.
What we like: Gives hair lots of shine. Works well on fine, thinning hair. Smells divine. Gentle enough for color-treated hair.
What we dislike: Despite being marketed as "rich," this product's not for dry hair.
Our take: High-quality hydration for curly headed types that keeps curls bouncy.
What we like: Top-of-the-line brand that specializes in curly hair. Nourishes curls without collapsing them. Smells lovely.
What we dislike: Quite costly.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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