Conditioners: what, why, how

plastic bottles on shelf
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If you have been in curly girl world long enough, you know that we love conditioner. Really love it. In fact, love is probably not a strong enough word for how we feel about conditioner. I believe “worship” is a better word for it.

Why is this? Well, curly hair tends to be dryer than our straight-haired friends because it takes longer for the oil produced on our scalps to move down the hair shaft. It’s like driving over lots and lots of hills. Some curly haired folks can get away with only washing their hair once a week because of this.

Also, depending on how quickly and easily your hair absorbs moisture (porosity), it can be harder to keep curls moisturized. High porosity hair likes to chug all the moisture at once and can’t seem to get enough. Low porosity hair has a harder time absorbing the moisture initially, but tends to hold onto it longer. I have high porosity hair myself and sometimes joke that it has a drinking problem, which is ironic because I myself do not drink.

More than one kind?

Did you know there are different types of conditioner? It’s true. Rinse out conditioners, leave-in conditioners, pre-poos, co-washes, deep conditioners….wait, there’s a difference? Yup!

Like I said, curly girls LOVE their conditioners.

What’s the difference between rinse out, leave-in, pre-poo conditioners, and deep conditioners?

Get yourself comfortable, this may take a bit. I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible.

Rinse out conditioners

This is self explanatory. You apply conditioner, detangle, leave it in for a few minutes, and rinse it out. Basically, conditioner.

Rinse out conditioners help restore any moisture lost while shampooing and can help in the detangling process. Some curly girls don’t rinse out their conditioners, but I only do this if the product says it can be left in. I’m kind of weird like that, I guess.

Leave-in conditioners

Conditioner you leave in. I like to think of it like facial moisturizer or makeup primer–it gets your hair ready for styling products. Curly girls tend to use more than one styling product, and I’ve found for myself that if I don’t apply leave-in conditioner before my stylers, the stylers will dry my hair out. Some folks (especially those with fine and/or low porosity hair) can skip leave-in conditioners. I am not someone who can skip leave-in conditioner. My hair is dry and thirsty.

Conditioner Washing

Also known as “co-washing”.

Back in the dark ages when curly hair products were not really available, Lorraine Massey came along with her Curly Girl Handbook and suggested using silicone free conditioner instead of traditional shampoo to cleanse the scalp and hair. For best results, you massage your scalp for several minutes to get the dirt and oil off.

Now that it’s 2020, curly girl products are much more accessible and it’s pretty normal to see products with “co-wash” and “cleansing conditioner” on the label. We also have access to sulfate free shampoos (also called “low poos”)

I tend to use sulfate free shampoos because while my hair is dry, my scalp is fussy. I have scalp psoriasis and dandruff, so I need something a little more cleansing than a co-wash. However, I make an exception for this hair cleanser.

Deep Conditioner

Deep conditioners are designed to penetrate deeper into your hair to moisturize and hydrate. These are not meant to be used every day or else your hair will get moisture overload (yes, that is a thing). The general recommendation is once a week, but everyone’s hair is different.

Are you still confused?

I hope my explanation didn’t confuse you too much! Learning how to manage your curly/wavy hair is super intimidating at first. But if you learn nothing else, learn to love conditioner. Here are some of my personal favorites and what I use them for:

Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk 3-in-1 Conditioner–I use this after I shampoo and just leave it in. You can find this at Walmart, Target, and Ulta.

Tresemme Botanique Nourish and Replenish Conditioner–I rinse this out. It’s also cheap and you can find it just about everywhere. Tresemme has recently come out with a sulfate and silicone free line called Pro Pure that may be worth checking out.

Kinky Curly Knot Today–Leave In Conditioner that can be rinsed out

Jessicurl Deep Conditioner Treatment–deep conditioner, but you can leave it in (I haven’t)

Pacifica Pineapple Curls Conditioner–I rinse this out, but some leave it in (not marketed as a leave-in) There is also a Deep Conditioner from the Pineapple Curls line as well that I like.

Mop Top Leave-in Conditioner–it smells absolutely divine and I love using it in the summer. It’s available on Amazon (it’s an authorized Mop Top distributor)

SheaMoisture Manuka Honey and Yogurt Hydrate and Repair Treatment: this is technically a protein treatment with moisturizing properties. I like using it when my curls are losing a bit of their spring.

My Soigne Hair Cleanser–possibly the only co-wash I have ever liked. Most co-washes aggravate my scalp, but not this one!

 

Do you have a favorite conditioner that you don’t see listed? What conditioner(s) do you use?

Curly Girl Basics: The four tips you need to start now

Have you heard about the Curly Girl Method? You haven’t? To sum up, it’s a way to enhance your curls, waves, coils…whatever you have. It comes from the book The Curly Girl Handbook by Lorraine Massey.

So, where do you begin?

Toss the terrycloth towel


This t-shirt was for a Halloween costume years ago. I now use it for my hair.


Here’s the deal: using the terrycloth towel will actually make frizz worse. But, what will I dry myself with? You can still use the towel to dry the rest of yourself off, just not your hair. What do you use for your hair? You have many options, but the possibly cheapest option is using…an old t-shirt. Most of us have at least one or two hanging around. I’ve been known to use t-shirts from my husband’s old jobs that he doesn’t wear anymore–he actually doesn’t mind. When you get out of the shower, just use one to squeeze the excess water out of your hair (or after you apply styling products)

If your old t-shirt is a prized possession that you don’t want to use on your hair, there are other options. Flour sack towels are nice and big and smooth. You can find them with washcloths at Wal-Mart, Target, or wherever you shop. Amazon isn’t a bad place to look either. Microfiber towels are also popular with curly girls–Deva Curl sells some, but I know you can find some in housewares if you don’t want to spend that much money.

If you have babies, chances are, you have burp cloths. Burp cloths actually work great for curly hair towels.

You can even use paper towels if you’re really in a pinch.

Point is, keep the terrycloth away from your hair. Your curls will thank you for it, believe me

Next….

Banish the Brush

Wide-tooth combs are your friend, but only when your hair is wet.

Brushing curly hair (ESPECIALLY when dry) is a recipe for disaster. Actually, using pretty much anything on dry hair is a bad idea.

Trade your brush for a wide-tooth comb, but only use it to detangle your hair when WET, like when you’re washing your hair. But proceed gently.

You can also use your fingers to detangle when you’re washing as well.

One exception to the no brushing rule: the Wet Brush is fine to use, but ONLY on wet hair (see a theme?). The Denman brush is also popular with other curlies, though I haven’t tried it myself yet.

Want more? Keep reading.

Sleep on satin

Me and my satin cap (also called a bonnet in some circles)

Or silk.

When curly hair meets a cotton pillowcase, bad things happen. They fight each other, and the curls often lose the battle. The friction that happens between curls and the cotton pillowcase when we’re sleeping is just not optimal. But, when you sleep on a satin or silk pillowcase, curls are happier because they have a nice, smooth surface to rest on.

If you don’t want to buy a satin or silk pillowcase, you can get similar results from wearing a satin cap or bonnet to bed. You can get them very inexpensively at your local drugstore I think I spent less than three bucks on them. You can also find sleeping caps at Sally Beauty Supply or another beauty supply shop.

I do both–I have a silky pillowcase and I wear a satin cap. You can also pile your hair into a HIGH ponytail on top of your head and sleep that way–it’s called the “pineapple”. I don’t always pineapple but lots of curlies do 🙂

Just say “no” to sulfates and silicones

Sulfates are great for getting grime off of dishes, not so great for your hair.

Sulfates dry the hair out while silicones coat the hair and cause buildup, and then you have to wash the silicones out with a sulfate shampoo. It’s a nasty cycle.

So, just look for a sulfate-free and silicone-free shampoo, right?

If only it were so easy.

Most of the shampoos and conditioners in your local big box store have sulfates and silicones. I cover all of that in this post.

The Takeaway

Does all this seem overwhelming to you?

That’s okay, you don’t have to follow all of this advice at once. Pick one that seems the easiest to do now, and work from there. I actually tried to put this list in order from easiest to hardest, but you can pick whichever one start on. Whatever you decide to focus on, I promise it will make a difference!