What Does a Conditioner Do? Understanding The Different Types & Their Role in Your Routine

If you’re like most of us, you always follow up a hair-washing with your trusty conditioner, knowing it’s the only thing that’ll save your hair from a tangled nest of knots when you go to comb it.

PLUS, you want your hair to feel soft and silky and look amazingly shiny, right? Because that's what a good conditioner is all about – keeping your hair tangle-free, strong, healthy-looking and feeling great.

Today you can find a huge diversity of hair conditioning products to address a wide range of hair concerns. So many types: traditional crème rinse conditioners, deep conditioners, treatment masques, leave-in conditioners. Knowing what type of conditioner to use, how to use it and when to use it can make your head spin!

In this article, we’ll explain the difference between all the types of conditioners and how they fit into the best hair regime for you.

What is Conditioner Used For?

conditioner being squeezed out of a bottle onto a hand

“Conditioner” is a hair care product category that includes many types of formulas which, to one degree or another, are specifically designed to nourish, moisturize, and optimize the look and condition of your hair.

Hair conditioners have been around since the dawn of time and of tangles! Ancient civilizations used animal fats and raw oils to smooth snarly manes and give their hair a (not-very-clean) sheen.

In the 19th Century, French perfumer Edouard Pino introduced an apres-shampooing perfumed rinse that also softened the hair. And, voila, the first commercial hair conditioner was born.

Although it started as a luxury affordable only by the rich and ruling classes, “crème rinse” eventually became a wash-day must in beauty cultures everywhere.

And while the formulation chemistry behind
rinse-out conditioners has evolved for centuries, the practice of following up shampoo/cleansing with a conditioning rinse is an idea that’s here to stay.

The Benefits of Conditioner: 6 Reasons Why It’s Essential to Your Routine

Here are some of the key benefits of using conditioner:

1. Moisturizes Hair
    Conditioners are formulated to infuse hair with moisture, combating dryness and making hair feel soft and smooth. This is particularly beneficial for those with dry or brittle hair.

    2. Detangles
      Conditioner helps to smooth the hair cuticles, creating “slip” and making it easier to detangle knots. This reduces breakage and damage during combing or brushing (especially for long or curly hair types.)

      3. Enhances Shine
        By smoothing and flattening hair’s cuticles, conditioners increase each strand’s light-reflecting  surface area, resulting in a glossy, lustrous appearance.

        4. Improves Hair’s Strength, Elasticity + Healthy-Looking Appearance
          Many conditioners contain ingredients like proteins, vitamins, and minerals that can help fortify and strengthen hair. This can improve the overall look and feel your hair, making it more resilient to damage from styling and environmental factors.

          5. Reduces Frizz
            Conditioners help to control frizz by hydrating the hair and sealing the cuticle layer. This prevents humidity from penetrating the hair shaft, which is a common cause of frizz.

            6. May provide heat protectant
              Some conditioners provide powerful heat protectant benefits. At Color Wow, we intentionally formulate every one of our conditioning products with up to 3 levels of heat protection to safeguard hair when heat styling.

              What Does Conditioner Do to Your Hair?

              brown twisted hair strand with white swirls around it

              When you apply conditioner to your hair, it coats each strand, smoothing and flattening the surface cuticle layer to prevent hair from tangling, reduce frizz and help lock in hair’s natural moisture. 

              While all conditioners are designed to improve hair’s surface layer, more advanced types of leave-in conditioners and deep conditioning treatments can penetrate deep within the hair’s cortex.

              At Color Wow, we’ve gone a step further to ensure every one of our proprietary conditioning formulas also provides thermal protection to safeguard hair against heat styling damage.

              By using the right conditioners regularly, you can help to minimize the damaging effects of environmental pollutants, UV rays and heat styling.

              You can also help fortify your hair’s elasticity and resiliency to help prevent breakage due to mechanical stress and strain and chemical treatments like hair color or chemical straightening.

              What Are The Different Types of Conditioners?

              Confused about what type of conditioner to use and when to use it? Here are the main types of conditioners.

              Because they work in totally different ways to keep hair supple and strong, you’ll likely want to include several types of conditioners in your hair care arsenal.

              1. Rinse-Out Conditioners

              Sometimes called a “daily conditioner” or “crème rinse” this is the most common type of conditioner.

              After shampooing, you apply it to wet hair, leave it on for a few minutes, and then rinse it out. It's designed to detangle hair, smooth the hair's cuticle, and add moisture.

              Something of a misnomer, most of the ingredients in “rinse out conditioners” (like hydrating and smoothing ingredients) DO NOT rinse out and are engineered to adhere to hair strands.

              • Who Should Use It: Everyone can benefit from using a daily conditioner after shampooing. It's essential for detangling and restoring moisture lost during the washing process.
              • Best For: Maintaining the softness, suppleness, mobility and manageability of all hair types. It's particularly important if you shampoo your hair regularly, as it helps to immediately hydrate and protect the hair.

              Our Go-To Rinse-Out Conditioners

              color security fine to normal conditionerColor Security Conditioner (Fine to Normal) – Effortlessly detangles and weightlessly hydrates fine-to-normal hair types with Argan Oil.

              Unlike typical rinse-outs, this formula is color-safe (won’t oxidize and yellow color) PLUS contains 3 levels of heat protection.

              color security normal to thick conditionerColor Security Conditioner (Normal to Thick) – Effortlessly detangles and delivers rich hydration to normal-to-thick hair types with Avocado Oil.

              Unlike typical rinse-outs, Color Wow’s formula is color-safe (has no ingredients that will oxidize and yellow or darken color) PLUS contains 3 levels of heat protection.

              curl wow cocomotion conditionerCoco-Motion Lubricating Conditioner – If you’re wondering what conditioner is good for curly hair, we’ve got you! Coco-Motion gives dry, dehydrated curls fluid motion, silky texture, bounce and elasticity...all without feeling heavy or greasy, due to proprietary “Naked Technology”

              Use as part of our
              five-step Curl Wow routine for juicy, hydrated curls.

                2. Leave-In Conditioners

                Leave-in conditioners are applied to hair after shampooing and are not rinsed out. They provide a lightweight conditioning effect that helps to detangle, moisturize, and protect hair throughout the day.

                More advanced formulas work on both the surface of the hair and also deep within the hair strand. Ideal for most hair types, but essential for dry, damaged, or curly hair types.

                • Who Should Use It: Definitely anyone with dry, damaged, or curly hair that requires detangling and extra moisture throughout the day.
                • Best For: Providing extended moisture and making hair easier to style. It's also great for protecting hair from heat styling tools and environmental damage. If your hair often feels dry or frizzy after it dries, a leave-in conditioner can help.

                Our Go-To Leave-in Conditioner: for ALL HAIR TYPES

                color wow money mistMoney Mist - Beyond basic leave-in conditioning, this breakthrough formula instantly transforms all hair textures: fine, thick, coarse, curly, frizzy, etc.

                Its advanced technology adapts to the needs of individual hair types to deliver the precise level of peptides, hydration and conditioning that each individual’s hair requires in order to strengthen, moisturize and smooth texture.

                before and after using money mist leave in conditioner

                3. Deep Conditioners and Treatment Masks (Masques) 

                Deep conditioners and treatment masks are intensive treatments that are used to provide a higher level of moisture and nourishment than regular conditioners.

                They are designed to address specific hair concerns like damage, repair, dehydration, or protein replenishment, and they are left on the hair for longer time periods than rinse out conditioners so they can absorb thoroughly. 

                Typically, deep conditioners and masks have a rich, condensed texture that thickly coats the hair. Some are applied prior to shampooing, some are applied to wet hair after shampooing, some are even designed for overnight application. 

                Deep conditioners and hair masks are used periodically, periodically, depending on your hair's needs or as desired for an indulgent spa-quality, hair-texture-perfecting experience.

                • Who Should Use It: Anyone with dehydrated, fragile, over-processed, or damaged hair. It's also beneficial for hair that is regularly subjected to heat styling or color treatments.
                • Best For: Reparative treatments and relaxing, indulgent self-care experiences. Deep conditioners and masks are formulated with rich ingredients to help transform hair texture and address concerns. Use a deep conditioner or mask when your hair needs an extra boost of nourishment, or you're dealing with problems like severe dryness, damage, or thinning.

                Our Go-To Deep Conditioners

                color wow money masque

                Money Masque – This deep conditioning treatment delivers super luxe, expensive-looking results to ALL hair types in just 5 minutes.

                Its weightless formula penetrates deep to strengthen, fortify sulfur bonds and renew suppleness.

                color wow cocomotion conditioner

                Coco-Motion Lubrication Conditioner – Beyond being a rinse-out conditioner, you can also leave this mega curl moisturizer in for up to 5 minutes for a deep treatment.

                Coco-Motion instantly gives dry, dehydrated, brittle, “static” curls fluid motion, silky texture, bounce and elasticity

                4. Dry Conditioners / Re-moisturizing conditioners

                “Dry conditioner” sounds like an oxymoron. But while all the previously mentioned conditioners are applied on wet hair on wash days, dry conditioners are meant for the days you don’t wash your hair (aka, you apply them on dry hair). 

                • Who Should Use It: Anyone with dry, dehydrated hair...especially if its prone to frizzing. If you have this hair type, its best not to wash it every day. Too much shampooing can prevent your hair’s natural oils from delivering critical moisture. So for the days in between washdays, a dry conditioner can help keep hair moisturized .
                • Best For: Instantly rehydrating dry, dehydrated hair. Dry conditioners are perfect for a quick moisture boost, detangling knotted hair, reviving shine and gloss, as well as depuffing frizz.

                Our Go-To Dry Conditioner:

                color wow one minute transformation

                One-Minute Transformation – This non-greasy, on-the-spot frizz fix smooths, tames and depuffs hot mess hair instantly.

                Packed with ultra-nourishing Avocado Oil + Omega 3’s, it penetrates instantly to replenish hair’s natural moisture balance, plus delivers silky-smooth shine.

                What Conditioner Should I Use?

                woman with brown hair touching the back of her head
                • Assess Your Hair's Needs: Look at your hair's current condition. Is it dry, damaged, frizzy, or lacking volume? Your primary hair concerns will guide your choice.
                  • Consider Your Hair TypeFine and oily hair types may benefit more from new, ultra-lightweight leave-in conditioners or less frequent deep conditioning treatments to avoid weighing hair down. Thick, curly, frizzy or dry, dehydrated, damaged hair types require more moisture and nourishment than just basic post-shampoo detangling and hydrating. These hair types benefit from regular weekly deep conditioning treatments or hair masks.

                  • Experiment: Sometimes, finding the right product involves a bit of trial and error. Start with the product that best matches your hair's needs and observe how your hair responds. You might find that using a combination of products (e.g., a daily conditioner with a weekly deep conditioning treatment) works best for you.

                  • Lifestyle and Preferences: Consider your lifestyle and how much time you're willing to dedicate to your hair care routine. Daily and leave-in conditioners are great for regular use, while deep conditioners and hair masks might be reserved for weekly self-care sessions.

                  Should I Condition My Hair Every Day?

                  If you’re wondering how often you should use a regular (rinse-out) conditioner, our experts at Color Wow have one universal answer for every hair type: you absolutely need to use a conditioner every time you shampoo!

                  Why? Because at Color Wow we believe that, for freshest hair and healthiest scalp, it's critical that you only use shampoos that do not contain any “stay-behind” ingredients, such conditioning and moisturizing agents.

                  If your shampoo claims to also CONDITION your hair, it is depositing residues on your hair (and scalp!) and not actually leaving your hair clean.

                  After shampooing and thoroughly rinsing hair, that is the time everyone needs to apply a detangling, hydrating conditioner suitable for their hair type.

                  shampooing and conditioning your hair properly is the most basic but perhaps the most impactful thing you can do for your hair's wellbeing

                  According to Color Wow’s chief chemist and award-winning shampoo formulator, Dr. Joe Cincotta, “Shampooing and conditioning your hair properly is the most basic but perhaps the most impactful thing you can do for your hair’s well-being.

                  People try to save time and money by combining these two steps, using two-in-one combination formulas or co-washes. That’s a big mistake, because the hair never gets truly clean... and both conditioning and other stay behind agents continually build up on hair.

                  At Color Wow, we advocate a simple, effective two-step approach for the best possible wash-day results: a no-residue shampoo, always followed by a conditioner for your hair’s unique needs.”

                  Rinse-Out Conditioners: How to Use & Common FAQs

                  How to Apply Conditioner

                  1. Shampoo Your Hair: Start by washing your hair with a no-residue shampoo to clean the scalp and hair, removing dirt, oil, and product buildup.

                  2. Apply Conditioner: After rinsing out the shampoo, apply conditioner to the mid-lengths and ends of your hair. These areas are older and usually need more moisture than the roots. Avoid applying conditioner directly to the scalp to prevent buildup and greasiness.

                  3. Leave It On: Leave the conditioner in your hair for a few minutes to allow the ingredients to penetrate and hydrate the hair. The exact time can vary depending on the product instructions, but 1-3 minutes is typical.

                  4. Rinse Thoroughly: Rinse your hair thoroughly with lukewarm water. Ensure all conditioner is washed out to avoid residue that can make hair look limp and dull.

                  How Long Should I Leave Conditioner in My Hair?

                  When you use rinse-out conditioner after shampooing, it's typically recommended to leave it in your hair for about 1 to 3 minutes before rinsing thoroughly.

                  This allows enough time for the conditioner to penetrate, moisturize and smooth your hair without weighing it down.

                  Ingredients to Avoid in Conditioner

                  product bottle with toxic symbol and magnifying glass

                  When it comes to what to avoid in conditioner, we recommend steering clear of the following ingredients:

                  • Sulfates: Sulfates are harsh detergents that can strip away natural oils and cause dryness.
                  • Parabens, such as methylparaben and propylparaben are preservatives that have been linked to potential health risks.
                  • Silicones: While silicones can provide temporary shine, they can also accumulate on the hair and cause build-up over time.

                  Dr Joe says:

                  At Color Wow, we’re extremely concerned about the ingredients we use in all our formulations. Of course, we meet the most-stringent international regulations... but we’re way tougher than that.

                  We have no sulfates, parabens and endocrine disruptors in our Color Security Conditioners.

                  But we also intentionally have no:

                  • Monoethanolamine
                  • Stearalkonium Chloride
                  • Aminoethylaminopropyldimethicone
                  • Bis-aminopropyl Dimethicone
                  • Polyquaternium-10
                  • Polyquaternium-11
                  • Essential oils such as lavender, rosemary, peppermint, vanilla
                  • Citrus oils (which are found in most natural and/or synthetic conditioners)

                  We have banned these ingredients because they can oxidize on hair, causing darkening, discoloration or brassiness. Both Color Wow rinse-out conditioners contain only translucent, non-discoloring conditioning agents, which ensures that your color stays bright and your hair looks glossy.

                  Plus, both formulas offer 3 levels of heat protection to help your hair stand up to blow-drying and heat styling.

                  Do not underestimate the importance of finding (and using!) the right conditioners in your routine regularly. Heat styling, hair color, UV rays and even ponytails put a lot of stress on your hair.

                  And your best defense is a strong offense: fortifying, lubricating and hydrating your hair with strengthening, moisturizing, heat-protecting conditioners.”



                  Discover more hair washing tips and tricks on the Color Wow Blog:

                • Learn how to properly wash your hair with this step-by-step guide
                • What’s the link between thickening shampoo and hair loss?
                • How to wash your curly hair properly
                • Dr. Cincotta holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the City University of New York, and is currently VP of Research + Development at Color Wow.

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