Share on Facebook

A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Commandments for Using Hair Conditioner

Conditioner delivers healthy, lustrous locks—if you use it correctly. We got top hair experts to spill their secrets for getting this key step right every time.

1 / 13

Choose the right formula for your texture

Conditioner can repair damage, nourish strands, and promote elasticity, hydration, and softness. But because hair types and products are different, it’s important to choose a conditioner that suits your texture and specific needs. Anabel Kingsley, a trichologist at Philip Kingsley, cautions against “over prescribing”—or picking a conditioner that’s too heavy for your hair type. You might think an intense formula would make your hair super shiny and silky, but it’s more likely to make it limp and hard to manage.

2 / 13

If your hair is fine, use a volumizing conditioner

Struggling with thin hair or limp locks? Lauren E. Hack and Vanessa Ungaro, co-owners of Lauren+Vanessa in Manhattan, suggest a lightweight, volumizing conditioner, like Oribe Conditioner for Magnificent Volume or Pantene Pro-V Sheer Volume Conditioner. These formulas are moisturizing enough to hydrate hair and get out the tangles, but light enough not to weigh down fine strands. For best results, follow these rules for people with thin hair.

3 / 13

If your hair is coarse, go heavier

Coarser hair textures tend be drier and need more moisture. Kingsley recommends a heavy conditioner with a high concentration of nourishing oils. Coarse stands can also benefit from a weekly treatment mask, like SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Hair Masque or Kérastase Résistance Masque Thérapiste.

4 / 13

If your hair is curly, fight frizz

Give curly locks some love with Hack and Ungaro’s go-to: Davines Love Smoothing Conditioner. It’s formulated for frizzy, wavy, and curly hair and loaded with olive extract and vitamin E to prevent flyaways and make strands more manageable. Don’t miss these these genius ways to tame frizzy hair.

5 / 13

If your hair is blonde, try a violet hued formula

If you have lighter locks, a violet hued conditioner will counteract yellow, brassy tones. Hack and Ungaro recommend Oribe Bright Blonde Conditioner. “It restores brightness without depositing artificial tints, like other purple shampoos and conditioners do,” Ungaro says. For best results, leave it on for a couple of minutes before rinsing.

6 / 13

If your hair is color-treated, stay color safe

“If you dye your locks, it’s imperative to use a conditioner specifically for color treated hair,” according to Hack and Ungaro. Color safe conditioners will keep your hair silky, shiny, and hydrated, all while keeping your color looking fresh. Pro picks: Shu Uemura Color Lustre Brilliant Glaze Conditioner and Oribe Glaze For Beautiful Color. Don’t miss these tricks to stretch the time between hair color appointments.

7 / 13

If you’re a swimmer, get protected

If you spend a lot of time in the pool, it’s important to apply a water-resistant, protective conditioning cream (to damp hair) before doing laps to help guard against chlorine damage and discoloration. “We make a product called Philip Kingsley Swimcap Cream that was originally formulated for the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Swimming Team,” Kingsley says.

8 / 13

Consider some extra TLC

To intensively hydrate and strengthen your hair, Kinsley suggests a weekly pre-shampoo conditioning treatment. These formulas are applied before you wash your hair and left on long enough for the active ingredients to penetrate. Since excess residue is then rinsed away, they won’t weigh down strands. That means they’re suitable for all hair textures. “We make a multi-award winning, pre-shampoo treatment, the Elasticizer, that was originally formulated for Audrey Hepburn,” Kingsley says. Apply it (in sections) to damp hair, at least 20 minutes before shampooing. Work it in with your fingertips and then wash your hair as usual.

9 / 13

Take care of your scalp too

Healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp, so Kinsley suggests purifying it regularly using a moisturizing, exfoliating scalp mask. Look for a formula with moisturizing agents, such as aloe vera, and a gentle exfoliant, such as betaine salicylate. Kingsley recommends Philip Kingsley Exfoliating Scalp Mask, but you can also try Kérastase Chronologiste Revitalizing, Exfoliating Pre-Shampoo for all hair types, or Kiehl’s Deep Micro-Exfoliating Scalp Treatment. Apply the treatment 20 minutes before stepping into the shower. Gently massage it in and then shampoo and condition as usual. You can even apply a scalp mask at the same time as a pre-shampoo conditioning treatment to nourish your scalp and strands simultaneously.

10 / 13

Focus on the ends

There’s a lot of confusion about about where to condition exactly—your whole head versus just the ends. According to Kingsley, you need to apply conditioner only to your mid-lengths and ends, where strands are older and more weathered and where moisture is most needed. “Applying conditioner to your roots is not only not necessary, but it will simply weigh them down,” she says. “In fact, in our clinics in London and New York, this is one of the most common causes of limp hair that we see.”

11 / 13

Don’t just blob it on

For extra shine and smoothness, Kingsley suggests gently combing conditioner through your ends with a wide-tooth comb after shampooing. (We like the Double Detangler Comb from Ouidad, which glides through hair without ripping or tugging.) It helps to lightly coat each strand and is an effective way to help close the cuticle. Rinse thoroughly in tepid (not hot) water.

12 / 13

Or leave some in

To combat frizz, smooth a small amount of a leave-in conditioner over the middle and ends of damp hair before styling. “Frizz occurs when atmospheric moisture penetrates the hair cuticle into the cortex,” explains Kinsley. “Leave-in styling conditioners help to keep the cuticle smooth and create a barrier between your strands and water in the air.”

13 / 13

Defend against environmental damage

Guard your hair against environmental damage with a UV protective, leave-in conditioning spray such as Fekkai Pre Soleil Hair Mist or L’Oreal EverPure UV Protect Spray. These are especially helpful if your hair is prone to tangling, as they help to unlock knotted strands. “Forcing a brush through knots can cause breakage, which can make your ends wispy and hard to manage over time,” explains Kinsley. To use, simply spritz from the mid-length to the ends of towel dried or already dry hair and gently comb through.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Lindsay Cohn
Lindsay is an avid traveler who has visited 45 countries across six continents. At, she covers both domestic and international travel. When she's not writing, you can find her doing yoga and adding to her ever-growing list of future adventures.