Whether your hair problems stem from damage, dullness, frizz, or other issues, you’ll undoubtedly benefit from using a conditioner.
Permanent hair dyes, bleach, and excessive brushing (1) can all cause damage to the hair, and conditioners are often used to repair the damage and make the hair more manageable.
Many variants of conditioners are available such as leave-in conditioners, deep conditioners, and rinse-out conditioners. (1)
To keep your hair in good condition, it’s essential to use a conditioner designed for your specific hair type. For optimal results, leave-in conditioners should be left on the scalp for at least a few minutes, while deep conditioners should be rinsed out after a shorter amount of time. (2)(3)(4)
So, “which is better, leave-in conditioner or deep conditioner? As both types help to condition your hair and keep it moist, the first thing to consider is what works best for you and your hair.
Some experts and researchers suggest that if you’re looking for a conditioner that won’t weigh your hair down, (5) look no further than a leave-in instead of a deep conditioner, which typically contains more concentrated ingredients. (2)(3)(5)
If you’re trying to decide which type would be best for your hair, read on.
Deep Conditioners Versus Leave-In Conditioners
What is a leave-in conditioner?
Setting lotions or mousses are types of leave-in products that are meant to be left in the hair. (5)
A leave-in conditioner is a lightweight formula that can be applied to dry hair after washing to restore moisture content and improve its manageability until the next wash. (3)
What is a deep conditioner?
Deep conditioners are left on the hair for 20–30 minutes and are more potent. You can use them on extremely dry hair or before chemical processing, such as coloring or styling. If used before chemical hair processing, they are called fillers. (4)(5)
Which hair type would benefit from leave-in conditioners?
Although leave-in conditioners work wonders on dyed, damaged, curled, or afro-textured hair, they are not limited to those hair types. However, you’d be wrong to assume a leave-in formula is useless on fine, straight hair.
It’s important to note that leave-in conditioners can be found in various forms, from sprays and lotions to creams. Sprays are the most reliable option because of their nongreasy formula and simple application.
What hair types benefit from deep conditioners?
It’s easy to tell the difference between regular and deep conditioners because of their contrasting thickness.
Deep conditioners are significantly more potent and can penetrate further into the hair shaft. Its intended use is for severely parched locks (very coarse/dry hair). (5)
Apply deep conditioners on your hair once or twice a month if you have thin hair and after every wash if your hair is dry or brittle.
For those with low porosity hair, the hair should be freshly shampooed to raise the cuticles, and heat should be added to help the ingredients penetrate deeper into the strands for better ingredient absorption.
On the other hand, high-porosity hair can benefit from applying heat and thick, hydrating, deep conditioners, which penetrate the highly porous cuticle and impart as much moisture as possible.
Benefits of Leave-In and Deep Conditioners
Consider using leave-in conditioners and deep conditioners to reap these benefits.
Benefits of leave-in conditioners
Here are some benefits of applying leave-in conditioners on your hair.
1. Can be used on dry and damp hair
You can apply a leave-in conditioner to damp or dry hair and then forget about it; the product will work its magic. (5)
It can also be used on newly washed hair, as experts recommend, and it will help hydrate, nourish, heal, strengthen, and smoothen your hair.
2. Aids in detangling hair
The solvent systems used in leave-in conditioners are either water or an alcohol-water mixture. These formulations aid in easy combing and style retention by strengthening the interfiber forces of the hair and reducing tangles without forming rigid bonds. (5)
3. Repairs broken hair strands
Sunscreen in hair care products is beneficial because it shields the scalp and hair from the damaging ultraviolet radiation and delays aging. Sunscreens formulated as leave-in conditioners can add moisture to the hair fiber, making it more manageable and less prone to breakage. (6)
4. Adds shine and makes hair manageable
Curly or unruly hair or hair damaged by heat styling tools or chemicals can benefit from using leave-in conditioners before they undergo heat styling.
Leave-in conditioners lock moisture and add gloss to the hair as they contain mineral and vegetable oils, petrolatum, and silicone. Thus, people with thin hair should not use them. (7)
Benefits of deep conditioners
Applying a deep conditioner to your hair offers the following benefits.
1. Tames frizz and adds moisture to dry hair
Hair that has undergone a deep-conditioning treatment has a more polished appearance because the cuticle has been smoothened out. (7)
Studies done on African women found that maintaining healthy and beautiful hair required deep conditioning once or twice a month and bimonthly trimming of the dead ends. (8)
Deep conditioners are typically formulated as creams, (1) and they contain humectants that draw moisture to the hair shaft, consequently lowering the risk of damage and breakage.
2. Allows deeper penetration
When using a deep conditioner, it’s recommended to apply heat to your hair, either from a hair dryer or a hot towel. The cuticle scales are lifted and the hair shaft is swollen due to the heat, facilitating the absorption of the conditioning treatment. (9)
How to Apply a Leave-In Conditioner?
- Apply an appropriate amount of leave-in conditioner from the midlengths to the ends of towel-dried hair.
- After applying the product, run a shampoo comb through your hair to distribute the formula evenly. Doing so untangles your hair and aids in the product’s absorption. Distributing the conditioner along the length of the hair makes for a more uniform treatment. You can also scrunch the product in to make waves and curls.
- Allow your hair to dry naturally before you style it.
How to Apply a Deep Conditioner?
- Wet your hair and apply a deep conditioner thoroughly, working from roots to tips.
- Leave the deep conditioner on your hair for at least 20 minutes. Use heat and a hair cap to open the hair cuticles.
- Rinse your hair with cold water.
General Queries Related to Leave-In and Deep Conditioners for Hair
How often do I need to use deep conditioners on my hair?
The ideal method of deep conditioning varies from person to person. For most people, 2–4 times a month is sufficient, but for extremely dry or damaged hair, once a week is recommended.
Is it safe to sleep with a leave-in conditioner?
Yes, you can sleep with a leave-in conditioner but sleeping with a deep conditioner mask, can put you at risk of hygral fatigue (damage to your hair follicles caused by repeated swelling and unswelling.)
What ingredients do deep conditioners have?
Deep conditioners, often used in salons, have a higher viscosity than regular conditioners due to the higher concentration of their ingredients and conditioning agents (protein, quaternary ammonium salts, etc.). (5)
Deep conditioners typically contain cationic surfactants, silicones, protein hydrolysates, vegetable oils, and hydrolyzed protein. (9)
Many people use conditioner after washing their hair with shampoo because of its positive effects on the hair. A healthy and shiny head of hair can be the result of using conditioners.
Different hair types and textures can benefit from leave-in conditioners as they are effective and lightweight. Deep conditioners are also very effective but have more concentrated ingredients.
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- Lechner A, Lahmann N, Lichterfeld-Kottner A, Müller-Werdan U, Blume-Peytavi U, Kottner J. Dry skin and the use of leave-on products in nursing care: A prevalence study in nursing homes and Hospitals. Nursing open. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6279727/ . Published September 27, 2018.
- Fact.MR – leave-in conditioner market by form (liquid leave-in conditioners, semi-solid leave-in conditioners), by packaging format ( pouch (< 10 ml), sprays, containers/bottes, tubes), by distribution channel, end user – forecast 2021-2031. Fact.MR, Market Research Company. https://www.factmr.com/report/3067/leave-in-conditioner-market.
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- Sheth P. Hair cosmetics. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology. https://ijdvl.com/hair-cosmetics/ . Published August 31, 2013.
- Caring for African American hair – proquest. https://www.proquest.com/openview/160fc8673dc3ad6c368aa3859a80b70b/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=48930.
- Dias MFRG, Loures AF, Ekelem C. Hair cosmetics for the hair loss patient. Indian journal of plastic surgery: official publication of the Association of Plastic Surgeons of India. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8719955/ . Published December 27, 2021.