Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Okay, real talk.. I never gave a ton of thought to the difference between regular, rinse-out conditioner and deep conditioner. I think it’s because I just knew that the deep conditioner was an extra kick of moisture and that was that. I just knew that it was good and necessary but not WHY.. until now. I kind of had a light bulb moment illuminating my ignorance. How could I, hairstylist of nearly 6 years, not know the WHY behind the difference between the two. Nevertheless, it’s all for the best because I get to share my new knowledge with you!
Let’s start with rinse out conditioner. We all use this (and if you currently don’t, you should!) and the reason is really pretty simple. Regular conditioners coat the hair and protect the cuticle from outside damage. Now this is embarrassing because I was taught somewhere along the line that only drugstore conditioners did that and that it was so horrible.
[Honestly, there’s so little scientific information available to hairstylists regarding the products we use. Don’t get me wrong, we are taught extensively about how color and specific treatments, like the Brazilian Blowout or perms, work, but the science behind hair products isn’t so transparent. I don’t know if this is because big companies want to keep their formulations and reasons behind them quiet so they can keep dominating the market or what, but I’m ready to blow the lid off all the hair product secrets!]
Anyways, back to conditioners… sorry for the red herring! Conditioner’s basic purpose is to replenish the hair with the moisture that was just washed out with shampoo. The conditioner helps smooth the hair and leaves it soft and manageable, while reducing the friction between each strand to avoid tangling. Rinse-out conditioners make your hair easier to manage, replaces the oils and moisture that the shampoo washed away, and protects the cuticle of the hair from outside damage. This protective barrier only lasts for a few days because we all experience environmental wear and tear (UV rays, dirt, friction, etc.) and of course, it is washed away when we shampoo again.
Deep conditioner on the other hand is a little different. Our hair has 2-3 layers (fine hair has only 2 generally), with the outermost layer being the cuticle which is a scale-like protective covering for the rest of the hair. (Read more about the makeup of your hair here.) Deep conditioners have lower weight molecules that can penetrate the cuticle of your hair and give the inside the moisture and nutrients it needs. When you use heat with these, the effects are even greater because the heat actually lifts the scales of the cuticle (similar to how it opens our pores), allowing the deep conditioner to penetrate deeply and do its thing. And its thing is to increase the moisture volume in the hair which creates a barrier against additional damage. This means that a deep conditioner helps protect your hair from breakage, increases your hair’s elasticity, and reduces frizz for silky soft hair. These treatments are designed to last through several shampoos. Depending on the quality they may last from 3 shampoos to 12 shampoos or longer.
Ultimately, a deep conditioner is for moisture and hydration from the inside out and a regular conditioner is designed for moisture from the outside in. Both serve their own purposes and are essential to a healthy hair routine.
Ask your stylist next time you get a conditioning treatment how long the effects can last in your hair. It’s important that if you’re paying for a premium treatment that you also receive the premium effects!
Happy conditioning sister friend!