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Finally the Mystery of Hair Conditioners Solved

Hair conditioners fall into general categories according to what they do and the problems they solve. Using the wrong product for the specific condition of your hair will produce disappointing results. For example, if your hair is thin and fine you are not going to be happy with an industrial-strength conditioner for thick, coarse, frizzy, color-treated hair.

Unfortunately, conditioners are not quite as simple as shampoos.

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First, we need to demystify the term “conditioner.” It is a vague term that refers to a wide range of hair products designed to make hair more manageable and also treat common hair problems. Next, we need to know that conditioners fall into general categories according to what they do and the problems they solve.


Moisturizers are concentrated with humectants, which are compounds that attract moisture into the hair and hold it there. If your hair is dry, brittle, and limp, you should consider a moisturizing conditioner like Pantene Pro-V Daily Moisture Renewal Hydrating Conditioner


Reconstructors typically contain protein. Hair professionals, including mine, say that keratin protein is the best source because it contains all 19 amino acids found in the hair and has a low molecular weight. The main purpose of a reconstructor, they say, is to strengthen the hair. If your hair is fine and thin try a reconstructing conditioner like ApHogee Keratin Reconstructor. Use a hair reconstructor about once a month. When used more often, it can cause the hair to become hard and brittle, resulting in breakage and damage.


Acidifiers put acid on your hair and it’s OK—a good thing for hair. When a product carries a pH of 2.5 to 3.5 it is considered an acidifier. This pH will close the cuticle layer of the hair resulting in shiny, bouncy hair. Acidifiers do not “weigh down” hair but rather create shine and add elasticity. The answer for fine, dry hair that has been damaged by chemicals or harsh environmental factors is a product like Joico K-PAK Reconstructor.


Detanglers almost always come as a spray-in product that you leave in—no rinsing required. It’s got a quirky name. Don’t let that discourage you from giving Mane N Tail Detangler a try. You’ll love it.

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Many choices

Nearly every line of hair care products includes a wide range of conditioners, with at least one in each of the categories mentioned above. And there are many good choices right at your supermarket. 

The most cost-effective way to buy good-quality, name-brand hair conditioners is to collect hair product coupons. Then wait for the brands you prefer to go on sale at a store that doubles coupons.

My personal favorite conditioner is Pantene Pro-V Color Revival.  When my Pantene conditioner goes on sale and I have coupons, I load up.

Infusium makes an excellent line of conditioners that are available in most supermarkets. When I have coupons and this line comes on sale, I’m an enthusiastic buyer. 

Some beauty supply stores are open to the public and sell conditioner for less than $10 a gallon. While that’s a good deal, it’s also a lot of conditioner. So before you jump on it make sure it’s compatible with your family’s hair needs.

Tips from a pro

One of the responses to the shampoo article came from hair professional C.C. Courville of Louisiana. In that the subject of her message was “Kudos on the shampoo article!” I sensed we had a “thrifty” connection so I grabbed the opportunity to ask her professional opinion on conditioners:

“My all-time favorite conditioning spray, which is a leave-in that you spray into clean, towel-dried hair, is a professional product called Biolage Daily Leave-In Tonic by Matrix. This spray-in, a leave-in conditioner can be used daily.

“Biolage also has a conditioning balm that can be used weekly. After shampooing use a dime- to a quarter-sized amount (depending on the thickness of hair), work through from scalp to ends, even combing through if desired. Leave on for 5 to 20 minutes then thoroughly rinse out.”

C.C.’s Rule of Thumb: Conditioning spray: leave-in. Balms or cream rinses: always rinse out completely.

Both Pantene Pro-V and Infusium 23 have spray-in, leave-in conditioning sprays in their line of products.

Now, no article on hair care would be complete without a homemade solution or two:

DIY conditioner


Many readers, including a couple of hair professionals I know, insist that the best way to deep condition your hair is to put a liberal amount of regular (not low-fat) mayonnaise on it. Next put on a shower cap and spend an hour in the sun. Finally, wash out completely. I have yet to try this myself. 

DIY hair rid

First, know that shampoo will not build up on your hair, while conditioner and other styling products will. You can purchase pricey “clarifying” products to remove this build-up, or simply use a teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) mixed in your palm with your favorite shampoo every few weeks. Shampoo as usual. Then rinse thoroughly. The baking soda helps remove the build-up of conditioners, mousses, and sprays to give you naturally clean hair. Follow with your conditioner of choice.

First published 5-15-15; Republished with updated and new information 7-16-21

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11 replies
  1. Canide Wiser says:

    I wash my hair on Tuesday and Friday. I use Suave conditioner every day and put a little bit of coconut oil in my hair. My hair feels soft!

  2. Pat Williams says:

    I noticed that the recommendations addressed, thin, fine, dry or limp hair. Is there a solution for dry, coarse, frizzy hair?

  3. Mary says:

    I have solved the shampoo/conditioner problem by not using them. I am fortunate to not have “problem hair” thus I just wet my hair to clean it. If I am in a dusty situation I will use just a bit of shampoo.

  4. Pat Moore says:

    Mary, I just wish someone would address one’s SCALP in conditioning, not the hair. There’s GOT to be a conditioner for one’s dry, itchy SCALP. Help.

    • Jean Marshall says:

      If you see tiny dry patches at the follicle, see a dermatologist. Mine prescribe Ketoconazole Shampoo 2% to be used 2x a week, left on for 2-3 min before rinsing. Sometimes just apple cider vinegar as a rinse poured through your hair and massaged will help. The smell goes away.

    • Kami, PM Tea Tree Oil products have made this 79 year old very happy a very happy person! You are so righyt.Pat says:

      made this 79 year old very happy. Love, Love, Love.

    • Ndaara says:

      My scalp got so dry, I gave up entirely on shampoo and now “wash” with conditioner. I used to shampoo daily. Now I “lather up” no more than once a week with just conditioner. My hair has never been happier and my scalp stopped itching. It did take a few months to transition completely away from shampoo. Totally worth it. Bonus: I’m saving a fortune! Now that I buy conditioner only, and use it just 2-4 times a month, one bottle lasts several months. Everyone is different so it’s possible this won’t work for everyone. I’m so happy it works for me.

      • sue says:

        I wash my hair every 2 weeks or so. I worked up to it gradually and my hair is not oily at all. I like your idea of washing with conditioner. Might have to give it a try.

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