By: Vivian Ige, Contributor
As you might already know, one of the keys to great hair is using the right products and that starts with choosing the right shampoo and conditioner for your natural hair. We know that if you’re new to natural hair finding the right products can be daunting. So we’ve rounded up the essentials for choosing the right conditioner. Also check out our guide for choosing the right shampoo.
The point of a conditioner is to replenish some of the moisture that has been stripped from your hair by shampooing and help you retain some moisture by closing your cuticles (the scaly outer layer of a strand of hair). There are generally two types of conditioners to choose from–rinse out conditioners and leave-ins. Rinse out conditioners are used immediately after shampooing and are typically washed out right away. They can also be very effective by way of deep conditioning if you leave them in for several minutes before washing out. Meanwhile, leave-in conditioners aren’t washed out at all and can be used throughout the week to refresh styles and seal moisture throughout your strands and ends. Whether you choose a leave-in, rinse out or both, really depends on your hair texture and the type of hair regimen your lifestyle can support. But in either case, there are key ingredients to look for an one key quality.
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Ingredients to Look For
Water as one of the main ingredients
I’ve been natural for about eight years now and I frequently get asked what the best moisturizer is. My response is usually, honey, it’s WATER. We condition to bring back the moisture that’s been removed after washing our hair, right? How can we properly do that without water? Water is moisture incarnate. If water is the first or one of the first items on a conditioner’s ingredients list, it’s a wonderful sign!
Minimal or zero sulfates/parabens
Sulfates are cheap substances that provide lather and remove grease from our hair. Some sulfates are even known carcinogens and can cause skin irritation. The most popular sulfates that pop up on ingredient lists are: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate. Meanwhile, parabens are preservatives that are found in hair and beauty products. Most parabens contain the prefixes, methyl, or propyl. Minimizing how much and how often you’re exposed to these substances will keep your hair from being completely stripped of moisture.
Natural oils like avocado oil, olive oil and coconut oil can do wonders for your hair, no matter the hair type. Although oil isn’t a moisturizer, it’s great for sealing in moisture. Any conditioner that incorporates natural oils will most likely aid in decreasing frizz and add some shine. The more oil, the better! Learn more about oils here.
Humectants are substances that attract moisture to your hair and can help retain more moisture over time. This can be great if you live in a humid climate. People in dry climates can benefit but they should not try to overuse humectants because that can lead to more frizz and breakage. Whether or not humectants can help or hurt your hair depends on the porosity of your hair and the climate you live in. Curly Nikki has a detailed explanation about humectants. But moderation is always key whenever you incorporate any product no matter how beneficial they may be, which is a great rule of thumb to follow when it comes to Humectants. Humectants that are found in conditioners include: Glycerin, honey, hyrdrolyzed silk and wheat protein. You should always seal products that contain humectants with an oil or butter in order to prevent moisture from escaping your hair.
Our hair is made up of small keratin fibers. Keratin is a protein that needs more protein to stay strong and healthy. However, there are some people that are protein sensitive because each protein reacts differently with every individual’s hair. In general, hydrolyzed silk and wheat are really great proteins for our naturally kinky and curly hair among some others. Curly hair types are usually classified as low porosity and thus silk and wheat protein are able to attach to this type of texture. Learn more here.
Besides the right ingredients an important trait to look for in a good conditioner is slip. Slip is best described as the loose creamy feeling some products have that allows you to easily run your fingers through your hair. Conditioners with great slip usually weigh your hair down and allow you to remove tangles you may have. Garnier Fructis’ frizz free conditioner and Cantu Leave-in are great examples of conditioners with great slip.
In sum, the best conditioners will probably be very creamy, and have natural ingredients which will in turn contain proteins, humectants and oils. Having naturally curly kinky hair can be wonderful and I hope you find what works for you and decide how frequently you will use any conditioner, be that a leave in or rinse out. To make the process of choosing a conditioner even easier for you, we’ve created a handy wallet-sized cheat sheet to for your next trip to the beauty supply aisle. Download it below.