Friday, March 25, 2011

Question: How much conditioner to use and how long should we leave it on our hair?

Conditioners are fairly awesome creations, and I always say that once you make your own, you'll never go back to store or salon bought. But we tend to use too much and leave it on too long, so what are the recommendations about its usage?

How much conditioner should we be using per wash? I remember seeing a suggestion for "the size of a dime" on the back of a conditioner bottle (when I used to buy products, so things might have changed), but that wasn't enough for my waist length, frizzy, coarse hair. I find about 20 ml to 30 ml (about 2 tablespoons) is more than enough. If you're finding it hard to spread the conditioner on your hair, either consider making your conditioner thinner or leaving some water on your hair to help it spread better. If you're using half a 100 ml bottle every time you wash, you're using way too much.

These are general guidelines and I'm sure I'll see some comments from people who need to use 100 ml per wash, so keep in mind these are a starting point and your mileage may vary. Different hair types will require different amounts of conditioner, but if you have tons of white goop on your hair before rinsing, odds are its going down the drain and you're wasting money and product. We only need a thin coating on our hair for the conditioning agents and moisturizers to do their job. And do you really want a ton of build-up?

There's almost a sense of pride in needing to use more conditioner and more intense conditioners on our hair, as if using more means we have nicer, thicker, longer hair. There's no benefit to using more than we need. You spend all this time making an awesome product only to pour half of it down the drain!

So how long should we leave conditioner on our hair? We don't need to leave conditioner on for more than 2 to 3 minutes for it to do its job. The conditioning agent will adsorb to your hair strand pretty quickly, so anything longer than about 3 minutes is kinda pointless. Those instructions just make us think that an intense conditioner - one with more conditioning agents - is more effective than a regular conditioner. There's no difference in leaving it on for 2 minutes or 10 - you'll get the same conditioning level.

Where leaving it on for longer becomes relevant is with the oils. Oils can take some time to moisturize, and those that might penetrate the hair shaft can take a little longer. But half an hour is more than enough. You can put oil on your hair and go to sleep and find it feels great in the morning (after you've washed it out), but you will get the same effect with 30 minutes or so.

Terry O'Reilly notes in the radio program/podcast Age of Persuasion that the first conditioner that came out for consumer purchase (instead of salon use) told us to use it for 30 minutes. It wasn't necessary, but it's what we knew from the salon. And we see those kinds of instructions on conditioners - especially intense ones - today.

If you're interested in learning more about making your own hair care products, please click here to see the hair care products section of this blog.


Tara said...

I heard from a hair professional years back that you were supposed to wring out every bit of extra moisture from your hair before applying the conditioner, that way your hair wouldn't be so saturated and could absorb more of the conditioner. Any truth to this?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I think this is a good idea, Tara, because then you can make sure you get the conditioner where you want it. Having said that, you'll want some water on your hair if you're using a solid conditioner bar to make it easier to swipe (and reduce friction). And if you're finding your conditioner is too thick, then leaving some water on your hair means you'll be able to use that to dilute it and make it easier to use.

LiisK said...

I have terribly oily hair and I recently heard of cowashing, which means washing the hair with conditioner instead of shampoo. For me it sounds strange, a conditioner has no cleaning agents in it and is therefore unlikely to remove the oil. What do you think about it? And if it does somehow work, would it help me to reduce the oilyness of the scalp?

LiisK said...

Sorry to trouble you, I already found your post on cowashing :), apparently unsuitable for greasy hair, I´ll give it a miss.

Nancy Liedel said...

No hair wringing! Never, ever, cross my eyes, then my thighs and double pinky swear!!! Got it. Good. Now I shall explain why. I can't believe that I'm about to disagree with Susan. I'm going to pass out.

Wringing wet hair (especially long hair) especially by twisting at all, damages hair. Any really long hair is going to be about 6 years old and you need to treat it like old lace.

Now, if by wringing you mean gently gathering your hair into one bundle, after you just wash the roots and let the shampoo drift to the ends, then squeeze to the bottom. That's different and that's how you do it. One gently gathered pony tail and a squish action only.

Conditioner should also go on from the ears, south. The new hair growth before that should not need conditioner. However if you get all tangly near the top...go ahead, but your probably colored it then and that hair needs it.

One last thing about hair. I don't wet brush, ever. I have thin hair that is very fine. I love it stick straight, now...but there were years of teen angst. To keep as much as possible, I have a very wide tooth comb in the shower and I comb it with the conditioner in, from bottom to top, again old lace.

I let it air dry and then finger comb, followed by a real comb and no longer style the heck out of it. If I want long hair, that's what I need to do. We suffer so for beauty.

I'd cut off toes for Susan's hair.

Nancy Liedel said...

Liisk, me too on the oilies, and there is a theory that super oily hair should be conditioned only. So I tried it. One week. It smelled from the cholesterol breaking apart (I think Susan taught me this, it's what gives hair that nasty scent, as it's pushed out and basically turned rancid. Did I get that right?). Then, dear goddess the itching started. It was not for me.

Instead I use a shampoo that is cleansing, yet not too tough on my hair. I used one of Susan's formulas and adapted it. I wash it every day and am gentle with it. I also use a lot of water on it after washing. I really let it get all the shampoo out. I can rinse and soap at the same time, so no water wasted. Quite the party trick.

You can try CO only, but don't spend a fortune on the stuff they sell on TV. Just get a decent conditioner that you like and use it. The TV stuff is bunk. They charge a fortune for what is, from my inci snooping, about an average conditioner. I can make a better one and so can you.

Anonymous said...

What about vinegar? I use vinegar as a hair rinse and this makes my hair wonderfully soft and shiny..

Anonymous said...

What about a super dry scalp? Is there any sort of leave in/lotion that will moisturize my scalp but not make my hair look awful? Thanks for any ideas!!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

When I say wringing, I don't mean any kind of serious pressure on your hair. I just hold my hair in one hand and run the other down the length of it to remove the excess water. I'm doing Nancy's ponytail squish action, to give it the proper name.

I used to towel dry my hair into serious tangles until I read something somewhere about just patting it dry and the difference! It was amazing.

I do use conditioner all over my hair, even on my scalp, because I get frizzies if I don't. But I only use a light coating because I don't want to get oilier! And I do comb my hair when it's wet - it's the only time I give it a brush - but I do it delicately and not until I've put on my detangler/leave in conditioner so I can get the knots out. I know it's not the best hair practice, but I've tried not doing it and I have the most tangled hair you've seen in ages!

And I like it when people disagree with me. I have my two henchwomen to agree with me all the time - I need my readers to question and challenge me so I can think differently!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi LiisK! I'm glad you found the answer to your question. And Nancy's right - don't bother with a fancy conditioner if you want to try this. A good conditioner of any sort will work. I don't recommend it for oily haired girls. Your hair will feel awful and smell bad as the oils go rancid on your scalp

Hi Anonymous. Vinegar is acidic, and we want to use acidic ingredients on our hair, but it can be a little too acidic at a pH of 3. I don't know why it works for some people and not for others (like me), and I do worry that it's too acidic for most hair types, but if it works for you, I can't argue with it. Are you using a regular conditioner as well?

Hi Anonymous#2! I don't think you'll find something that you can use during the day that won't make your hair look greasy or lank. You could put a conditioner on your scalp at night - I'd go with one that contains some great oils and film formers - and wash it off in the morning or you could use a really intense conditioner with oils when you shower. You want to get some moisturizing on your scalp to get rid of the dryness. (Unless it's like dandruff, then you want to exfoliate!)

Christina Kessler said...

Yay, thanks for answering my questions! Turns out I don't use as much conditioner as I thought, that first batch was just much less than 100mL because of water loss. Now I'm use just enough to get my hair slippery enough to (very gently) detangle with a wide-toothed comb.
It's nice to know I don't have to worry about leaving it on for a long time unless I'm using oils. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I have always putting a ton of conditioner on my hair, and it will always be gone in a week or two because of a previous exp. For two years I did not use conditioner under the belief it causes hair fall, bad mistake ever. My hair was really short and it bugged me why it hasn't grown. I didn't use heat, I didn't colour it etc so I really didn't know what was wrong with my hair. My hair only grew like 2 inches within a year! Then I began using condioner last year after a haircut which totally just cut off my progress, but now it's just below my boobs! So i've been putting a lot of condioner ever since, I thank you for telling me how much I really should be putting. I wasted a lot of conditioner.