Is Conditioner Good for Curly Hair?

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By Tina Hudson

You’ve finally embraced your natural curls after years of fighting the frizz. But now you’re wondering – is conditioner actually helping or hindering those luscious locks? The answer is a resounding yes…when you use the right product and apply it properly. Let’s dive into the world of conditioners and how they can be a curly girl’s best friend.

The Role of Conditioner for Curls

Conditioners are designed to combat dryness, frizz, and tangles – common woes for those with curly hair. They contain a blend of ingredients like oils, butters, and silicones that work together to:

  • Add slip: Making it easier to detangle and preventing breakage
  • Seal in moisture: Replenishing thirsty curls with much-needed hydration
  • Enhance definition: Helping curls clump together for more defined ringlets

However, not all conditioners are created equal for our curly-headed queens. Cheaper formulas can contain harsh ingredients that actually dry out curls. That’s why it’s crucial to check those labels.

Quenching Curly Hair’s Thirst

Unlike straight hair, curly and coily strands have a unique, twisted structure that makes them prone to dryness and breakage. Think of each curl as a straw – the more bent it is, the harder it is for moisture to travel from roots to ends.

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Read more: Is Curly Cut Worth it for Wavy Hair?

Using the right conditioner helps replenish that lost moisture and strengthens strands from the inside out. But should you use a leave-in or rinse-out conditioner?

Leave-In ConditionerRinse-Out Conditioner
Applied to damp hair after showeringUsed in the shower, then rinsed
Provides continuous moisture throughout the dayA quick hydration boost while washing
Best for high porosity, thirsty hairBetter for low porosity hair

The better option depends on your hair’s individual needs and how much moisture it craves.

Conditioner Ingredients to Seek and Avoid

conditioner on curly hair

Not all conditioner ingredients are created equal when it comes to curly hair. Here’s a cheat sheet:

Seek Out:

  • Oils: Argan, coconut, olive, and jojoba oils help lock in moisture
  • Butters: Shea, mango, and cocoa butter deeply nourish curls
  • Humectants: Ingredients like glycerin, honey, and aloe draw in moisture
  • Proteins: Keratin, silk, and wheat proteins strengthen the hair structure


  • Heavy Silicones: Ingredients ending in “-xane” or “-cone” can build up over time, weighing down curls
  • Waxes: Look out for beeswax, paraffin, and mineral waxes that can create crunch
  • Sulfates: These harsh detergents strip essential oils from curly hair
  • Drying Alcohols: Avoid isopropyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol, and propyl alcohol

“The most important ingredients to look for in a good conditioner are oils, butters, and cationic polymers like polyquaternium. These help smooth the cuticle and lock in moisture.” – Michelle Sultan, Curl Expert

Correct Conditioner Application

Even the best conditioner won’t work its magic if you’re not applying it correctly. Here are some tips for making the most of your conditioner:

  1. Detangle in the Shower: Use a wide-tooth comb or brush to gently detangle curls while the conditioner is still in. The slip helps prevent breakage.
  2. Use Enough Product: Those tiny dollops aren’t cutting it for curly girls. Aim for a handful or more of conditioner per section, depending on your hair length and thickness.
  3. Proper Rinsing: Don’t be stingy – a thorough rinse removes any residue that could weigh curls down or cause buildup.
  4. Scrunch and Dry: After rinsing, gently scrunch curls upwards with your hands or an old cotton t-shirt. This helps encourage curl formation and lock in moisture.
  5. Deep Condition Regularly: Do a deep conditioning mask weekly or bi-weekly to give thirsty curls an extra drink.
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When to Condition and How Often

curly hair conditioning

As a general rule, you should condition every time you shampoo to replenish any moisture lost during the cleansing process. But how often should curly hair be washed?

The answer may surprise you – curly hair doesn’t need daily washing like straight hair. In fact, over-washing can lead to dryness and frizz. Instead, follow this guideline:

Wash Frequency for Curly Hair:

  • Loose Waves: Every 3-4 days
  • Curly/Coily Hair: Every 5-7 days
  • Highly Textured Hair: Once a week or less

Some curly girls even practice “co-washing,” where they use a cleansing conditioner to wash their hair instead of shampoo. This avoids stripping away natural oils.

Case Study: Sarah, who has 3B curls, found that co-washing every 5 days with a cheap conditioner, then deep conditioning weekly, dramatically improved her curl definition and moisture levels.

FAQs on Conditioner for Curly Hair

Here are some important FAQs for you:

Can you use too much conditioner on curly hair?

A: Yes, it is possible to over-condition curly hair, especially if using very rich conditioners. This can lead to limp, weighed down curls with little definition. The key is finding the right balance – using enough conditioner to provide moisture without going overboard. Focus conditioner on the ends which tend to be drier.

How can I tell if a conditioner is layering and causing buildup?

Signs of conditioner buildup include:

  • Dull, lifeless looking curls
  • Curls feeling gritty, sticky or coated
  • Lack of definition and curl clumping
  • Extra tangles and knots

Doing a clarifying wash with a chelating shampoo can remove buildup.

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Should I condition my roots when I have curly hair?

Generally it’s best to avoid getting conditioner directly on the roots and scalp area for curly hair. The sebum and natural oils from the scalp can be enough moisture for the roots. Putting conditioner there can lead to limp curls and weigh down the roots.

Can I just co-wash instead of using a separate conditioner?

Co-washing or using a cleansing conditioner can absolutely be done instead of a separate rinse-out conditioner, especially for drier curl types. However, making sure to still use a deep conditioner weekly is recommended to replenish moisture.

How long should I leave conditioner in curly hair?

Many experts recommend leaving a rinse-out conditioner in for 3-5 minutes, but up to 15 minutes can provide extra hydrating benefits for very dry curls. Deep conditioners and conditioning masks may be left on for 15-30 minutes.

When should I apply leave-in conditioner?

Leave-in conditioners work best on freshly washed, damp hair before applying stylers. This helps lock in moisture from the start. Some curlies also remist with leave-in conditioners on day 2 or 3 hair.


So to answer the question – is conditioner good for curly hair? A resounding yes! When you use the right conditioner with nourishing ingredients, apply it properly while detangling, and condition as frequently as your curls need, you’ll be rewarded with shiny, defined, frizz-free ringlets.

Embrace your hair’s thirstiness, because a well-conditioned curly will shine bright. What are your favorite curly hair conditioners? Share your holy grail products in the comments!

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