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Can You Leave Conditioner in Your Hair? | It Depends

The hydration benefits of conditioner lead many to wonder, “can you leave conditioner in your hair?” However, you may be disappointed at the results if you do. Whether or not you can leave the conditioner in your hair is determined by the type of conditioner you use. 

What Is Conditioner?

Some conditioners are designed to spend longer in your hair, while others should be rinsed out within a few minutes. Before deciding to leave the conditioner in your hair, ensure you know how the conditioner is designed and whether or not leaving it in your hair will cause more harm than good. 

Most conditioners contain chemicals that are foreign to your hair and are designed to add a layer of cleansing to your hair that the shampoo may have missed.

The additional ingredients used to cleanse the hair, mixed with the oils and moisturizing agents, create a product you don’t want to deny your hair. Conditioner strengthens the hair with a protective coating to prevent breakage and aid in hair growth, but it also leaves it soft and smooth. 

For conditioner to work the way it should, it is vital to understand what conditioners work best when rinsed out after a few minutes, and which work better for leaving in your hair.

Read Next: What Is Hair Conditioner Used For?

Why Not Leave Rinse-Off Conditioner in Your Hair

For a guide titled can you leave conditioner in your hair, a woman looking at a brush with hair breakage

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I have to admit, I was the girl in high school that left a rinse-off conditioner in my hair. I found it easier to brush through my thick, curly hair when it had left-over conditioner from my shower, ultimately making my morning routine go faster.

While leaving the rinse-off conditioner in my hair helped with the initial brushing, it had drawbacks – some that I am still suffering from in my late 20s. Leaving conditioner in your hair every once in a while won’t cause permanent damage.

So don’t freak out if you remember a time 10 years ago when you didn’t get your conditioner fully rinsed out. However, leaving conditioner designed to only be in your hair for a few minutes regularly can cause issues.

Leaving Conditioner in Your Hair Can Cause Damage

The most serious drawback to leaving the conditioner in your hair is the damage it can cause to your hair structure. The chemicals in the rinse-off conditioner can cause breakage and ultimately do more harm than good if left in longer than intended.

This breakage and structure damage will leave your hair looking flat and limp it will become unhealthy. And if you’re using conditioner, those are the very opposite results you’re seeking.

Conditioner Can Cause Your Hair to Become Dirty Faster

We know that shampoo’s main goal is to remove any dirt or unnatural buildup in your hair. Pairing conditioner with your shampoo provides an additional cleansing while adding back nutrients to keep your hair soft and smooth.

However, if you leave the conditioner in your hair it can work against you and cause buildup or clog up the hair follicles resulting in dirty hair faster. 

Itchy Scalp? Lurking Conditioner May Be the Issue

If you have issues with a dry and itchy scalp, a lurking conditioner may be the issue. The unnatural chemicals in rinse-off conditioners, if left in the hair, make their way to your scalp and irritate it. 

This results in an itchy scalp and can even lead to dandruff buildup. As someone with naturally curly hair, I already have the issue of a dryer than a normal scalp. Add the left-in conditioner, and it’s a natural disaster!

Conditioners to Leave in Your Hair

Woman showing us that you can leave conditioner in your hair, given it's the right type

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The best part about the conditioner is that there is a version of the product designed for every hair need. While the benefits of rinse-off conditioners are endless if used properly, the leave-in conditioner offers similar benefits, and you don’t have to worry about removing it from your hair. 

Leave-in conditioner has lighter chemical composition, which doesn’t weigh down your hair or contain chemicals for quick hydration.

Rather, the oils in this type of conditioner have a slower release causing them to hydrate over time. This slow hydration process leaves your hair looking cleaner and healthier. 

Hydration Is Key

As with rinse-off conditioners, there is a variety of leave-in conditioner options. While there are plenty of options to choose from, the best types of leave-in conditioners have natural oils in them like aloe vera or argan oil to promote hydration and shine. Without proper hydration, your hair may look dull and become coarse. 

Our Favorite Leave-in Conditioners

Because I have naturally curly hair, my hair tends to remain dryer than average. Therefore, I like to frequently use a leave-in conditioner to promote hydration. When I say I have tried every type of leave-in conditioner, I mean it.

To spare you the expense of purchasing a variety of leave-in conditioners, I’m here to share my top two favorite options.

Our Top Pick
VIRTUE Purifying Leave-in Conditioner
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My absolute favorite is the Virtue Purifying Leave-In Conditioner. This conditioner is more expensive, but the easy-to-apply and lightweight mist is what my coarse hair needs.

Our Top Pick
én love Moisture Affection Leave-In Conditioner
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Another option that works well for my curly hair but won’t break the bank is én Love Moisture Affection Leave-In Conditioner. Oils like marula and argan add moisture that leaves my hair happy. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Woman applying conditioner to her hair in a bath robe

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There are multiple questions surrounding the benefits and drawbacks of leaving the conditioner in your hair. Here are the top five most frequently asked questions surrounding the topic.

What happens if I leave the conditioner in my hair?

Leaving conditioner in your hair once or twice won’t cause extensive damage. However, leaving the rinse-off conditioner in your hair frequently can cause hair fatigue and result in damaged hair follicles and dull, coarse hair. An itchy and irritated scalp is another potential repercussion of leaving the conditioner in your hair.

How long can you leave the conditioner in your hair?

The average rinse-off conditioner you find at the department store shouldn’t remain in your hair for longer than three minutes. This ensures the foreign chemicals in the product won’t cause your hair to become weighed down or cause damage.

Is it okay to use conditioner without shampoo?

You don’t have to use shampoo every time you use conditioner. Shampooing your hair every day is known to dry hair and remove the natural minerals your hair needs to remain healthy. Therefore, you may want to avoid shampooing your hair every day, but using conditioner every day is a good way to keep your hair moisturized.

How often should you condition your hair?

If you have short hair, you should condition your hair at least five times a week. We recommend conditioning once a day to keep long hair hydrated and healthy.

Should you put conditioner on your roots?

Your roots do not need conditioner. Your scalp naturally produces sebum, an oil to help hydrate your roots and scalp. Therefore, the hair roots have less damage than the ends of your hair.

So, Can You Leave Conditioner in Your Hair?

For the sake of your hair, it is vital you only use a leave-in conditioner in your hair. If you leave the rinse-off conditioner in your hair for long periods, it can cause damage and leave your hair looking dull.

Use your conditioner as intended and alternate between rinse-off and leave-in conditioners for best results. And while you’re here, be sure to check out our other hair styling and care guides. Your hair will thank you!