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Conditioner vs Leave-In Conditioner: What's the Difference?

You likely use a regular conditioner every time you shampoo your hair, but when you consider adding a leave-in conditioner into the mix, things may start to get a bit confusing. Do you need to use them both in the same routine? Is there really that much difference between the two?

In this article, we’re breaking down the differences between regular conditioner vs leave-in conditioner and how to use them together for your softest, shiniest, healthiest hair yet. 

Conditioner vs Leave-In Conditioner

The Difference Between Regular Conditioner vs Leave-In Conditioner

The obvious difference between conditioner and leave-in conditioner is that one gets rinsed out and one doesn’t. But, you’ve probably already worked that out for yourself. So, let’s dive into what you really want to know.

For starters, regular conditioner is used to rehydrate the hair after shampooing. It works to close the cuticle of the hair follicles and restore moisture that was lost during the cleansing process. The right conditioner will also restore proper pH balance and leave the hair more manageable.

Regular conditioner is also formulated with richer moisturizers and conditioning agents, which is why it’s meant to be rinsed out rather than left on. Leaving a rinse-out conditioner in your hair could weigh the hair down and lead to buildup.

In contrast, leave-in conditioner is commonly used to rehydrate the hair after cleansing and in between washes. It’s ideal for adding softness, shine, and manageability before styling. It’s also especially useful for detangling damp or dry hair without causing damage or breakage.

Leave-in conditioner is formulated with lightweight moisturizers and conditioners that can be left on the hair without weighing it down or causing buildup. It’s formulated to smooth out the hair cuticle, add shine, and prevent frizz.

Why Use Regular Conditioner?

Healthy hair starts in the shower with the right shampoo and conditioner. Following a high-quality sulfate-free shampoo with the right conditioner will rehydrate and strengthen your hair, while also restoring proper pH balance and sealing the cuticle.

Conditioner vs Leave-In Conditioner

Why Use Leave-In Conditioner?

Leave-in conditioner is the perfect choice for those times when your hair needs a little TLC in between washes. Since leave-in formulas are lightweight, they can be applied to dry hair, promoting softness, shine, and manageability.

Leave-in conditioner can also be applied to damp, dry, or fine hair before detangling to add slip and prevent breakage. It’s ideal for moisturizing naturally curly hair, as well as repairing and protecting chemically treated, dry or damaged hair and reducing frizz. 

Do You Really Need Both?

Think about it. Between blow-drying, hot tools, styling products, chemical treatments, and harsh weather, your hair goes through a lot. People often think you only need one or the other, but the reality is, rinse-out conditioner and leave-in conditioner each perform different jobs. 

Rinse-out conditioner is an essential step after every shampoo, but leave-in conditioner has an important role to play as well. It offers an extra level of protection, moisturization, and detangling right out of the shower. But it’s also ideal for detangling and adding shine in between washes… anytime your hair seems dull, dry, or unmanageable.

How to Use Regular Conditioner

The best way to use a regular conditioner is to apply it from mid-lengths to ends in the shower after you shampoo your hair. Use extra care to ensure that any dry or damaged areas are covered, and distribute the product evenly for best results.

Leave the product in your hair for 1-2 minutes, then rinse out with cool water to seal the hair cuticle and lock in nutrients. This will help to repair and prevent damage while also promoting shine, softness, and manageability.

How to Use Leave-In Conditioner

To apply leave-in conditioner, spray from roots to ends, and distribute the product through your hair with your fingers, a detangling brush, or a wide-toothed comb, then style as usual. If you’re applying leave-in conditioner right out of the shower, be sure to towel dry your hair first.

How much and how often you apply leave-in conditioner comes down to your hair type. Those with oily or fine hair may only need it sparingly for detangling after shampooing, but those who have dry, thick, or curly hair may benefit from using it every day.

When applying, focus more product on your damage-prone ends and less near the roots. The longer and thicker your hair is, the more product you’ll need to coat your hair and achieve good results.

It’s also worth noting that leave-conditioner comes in a variety of formulations, including creams, lotions, and sprays. Most people will find that sprays are the best option because they’re the most versatile, lightweight, and easy to distribute throughout the hair.

How to Incorporate a Regular and a Leave-In Conditioner Into the Same Routine

If you’re still a bit unsure about how to incorporate both products into the same routine, here’s what to do step-by-step.

  1. Shampoo your hair with a sulfate-free hair wash.
  2. Apply your rinse-out conditioner and allow it to sit in your hair for up to 10 minutes before rinsing with cool water.
  3. Towel dry your hair, apply your leave-in conditioner, and use your fingers, a wide-tooth comb, or a detangling brush to distribute it evenly throughout your hair and remove tangles.
  4. Style your hair as desired.
  5. On non-wash days, apply a leave-in conditioner before styling or anytime your hair needs a little extra TLC.

How to Choose the Best Rinse-Out and Leave-In Conditioner

When shopping for a hair conditioner, consider the ingredients list and avoid any product that contains harsh chemicals which could damage your hair over time. Focus on natural ingredients that moisturize and hydrate the hair, reduce frizz, add shine, and improve manageability.

Gisou’s Honey-Infused Conditioner and Honey-Infused Leave-In Conditioner are infused with the powers of Mirsalahi Honey and the highest quality natural ingredients to promote healthy hair now and over time:

  • Glycerin: Glycerin is a naturally occurring humectant found in our regular conditioner. It’s used to draw moisture to the hair and keep it hydrated while preventing tangles. It also promotes shine while reducing frizz.
  • Argan Oil: This natural oil is found in both our regular and leave-in conditioners. It’s full of powerful antioxidants and fatty acids that strengthen, nourish, hydrate, and smooth the hair for radiant shine.
  • Coconut Oil: This natural oil is found in our regular conditioner. It’s rich in lauric acid, a fatty acid that penetrates the hair shaft to add moisture and prevent protein loss.
  • Baobab Extract: This naturally derived active is included in our Honey-Infused Leave-In Conditioner because it’s rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. It strengthens, nourishes, and smooths the hair while adding protection against UV and heat damage.

Conditioner vs Leave-In Conditioner

Can You Use Regular Conditioner as a Leave-In?

Using a regular conditioner as a leave-in isn’t typically recommended. When regular conditioner isn’t rinsed out, it can weigh down the hair and attract oil, dirt, and pollutants. Regular conditioner often has a low pH because it’s meant to seal the hair cuticle after shampoo. Not rinsing it out could lead to brittleness over time.

Where Do Deep-Conditioning Hair Masks Fit Into the Equation?

Deep-conditioning hair masks, like our Honey Infused Hair Mask, are formulated to nourish and moisturize the hair on an even deeper level than rinse-out conditioners. They typically have a thicker consistency and are left on the hair for an even longer period of time, sometimes even overnight.

Their primary function is to restore moisture to dry or damaged hair and repair damage caused by styling, chemical treatments, and environmental factors. They can be used in place of your rinse-out conditioner as often as once or twice a week, or whenever your hair needs some extra pampering.

Leave-In Conditioner vs Conditioner: The Takeaway

Regular and leave-in conditioners are essential for maintaining the beauty and health of your hair. Regular conditioner helps to nourish and moisturize the hair, while leave-in conditioner protects it from damage, adds shine, and improves manageability.

Our Honey Infused Conditioner and Honey Infused Leave-In Conditioner are the perfect duo for keeping your hair healthy, shiny, and manageable. Infused with the powers of Mirsalehi Honey, our conditioners are ideal for detangling and hydrating the hair while leaving it stronger and less prone to breakage.

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