Is It Okay To Leave Conditioner In Your Hair?

Summary: yes, it is. But a better question is, should you? Let’s go through the ins and out of leaving conditioner in your hair, for an hour, for the day, and overnight.

Why do people want to leave conditioner in their hair (meaning not wash it out after putting it on in the shower, or even putting it on wet or dry hair outside of the shower)?

There are those out there who SWEAR by leaving conditioner in. They claim that leaving conditioner in (either a formula made for leaving in, or just their regular shower conditioner) helps keep their hair strong, smooth, shiny, and healthy. They are quick to claim that it makes the strands less likely to break, smooths or prevents split ends, and makes it more manageable.

But what about the people who say that conditioner is worthless?

There are professionals in the hair care world who say exactly that. They claim that conditioner is not something we need on our heads, and that the only thing it does is weigh hair down. If people want strong, healthy, good looking hair, opponents advise taking care of the body (eating high quality food, managing stress, sleeping well) are more likely to result in the improvements we seek from conditioner.

Not to mention that genetics play a huge role as ewll.

So we shouldn’t use conditioner?

I didn’t say that either. I have a giant mass of thick, curly hair. And it doesn’t matter what I eat. I can’t go without conditioner.

One of the reasons that conditioner claims to do is prevent breakage and split ends. It does so in part because it makes it easier for you to comb or brush your hair, which is a stressful time for hair, a time when it is easy to snap strands.

This is 100% the case for me.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

What is conditioner?

In general, it is a moisturizing agent made up of a whole bunch of stuff I usually can’t pronounce. Obviously formulations will differ, and the more you spend, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to pronounce the ingredients.

Shampoo strips the hair moisture, and conditioner (depending upon the formula) can help add some of it back. There’s lot of different ways to explain this, but one dermatologist described it as filling on potholes with cement. If you leave the pothole, the damaged area slowly grows with use until the entire road is undriveable. Conditioner filled in the dried and vulnerable spots, so that the hair can be maintained and doesn’t break down entirely. (source)

If you really want the low down of each and every component of condition, I recommend that you go into the bathroom and grab the bottle, and look up the various ingredients.

Wikipedia lists in general a lot of the components. This exercise is actually pretty eye opening any time I dig in, and I realize what I am putting on myself.

For example, my house has several different levels of shampoo and conditioner. The kids waste everything, so I don’t spend money on the good stuff for them. I am currently looking at a bottle of VO5 Extra Body Conditioner. Here are the listed ingredients:

  • Water
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Cetrimonium Chloride
  • Stearalkonium Chloride
  • Fragrance
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Methychloroizothialinone
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Disodium EDTA
  • Hydrolyzed Collagen
  • Polysorbate 20
  • Pathenol (Vitamin B5)
  • Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E)
  • Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
  • Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)
  • Biotin (Vitamin H)
  • Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil
  • Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil
  • Anthemis Nobilis Flower Oil
  • Helianthus Annuss (Sunflower) Seed Oil
  • Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Oil
  • Yellow 6
  • Yellow 5

This is a whole lot of stuff that I probably wouldn’t put on my head if it was by itself. For example, it has been reported that Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 may contain contaminants that are cancer-causing. (source)

I’m confused. So I shouldn’t put conditioner on my hair?

Conditioner has tons of ingredients in it, depending upon the formulation. Some of those ingredients may be of dubious quality, but the same is true for all products at various price points.

We do know that some people are sensitive to certain allergens which may be present in conditioner, which could result in itchiness, rashes, hives, and breakouts. (I’ve definitely experienced this, and so has my daughter).

But to date I don’t know of any person who has been able to conclusively claim one way or another that their cancer was directly caused by a conditioner, probably because conditioner isn’t something we consume, and very little of it really touches our skin (and we mostly wash it out).

I think the point of this is that you should pay attention to what you are putting on your head. I don’t think it is a good idea to put a lot of bad stuff in or on our bodies.

Okay, you’ve distract me. Back to my question. Can I leave conditioner in my hair?

Like I said before, the answer is yes. But the reason I went through the quick chat above about ingredients is that I think you could be careful about what you leave in your hair overnight, for the day, or even for multiple days.

It is one thing to be putting a product on your hair, leaving it there for a few second, and washing most of it out (obviously some of it sticks around otherwise what would be the point). It is another thing quite entirely to be putting something in your own (and on your scalp) that is a harsh chemical with ties to contaminants.

If you wanted to leave conditioner in your hair (as I do on occasion), I would strongly suggest that you only do so with a high quality conditioner (rather than the VO5 crud that I have in my kids’ shower). This will lessen the opportunity and likelihood of any long term and consistent contact with the gross and harsh stuff that we don’t want to get on our skin.

Only Potential Problems I Have Experienced

In general, leaving conditioner in my hair after the shower makes it easier to comb, style, and keeps the flyaways down. But if I don’t wash my hair the next day (I don’t wash my hair every day), I notice that my hair can start to look and feel greasy, and I don’t necessarily like the feel of my hair (it feels like it has product in it).

Recommendations For Leaving In Conditioner

Use much less conditioner in your hair if you are planning on wearing it for the day (or night) than you would if you were going to wash it out. I use a pretty big dollop on my hand for my mess of curly hair, but if I were to use the same amount on my hair without washing it out, it would act like I had put in a massive amount of gel into my wet hair. Having done this before, I know that it leaves my hair looking heavy, and even hardens in some places on some curls, which I do not lot.

Start small (just a tiny dime sized bit rubbed through your hair) the first time you try it, and then increase it slowly as you dial in the right amount for your type of hair and the amount of it.

And odds are, if you are using a higher quality conditioner, your hair will look better and less greasy.

Wrap Up

Any more questions about using conditioner in your hair? Let us know in the comments section below.

You might also want to check out one of these other articles:

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