(Beauty Report Card)

Here’s What Happened When I Used Conditioner For the First Time In 7 Years

We were on a break.

Marina Liao
Marina Liao hair photo for TZR's The Beauty Report Card.

On a scale of one to five for how high maintenance my hair care routine is, I’d rank myself a one. Maybe even zero. My super straight, fine hair requires little upkeep: I mostly let it air dry and I get a trim every few months that costs me about $30 with tax and tip in Chinatown. I’ve been relatively lax about my hair’s treatment, so much so that I stopped using conditioner for the last seven years. (I’ll let that sink in.) I ditched this product because I found that it made my strands become oily more quickly — a consequence, I later learned, if you’re using the wrong kind of conditioner for fine hair. At the time, I didn’t think about switching brands to see if that made a difference on cutting down oil production — I was too apathetic, so I quit cold turkey.

However, as I approach my 30s (I have one more sweet year left in my 20s — I’m scared), I’ve been re-evaluating everything in my life, including my overall beauty routine. I finally started using eye creams and dove head-first into the world of powder and liquid collagen. This new path I was on led me to wonder whether or not I should finally revisit conditioners. My naturally deep brown hair, on the exterior, looked shiny and healthy, but I did notice some dryness at the ends and, more often than not, my strands were knotted when I tried to brush the day after a wash.

Getting back into the conditioner game was slightly harder than I thought because of the overwhelming amount of choices out there. Did I want a conditioner formulated with biotin? A conditioner that promised me volume? A clean conditioner? A conditioner with blackberries and quinoa? You get the gist. I’m lucky I work with a knowledgable beauty editor and turned to her for some quick recommendations, my favorites of which I will share below. “When it comes to conditioner, one of the most important things to consider in terms [of what to use] is the type [of hair], amount of conditioner, and frequency [of wash] for your hair type,” says Lindsay Holden, co-founder of Odele, a clean and vegan hair care brand.

I have fine hair with low porosity — a term I learned from Holden during our chat. This simply means that my hair cuticles are too close together, which makes it harder for moisture to get through. (You can find out your hair’s porosity at home with an easy test.) “Porosity is not necessarily the same thing as hair type,” Holden clarifies. “Hair porosity is largely genetic, but how well you care for your hair also plays a big part. Damage from styling, chemical treatments, and lots of heat can weaken the cuticle, which causes it to fray and open up over time.” (Personally, I don’t apply any treatments to my hair, and if I do it’s a curling iron, once or twice a year, for parties.)

This was taken before I used conditioner. I didn’t even brush my hair this day.
My hair after three weeks of using conditioner. On the exterior, there were no noticeable changes, but my ends did feel less dry.

Armed with this knowledge, I tried several conditioners that seemed right for my hair type from brands like Rahua, R+Co Bleu, and Odele. Though it’s only been about a few weeks since I implemented them into my routine — I shampoo and condition my hair every two days — some immediate effects I noticed were smoother ends. I could also run a comb through my strands without encountering a tangled mess the morning after a wash. Some longer term effects of using conditioner, I learned from Justin Steinke, chemist and director of R+D for Odele, include hair strengthening and protection from exposure to the elements like sunlight and pollution. (I like the sound of this.)

Best of all, I have not experienced the greasy feeling like I did seven years ago since picking up conditioner again. “Anecdotally, it sounded like you were using products that were too rich for your hair type [seven years ago],” says Holden. “If you have low porosity, products don’t get absorbed into your hair. They just sit on top of it. The more you use it, the more there’s build-up and your hair feels weighed down. I would look for conditioners that are thinner and avoid heavy butters like coconut or shea. They’re attributed to moisturizing, but just can’t get through to cuticles [of low porosity hair].”

And though shampoo and conditioner usually come in a complementary set, I don’t always use the same two products. For example, I’ll use a volume shampoo, but will follow up with a smoothing conditioner. According to both Steinke and Holden, it’s fine to mix and match shampoos and conditioners. “We encourage people to mix and match and navigate what is the right combination for themselves,” says Holden. “[Hair care] is not black and white. There’s no overarching ‘you have to do this for your hair.’ Our answer is always do what you feel is best for your hair. Here are the benefits to using conditioner because moisture is super important for all hair types and a conditioner is a great way to deliver just that.”

There weren’t dramatic changes to my hair from using conditioner, but I do like that my strands feel less dry now and are easier to brush. Plus, me spending those extra minutes in the shower to let the product work through my hair feels meditative. In the words of Ross Geller “we were on a break,” but now I like having conditioner (that doesn’t leave my hair feeling weighed down) back into my life.

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Conditioners For Fine Hair