The Mane Objective: Curl Care 101: Everything You Need to Know About Deep Conditioning

Curl Care 101: Everything You Need to Know About Deep Conditioning

3:23 PM

Everything You Need to Know About Deep Conditioning Naural Hair

Welcome back ladies! Curl Care 101 is well on the way, and I thank each and every one of you that comes back every week -- and newbies to the series, too! I pray each of you gains some valuable knowledge here.

Today's topic is one that is preached far and wide in the natural hair community: deep conditioning. And because it is such a widely discussed topic, there are boatloads of information out there -- and not all of it is correct. Today's mission is to cut through the nonsense and fillers, and give you guys the straight real about deep conditioning. You ready? Let's get started

First things first, what is deep conditioning?
Deep conditioning is the act of utilizing a concentrated, heavier conditioner with absorbing (taking in) and adsorbing (sticking to) properties on the hair for a designated length of time -- usually 15-30 minutes. Deep conditioning can be done with or without heat, but we will get to that in a few.

What are the benefits of deep conditioning?
Where shall I begin? Deep conditioners, depending upon their formulation can perform a wide variety of tasks. Deep conditioners are most widely used to restore internal hydration to the hair and provide intense moisture. They can also balance the pH of the hair, closing the cuticles which enhances shine, smooths the hair, cuts down on frizz, and helps maintain the internal moisture balance of the hair. Deep conditioners can also restore elasticity to the hair, strengthening it and preventing breakage by temporarily patching up areas of damage with proteins, amino acids, and ceramide-rich oils. As I always like to say, deep conditioning can cover a multitude of hair sins.

How often should I deep condition?
You can deep condition as often as you dictate that your hair needs it. Many naturalistas opt to deep condition monthly (in a weekend-long wash day production), others every two weeks, and others still weekly or twice a week. While I will always advocate that you do you, I must be honest and say that I don't think deep conditioning monthly will cut it. Many naturals complain about dry hair, but only deep condition every 30 days. To give your hair a fighting chance, I recommend at least every 2 weeks. Even if you only clarify monthly, and co-wash on the weeks between, throw a deep conditioning session in on one of those co-wash days. This rings especially true if you have damaged hair (frequent breakage, splits, or color-treated). On a personal note, I deep condition weekly -- sometimes twice a week if the air is especially dry.

Everything You Need to Know About Deep Conditioning Naural Hair
Some of my 2014 faves!
The 3 T's of Deep Conditioning
Now that we've got the foundation knowledge out of the way, let's get to the nuts and bolts of deep conditioning. Some folks will tell you that you need to buy a deep conditioner, mix it with avocado, throw in honey that you personally extracted yourself from a bee hive, apply the mix, spin on your head 3 times, say a prayer, then rinse. If you need to do all of that, well....godspeed.

From a scientific and experiential perspective, effective deep conditioning boils down to 3 T's: time, temperature, and type. Let's explore what that means:

One of the hallmarks that sets deep conditioning apart from regular rinse-out conditioning (which you should totally be doing on those co-wash days between deep conditioning sessions) is the amount of time the product spends on the hair. If you read the label of most deep conditioners designed for natural hair, they recommend allowing the product to sit on the strands for 15-30 minutes. Even though some of my favorites that aren't specifically for textured hair (like Eva NYC Therapy Session) recommend 3-5 minutes, I still leave them on for 20-30 minutes. Why? Because leaving the conditioner on for 20-30 minutes allows the ingredients to reach maximum adsorption. What this means is that although some ingredients (like proteins) stick to the hair immediately, with more time, they are able to patch, cover, and stick to more damaged areas than they would if only 3-5 minutes were given. In this article by Jc of The Natural Haven, she shares that deep conditioning ingredients are able to reach maximum adsorption (sticking to/externally repairing) after 20-30 minutes -- 60 - 100% more than they achieve in the standard 3-5 minute time frame. It is important to note that no further adsorption occurs after 30 minutes. So no, you don't need to deep condition overnight.

The Takeaway: Leave your deep conditioner on for at least 20 minutes for maximum effectiveness. 30 minutes, if you have color-treated or otherwise damaged hair.

Do you have to heat up your deep conditioner for it to be more effective? No, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. But is it more effective? The short answer is, yes. In that same article by Jc linked above, she discusses the impact of temperature on the hair when deep conditioning. But just in case you don't feel like reading all of that, let me summarize it for you: heat does help lift the hair cuticle, and allow for deeper penetration of ingredients. Heat also facilitates increased adsorption of ingredients to the hair. Heat around 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) so as to not burn the skin or scalp is found to be most effective. You can achieve this by placing your conditioner in a hot water bath, sitting under a hooded dryer (or hooded attachment), or using something like a Hot Head. Just remember to not leave it on for more than 30 minutes.

The Takeaway: Your deep conditioner + indirect heat = maximum effectiveness.

Now that we've got the super science out of the way, it's time to talk about my favorite part: products.  The result you desire to achieve with your deep conditioning session will largely depend on the products you choose. Almost all deep conditioners will have a base that consists of water and fatty alcohols (like cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl). What comes after that will determine how a particular deep conditioner will work for you. But in general, you can follow these guidelines to decipher which deep conditioner to pick up:
  • Mega Moisture: Look for oils, butters, and humectants (glycerin, panthenol, honey, agave, propylene glycol) in the first 5-7 ingredients after water. These ingredients will soften and moisturize the hair, along with the fatty alcohols.
  • Protein Power: If your hair is weak or limp from damage or abuse, a dose of hydrolyzed proteins will whip your hair right into shape. Within the top 10 ingredients (because protein formulations and strengths can vary wildly), check for hydrolyzed proteins (such as vegetable, quinoa, soy, rice, and keratin), and a personal favorite of mine, keravis (aka Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein PG-Propyl Silanetriol) to give your hair a strengthening boost.
  • The Balancing Act: If you're looking for elasticity, moisture-protein balance, and pH balancing, your conditioner will likely have a top 10 blend of moisture and protein properties like the ones listed above. In addition, they will also likely contain omega and ceramide rich oils like avocado, wheat germ, sunflower, safflower, flax seed, and hemp. You can also count on a dose of amino acids (like glycine, alanine, proline, arganine, lycine, and glutamic acid). These aminos tend to be toward the bottom of the ingredient list -- and I need to do more research about why. It could be formulation-based, or just pixie dust. I'll report back and update here when I get a more scientifically solid answer.
The Takeaway: Go beyond what the product says it'll do. Marketing and gimmicks are real. Turn to the ingredient list -- it will give you far more insight into what the deep conditioner can do for your hair. 

And because y'all like pictures (lol), here's an infographic of the 411 above. Be sure to share, pin, and tag me in it if you do!

Everything You Need to Know About Deep Conditioning Naural Hair

The last thing I'll do before signing off this week is offer up a few product recommendations. If you're looking for:

Mega Moisture: TGIN Honey Miracle Mask, Shea Moisture Manuka Honeu & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Hair Masque, Eden BodyWorks Jojoba Monoi Deep Conditioner, Amika Nourishing Mask

Protein Power: ApHogee Keratin 2 Minute Reconstructor

Balancing: Shea Moisture JBCO Treatment Masque, Zotos 180 Pro Rapid Restorer, Hydratherma Naturals Amino Plus Protein Deep Conditioning Treatment, Eva NYC Therapy Session Hair Mask, ApHogee Texture Treatment, Ouidad Curl Recovery Melt-Down Extreme Repair Mask

You can always check out my Christina's Choice 2014 Deep Conditioner list! Stay tuned for next week, we'lll be talking about styling to retain moisture, enhance curl definition, and how to properly layer products for maximum moisture and results!

Catch up with the Curl Care 101 series here!

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  1. have you ever tried out the Carol's Daughter Monoi Repairing Hair mask? I kind of want to know how it compares to the Ouidad $40 recovery mask.

  2. EshagreenmonsterJuly 3, 2015 at 1:53 PM

    Thanks! I haven't deep conditioned in awhile and my hair has been dry. I normally do a whole avocado, honey, EEVO, grape seed oil, vitamin E oil, shea butter, brown sugar, and some ACV and water. I used to leave it on for 45 minutes but I'm definitely not doing that again, if there's no need. Since the whole avocado makes a lot I use the rest as a face mask and body scrub.

  3. Should you use a rinse out conditioner before or after you deep conditioner?