Should you leave your conditioner on for 30 minutes, or 3 hours? Protein or moisture based? Does a $8 deep conditioner work just as well as a $38 one? Can I use food to deep condition my hair?
If your deep conditioning sessions consist of a lot of trial and even more error, then you need these no-fuss dos and don'ts of successful deep conditioning:
Keep it Regular
Hair that is deep conditioned regularly is more manageable, softer, less prone to breakage and frizz, and is able to retain length.
Remember that whatever "regularly" means is determined by you. Some naturals and transitioners deep condition their hair every 3-4 days. Some, every 2 weeks. I personally aim for once a week, twice a week if I'm lucky. My recommendation is to start out weekly - if your hair begins feeling weak and limp, lessen to every two or three weeks. If it still feels dry, pump it up to twice a week.
Heat it Up
If you want your deep conditioner to work double duty and make your hair feel super soft and smooth (or super strong if it is protein based), heat it up. According to JC of The Natural Haven, heating your deep conditioner up to 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) increases the amount and effectiveness of adsorption (the good stuff that sticks to the hair) of said conditioner. Long story short, warm conditioner works better.
Try heating your deep conditioner in a hot water bath instead of the microwave for best results.
One of the keys to healthier hair is a proper protein to moisture balance. Alternating your deep conditioning sessions between moisture and protein will help keep your hair soft, strong, nourished, and minimize breakage, aiding in growth and length retention. For moisture and softness, stick to conditioners that have fatty alcohols like cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl, plus emollient butters and oils, humectants like glycerin and aloe vera, and ceramides. For strengthening treatments, look for ingredients like hydrolyzed proteins, amino acids, keratin, and henna.
My pre-poo, detangling, and deep conditioning life forever changed when I got my hands on the Q-Redew. Steam is one of the major ways I keep my hair hydrated and give myself a moisture boost during deep conditioning sessions, and for mid-week refreshing. Steam not only heats up conditioner (bounce back to #2), but it also lifts the cuticle gently to allow for better penetration of conditioning ingredients. Steaming hair while covered in deep conditioner also helps improve elasticity, and moisture retention.
Have you ever actually read the directions on the back of your jar of deep conditioner? Most of them say to start and concentrate on the ends of your hair first. I know personally, I'm guilty of the exact opposite. However, starting with the ends of your hair is the most beneficial, because your ends are the oldest, driest, and most prone to breakage and splitting. By starting with your ends, you allow them a little more time to soak up and adsorb all of the deep conditioning goodness your product has to offer.
And now, for the don'ts...
Don't deep condition overnight or for hours on end. The obvious exception to this rule is treatments like henna, that require hours to take to the hair.
But for your everyday run-of-the-mill deep conditioner, it should begin to work instantly, and reach maximum capacity at around the 20 or 30 minute mark. If your deep conditioner doesn't work after 30 minutes, it's time to ditch it for one that's more effective. Also, there is a such thing as over-conditioning the hair that can result in mushy, weak hair that has a more fragile keratin coiling.
Don't use your DC to co-wash or as a leave-in conditioner. Deep conditioners are specially formulated to be especially adept at what they do - providing intense conditioning to the hair. And while they may feel nice in the hair, and can in some cases make pretty sweet curl definers, using them to cowash or as leave-ins is generally a no-no. Deep conditioners tend to contain higher concentrations of cationic surfactants (their primary function is to stick to the hair), and will likely lead to even more buildup if used as a cowash or leave-in.
Blow Your Budget
For the most part, deep conditioner base recipes tend to be the same:
-fatty alcohol (ceteryl, stearyl, cetearyl)
-gentle surfactant (behentrimonium chloride, methosulfate, etc.)
-humectant (glycerin, propylene glycol, honey, sugar, aloe vera, etc.)
-emollients (oils, butters)
-hydrolyzed protein (optional)
The order in which these ingredients appear may differ, as will the concentration and types of ingredients. This does not mean all deep conditioners are the same - these variations in formulation can mean the difference between a holy grail product and a horror. What this does mean, is to be price savvy. Take some time and compare the ingredient lists from your favorite expensive deep conditioners with a few drugstore brands. Often times, you'll discover the cheaper brand will be just as good, if not better.
Don't let your DCs sit in storage long-term. Whether it's a DIY mix of avocados, greek yogurt, and Hello Hydration, or you stir your two favorite conditioners together, it is never a good idea to keep mixes for longer than a few days.
Refrigeration may buy you a week but no longer -- unless it is a henna mix that you can freeze for months. The general idea here is that all store-bought conditioners are formulated with a certain concentration of antimicrobials and preservatives that keep them from molding on the shelves. Home DIY mixes have no preservatives, unless you just happen to keep food grade preservatives on hand (essential oils only last so long). To keep the mold away from your mane, only mix enough deep conditioner for a single use every time, and use clean kitchen utensils to mix and stir.
Don't be fooled by marketing gimmicks and pixie dust. As you may know, only the first 5 or 6 ingredients after water (with a few exceptions) have the most impact on your hair.
Given point #3 about most deep conditioner bases being similar, spending tons of cash may not be the wisest thing. Add to that, not falling for marketing gimmicks and pixie dust. There are tons of products that will showcase exotic ingredients and extracts emblazoned across the label, but when you turn that label over, said ingredient is 32nd on the list right before the preservatives. Unless the miracle ingredient you're looking for is in the top 6 (top 10 to stretch) ingredients, you're setting yourself up to become a victim of a marketing ploy. If it is an oil or butter you're after (like coconut, jojoba, olive, macadamia, or sweet almond), you might be better off buying a cheapie conditioner and adding said oil in pure form yourself.