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What does conditioner do? Here’s how to attain soft, silky hair.

If your hair is dry and brittle, or you’re experiencing the heaviness of product buildup on your strands, it might be time to reassess what conditioner you’re using.

Whether you’re looking for a conditioner that moisturizes, volumizes, or protects your hair color, there's seemingly an infinite amount of products to choose from. While it can be overwhelming to pick the best conditioner for your hair, the product you choose should be determined by your individual hair goals.

USA TODAY spoke with a dermatologist to understand how conditioner works, and to gain some insight into what type of product you should be incorporating into your hair care routine

What does conditioner do?

Conditioner has that magical ability to strengthen brittle hair and combat dryness on your ends, but what does it do? “The purpose of using a hair conditioner is to replenish moisture, improve manageability and enhance the overall health and appearance of the hair,” says Dr. Charles Puza, MD, is a dermatologist practicing in New York City, and founder of MOMADerm. When applied to the hair, conditioners get to work by flattening the cuticle scales of the hair shaft and reducing friction between your hair strands, resulting in smooth, shiny hair, a 2015 study explains. 

What kind of conditioners are there?

You can find a variety of shower conditioners and leave-in conditioners that serve different purposes, “including moisturizing, volumizing, smoothing and strengthening formulas,” Puza says. When comparing shower conditioners versus leave-in conditioners, the differences between these products lies in their application and function. “While shower conditioner is rinsed out after a short period, leave-in conditioner provides longer-lasting hydration and can offer added benefits like heat protection and detangling.” One is not necessarily better than the other — it all comes down to your hair type and individual preference. 

What conditioner is best for my hair?

It’s important to match your hair type and texture to a product that will best meet your hair’s needs, whether your hair is oil, dry, straight or curly, Puza says. “Those with dry or damaged hair may benefit from richer, hydrating formulas, while individuals with fine or oily hair may prefer lighter, volumizing conditioners,” he explains.

When it comes to picking the right conditioner, try to seek out products that incorporate “natural oils, proteins, and vitamins,” Puza adds. These ingredients will leave your hair nourished and hydrated without resulting in buildup and irritation on your scalp, he says.

What are some common hair conditioner mistakes?

Be careful not to apply too much product to the end of your strands, don’t use conditioner on your scalp, and remember to rinse the product thoroughly after use, Puza says. If you don’t, you’re at risk of excess product building up on your scalp, which can result in irritation, he notes. As for leave-in conditioner, if you’re allergic to a product, you may experience burning at the site of application. If this occurs, rinse the product from your hair and stop using it, per Healthline.

More:How often should you wash your hair with shampoo? We asked the experts.

To see your desired results from using conditioner, correct application is essential. “When applying conditioner in the shower, start from mid-lengths to ends, avoiding the roots to prevent weighing down the hair,” Puza suggests. To apply leave-in conditioners, “apply a small amount evenly throughout damp hair, focusing on the ends,” he adds.

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