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Now that we've launched our long-awaited Hydrate & Shine leave-in conditioner, we've been asked what the difference is between these three very different products:

  • Conditioner

  • A leave-in conditioner

  • A hair mask

Although they will all help smooth down the cuticle of your hair, making it easier to comb, they each serve very different purposes. Choosing the right one will depend on a few things, so let's dissect each one individually to help you better understand which one you need.

woman with conditioner on hair
Conditioner, leave-in conditioner, or a hair mask? Which is the right product for your hair?

should you bother using conditioner AT ALL?

The quick answer to this question is yes, you want to always use some form of conditioner on your hair after you have washed it using shampoo, regardless of your hair type, and here's why:

  • There are a few reasons your hair may be dry – including chemical processing (highlights, colourants, chemical straighteners), heat styling (curling, straightening), harsh shampoos, and even weather can affect your hair health. But one of the biggest reasons for dry hair is the simple act of washing your hair using shampoo.

  • The purpose of shampoo is to cleanse your hair and scalp and to remove dirt, sweat, oil and product build-up. The very nature of this process dries the hair out, regardless of the type of shampoo you use. By removing the scalp's natural oils, you are also removing its natural protective layer; it's unfortunate, but shampoo doesn't know the difference between dirt and oil, so it removes all of it as it rinses out clean.

  • Even though some shampoos are marketed as hydrating, moisturizing, or nourishing, they're not enough. By stripping away the natural oils your scalp makes, the hair cuticle (those shingle-like layers that cover each hair strand) stand up on end and lift. The only way to lay them flat is by using conditioner.

woman with highlighted hair
Chemical processing is very damaging to the hair – protect it with a conditioner every single day.

How does conditioner fix this?

Conditioners – all of them, whether wash-out or leave-in – deposit an ingredient specifically made to flatten the hair cuticles down. These ingredients are called "cationic" and their purpose is to counteract the hair's natural negative charge, by depositing a positive charge on top of it. (The process is a little science-y, but it has long been studied in cosmetic chemistry and it works wonderfully!)

The time these cationic friends will stay on your hair will depend on the formulation as a whole, the ingredient itself (because there are many variations of it, some nature-friendly and some not so much), and also on how often you go between washes, your hair type, and even how much you play with your hair, tye it up, or touch it.

This is where we get into the type of conditioner that may work best for you, so let's look at the difference:

Option A: Conditioner

A conditioner is typically used right after washing your hair and rinsing out the shampoo; you apply it to your hair lengths and rinse it out completely. 

  • You would not apply conditioner to the scalp as this will only make your hair greasy faster because conditioner ingredients can be very irritating to the skin/scalp, and they may contain oils, which you just shampooed out, so why add more, yes?

  • Conditioners are typically enough conditioning for those with type 1 hair: Straight, thin, fine-haired people, small children with fine, flyaway hair, and even some seniors with delicate/frail hair.

  • Conditioners are typically very light, contain 80-90% water, and no fancy-dancy ingredients.


A leave-in conditioner works much like a conditioner with the exception that you would not rinse it out. 

Leave-in conditioners contain ingredients that go deeper into the hair strand to nourish it, and will also help give the hair a protective layer, gorgeous shine, and frizz control.

  • You apply a leave-in conditioner to wet or damp hair, or even to dry hair – depending on your hair type and the effect you want to achieve.

  • Leave-in conditioners are typically best for those with types 2, 3 and 4 hair, although we have created our Hydrate & Shine leave-in conditioner to even work well on those with fine and thin hair, depending on how they layer it. Learn more about hair types [HERE] and see which matches your hair best.

  • Leave-in conditioners have more nourishing ingredients that penetrate deeper into the hair, such as amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), may contain light penetrating oils such as broccoli seed oil, or in the case of conventional (drugstore/salon products) leave-ins, silicones are added for their shiny/plastic-like film appearance.

  • Since leave-in conditioners are not washed off the hair, more specialty or higher quality ingredients are used – those which would be either inefficient in a wash-out product or too costly. Many of these specialty ingredients work best when left on the hair to appreciate them.

  • Leave-in conditioners are typically thicker in consistency and may contain between 60-80% water.


A hair mask is also a wash-out product that works to nourish and renew your hair deeper: 
It's like a spa treatment for your hair!

  • Hair masks are typically thicker in consistency and are left on the hair for longer periods of time before rinsing them out.

  • Depending on the ingredients used, hair masks can either be rinsed out as a last step in the washing process or followed by washing them with shampoo, in which case the penetrating ingredients would still remain. The process can also depend on the hair type and how much damage the hair has undergone, for example, those with type 4 (coily/Afro/textured) hair often appreciate not rinsing hair masks out as they can be highly protective to the hair, or used as a pre-shampoo treatment.

  • Similarly to leave-in conditioners, hair masks often use a higher-grade, more specialty number of ingredients that can be appreciated, since they are not wash-out treatments.

  • Hair masks are often the thickest of the conditioning line of products, and may contain as little as 20% water, or sometimes none at all!


In the world of hair conditioning, there is no such thing as right or wrong and it's very much a process of trial and error. Since no two people's hair are alike, and we all treat our hair differently, there isn't a dedicated step process to follow. You will have to try your hair with a few different products to find what works best for you, depending on how you like your hair to feel and look – however, there are a few tips. you may find helpful as a starter guide:

  1. Fine hair: Wash with a shampoo, apply a conditioner, rinse it out very well.

  2. Fine hair with dry ends: As number 1, but apply a light dose of leave-in conditioner to your ends. Also, try conditioning your hair with your head upside down.

  3. Fine hair that gets oily fast: Don't wash your hair, just wash the scalp only and wash gently: Harsh scrubbing can generate more oils. Wash sparingly, not daily. Wash with very mild, gentle shampoos. If you use a liquid shampoo, dilute it half with water and apply it to your hands first, then scoop it under to reach your scalp because applying it directly on your scalp may result in too much shampoo being used. Condition your hair with your head upside down.

  4. Fine hair that gets very knotted during the night (nape knots): Spread a very light dose of leave-in conditioner onto your hands, flip your hair upside down to apply. Allow for it to dry and then sleep with your hair up in a bun or a braid overnight, to avoid friction.

  5. Medium thickness hair that's dry: Wash, condition and rinse. Apply a leave-in conditioner to damp hair. Use a hair mask once every week or 10 days to re-establish nourishment to your hair.

  6. Thick hair that's very dry: As number 5, but apply the leave-in conditioner on wet hair, as this will help retain a lot of the hydration (water) in your hair so it will look shinier and more moisturized.

  7. Curly hair: This hair type can often be very dry, which can make it weak. Curly hair that is damaged will have a difficult time forming lumpier curls so it can often look frizzy. Use a leave-in conditioner daily, and you may even find it helpful to reset your curls by wetting them slightly, shaping them, then applying the leave-in conditioner. Be sure to clarify your hair if you are using products that contain heavy butters (like shea butter) or silicones, as they can build-up on your hair to make it look stringy.

  8. Coily hair: Similar to curly hair, coily hair can be very dry and have a difficult time looking shiny. It can also be weak and break easily. Try using a hair mask before your shower routine, to protect your hair from too much water penetrating it and making it frail (coily hair is very porous). Then wash the scalp only, and apply a leave-in conditioner to the ends of your hair while it's wet. Like with curly hair, avoid using products that build up on your hair, like those that contain shea butter and heavy silicone-building conditioners and masks. If you do, be sure to use a clarifying shampoo every couple of weeks before your hair cleansing routine to ensure you have removed all build-up of hair product, which can make the hair more breakable.

woman with coily hair
Coily / Afro / textured hair can be very dry – using a hair mask as a pre-wash can protect it.

Why our products are a good CHOICE

Our OBLOOM line of hair products have been formulated using nature-derived ingredients. Our shampoo bars and our Powdered Shampoo are great options for washing your hair, because they are gentle to the scalp and prevent drying it out due to stripping away its natural protective oils. This is a very important step in the prevention of hair damage!

The conditioner side of our Bi-Phase shampoo bar is an excellent way to lightly condition your hair without build-up on the scalp, as it can easily glide overtop of the hair. It's as smooth as silk, and feels wonderful without being too heavy!

Our Hydrate & Shine leave-in conditioner is a very innovative leave-in because it's good for all hair types since it can be layered depending on how much (or how little) you need for it to work is magical results!

Our Hair Renew Mask is a deep-conditioning, salon-like treatment that only uses plant-derived ingredients and nourishes the hair from the inside out. It can be used weekly for those with dry and damaged hair, as well as for those who are looking for a hair reset with that light dose of plant-based protein that results in stronger hair.

Bottom line is, that not all hair conditioners are alike, and not all hair will respond the same to the same type of conditioner, but with a little trial and experimentation, you will find the right products to love the way your hair looks and feels! Remember: healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp, and using gentle products is the key to stronger hair that you will be happy with.

What's your favourite conditioner? Comment below and let us know which method has worked best for you so far!

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