How Long Should I Leave Conditioner In My Hair?

l'oreal paris elvive smooth and polish conditioner

Do you leave conditioner in your hair for as long as the instructions on the bottle recommends?

I used to, but not anymore. I used to think that my conditioner needed time to work its magic and that, the longer I left it on, the softer, prettier and more moisturized my hair would become. Then, a few years ago, I started researching cosmetic ingredients and the way products work, and realised that there really is no need to leave conditioner on hair for a few minutes. Why?

How Conditioners Work

You see, there are very few ingredients that can actually penetrate hair. What conditioners really do is form a protective layer around the hair, which protects the cuticles. To be more specific, conditioners smooth cuticles by filling in gaps, make them lie flat so that they reflect light and look shiny, and just generally improve the feeling and appearance of hair. Because of this, it doesn’t really matter how long they remain in the hair. What’s really important is that you take your time to distribute it evenly throughout your hair. Once you’d done that, you can rinse it off straight away. You could leave it on for a few minutes, if you prefer. It won’t damage your hair but it won’t provide any additional benefits either.

The exception to the rule

Leave-in conditioners are an obvious exception to this rule. As the name says, they are supposed to remain on the hair. But there also is another exception and that is conditioners that contain ingredients that can actually penetrate into the hair shaft. What are these ingredients? Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Argan Oil and Panthenol can all penetrate hair, providing great conditioning and making hair more flexible, softer and stronger. So, if your conditioner contains a high concentration of one or more of these ingredients, then you should leave it on for several minutes as that will allow them time to penetrate hair and make the product work its best.

How long do you leave conditioner in your hair before rinsing it off?

18 Comment

  1. I just bought a conditioner at The Body Shop that contains no silicons but does have coconut oil in it. I knew this can penetrate your hair, that’s why I bought it, but I didn’t knew that argan oil, olive oil and pathenol do the same. Thanks for sharing.

    • Marloes, you’re welcome. And you’ve chosen a great conditioner. Coconut Oil is so good for hair. :)

    • Eight, I’m glad you found it informative. Those oils are really great. I just wish there were more ingredients that could actually penetrate hair!

  2. i normally leave hair mask on my hair while i wash my body or handwash my clothes :). Once I rinse it off, put on conditioner and leave it on for a bit while i rinse my body clean. haha, so yah my shower time is a bit longer whenever i wash my hair :P

    • Plue, if your conditioner doesn’t contain ingredients that penetrate hair you can rinse it off straight away and save some time. But if you like your current routine and it works for you, that’s fine too. :)

    • LaDamaBianca, sono d’accordo con te che bisogna “ascoltare” quello che richiede il nostro corpo e comportarsi di conseguenza. :)

  3. I never knew this before. I thought that leaving in conditioner longer will soften it more of course only until a certain point. I leave in my conditioner from 2 to 3 minutes. I love all the useful information you give us!

    • Janessa, I used to think so too until I started researching how conditioners work and found out there really is no additional benefit in leaving your conditioner in for a few minutes, unless it contains ingredients that can actually penetrate hair of course. :)

  4. hm i actually didn’t know this, but i’ve never followed the instructions simply because there weren’t any difference from leaving it for 30 seconds to 4 minutes or what it is. the hair got very smooth anyway! but good to know!!/Azure
    Eyegraffiti´s last blog post ..Gold and blueMy Profile

    • Azure, I used to think you needed to leave it in for longer, but once I stopped doing that I released the conditioner worked just as well. There really isn’t any difference in how your hair looks and feels if you leave conditioner in for a longer instead than rinsing it off straight away. :)

  5. Thanks for writing this…I have long hair so I often fret if I’m leaving my conditioner on for enough time. I would leave it on in a shower cap for a few minutes (or as long as it takes to wash my face and body) before rinsing it off.

    • Beauty Box, you’re welcome. As long as you take the time to distribute it evenly throughout your hair (which can take some time if you have long hair), it doesn’t really matter for how long you leave it on. You can just rinse it off straight away..

  6. Good to know that the conditioners don’t really work :) I don’t bother spending a lot of money on them considering that I only use them for detangling purposes. However, the one conditioner I’m using now is quite expensive but apparently quite good for the scalp, so I’m happy to use that. I never knew conditioners could be used for the scalp, but this one can.
    dom´s last blog post ..What We Do on Sunday NightsMy Profile

    • Dom, I wouldn’t say conditioners don’t work, it’s just they don’t work as we commonly think. I agree with you that there really isn’t a reason to spend a lot of money on them, cheap ones work really well too. And I’m glad you’ve found a conditioner that is good for your scalp too.

    • Amanda, I agree. And it’d be a waste of time as it wouldn’t work any better if you left it on for longer. :)

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