conditioner on dry hair

conditioner on dry hair

Image: @aliana.king

Is it true that hair absorbs ingredients better when it is dry? This notion has puzzled us for so long. So, what do we do when we are not sure about something? We try it out to see if we feel a difference. But if you are like me then you tried it once and ended up with no real tangible data to support a yes or a no – so, let’s take a look to see where the truth lies.

A Little Hair Science

Hair strands grow from the scalp’s hair follicles that are nourished by the body’s blood vessels and sebaceous glands. To grow strong hair requires a healthy diet and generally a healthy body. However, after the hair sprouts from the bulb of the follicle, it can only be topically nourished by the sebaceous oil producing glands and via topical products. Here is where deep conditioning comes into play. Deep conditioning is extra helpful because its softening, strengthening, and enriching benefits are longer lasting than the common rinse out conditioner formula.

Basics of Conditioning

Conditioners help your hair mostly through adsorbing into its outer cuticle. Adsorption refers to ingredients attaching to the surface of the hair. However some deep conditioners have ingredients with a low molecular weight and are designed to absorb beneath the cuticle layer also. To successfully adsorb the elements onto or within the hair requires the attraction of a positive and a negative charge. Conditioners contain cationic surfactants within them that carry this positive charge while the hair itself holds a negative charge. This attraction between the two allows for adsorption to occur.

Can hair be conditioned when dry?

The assumption behind conditioning on dry hair is that the hair shaft will better adsorb the ingredients without the water barrier. Technically this bears truth. If you apply a conditioner to the hair strands, the hair’s slightly negative charge will attract to the positively charged conditioner.

On the other hand, conditioning while dry might have the barrier of product buildup, sebum, or other debris on the hair shaft based on your lifestyle or styling methods.

Can hair be conditioned while wet?

The assumption behind conditioning on wet hair assumes the hair has been previously wet or previously shampooed prior to deep conditioning.

  • Water alone can raise the outer cuticle layer of the hair, which is beneficial to the conditioning process. Deep conditioning hair with on a raised cuticle can be helpful, especially on low porosity hair, which has /a difficult time receiving moisture.
  • Shampooing the hair with a negatively charge shampoo (containing anionic surfactants”> will strengthen the negative charge of the hair and will raise the pH of the hair, which subsequently raises the cuticle layers of the hair shaft. Shampooing the hair also releases the existing dirt, debris, or buildup on the hair shaft that might inhibit your process. 

So, which option is the best option for you? We consult the experts to help us discern. Susan Walker, founder and creative director of Earthtones Naturals, offers her analysis: ” Deep conditioning can be extremely effective for natural hair that is dry, damaged, and breaking. Research shows that to get the most benefits out of the conditioner by way of it adsorbing onto the hair and then allowing specific ingredients to penetrate the hair, it should be done on freshly shampooed, wet hair. Applying the conditioner in this way can greatly increase softness, smoothing of the cuticle and improve moisture.”

So how could this apply to you based on porosity and lifestyle?

Assess your hair on its level of product buildup and your need for a strong or moderate deep conditioning treatment. You will also need to know your hair’s porosity level.

High Porosity Hair

Weak, damaged hair, or high porosity hair tends to attract dirt and could use an adequate cleanse before conditioning.

Low Porosity Hair

Coarse or low porosity hair needs some assistance with receiving moisture and can benefit from a cuticle-raising cleanse before deep conditioning for enhanced results.

Low Product Buildup

Natural gals that do not use a lot of product, no chemicals, and/or live a sedentary lifestyle without a lot of sweating may find that their hair does not require a heavy deep treatment. They therefore may decide to skip the wet condition and pre-shampoo session before applying their conditioner or they may choose to use a mild shampoo made of non-ionic surfactants or a shampoo with zwitterionic surfactants that hold a positive and negative charge.

The choice is yours. Add this additional information to your repertoire to make an informed decision on your deep conditioning methods based on your individual hair care needs.

Do you deep condition on wet or dry hair?

This article has been updated for grammar and clarity.

Janelle Sands


Put me in a box? What size? I am an artist, teacher, writer, lover of women, and image consultant. Hired and trained at 12 years old on hair and beauty, many women have poured their gifts into me and now I choose to do that for other women through the Secret Curl Society.

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