3 Dangers of Leaving Conditioner in Your Hair

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By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom

Should you really leave conditioner in your hair?

This is a question that I have been asked several times. I must clarify first and say that when you wash your hair, you should rinse out all the conditioner thoroughly (for reasons known as potential itchiness, personal experience here, some science to follow). The question posed here is whether you can then use a little bit of conditioner afterwards as a moisturiser or on a daily basis. The answer to this question is yes you can use conditioner as a moisturiser but with caution.

So there are two main types of conditioner
1. Rinse out conditioners (heavier type that is used after shampooing to add softness – typical ingredients include fatty acids, surfactants and oils)
2. Leave in conditioners (much thinner and lighter, typically contain humectants such as glycerine to help moisturise hair )

Now, leave in conditioners are a no brainer, they are designed to be left in. The heavier rinse out conditioners are a little more tricky. They can be used but be aware

1. Using a silicone heavy conditioner (silicone in one of the first 5 ingredients) is not ideal unless you shampoo your hair. Co-washing your hair will simply not do.
2. Conditioners which contain protein (hydrolysed protein or amino acids) have been shown to cause irritation and itchiness in some people (contact urticaria is the medical term). (Allergy. 53(11):1078-1082, 1998).
3. Hair conditioner can contribute to build up. This was explained in a very intricate study (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pg 205-214,1989). The science behind this is that the hair conditioner has positive charges and the shampoo has negative charges. Depending on the amount and type of shampoo, the hair conditioner can either be removed or the shampoo can simply attach to the hair conditioner and cause build up. Naturally if you have been applying hair conditioner to your hair on a daily basis, then you will have much more of the positive charge.

So what precautions can you take if you want to use heavier conditioner as a daily moisturiser?

1. Don’t put the conditioner on your scalp, try as much as possible to target the ends of your hair (leave the scalp and the first 1-2 inches alone).
2. Read the ingredient list and if you are a no shampoo person, avoid silicones in the top 5 list of your conditioner. If you shampoo, then no worries here.
3. Pick a conditioner without proteins.
4. Rinse your hair thoroughly on your wash day.
5. Use a conditioning shampoo on your wash day if you are not anti-poo.

What is your experience with leaving conditioner in hair? Have you got the itchies or have you had a pleasant experience?

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90 thoughts on “3 Dangers of Leaving Conditioner in Your Hair

  1. I’m probably going to make someone angry by this statement but I feel my experience is valid and might help someone else. I’m a little tired of some naturals advocating letting too much time go by without shampooing and claiming co-washing as truth. That does not work for everyone.
    Number one, would you put lotion on your skin and never wash it – then call it clean? Number two, so what if your hair feels and looks stripped after a shampoo, your hair is clean! It’s supposed to feel clean. I think people should stop obsessing over that. As the week goes by products and your hair’s own natural oils build up, your hair most likely will stop looking “stripped” anyway.
    Sulfate-free shampoo rids the scalp of sweat, uric acid, bacteria and pollutants. I tried the going a month without shampoo and only co-washing with silicone-free paraben-free conditioner. My hair smelled and felt too greasy. My scalp itched and I saw something I had never seen in my five years of being a loose natural – dandruff flakes – sort of big ones. Ewwwww! If shampooing more often means having shorter hair (which I don’t agree that it does) but my scalp and hair are clean and not shampooing or doing co-washes exclusively possibly puts me at risk for having a dirty scalp ridden with bacteria, I’ll take the shorter hair.

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    • Agreed! I HAVE to wash my hair, I tried cowashing and my scalp was not having it. lol! I use a sulfate-free, natural shampoo by Carols Daughter and dilute it with water, I also prepoo with Vatika Oil, and after shampooing my hair and scalp are clean without being stripped.

      A healthy and clean scalp must be top priority in order to have healthy hair.

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    • My scalp is similar to yours, so I get your point, but you got a little extra with it.

      If people with dry scalps find that scrubbing with conditioner works for them then leave it at different strokes. No need to basically say they’re disgusting.

      The rest of my skin is super dry and a dermatologist advised me to bathe with Cetaphil, which I feel is equivalent to co-washing the scalp. It’s not a completely out there practice.

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    • I cowash once a week and shampoo 1-2x per month (whenever I feel my hair needs it.) However, on a daily or every other day basis, I spritz my hair with water, apply a leave-in conditioner and extra virgin olive oil to seal. I have combo 3c/4a hair, and this regiment has most definitely been beneficial to my hair. My hair has thrived and is well moisturized, shiny, healthy, and, I might add, not smelly.

      I say to each her own; whatever works keep doing it.

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      • I wash my hair everyday and I use a dual shampoo conditioner and everyone at school can’t stop touching my hair why not try that

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    • I shampoo with Shea Moisture’s shampoo. Before that it was Giovanni. I have also tried co-washing and it just felt like build up on my hair. The whole “stripped” hair feeling isn’t a turn off and since I dilute the product before I apply it to my scalp I actually don’t find my hair stripped after washing. IMO co-washing is overhyped. ::shrugs::

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      • I agree with Nikki. To, niksmit, when I wrote, “Ew!” I was referring to my dandruff flakes, not anyone else’s. My point is that There are women that have posted here and other blogs who are newly natural and stated that they listened to people’s advice on co-washing exclusively and ended up having to go to the dermatologist because of all the scalp issues they were having. There are other people who only co-wash and haven’t had any issues and their hair is thriving. Of course, different strokes for different strokes. My point is that while some people say, “This works for me. Do what’s best for you. I personally prefer . . . ” We all know there are plenty of other folks with gorgeous hair that wow new naturals with their length then state implicitly do this and not that. “Only co-wash. Don’t shampoo if you want length and moisturized hair.” That’s presumptive. Btw, I use Cetaphil as well on my skin and you’re right, it’s a great product.

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        • how often did you comb your hair? im curious because I notticed i only flaked when I dont comb my hair, now I comb my hair out everyday with water running down it and that helps getting all the fuzz and extra stuff my oils attract, I havent ever seen flakes since i started doing this

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    • I can tell you that co-pooing is for those who frequently want to wash their hair for whatever reason. For instance, I co-poo my hair every other day (sometimes everyday)and shampoo once per week for the cleansing. Co-pooing to me (my opinion) is not a substitue for shampooing your hair/scalp. It’s in addition to it. Shampooing does strip the essential moisture from your hair in the process of the cleanse (it does what it’s supposed to do). Co-pooing are for people like me who live in FL in sticky, humid climate almost year round who feel the need to wash/co-wash frequently without totally overdoing it by using shampoo which can be a little harsh to natural hair and/or relaxed hair.

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    • Agreed. I shampoo and condition my hair weekly. I do feel like there are times when the first day or two it is not a moisturized as I would like to feel, but the irritation and buildup I get on my scalp when I co-wash for too long is pretty annoying.

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    • Yes, totally agree! I went to the doctor for some rash I kept getting around my nose, well more like a fungus! He then looked at my scalp and found the culprit! Long story short, he basically said that we wash our face and our bodies daily, same goes for the scalp! Bottom line…But as always, to each their own…or is it to each his own?

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    • This is definitely one of those trail and error things. I can go longer periods of time and not wash my hair but my 12 year old has to get her hair washed at least every two weeks if not more often. You have to find what works best for you. For instance my older daughter, 20 year old, likes using a conditioner that she adds tea tree oil to. I tried that and hated it. I could not comb though my hair and it was so dry. Trail and error.

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  2. I LOVE Oyin Handmade’s Honey Hemp Conditioner because not only can you condition your hair with it but you can use it as a leave in as well. I also use it for my co-washes. I tried it as a leave in for the first time last week when I took my twists down it was so soft and fluffy. I used it again the other night and I got the same results. This product really helps to simplify my regimen. I use the Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Shampoo, Oyin Handmade Honey Hemp Conditioner (to condition or leave-in), Oyin’s Burnt Sugar Pomade or my Whipped Shea Butter mix for styiling and Castor Oil.

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  3. Well, when I use conditioner it’s always mixed with olive and coconut oils, so for me it’s been a pleasant experience. Also I don’t apply it to my hair every day – twice a week TOPS!
    The conditioner + oil mixture I use is mainly for detangling purposes, and once I applied it to my hair after a thorough washing then blow-dried it out. Afterwards, my hair was really soft, smelled oddly enough like cookies (or cake I’m not sure lol) and my hair didn’t feel like hot dry grass when I was finished.

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  4. Hi ladies!!
    I began my transition in Nov 2012 and I did my big chop in May 2012. I am really struggling with dryness!! Like it is a major problem. I have roughly 3c-4a(ish) hair and of course whenever my hair is dripping wet in the shower it is WONDERFUL but as the day goes by it just dries completely up. I rinse my hair in the morning or night or i will just spray water on it then I will apply Shea Moisture Curl Defining Creme then I will seal with EVOO or Soy oil. I haven’t exactly done a “protective” style but I have been wearing a turban for the past few days. I’ve been giving my regimen at least a month so I can observe a differece but it just not seem to be doing the trick. I don’t use any type of heat whatsoever, I don’t use a shampoo and I seal and I know following someone else’s regimen wont fix my issue but if someone could please give me some ideas on what to do to combat dryness. PLEASE HELP

    Regimen Products:
    As I Am Coconut Co-wash Cleanser
    Yes to Carrots Leave-in
    Shea Moisture Curl Defining Creme
    Soy Oil

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    • Hey there! Hopefully this advice would help. Your hair may just be highly porous; moisterizing once or twice a day may just be the norm for you. Also, do you deep condition? Doing so weekly or monthly will probably help as far as rejuvenating your hair. Try the baggy method (sleeping overnight or chilling in the house with a plastic cap with oil/water mix) to see if that helps. Lastly, it may just be a case where your current products aren’t working. Shea Moisture does great for some; for me it doesn’t. Mix and match products or natural oils occasionally to see if you find a match. It may take a while, but when you find something good, hold on to it!

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    • I’m coming at this as a lay person but reading your post, a number of things hit me.

      You do a lot of washing/rinsing – do you have hard water?

      Your curl cream probably doesn’t have moisturising properties or isn’t offering enough moisture for your hair. You need to add a moisturiser whether a water based spritz and some kind of hair cream/creamy product or a leave in. You seal but you are not moisturising with anything to seal in.

      Does your hair like EVOO?

      I may be mistaken but isn’t the soy oil going to act like a protein? Protein and moisture need to be balanced. You may have too much protein on your hair. Maybe look into some other oils to seal with. Maybe you need something light like jojoba or heavier like castor.

      You don’t use shampoo but you use a curl cream, oil and co wash often. You may have build up and need to introduce clarifying to your routine either in the form of shampoo or a mud wash.

      You don’t protective style – winter is around the corner, pick something even buns and try it out. Hair that is loose in the elements can dry out compared to hair that is well moisturised and placed in a protective style. (I know some people wear their hair loose without PSing ever just fine.)

      What is your turban lined with and how do you wear your hair? If the lining isn’t satin or silk, it will dry your hair out.

      Internal – how’s your diet? Do you get enough water? Take any hair related vitamins?

      Your regimen will not work and is not working because the key combatant of dryness is moisture which you’re currently lacking. You need to find what works and then look at your regimen again. It could be creamy moisturiser is needed or a spray/spritz, leave ins and butters or a heavier/penetrating sealant.

      Good luck!

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      • Thank you ladies for your input!
        After typing my comment I realized I left a few things out considering I was in the middle of class lol.

        @Vonnie I do deep condition with Aubrey Organics I cant remember exactly which one but for dry hair. I let that sit for about 30 minutes and I even tried what the bottle suggested and that was to apply to dry hair and let sit for appx 30 minutes. The results weren’t exactly what I was looking for granted I did it maybe three times so over a span of three weeks. I am realllllly trying to be patient with my hair but as many times as I have been tweaking my regimen, I expect to at least see some sort of change.

        Thank You for your help though! I appreciate it, I will keep trekking on!

        @ Zanthe I definitely do add moisture before adding any type of butter or oil. I rinse my hair with water or I may spritz it then I will apply Trader Joes Tingling Conditioner which is all natural and to my knowledge it has protein in it but im not positive at the moment. I then seal with an oil, usually EVOO. The soy oil is a new addition to my regimen and last night I thought about the protein overload so I left it out.

        I use a cleansing conditioner so it does have cleaning agents in it so it figured it would be ok and I use sulfate-free shampoo maybe once a month. Im the type of person that reads anything on everything so I know whats going in or on my hair before I buy it. I have a satin pillow case, scarves, the whole nine. A few days ago I thought about jojoba and castor oils as replacements but another issue I run into is time. Unfortunately my time is scarce so I need a regimen that is minimal. I was thinking of trying Karen’s Body Beautiful and Oyin. Hopefully something will make me happy because it is pretty discouraging and I know it takes a while but my goodness it’s been a little while.

        Thanks Again!

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        • Okay.

          Question – what is moisturising in your spritz apart from water? I don’t think this is enough moisture for your hair. Most people who have not got on with the simple and few product regimens use butters or commercial moisturisers whether BSS or natural e.g Qhemet Biologics Burdock Root Butter Cream or even a creamy leave in product like Oyin hair dew. If I tried to survive on a water spritz, adding some conditioner which included protein (gulps) and then sealant, my hair would be straw like too.

          To retain moisture have you tried the LOC method of moisturising? It means you add your liquid which would be a spritz, then your sealing oil and then a creamy product e.g Qhemet, Oyin dew etc etc. I do this and find that moisture lasts a bit longer.

          Have you clarified your hair, you may have build up – you didn’t mention whether you did this or didn’t ever do it?

          Protein removal is a good idea for now. I’d also drop the Trader Joes if it contains protein.


          I don’t find any DC majorly conditioning. My favourite despite the odd smell was Qhemet Biologics Moringa Tree Conditioning Ghee. Aubrey’s Honeysuckle was ineffective plus zero slip.

          I have used both Oyin and Karen’s. Of Oyin I’d say that the Hair Dew sealed in is very moisturising as is their hair spray but I prefer Frank Juice for the smell.

          Of Karen’s, I’d say Creamylicious is very softening. I also like her Ultimate Conditioner despite hating her Lucscious DC. The Butter Love is a great sealant but it would probably be too heavy for you, both Creamylicious and the butter need to be used very sparingly. Butter Love is akin to the old hair grease. I have the hair nectar but I don’t love leave-ins that are glycerin based and thin anyway, it seems average. I much prefer Oyin’s hair dew. One oil I like is Hairveda Cocasta Shikaikai oil.

          I’d look into getting some decent products for moisturising, cut trader joes and clarify then moisturise with a proper moisturiser and seal with an oil even just EVOO if that’s all you can get. Banish protein until you get moisture under control.

          You may want to search articles by Audrey Sivasothy who wrote The Science of Black Hair Care. There are some interesting ones about regimen building and moisture/protein balancing. Sometimes we cannot see hatchet on earth we are doing that isn’t working then another source offers us clarity and possible solutions.

          Hope you find out what your hair needs soon.

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    • I have 4c armpit length hair…transitioned from my relaxer in 2008 and chopped off the relaxer in 2009…up until last year I had issues with dryness. Severe issues. I would try changing your products to see if that does the trick. I was being super careful with my hair and deep conditioning weekly yet still had breakage and extra dry (almost straw like) hair. I use the curls line shampoo and the shea moisture detangler…These 2 things are like magic on my hair…the detangler + the shea moisture smoothie keep my hair fairly moisturized for a few days if my hair is loose and a full week if my hair is in a bun.

      Good luck!

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  5. The last time I washed my hair, I used Tresemme Naturals as a leave in afterwards, and I really really love the way my hair feels, even a week later! My hair’s middle or crown section tends to have the coarsest strands, and the lowest porosity, which makes it extremely dry and difficult to moisturize, and also prone to tangling, matting, and locing. That section is soft, pliable, and perfectly moisturized right now. I haven’t added anything to my hair other than a mild spritzing with Shea Moisture Shine and Control Mist, and my hair feels incredible. I haven’t got any itchy scalp, my hair isn’t tangled or matted anywhere, and separates smoothly and without any trouble. I tend to avoid silicones, even though I used to use them as a child, as I have a sensitive scalp and sensitive skin as well, and products that contain silicones also tend to contain other chemicals and fragrances which irritate my skin. I do have a few products that contain silicone though, and both are majority otherwise natural ingredients which is lovely for me. I don’t think silicones are evil or anything, I’m just careful about which products I use, and rather than looking for “silicone free” I simply always make sure to read ingredient lists carefully. If I can’t pronounce more than 10% of the ingredients, then it’s not a product I’m likely to buy.

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  6. I tend to leave conditioner in my hair from time to time because of being afraid of not having enough moisture in my hair. Sometimes coconut oil isn’t enough to keep my hair soft. I guess it really depends on what kind of conditioner you use. Like the Shea moisture deep treatment masque I leave in my, but only a little. By the next couple of days my hair is still soft. :)

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  7. The things you mention here definitely vary from head to head as people say, but they’re good things to look out for. A real *danger* of using wash out conditioners as leave-ins is that they may be FDA approved to come into limited contact with skin then washed away (mostly) but may have ingredients that are not made to stay in contact with the skin for extended periods of time. It’s good to know what’s in your conditioner if you plan to leave it in!

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  8. Correction on this article: The original article did not state ‘ silicone creates moisture proof buildup on your strands’. This statement is not true.

    Silicones are simply harder to wash off hair, but hair can and does get moisture even with silicone present (e.g if you wet your hair it will still get wet). The point is that shampoo has surfactants that will clean silicone residue on hair and this is why if you are using a silicone product especially a styling serum then using shampoo is necessary to remove silicone.

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    • Not all silicones are the same, some are soluble and others are non-soluble. Soluble cones will wash out with water the other kind will need a sulfate. Again not all sulfates are the same either. I really wish this site would do an article and define all the cones once and for all. I have waist long 4b hair and I get lots of questions about what i use and I tell people I use Vitale Tangle Phree shampoo because it detangles my hair without the need for any other product. its ph balanced and does not strip oils but it has cones and sulfates. I’ve tried the no- poo, co-wash and cleansing conditioners but always had to follow up with another or 2 conditioners to detangle and my hair lacked shine, etc.

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  9. I always leave my conditioner in. It’s a protein conditioner without sulfates. It leaves my hair very soft and healthy looking. My hair loves it. Sometimes I use Mega-Tek and I just leave that in as well. My hair loves that also. When I use conditioners with sulfates (when I’m out of Mega-Tek or protein shampoo) my hair really looks good, but it get really hard and then if I touch or move my hair, flakes fall onto my shoulder and clothes. Conditioners with sulfates also make my hair very hard and straw-like. Protein conditioners leave my hair looking very natural. Now if I could just get some body into my hair. It’s always been very dull and stiff unless I flat-iron it :(

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    • I, too leave my rinse out conditioner in my hair and use it as a daily styling aid. I’ve actually been doing this for over 10 years with Dove and my 3C bra strap hair looks amazing. Leave in conditioners just aren’t thick enough for my long, curly hair; well at least I have yet to find one. Also, rinse out conditioners comes in large bottles so they last me longer. I moisturize my scalp with extra virgin olive oil.

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  10. I’ve uses Nexxus. And it is SUCK! my hair is hard since the first time i used it…which was past few days. Now, my hair is so damn hard. Like im applying on a gel. When i comb my hair, there’s something sticky…like glue stixking on my haircomb. What the fuck?

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  11. This article had some good points; however, I agree with the comments that state basically “whatever works for your hair”. I appreciate the many articles promoting healthy hair growth BUT I am careful not to obsess over everything I read. I use a combination of co-washes and shampoo; it works for my hair and scalp.

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  12. i leave my condish in sometimes, depending on what style i’m doin. if i do finger coils then i leave it in. i’ve had no issues but i will say that i tend to have to wash my hair after about 4 or 5 days because of itchiness. i think it’s about finding balance and listening to both your hair and scalp. both will tell you when you need to reintroduce shampoo.
    after a few cowashes, about 3 or 4, my hair starts feeling dry and producty, so that’s my cue to use shampoo on the next wash to start fresh. it takes experimentation to find that coveted balance.

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  13. I use Ausie 3 minute miracle for ten minutes in the shower. I have noticed rinsing with cold water has made a difference….I wrap my hair in a t-shirt while i brush my teeth and apply makeup to soak up excess water. then I apply Organic Coconut Milk Conditioner to hair. About a quarter amout and never touch roots. I then use a lil bit of cantu curling cream/butter. Just a lil. My hair is curly and if I use anything else it will weigh down or harden curls. Then when my hair dries I tossel with Coconut Milk Oil for sheen and smell :) I get many compliments on my hair and Im going to continue to grow it out. This is just a few things I have noticed help….Oh and I do brush/comb my hair in shower which is suppose to be a big NONO so dont follow instep.

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  14. When I had a relaxer I would go to the beauty shop, get my hair done, and leave it like it was for two weeks. I apply the same method to my now natural hair. I don’t wash my hair but twice a month. When it’s too “icky” feeling I co-wash. So in my opinion, do NOT go without washing your hair, but don’t wash it everyday or every other day as it strips your natural moisture TOO much.

    I wash my hair with Creme of Nature and co-wash with As I am Coconut Co-Wash.

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  15. I have keratin,and suppose to wash my hair with sulfate free,shampoo and cond.but I have a lot of split ends,I was reading that aphogee was good,should I tried this products?

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  16. I cannot use any hair products that contain alcohol, because it dries my scalp and the itchiness drives me crazy. For about two years, I’ve been using organic hair products. I wash my hair frequently (because I work out during the week) with no problems.

    So I think that women should do what feels go to their hair.

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  17. I washed my hair then put conditioner in it and left it. Is that okay? And how long should I leave it in if I’m using it as a leave in conditioner?

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  18. This article is very informative, BUT this does not apply to my hair. I researched prior to my BC, and knew right away that I wanted to use the curly girl method. I cowashed my hair twice each day, and always had conditioner in my hair. Conditioner became my styler, and I did this for that first 13 months, I then dig away with the WNG’s by switching to weekly cowashes until I reached 19 months. I no longer follow the curly girl method 100% as I now cowash with a deep conditioner every two weeks however the one thing that has remained the same for me is that after every wash, I finalize my sectioned hair with conditioner, not leave in but a conditioner. My hair has flourished and not suffered from doing this. I am currently 21 months and my hair is right at 12 inches.

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