Conditioners add moisture and shine to hair and detangle it – making it easier to comb through. Rinse-through formulas are applied and rinsed out in the shower. Deep conditioners, also known as conditioning treatments or hair masks, are also rinsed out but are generally left on the hair shaft for a longer period. Meanwhile, leave-in conditioners are lighter-weight formulas that stay in the hair until the next shampooing.
Choosing the right conditioner can be a daunting task, however, due to the myriad formulas that each company makes -- many of which are very similar to one another. Pantene makes it easier to choose with its new Pantene Pro-V Custom Solutions Conditioners (*Est. $6.75 for 25.4 oz.). Customers choose the type of hair they have (Color-treated, Fine, Medium-Thick or Curly) and then choose the result that they want within that category (i.e. Flat to Volume, Frizzy to Smooth, Dry to Moisturized etc.). The formulas are all very similar (some are identical), but reviewers say that each does a good job of living up to its claims. Users at TotalBeauty.com like the light, clean scent of Pantene conditioners and say that they detangle hair well and don't weigh it down. A few reviewers say the conditioner didn't make any difference for their hair, but results may vary based on the starting condition of the hair. Pantene Pro-V Custom Hair Solutions conditioners are available in 15 formulas.
If your hair is severely damaged or very coarse, curly or dry, some experts say you should consider using a deep conditioning treatment, which is left on the hair for a longer period to let it soak into the cuticle. Others say that these conditioners are no different than standard conditioners and yield similar results. In this category, Aussie 3-Minute Miracle Moist Deeeeep Conditioner (*Est. $4.25 for 8 oz.) is a classic that has "stood the test of time" according to editors at Ladies Home Journal. It contains aloe and jojoba oil to smooth dry or damaged hair. It gets good reviews from users at MakeupAlley.com and TotalBeauty.com for its affordable price and for leaving hair soft and manageable. Users also say they love the light coconut scent. Although some say Aussie 3-Minute Miracle conditioner is mediocre at best, results can vary depending on hair type and condition.
It's a lot more expensive, but we read good reviews for Kerastase Nutritive Masquintense (*Est. $60 for 6.8 oz.). We ultimately chose Aussie 3-Minute Miracle as a best bet, however, because it garners similar ratings in reviews for a more affordable price.
Leave-in hair conditioners are lighter than their rinse-through counterparts. Many, including Biosilk Silk Therapy Conditioner (*Est. $25 for 5.64 oz.) are silicone-based formulas that coat the hair, leaving it shiny and protecting it from heat-based styling. Biosilk is a favorite among users at MakeupAlley.com, TotalBeauty.com and Drugstore.com. It can be used on either wet or dry hair for varying results. Reviewers say that applying the formula to wet hair locks in moisture and detangles hair, making it more manageable. Applying the formula to dry hair, on the other hand, reduces frizz and leaves hair shiny. A few say that the formula is too greasy, but others point out that applying a smaller amount solves the problem -- only the slightest amount is needed for good results.
Good Housekeeping magazine thoroughly tests several hair conditioners for their annual anti-aging awards. Products are compared and ranked for their ability to deliver "shinier, fuller, younger-looking hair". Allure, Redbook and Self magazines each test products for annual beauty awards, but testing criteria are not very clear and products aren't compared to one another. Ladies Home Journal and About.com both recommend a plethora of conditioners, each with a brief description, but products aren't ranked it isn't clear whether they have been tested. User reviews at MakeupAlley.com, TotalBeauty.com and Drugstore.com are plentiful and give insight into consumers' perceptions of efficacy. In all we found several websites that offer conditioner recommendations, but most don't rank or compare products and there is little agreement among sources as to which formulas are the best conditioners.