Wash-out vs. Leave-in conditioner: When to use which

Jeanette | 22 April 2016

Time to give your tresses some serious nourishing.

You know the drill: you wash your hair, apply conditioner, let it soak for a few minutes and then rinse out. Well, this is how you traditionally condition hair, right? But did you know there are a few other options, too? “Reverse” systems like TRESemmé’s Beauty-Full Volume Pre-Wash Conditioner (500ml, £5.99*) and the underrated leave-in conditioner are just a couple that you should get acquainted with, but the most important thing is understanding when to use which.

The main purpose of a wash-out conditioner is to close the cuticles of the hair follicle and restore any moisture that may have been lost during the washing process, while leave-ins are a better option for when you need to deeply moisturise and protect. As the name suggests, they’re designed to be left in the hair, so leave-in formulas tend to be lighter (at least when compared to creamy wash-outs and heavier intensive treatments).

But while leave-in conditioners really are fantastic for coloured, damaged, curly and afro manes, those are not the only types of hair they can be used on – and sadly, that’s a mistake too commonly made by consumers today. So if you think that leave-in formula might be too strong or excessive to use on your fine, straight locks, think again. Because when used correctly, they can help to deeply nourish and coat your strands, protecting them from painful tangles and indirectly starving off split ends and breakages.

So now we’ve established that leave-ins can be suitable for all hair types, let’s talk about how to properly utilise them. It’s worth knowing that leave-in conditioners come in various different shapes and sizes, including sprays, lotions and creams. Generally speaking, sprays are the safest bet, thanks to their lightweight formulas and ease of distribution. They can be used after you shampoo and condition, while your hair is still damp, to aid with sealing in moisture and making hair sleeker and easier to manage and style. Why not try the TIGI S-Factor Papaya Leave-In Moisture Spray (£16.45*)

leave-in conditioner
Leave-in conditioners can help you style your tresses.

And did we mention that you can also use leave-ins as styling products, too? Because they have a smoothing effect that makes your mane softer and easier to handle, they can also be relied upon to provide a healthy, glossy sheen. Don’t believe us? Try the Dove Nourishing Oil Leave-In Conditioning Spray (£3.99*).

But how much and how often you use a leave-in conditioner is down to you. If you have very fine hair, you might want to consider using it only after washing, while those with thicker, coarser or curlier locks might want to use it more frequently. Just remember to concentrate applying the product directly on the more damage-prone ends; remember, it’s the hair shaft that needs conditioning, not the scalp. And the more hair you have, the more you’ll need to coat your tresses. NB: for natural-haired ladies, water-based leave-ins make great alternatives to water if you’re a devotee of the L.O.C or L.C.O method (a three-step product application technique involving liquid, oil and cream).

Last and most importantly, don’t be tempted to cut corners and use your wash-out conditioners as leave-ins. Because they’re designed to be rinsed out, leaving them on for prolonged periods can cause skin irritation (if you’re sensitive) and contribute to extreme product build-up that can also be a pain to remove.

 *RRPs are Unilever suggested retail prices only, it is at the discretion of the individual retailers to set the actual price.