Surprise: You’re Using Your Deep Conditioner the Wrong Way

My mind is blown and my hair is now a shimmering curtain of silk.

Here’s exactly how much I think about my deep conditioner on a daily basis: I don’t. I slap it on once a week, I shave my legs, I win a few imaginary arguments in my head, and then I rinse it out and move on. But apparently, everything I know has been a lie, because I—and almost certainly you, too—have been applying deep conditioners and hair masks incorrectly my entire goddamn life. Yup.

This revelation came after a chat with my dermatologist friend, who was surprised to find that I apply my deep conditioner to wet hair—you know, like a normal person. “You should be applying it to dry hair to make it more effective,” she said nonchalantly, striking a match and lighting my world on fire. After calling her crazy, I listened as she broke it down for me.

“You don’t want water and conditioner to compete for space in your hair cuticle,” said Mona Gohara, M.D., dermatologist at Yale University and number-one bud at Chloe’s Cohort of Friends. Basically, when your cuticle is saturated with water, it can’t absorb as much conditioner. That means all the good stuff you slathered on your hair is pretty much just coating the outside of your strands, rather than really moisturizing the insides. So, you know, a big waste of time and money.

“That’s why I prefer deep conditioning on dry hair, since it’s a no-compete zone, in terms of hydrators penetrating the cuticle,” says Dr. Gohara. Essentially, you want to load your cuticle with all the moisturizing, smoothing, and frizz-fighting ingredients from your conditioner first, then let water fill in the rest.


Sure, that all sounds logical, but I was skeptical; I didn’t believe that switching up my application process would make that big of a difference. Still, I tested it out. Before I showered—you know, in that weird time frame when you’re just lying on the couch on your phone, procrastinating—I combed through my dry hair, split it in half over each shoulder, and, while standing over my bathroom sink, raked and massaged scoops of deep conditioner (my current favorite: Context Keratin Recovery Treatment) through my hair until it was totally saturated. I then clipped it up, proceeded to procrastinate for 15 minutes, and then showered as usual. And holy hell, my hair was forever changed.

Product, Beauty, Cream, Skin care, Cream,

(Image credit: Courtesy of Brand)

No, really—that’s not hyperbolic. Usually, when I use a deep conditioner or a hair mask in the shower, my hair feels slightly smoother and softer for about one day. But when I started applying the products to dry hair (often leaving them on for an hour out of sheer laziness), my hair looked noticeably shinier, felt crazy smooth, and became way less frizzy as the day went on, which is a huge deal if you have curls like I do.

“It’s a really simple change, but it can make a huge difference,” says Dr. Gohara. Who woulda thunk that a board-certified dermatologist would know more than I, a brilliant beauty editor? Crazy. It’s been a few months since this hair-changing discovery, and I now abide by two rules: 1. Only condition dry hair, and 2. Always listen to your doctor.


natural curly hair products

(Image credit: Design by Morgan McMullen)

Chloe Metzger is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, overseeing the editorial content and growth strategy of the hair, makeup, and skin space on digital, while also obsessively writing about the best hair products for every hair type (curly girl here; whattup), and the skincare routines that really, truly work (follow her on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes pics of that magazine life). She brings nearly a decade of writing and editing expertise, and her work has appeared in AllureHealthFitnessMarie ClaireStyleCaster, and Parents. She also has an unhealthy adoration for Tom Hanks and would like to please meet him one day, if you could arrange that. Thanks.