My Deep Conditioning Cheat Sheet

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

One lesson I've learned through my own trial and error is that deep conditioning on a regular basis is an important part of any healthy hair journey (whether you're relaxed or natural, color-treated or not). Back when I was newly natural, I had no idea how to even approach deep conditioning. Now that I've been natural for over a year and have tried many products and a few different techniques, I now follow a pretty straight forward strategy for how I go about deep conditioning my hair based on what I think it needs. A quick disclaimer though - this deep conditioning cheat sheet isn't really about any particular brand or product - I highly encourage you to use the products that work for your hair. It's more about the thought process involved in how I choose the best type of deep conditioning technique that will hopefully help my hair get closer to its ideal moisture / protein balance. Speaking of moisture and protein -  as far as product selection goes, most of the time I tend to choose deep conditioners that are more creamy and moisturizing - since most of the time I am trying to combat dryness and restore moisture. However, sometimes I choose to deep condition with more protein-based conditioners if my hair is particularly limp, or if my curl definition is frizzier than usual.

I believe a deep conditioning treatment is truly "deep" when there is some form of heat involved. That's because heat generally encourages the hair cuticle (i.e., the outermost layer of the hair shaft) to "raise" and "open up" so that moisture can better penetrate the strand. This concept is especially critical for naturals with lower porosity hair. Usually I divide my Deep Condition techniques (from this point referred to as "DC") into 3 different categories of heat:

Dry Heat Hooded Dryer at least 30 minutes to an hour
Wet Heat Steam / Steamer (check out my steaming video!) at least 20 minutes to an hour
Body Heat Heat naturally generated from your head usually longer-term - over an hour or overnight

My Deep Conditioning Cheat Sheet

Here are a series of questions to ask yourself in order to help determine what kind of Deep Conditioning technique to do. The questions are followed by my suggested deep conditioning approach (i.e. what I would do). These questions are formed around the three primary factors that usually drive my deep conditioning choices: 1) the current condition of my hair, 2) my style plans, and 3) my time constraints.

Current Conditions: What is the current condition of my hair and how does it feel?
This is probably the most important question to ask because it encourages you to really assess the current state of your hair. Knowing (and being honest with yourself about) the current state of your hair can help you determine what it needs and how to approach the deep conditioning part of your hair care regimen. The end goal is to get your state of your hair as close to its ideal balance of moisture and protein.
  • Hair feeling really dry and thirsty? Do a moisturizing DC with wet heat (steam) if your hair is lower porosity. If your hair has a higher porosity, then a moisturizing DC with dry heat or body heat may do.
  • Does your strands feel "rough to the touch" when you smooth it between your fingers? Do a protein-based DC with wet or dry heat. Follow up with a moisturizing DC, concentrating on the ends of your hair.
  • Seeing lots of breakage/split ends lately? Do a protein-based DC with wet or dry heat. Follow up with a moisturizing DC if your chosen protein-based treatment is not moisturizing enough.
  • Hair not as defined as usual lately or extra frizzy? Do a protein-based DC with wet or dry heat. Mud and clay deep conditioning treatments are also great for regaining your hair's natural curl definition. (check out my rhassoul clay treatment!)
  • Just used heat to style? Do a protein-based DC with dry heat followed by a moisturizing DC with wet or body heat.
  • About to use heat to style? Do a moisturizing DC with dry or body heat (overnight)

Style Plans: How do I plan to style my hair after I deep condition?
I try to be as practical as possible when caring for my hair, so sometimes I choose my deep conditioning technique based on how I plan to style my hair after I deep condition. 
  • Doing a wash and go or wet bunning? an overnight DC may be the easiest, drama-free choice since you will be wet styling your hair in the morning anyway.
  • Twisting or Braiding? you may want to choose the DC method that takes the least amount of time (30 minutes or less) because those styles can take forever to do! Especially if you prefer to twist or braid on air-dried hair.
  • Heat styling? use the DC that best prepares your hair for heat, no matter how long it takes!
  • Long term protective styling? Do a moisturizing DC, concentrating on the ends of your hair. Make sure you seal in that moisture so that your hair stays moisturized as it is tucked away.

Time Constraints: How much time do I have/wish to dedicate to Deep Conditioning?
Sometimes I just don't have the time to dedicate long periods of time to deep conditioning. On the other hand, sometime I have nothing but time on my hands. And then there are times when I just feel lazy on wash day and or when I don't really feel like putting a whole bunch of effort into deep conditioning. However, while I try to remain practical with the time I dedicate to deep conditioning, I usually try to not let my time constraints or laziness completely deter me from giving my hair the TLC it may very well need. Here's how I go about balancing my time constraints with my deep conditioning needs:
  • Short on time? If short on time, try to quickly deep condition with heat for at least 15 minutes if possible. One time saver: If you're taking shower - apply conditioner to your hair first, then cover your hair for the remainder of your shower to let the steam heat in the shower go to work on your hair. Just leave rinsing out the DC as the very last step before you get out of the shower. Do a cool rinse the encourage the cuticle to close back up to help lock in the moisture from the DC.
  • On the go? If you can, DC on the go by leaving the DC on while you go about your business and let your body heat do all the work. In the winter you can throw on a beanie over your conditioning cap, and in the warmer months you can use a cute scarf to wrap and cover the deep conditioning cap while you're out and about and on the go.
  • Got lots of time on your hands or not going anywhere for the day? Give your hair the spa treatment with all the bells and whistles. Hey, what else do you have to do? See the video below of one of my recent weekend deep conditioning routines.
  • Feeling lazy? The overnight DC is always my go-to deep conditioning strategy when I am feeling lazy or when I just can't manage to fit deep conditioning into my day. You're sleeping anyway, so why not use that time to deep condition your hair?  But keep in mind that depending on your style plans the next day, overnight deep conditioning may not be the most practical choice. 

My Latest Weekend Deep Conditioning with Dry Heat!

Below is a video tutorial of how I recently deep conditioned my hair on wash day using "dry heat" under a hooded dryer. This deep conditioning treatment followed my monthly mud cleansing routine, so I opted to use a more moisturizing deep conditioner.

You Might Also Like


  1. What say you? Yay or nay to protein treatment under the steamer??!!

    1. I think the steamer is perfect for a protein treatment (depending on the protein treatment of course)....I love curl junkie's repair me or Aubrey Organics GPB condish for a shot of protein on a steaming day :)

  2. I used Aubrey Organics GPB! I didn't do the steam, but OMG, my hair LOVED IT!!!


© Naturally Curious 2011 - 2015 . Powered by Blogger.