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How to Properly Use Shampoo and Conditioner

October 30, 2019

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Hairdresser Explaining How to Properly Use Shampoo and ConditionerFrom the title, you might be wondering if there's really any science to applying shampoo and conditioner. Well, as it turns out, it's totally possible to be using your multi vitamin shampoo and conditioner wrong! And, therefore, necessary to learn how to do it better. Don't be fooled thinking that it doesn't make a difference; it's bound to change your hair! You won't believe that you didn't find this out earlier. You're welcome.

The Wrong Way to Use Shampoo

The wrong way to use shampoo is basically the built-in way in which most people do it: applying shampoo directly to the head and when the hair is still not fully soaked, scratching on the scalp with the nails, washing the mids and ends, and slathering conditioner all over.

The main reason we can have to use shampoo and conditioner in the wrong way is that we think that these "techniques" actually clean the hair thoroughly. If we don't rub and wring hair like a kitchen rag, we feel it's not clean enough. The mistakes in washing and conditioning are extended and worsened even after the shower is done, when we dry hair roughly and detangle and style while wet.

Likewise, the products we choose to wash our hair are very important. The market is flooded with all kinds of shampoo and conditioner, but most people tend to choose the hair-drying kind: the ones that have sulfate surfactants. Speaking of sulfates, you may have heard they are not your hair's friends, and we think it's important to tell you why.
Shampoo and Conditioner

Why Sulfates Are Bad for Your Hair

Sulfate surfactants are the ingredients that make your shampoo (and soap/body wash) lather. Their job is to trap oil in the suds and attract water at the same time as well in order to rinse those suds that have already trapped oil and dirt out. The most common sulfates in shampoos are sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and ammonium laureth sulfate.

Most people automatically think a cleaning product doesn't work if it doesn't lather up abundantly, but this might not be the case. Also, the truth is that if your product lathers even a bit, it contains a detergent agent, probably not a sulfate or not in the same concentration, but a detergent still. It's necessary to really get hair clean.

By the way, conditioner also contains surfactants (cationic surfactants, which don't wash out completely thus protecting the hair strand for longer).

Sulfates are not all bad. The bad thing about them is that their detergent power is strong, and, if used too much and in the wrong way, they can strip your hair and scalp of their natural oils, making it dry and crunchy, brittle, or even prone to hair loss or breakage. Other less than pleasant side effects of sulfates are itchiness and allergies on super sensitive skin and premature fading of hair color or keratin treatments. Some more reasons to stick to a sulfate-free shampoo! They will clean your hair mildly, more than shampoos with sulfates, at any rate.

Now let's really get down to how to properly use your (sulfate-free) shampoo and conditioner.

This Is How You Apply Shampoo and Conditioner

Let's go through a step-by-step of shampoo and conditioner use.
The Properly Way to Use Shampoo and Conditioner


  • Before anything else, choose a sulfate-free shampoo that really suits your hair's needs (i.e. specially designed for dry, oily, colored, or damaged hair). For dry hair, you can try a nourishing multi-vitamin shampoo, and for oily hair, a version with refreshing and anti-inflammatory ingredients like buchu leaf extract. Speaking of oily hair, get the lowdown on "What Is the Best Shampoo for Oily Hair?"

  • Make sure your hair is completely soaked before you apply any shampoo. Lack of water won't allow the shampoo to do its cleaning job properly. You will have to use more product; therefore, spending more money and increasing your chances or drying your hair up.

  • Take a medium-sized amount of shampoo and apply it on your palms, never directly to your scalp or hair. Applying shampoo directly to your hair will dry it out more than necessary and might make it harder for it to lather up.

  • Woman Washing Hair with Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Start massaging your scalp gently with your fingertips, not your nails. This is extremely important! What you want to clean first and foremost is your scalp, where oil, dirt, and product buildup accumulate. However, you don't need to use your nails to scrape your scalp as this might cause scratching, irritation and small wounds that might predispose you for increased dryness and even infection. Don't forget to get the nape and the area behind the ears!

  • Allow the lather to wash down the mids and lengths of the hair and help it along a bit by pressing it down your hair gently. Never, ever apply shampoo directly to mids or lengths! This is the oldest part of the hair and natural oils hardly make their way there, so there's little dirt to wash off. Too much shampoo will cause unnecessary dryness.

  • Most people don't need a second wash to get their hair really clean, so save up on shampoo and avoid any further handling that your hair doesn't really ask for. Likewise, most people don't really need more than two shampoos a week, so cut on the frequency of your hair washing. And definitely forget about daily!


Your conditioner routine can make a big difference in your hair, especially if you have a curly or wavy texture. Here's how to apply it correctly:
Related Post About Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Like we just advised with shampoo, do not apply conditioner directly on your head. Apply to your palms, rub a bit, then distribute gently along with the mids and ends. Never apply conditioner to the scalp or you'll get your hair weighed down pretty soon.

  • Woman Applying Conditioner on Hair
  • If your hair is really tangled, apply a bit of extra product on the tangles and knots to undo them. But whatever you do, don't rake through them! Try to gently undo them with your fingers; the conditioner's ingredients will do most of the job untying the knots. If possible, avoid using a comb; just run your fingers through your hair once the knots have been undone.

  • Rinse conditioner thoroughly. Otherwise, you may get product buildup, which dulls your hair and makes it greasy and dirty more easily.

  • Apply a bit extra only on the tips. Some experts advise doing this even before shampoo.

Extra tips:
  • Some curlies switch up their conditioner routine by applying it a bit watery. This puts extra water in the hair shaft, making it retain moisture for longer.

  • Take a big blob of conditioner and apply a few drops of water to change its texture. It'll be like a runny lotion. Apply liberally on hair and allow to act for at least ten minutes; better if it can be more than that.

  • A variation consists in taking the same runny conditioner and applying it from tips to mids in upward scrunching motions. This is great for giving a shapelier definition to your locks.

  • Once a week, you can shampoo with conditioner. This is called co-washing, and it helps get more hydration into your hair. Try it if you have very dry hair to see how well it works for you. However, beware of buildup. Use a clarifying shampoo at least twice a month. For a complete guide to curly hair washing, read "How to Wash Curly Hair."

  • After conditioner, there are masks. These deeper treatments are meant to be done twice a month at least, and more frequently for extremely damaged/dry hair. Follow similar tips to those of conditioner application.
Blow-Dryer and Woman

What You Do After Washing and Conditioning Is Important

After you've changed your washing and conditioning habits, you don't want to ruin the good work. Do this:
  • Use a cotton t-shirt to wrap around your hair instead of a terry cloth towel. Terry cloth is rough and, along with the drying motions most people do, it frays hair, opens the cuticle and creates frizz.

  • Squeeze excess water out of hair with the cotton t-shirt, never wring water out of hair by twisting it.

  • Use the blow-dryer only when your hair is already around 60 or 70% dry.
We hope you'll make the best of your advice on how to properly use shampoo and conditioner. We are sure they'll make a ton of difference in your hair. Why not start your new shampoo and conditioner routine with the best professional products? Call TOLL FREE 1-888-513-8815 or fill out the contact form on this site to talk to us. Also, subscribe to our newsletter and get our latest news right in your inbox.

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