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Should Deep Conditioning be Done on Dry, Wet or Shampooed Hair?

• Jul 9, 2013


An important question that is often asked is about the initial step before conditioning.

1. Oil as a conditioner (pre wash treatment) 

Oil for the purpose of conditioning is always applied to dry hair. This is because water repels oil and if your intention is to use oil to penetrate hair then your hair needs to be dry. You can wet your hair first or mix the oil in conditioner if:

-you want to limit how much water penetrates hair
— you do not like how your hair feels when oil is applied to it dry
— you want to use the oil to seal in moisture
— you want to use the oil to help reduce damage post washing

2. Water based Conditioner

For this article I am referring to a regular water based conditioner (deep, intensive, mask or rinse out) that is coated onto hair with the purpose of repairing damage, softening, cuticle smoothing and/or moisturising.

Scientifically, the preferred method of getting the maximum amount of conditioner to adsorb and then potentially penetrate (only ingredients that can) is :

  1. Shampoo with a product containing anionic (negative) surfactants
  2. Rinse off shampoo — this is important
  3. Apply conditioner which contains cationic (positive) surfactants

Possible Questions:

Q: Why use a shampoo first?

Hair carries a slight negative charge which is enhanced when you use a shampoo with a negative charge. Hair will adsorb the conditioner better because the positive charge in the conditioner is attracted to the negative charge on the surface of hair. For the purpose of getting the best result from a shampoo, surfactants with a charge are best for example
— gentle sulfate shampoo — SLES (sodium lauryl ether sulfate) which is negatively charged
— mild sulfate free shampoo — cocamidopropylbetaine/cocobetaine/cocabetaine which is zwitterionic 

Q: Why should you rinse off the shampoo?

Some naturals like to ‘buffer’ their shampoo by directly adding conditioner to it before rinsing it off. Some also like to simply apply the conditioner before rinsing off the shampoo. In both these cases, the negative charge of the shampoo and the fact that it is present in a large amount interferes with the ability of conditioner to stick to the surface. Two outcomes are possible in this case:

1. Conditioner does not stick to the surface and is washed off along with the shampoo
2. The shampoo and conditioner bind together and create build up on the surface of hair.

Q: Can you condition first and then shampoo?

Yes you can but you will be removing conditioner that stuck to the surface of the hair from the initial conditioning process. You will need to condition your hair again in order to smooth the cuticle. Your process would look like

-Deep Condition
-Rinse out conditioner
— Leave ins, oils, styling products etc

Q: Can you deep condition on dry hair?

Yes you can but remember the rules about using shampoo afterwards (see the question above). Applying shampoo first and rinsing before applying a conditioner does however give the best result in terms of conditioner adsorption.

Ladies, what’s your deep conditioning process? Do you apply conditioner to dry, wet or shampooed hair? Why does this work for you?

J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 351–359, 1991
J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 263–278, 1993

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39 Comments on "Should Deep Conditioning be Done on Dry, Wet or Shampooed Hair?"

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Sabrina Antoinnette
I’ve always wondered if conditioning on dry hair was effective, since this is what I prefer. This article is very helpful and lets me know I’m taking proper steps. My deep conditioning process is fairly straight forward: - prepoo overnight with coconut oil while still in protective style. — takedown & finger detangle the next day — section/braid as I do so — quickly clarify in sink with an ACV rinse — tends to make my conditioner work better — deep condition 1 hour w/o heat- just plastic cap and towel — rinse, wash, condition, rinse, acv rinse, plop, leave-in,… Read more »

What a name! Your mother named you very well.

Sabrina Antoinnette

@Lana Thank you! The thanks has to go to my precious Nana — bless her!


Wow!4–6 hours is a long wash day. Sabrina Your routine is similar to mine except I shampoo before deep conditioning and I only acv once after i shampoo. My hair is about the same length and nappier (4b/c)and I’m done in about an hour or two if I being slow. No shade but just wowed by how different our hair care practices can be.

I deep condition after I shampoo. I figure the coconut oil I put in the night before is good enough of a conditioner if I chose to skip deep conditioning for the sake of time.

Sabrina Antoinnette
I should really attempt to cut back again. I used to shampoo before I conditioned, but I hated getting in/out of the shower. My kitchen sink isn’t an ideal place to wash unfortunately. I also find that my hair tuns into an awful tumbleweed is I skip either the pre-poo or the deep conditioning. I have to do this bi-weekly at the longest and it actually loves weekly, but it’s just far too much time to spare every week. Styling is also a time killer for sure — I typically opt for mini twists or havana twists for protection and… Read more »

I usually deep condition with pro naturals argan oil hair mask and then shampoo with a shampoo from the same brand. It’s all sulfate and silicone free so it’s super moisturizing.


I apply conditioner to “dry” hair before shampooing — more precisely dampened and oiled hair.

My deep conditioning process is as follows:
— finger-detangle w/ water/glycerin spritz & coconut oil
— apply deep conditioner
— let deep conditioner sit for 30 minutes (or overnight*) under a plastic conditioning cap/beanie combo
After deep conditioning I shampoo my scalp, moisturize, seal and style.

I deep condition this way so I don’t have to hop in and out of the shower. It works well for my kinky, coily, Afro-textured, super dense hair.

*I deep condition overnight for connivence and increased moisture/softness.


* convenience


For me 4D hair loves to be clean and fresh before a DC, also Shampooing first opens up my pores so that the oils in my DC can penetrate, I add a bit of Olive, and Avocado oil to my store bought DC and cover with a plastic for max three hours when I rinse out hair feels super soft then I apply a regular rinse our conditioner as my after DC wash.


I always deep condition prior to hopping in the shower. I also have a steamer so my sessions tend to take max 10–30 minutes, depending on my mood. Once I shampoo, then I rinse with a quick conditioner and then it’s time for moisturizing and sealing.

Bebe H.

I prefer deep conditioning on dry hair, too. After that i shampoo and follow with a quick conditioner.
Some deep conditioners i.e. from Aubrey Organics are directed to use on dry hair when you want a deep trestment not on freshly washed hair.
so For Me often it’s save to follow the directions, since the people how make the products have tested it many times like directed.


I spray my hair with warm water to open the shaft.then is shampoo twice.(once scalp only,then scalp and hair strands). Rinse then deep condition wet hair for 25 mins under plastic cap.rinse thoroughly and apply leave in conditioner.squeeze out Excess leave in. Begin twisylting with cream hair dress n seal with evoo/castor oil mix.


I’ve DC’d on dry and wet hair and found the former to be more effective at least for protein DCs.


My regimen is as follows:

Hot oil treatment with castor oil for 30 minutes (sit under dryer sometimes)
Detangle, Section
Rinse & shampoo (Kinky Curly, Taliah Waajid, or Shea Moisture)
DC with either (any condish + EVOO + honey) OR (greek yogurt + EVOO + honey)for 30 minutes
Rinse with warm then cold water, final rinse with ACV


This is my process. Takes about an hour or less.

-Deep Condition
-Huetiful Hair Steam (20 minutes)
-Twist into four sections
-Non-sulfate Shampoo in sections
-Rinse (Finger detangle under running water)
-Non-silicone Rinse out conditioner in sections
-Repeat for each section
— Leave ins, oils, styling products etc


I use mayo and avocado deep conditioner on dry hair. Then I use shampoo, and that’s it.

For me it makes absolutely no sense to deep condition hair that has not been cleansed first, but being that my hair is low porosity, absolutely nothing works on my hair if I apply it wet, it is an utter waste of product. That is why the best thing for me is to clean my scalp, then let my hair dry for fifteen to twenty minutes with nothing on it but I do have to move fast in that time so that my ends do not get too dry. Also, by doing my pre-detangling on dry hair with coconut oil,… Read more »

pls can you share your regimen and products? this is how exactly my hair is and i am fed up with it.i want to give up on this natural hair journey nd go bak to relaxers God knows i have tried everythin.


I do whatever I feel like doing on the particular wash day. Usually, I will detangle by sraying water on the hair and applying some conditioner to the strands. Then, I will either rinse it off with water only (resulting in a co-wash) or I will use a shampoo (mainly on my scalp). Even when I do use the shampoo, I don’t always proceed with a DC afterwards. It really does not make a difference in the feel and look of my hair, so I ususally jump straight to styling and applying my leave-in.


I do protein treatments on dry hair, and moisturizing treatments after I either wash or co wash


If you are going for finest contents like myself, just pay a quick visit this website everyday since it offers feature contents, thanks


I pre-poo on dry hair (conditioner + oil) and then DC on wet hair after using a cleansing conditioner (As I Am Coconut Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner). I will either detangle before or after DCing, depending on how my hair feels (Tresemme Naturals + oil).


*sighs* I am confused…deep condition first then shampoo? uh?

Ugonna Wosu

lol, I guess I’m the only person who alternates. Sometimes I prepoo, sometimes I DC after pooing, sometimes I do BOTH the same day.


I deep condition on dry hair. I make my own deep conditioner: avocado, banana, egg, honey, coconut oil, and olive oil smoothie. Detangle. Apple cider vinegar rinse. Mud wash. Leave in conditioner (kimmaytube recipe) and then double strand twists with shea butter whip.




I started deep conditioning on dry (dirty) hair out of laziness. I hated getting in and out of the shower to shampoo first, then deep condition.

I deep condition, detangle, shampoo, condition, (insert shower activity here i.e. washing my body, shaving, etc.), rinse. Then I apply a leave-in conditioner and braid my hair so it can air dry.

I find that my hair is way more moisturized whenever I deep condition first.…and eliminates the second trip to the shower. 🙂


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Every wash day I wet, shampoo, rinse, condition, bag, and finger detangle in sections, where I might add extra conditioner on or just seal with oils. On dry hair I tend to use a bit of water and oils (for overnight) or straight up oils just before going out.

Nachaly Ortiz

What’s bag?


She covers her head with a plastic bag to keep her body heat in to help the conditioner penetrate better.


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I’d like to know what Jamika was talking about?????

I actually loovveee deep conditioning on dry hair. I use the macadamia deep repair masque:) I wash my hair at night using a cleansing shampoo and regular light conditioner I dont add a serum or leave in, sleep on it and let it dry naturally. The next morning when its dry I section off my hair and apply the masque/deep conditioner. I put a shower cap on and leave in in for a few hours and when I rinse my hair and let it dry it never looks more beautiful! Ih find I can go longer not washing it and… Read more »

I have been deep conditioning on dry hair and it has been working wonders for my transitioning hair. I’m about 6 months post relaxer so my new growth lovvves the moister! I use Olive Oil replenishing conditioner and leave it in for around an hour or two. I also apply a little heat with a blow dryer while my hair is in the plastic cap. It feels like SILK when I wah it out! This is the best deep conditioning method for me.


I do it on wet hair with the pro naturals hair mask made from real argan oil. So far it’s worked great for me


After Deep Conditioning, my hair is extremely oily. Can I shampoo after DC to remove the excess grease, without losing all the benefits of the Deep Condition?

Pass The Deutschy

I know it’s three years on but I’d say change the conditioner as shampooing will remove the benefits to the conditioner anyway. Like with all products if you get a reaction you don’t like change the product.

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