Before I started my whole natural hair journey, I never knew what a deep conditioner or hair mask was. The only thing I knew was leaving in my conditioner a bit longer in my hair and then washing it off, just as my mum did for me. Or sometimes steam here and there, but I hated it. Little did I know, there’s a whole range of curly hair products you can leave in for a while and rinse off, giving your curls that moisture they deserve!
Okay, so you’re probably thinking a thousand things right now. When do I use a deep conditioner? What’s the difference between a mask and a deep conditioner? How do I know which one works for me? Don’t worry because I was definitely the same, in the afro hair shops staring at hundreds of products not knowing which one to pick up. Never knowing how to make my hair feel softer or easier to manage since all my heat damage made my hair brittle and weak. Sounds familiar? Okay, ladies now let’s get information!
Deep Conditioner vs Hair Mask
I did a lot of personal research while starting my journey and understood that these two words; deep conditioner and hair mask (or masque) were being thrown around. Whether you have tightly coiled curls or wavy coiled curls, this will help. There’s a lot of blog pages and videos explaining the difference, but in a nutshell:
Deep condition: Used to make hair softer/easier to manage
Hair mask: Used to strengthen and protect hair
Now, wouldn’t we all want our hair to be more manageable as well as stronger and protected? Yes! So, if you know your hair needs to moisture and some TLC, grab the label with ‘deep conditioner’ on it. And if it’s to strengthen, or if you have coloured hair (to protect the hair from colour fading & hydration) pick up the hair mask! It all boils down to knowing your hair and understanding what you need. Because at the end of the day, you are the one that will be in front of the mirror detangling and styling it, no one else.
What difference would this even make to my hair?!
Ideally, a deep conditioner or hair mask will make your hair healthier. This can be in terms of hydration, strength, elasticity or moisture. Not to say if you don’t use any of them your hair will be damaged because everyone’s hair is different. However, if you do feel your hair is dry and your wash & go isn’t looking as good, I would always say do a treatment to revive your curls.
How do I apply the products to my hair?
The best way to apply any product to natural hair is when it is wet/damp. This way the product will penetrate better and soak it up. Many people apply their deep conditioners/hair masks while in the shower, however, you can apply it when you’re out the shower too! I usually do it out of the shower and use my spray bottle to dampen up any areas that have dried up, and this is usually the mid-section of my hair.
If you have super thick hair (as myself), I would suggest you part your hair in 4 or more sections and apply the product thoroughly throughout. Do not make the mistake of applying the product without sectioning even if you’re rushing because sis, you will be disappointed with the outcome. Detangling can either happen before or while you are applying the product, depending on what you do in the shower. Some use shampoo and conditioner then go in with the treatment, or totally scrap conditioning and go straight into the treatment after shampooing. If my hair is extremely dry and looking crispy, I condition and then follow up with a deep conditioner to get that extra bit of moisture.
How long should I leave it in for?
The average time to leave in a deep conditioner or mask in is about 20-30 minutes. I don’t listen to a lot of rules, so I leave it in for about an hour. That way I can get other things done, while the product is still doing its magic for some time. If it’s applied in the shower, some may leave it in for 10/15 minutes and rinse it off. However, it also depends on how thick and long your hair is. Once you’ve applied the product, you want to create heat on your curls so it can penetrate the hair better. This can be done in multiple ways:
#1 Wrapping it in clingfilm/saran wrap
#2 Wrapping it with a plastic bag
#3 Going under a hooded dryer/portable dryer
#4 Using a steamer
Leaving it overnight is also a thing. Sometimes washing it off the same day is like a chore, so I tend to leave the product overnight. Overnight masks aren’t bad but try not to leave them in a second night or too long the next day, as I’ve found the moisture and bonce I’d normally get isn’t really there.
How often should I do a deep conditioner/hair mask?
I tend to use a deep conditioner once a week or every other week. However, when I first started my journey, since I didn’t cut off my dead ends and wanted to maintain my length, I would regularly apply it twice a week. This may not be a step that the black magazines/beauty gurus will tell you, but it worked either way for me. A way to make sure you stay consistent with treating your hair could be setting reminders on your phone, or writing it up on your calendar. This way you’ll create a habit and it will come naturally.
I would suggest to deep condition often if you haven’t done the big chop, as your ends need as much moisture as possible as they grow out. Alternatively, if the big chop has been done, I would still recommend deep conditioning or applying a mask once a week so you can reap all the benefits of ‘healthy hair’ from the very beginning.
Some of my favourite hair masks/deep conditioners:
#1 Hair Chemist macadamia oil deep repair masque
#2 Sunny Isle Jamaican Black Castor Oil intensive repair masque
#3 SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Conditioner
#4 Miracle 9 Hydrating Therapy Honey & Avocado Hair Masque
#5 SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque
This all being said, I have come to find that not all women who are natural like to deep condition. Some may find that their hair reacts to the ingredients or their hair simply does no cooperate. And that’s okay too. There are many home-made treatments you can make and adjust to match your hair. Figuring out what works for you and sticking to it is always the best option. This whole natural hair thing is trial and error, so don’t be so hard on yourself and enjoy the process!