What Happens When You Leave Natural Conditioner in the Hair?

Typically, rinse-out conditioners should be on the hair only a few minutes.

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Conditioning your hair is a beauty must, as it keeps your hair soft and protected. What isn't so clear, however, is whether you can leave a natural conditioner designed to be rinsed out in your hair, treating it like a leave-in product. Although some divas have a skin, hair type and regimen that makes this work for them, in general, regular conditioners should be kept as rinse-out products, even if they're all-natural.

Rinse-Out and Leave-In Conditioning Basics

A rinse-out conditioner -- even a natural one -- is primarily oil-based; it is rich in fatty acids. For instance, it might contain almond or jojoba oil. The purpose of these ingredients is not only to coat the shaft of your hair, but also to fill in the little gaps in the outermost layer of the strands, the cuticle. This gives the strand some added protection and strength. By comparison, a leave-in conditioner is made mainly from humectants, which helps your hair retain water. It's not really meant to fill in or strengthen the hair, but rather is designed to control moisture loss, restore shine by smoothing the cuticle and reduce friction. They are much lighter as a result.

Oil Buildup

When you leave in a natural, rinse-out conditioner, the oils and fatty acids coat the hair and fill in weak spots the way they are supposed to. However, this doesn't mean your scalp stops producing its own protective and natural oil, sebum. The sebum coats your hair, too. Subsequently, you have more oil on your hair than you probably need. To make matters worse, sometimes conditioners contribute to buildup. Conditioners and shampoos both have a charge, and depending on the conditioner and shampoo you use, they potentially can cling to each other instead of getting rinsed off properly. Your hair might end up looking greasy and clumpy as a result.

Weighed Down Strands

Another problem with leaving a natural conditioner in your hair that's designed to be rinsed out is that the oil buildup can trap dirt and other residue. The dirt, residue and oil can weigh down your strands, particularly if your hair is very thin, straight and fine. This isn't a good thing for most ladies, because volume and lift usually contribute to the overall geometric shape of their haircuts and styles. It also makes hair harder to style, not only because the oil and residue weighs your mane down, but also because there is so much coating your cuticles that it's very difficult for other products and necessary moisture to get deeper into the strands.

Skin Problems

Just because a conditioner is labeled as natural doesn't mean it doesn't have the potential to cause irritation; even natural chemicals are still chemicals. Many people have very sensitive skin that reacts even to plant-based ingredients. If you don't use the product as directed, your scalp might become irritated, red and itchy. Buildup from the conditioner can clog hair follicles and potentially lead to infection and scalp acne, as well as dandruff.

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