Wanting great hair and not knowing how to get it—that basically sums where a lot of us are. Guys like John Hamm always seem to get it right; his hair looks smooth, not greasy. We have a vague understanding that conditioner might help, maybe even tried it a few times. But was it really helping?
The reality: Conditioner can make your hair shinier, stronger, and just better looking. But whatever you’re lathering on in the shower might not be doing it for you. We had the experts break down how to do it right.
Figure Out Your Hair’s Level of Thirst
“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and there’s no right or wrong thing that works for everybody,” says Albert Julian, a master barber based in NYC. “It depends on your hair.”
So what kind of hair do you have exactly? Thick and coarse? Light and flyaway? As a rule, coarse hair will be thirstier. And the product that works for that guy might be too heavy for someone with finer hair.
“Intensive therapy conditioners, and even daily conditioners, sometimes they put too much of a coating on your hair,” says Julian. “If you have lighter hair, you might feel too greasy, or too weighed down.”
For guys with fine hair, he recommends ditching the cream conditioner you use in the shower for a spray leave-in conditioner. Sometimes these are marketed as “detanglers”—and even if you don’t need detangling, they add moisture and nutrients to your hair.
Avoid the Ingredients You Don’t Want
Once you know what kind of conditioner you're looking for, read the label. Look out for sulfates, foaming agents that are potentially damaging. As a rule of thumb, natural ingredients are better.
"Avoid any kind of synthetics," says Jessica Candia, a hairstylist at Brooklyn's Persons of Interest barbershop. "Silicones make you feel like you're moisturizing your hair, but then your hair wants more. Anything that has coconut oil, hemp oil or argan oil is super moisturizing. You have to spend a little more money, but it's better for your hair."
At work, she uses products from the Portland General Store, which makes a paraben-free, sulfate-free shampoo and companion conditioner—with a manly, woodsy smell to seal the deal.
Make It Part of Your Routine
If you shampoo, condition. When one happens, the other should happen too. In fact, those hurried shampoos after your lunchtime workout could be wreaking havoc on your hair.
"Some gyms have better products than others," says Candia. "But if it's a high-detergent, high-sulfate kind of thing, it can strip the hair of all oils."
When oils are stripped out, they need to be put back. So make conditioning a part of your routine—either in the shower or when you style afterward.
“Leave-in conditioners are easy because you can spray them into your hair, brush them through, style as normal and go,” says Julian. “They’re great for people who go to the gym all the time.”
But even if you don’t have a leave-in, any conditioner, used in small amounts, can do the job. Towel off and then work a little in with your fingers. Just a dab will give your hair weight, and start the re-hydrating process. Because even though you can’t spend the afternoon drinking at your desk, your hair can.
This article originally appeared on MensHealth.com.