photography by PHUONG NGUYEN
As a beauty and wellness editor, I hear a lot of things about what you should and shouldn’t do, should and shouldn’t use, but few have truly shaken me like what I’m about to tell you: You don’t need hair conditioner. Not only do you not need it, it has possibly been destroying your hair. I know, I wasn’t ready either. But let the French hair maestro Christophe Robin explain.
“People have been conditioned to use conditioners. But I don’t like conditioners. Most conditioners are detanglers. But they were made 25 to 30 years ago, with silicon and polymer coatings.” (You’ll know if your conditioner has either if it lists one of these six ingredients: methicone, phenyl trimethicone, dimethicone, cyclomethicone, dimethiconol, or dimethicone copolyol.)
“All of this conditioner, it’s making your hair more fragile," says Robin. "It’s a vicious circle. It’s like using a foundation to cover up bad skin. It’s hiding the problem, not addressing the problem.”
Famed hair stylist and owner of salons Spoke and Weal, Jon Reyman agrees, especially when you’re going for a bedhead hair look. “For fine hair, we don’t condition it because it helps the hair shaft stay larger. Shampoo expands the hair, conditioner makes it smaller. We want it to expand without shrinking for those that want the effect. What’s important is how it looks, not how it feels, the coarse-ness is your best friend. This myth that all hair should feel good is not true. For soft hair, we want to beef it up.” And that means no conditioner.
Robin especially wants you to avoid things that seep into your hair follicle. “Make sure it goes around the hair, not inside it, so it doesn’t ruin it. Don’t let anything into the shaft of your hair.” Silicons or polymers conditioners will do just that.
So, what to do instead? It depends on the quality and type of hair. Robin uses masks instead whenever possible. He’s still a huge fan of his original two products that launched 20 years ago—Lavender Hair Oil ($47), which repairs hair, and Lemon Cleansing Mask ($49), which cleans and hydrates the hair. They're two products that work for almost anyone. He also has created two types of conditioners in his line, but “they don’t let anything into the shaft of your hair, and won’t leave a residue—they just detangle.”
Fine and soft, healthy hair could get away with bi-weekly masks to nourish and boost hair, and could never need conditioners again. But thicker or more coarse hair may rely more on non-silicon and polymer conditioners, or masking two times a week with a variety of differentiating masks for differing results.
But you should never use conditioner or masks on your scalp. Ever. Just the ends of hair. (Unless it’s specifies you can, like a cleansing mask, which acts more as a hydrating shampoo.)
Give yourself some time to adjust and discover what is right. “If hair is over-processed, it can take awhile to rehab it,” says Robin. Try out products and see how your hair is adjusting.
Anything else? “Do not, do not brush your hair when it’s wet,” says Robin. “It’s stretching your hair. The hair follicle is bigger and more fragile.” Brush with a boar-bristle brush before jumping in the shower and washing hair.
“Here in America, hair is over-processed,” says Robin. “Don’t let your hair stylist use a chemical gloss after coloring. I hate glosses. It oxides your natural color and base. You then have to go back to the salon quickly. I would never do glosses in France—never! And the color last much longer without it. In America, you always hear about color becoming brassy. In France you never hear that, ever! It’s a real American thing.”
See More French Hair Secrets:
The $10 French Secret to Covering Those First Gray Hairs
The Right (French!) Way to Wash Your Hair
The Best French Beauty Imports—and Their Famous Devotees