Tried, True, Tested Deep Conditioners for Kinky, Coily, Natural Hair

Nourish your strands with these ultra-hydrating products.
By Patrice Grell Yursik
June 10, 2021
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This is part of our weekly series Test Drive, where our team of beauty experts demystify products and tools, and explore new techniques IRL.

From age six until 22, I relaxed my hair regularly. It was part of a common cultural practice at the time; my mom, my aunts, and my sister all relaxed their hair in the '80s, and it was believed that using the chemical relaxer kit would mean more manageable hair for my mom and whoever was helping to style my hair at that time of my life. However, after years of chemical treatments resulting in damage, I ditched relaxers and went natural in 2002 and never looked back. 

The process of figuring out my natural hair's new texture and needs took me years of product testing, lots of research, and trial and error. One of the biggest keys to figuring out my hair's new needs was finding the perfect deep conditioner for my natural texture. My hair is naturally coily, curly, kinky, and can be knotty-especially at the ends. My perfect deep conditioning treatment is thick, most likely creamy in texture, and intended to impart deeply nourishing hydration to my thirsty tresses. A high-quality deep conditioner can help me to easily detangle my hair from tip to root when I'm using my favorite wide tooth comb, brush, or even my fingers. It helps if it smells amazing, too. 

I know how a deep conditioning treatment makes my hair feel, but to understand what it does to natural hair and why it's a necessary part of a natural hair regimen, I reached out to celebrity hairstylist Felicia Leatherwood, creator of the award-winning detangler brush. "You need a good deep conditioner for natural hair because the process of the shampoo is supposed to strip everything out from your hair. All the oils, anything from your days like sweat and buildup-shampoos are supposed to strip the hair of all of that. Conditioner replenishes and replaces the hydration and the moisture. Because the hair cuticle is open when you shampoo, the hair conditioner can get in the cuticle layer, and the right conditioner can give you moisture and curl definition," Leatherwood says.

How do I know my conditioner is a good one? Leatherwood says you'll know by the feel of your hair when you use it: "A good conditioner should make your hair feel soft and easily detangleable. You know when you have the right kind of conditioner because it's gonna soften the hair back up after you strip everything out of it. That's why it's so important." 

The natural hair product aisle has expanded substantially, and the options can be overwhelming. Where do you begin in looking for the right deep conditioning treatment?  Leatherwood recommends looking for keywords like "slip," "detangle," and "hydration": "You should look for a conditioner that gives you great slip that helps you to detangle. A great deep conditioner makes you feel like you can wear it for longer than five to 10 minutes. You want your hair to feel like it's wrapped in satin. A good conditioner will make your hair feel soft and satiny."  

It's easy to keep buying more and more products in a quest for some kind of ever-elusive natural hair holy grail, but how do you know if they're really working? Felicia Leatherwood shared a truly helpful tip for product lovers who have too many goods and don't know what to do with all of them. 

"Here's a way to test your conditioners and see which one your hair likes the most, part your hair into four sections after you shampoo it, or in threes, whatever you prefer. You know, most people have more than three products in their cabinet. Then pick one conditioner for one section, then another one in another section, and another in another, and then feel how your hair responds, see what it's telling you. Write it down, so you remember which one worked best for your needs, and then that's your way of knowing like which conditioner you can actually get rid of," she suggests.

Check out my current favorite deep conditioning treatments from a range of brands; some are recently launched, and others are veterans that helped to pave the way for other natural hair entrepreneurs to follow. 

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