Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

The Difference between Moisturizer and Conditioner


Taking care of hair, especially if it is long, is not small task. It is the focal point of our looks, sex appeal and first impressions. In our quest for vibrant, beautiful hair, we are inundated with an almost endless variety of hair care products. Some are great, some are good and well some are mediocre at best. Aside from shampoos, it is the after wash treatment that gets a serious amount of attention.

These are the conditioners and moisturizers that we get to choose from. So the big question, why all the fuss? What is the difference between regular conditioner, leave-in conditioner and moisturizer? We are going to attempt to answer this in a general. We accept the fact that different producers of these products have different formulas and purposes.

So to keep it general, we will discuss this in generic terms. So first of all let’s get some understanding in terminology. A conditioner is a product that improves the condition of something else. So an air conditioner improves the surrounding air. A hair conditioner improves the hair. Now they come in two basic forms, rinse out or leave in. Then there is a moisturizer. Its purpose is to mainly do one thing and that is to keep the hair moist. So let’s dive a little deeper.

Rinse Out Conditioner

Most people are familiar with this product. It is a liquid product that is applied immediately after shampooing while the hair is still wet. It is massaged throughout the hair and then it is rinsed out. One could do it again, in what is known as apply, rinse, and repeat! The benefits are designed to fight against dryness, give the hair some puffiness or body, keep it shiny and help to retain moisture.

The tall order here is to protect the hair while producing litheness, a sense of grace and flexibility.  So the first thing you need to know is that conditioners are designed to be acidic. They replace the hydrogen ions that were removed by shampooing but are necessary to reinforce hydrogen bonding. In the old days (and maybe some still do) people used mayonnaise, vinegar or even lemon juice in their hair for this same purpose.

So what are the other main ingredients?i

  • Cationic surfactants and polymers – purpose here is to coat the hair to help with keeping the hair from being tangled
  • Oils – used to produce the slippery protective coating and help keep moisture and in some cases help with elasticity
  • Humectants- helps to attract water to the hair
  • Silicones- used to coat the hair with a slippery film that helps in the lubrication
  • Protein – useful but limited in maintaining the protein in the hair.

The variations of the active ingredients above vary with manufacturer. However, the main point is that it is considered a deep conditioner and will be needed to be rinsed out after intense application.

Leave in Conditioner

These are known as detanglers or simply leave in conditioners. They are designed on purpose to have a much lighter amount of active ingredients than deep conditioners. By default, this means a much higher concentration of water.ii The goal is to leave a small amount of basic conditioner chemicals on the surface of the hair. The result here would be to simply keep the hair from being tangled up, with minimum amount of friction. The ingredients selected are also needed to keep the hair neutralized to reduce the negative charge build up. In addition, they will not be as acidic as deep rinse out conditioners.


So the purpose of a moisturizer is to moisten the hair. More specifically, it is designed to keep the hair moist. It is not only about retaining moisture on the surface of the hair, it is about retention of water to the interior shaft of the hair. Although hair appears to be simple in its structure, it is not. It is a very complicated part of the human body. iii The simple part is the follicle exists below the skin and the hair shaft is above the skin. That is the part of the hair we see.

The hair shaft is considered to be dead, but it still has three parts to it. They are the medulla which is the innermost part of the hair shaft.  The next is the cortex, the biggest part of the hair shaft. The outer layer is known as the cuticle. Keeping this part of the hair known as the shaft moist is one of the most important functions of today’s moisturizers.

 So it is this part of the hair that all the deep conditioners, the leave-in conditioners and moisturizers attempt to preserve. Choosing which to use is a matter of personal choice, personal time management and may vary from person to person.  The use of all three types by the same individual depends as well on the person and the goals they are wishing to achieved in the beauty care of their hair.

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