(Health.com) -- We've all been there: standing at the drugstore in front of rows and rows of conditioners, wondering what to buy. From daily conditioner and heat-protecting leave-in mists to deep conditioners and keratin masks, the options can be daunting.
The truth is, "all conditioners smooth the cuticle, soften hair, add shine, and restore moisture," says celebrity hairstylist Juan Carlos Maciques of the Rita Hazan Salon in New York City. "But using the right one is the best way to keep your hair healthy and your style looking great."
We asked top stylists like Maciques to share the golden rules of conditioning. Use them to make your strands -- and your next shopping trip -- a whole lot smoother.
1. Use conditioner even when you skip shampoo.
Everything your hair is exposed to (washing, coloring, styling, even just going outside) can dry it out. "Using daily conditioner adds a layer of protection that guards against harsh products, hot tools, and everything else that's doing a number on your hair," says Tresemmé celebrity hairstylist Jeanie Syfu. Try Tigi Bed Head Urban Antidotes Re-Energize Conditioner.
If your hair is on the dry side, you may even want to use conditioner in place of your shampoo once or twice a week. "Some shampoos contain strong detergents that can strip hair of moisture," Syfu says. Swapping in conditioner helps hair retain moisture and makes it easier to detangle, Maciques adds, "but it shouldn't fully replace shampoo, which does a better job of removing buildup."
2. Honor your hair's texture.
"Most women who think conditioner makes their hair flat are using the wrong formula," says Damian Santiago, owner of Mizu Salon in New York City. The key is to pick one based on your texture.
"Women with fine strands benefit from a volumizing conditioner, which adds body," Santiago explains. "Those with thick hair need deep conditioners that contain fatty acids (look for almond, coconut, or jojoba oils) to take strands from dry to shiny."
Curly hair is almost always dry because oils from the scalp don't travel as easily down the hair shaft as they do with straight hair, so people with curls should use an ultra-moisturizing conditioner like Ojon Super Sleek Smoothing Conditioner.
But no matter what your texture, if you color regularly, you need a protein-enhanced conditioner made for color-treated hair. (Try Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion Color Care Conditioner, $3; drugstores.)
"When you color, the cuticle has to open and close to allow pigment in, which weakens strands over time," explains Francis Mousseron, a colorist at Frédéric Fekkai Salon in New York City. "Adding protein strengthens hair, so it better withstands harsh chemicals."
3. Make a mask your new must.
Masks aren't just for dry, damaged hair -- every head could benefit from a moisture surge once a week. To get the most out of your mask, look for keratin, amino acids, or essential fatty acids, suggests Garnier hair-stylist Marc Mena. Try Dove Intensive Repair Deep Repairing Mask.
You can also boost hydration with hot oil treatments or create a DIY mask from food (avocados and mayonnaise are both high in fatty acids). Microwave a thin damp towel just until warm, then wrap it, turban style, around your head after applying your mask. Leave on for 20 minutes, Mena advises, then let strands cool completely before you rinse, "or the cuticles will still be 'open' from the heat and you'll wash away most of the nutrients."
4. Skip your roots -- really.
If your style requires volume or you find that the hair near your scalp gets oily quickly, avoid moisturizing there.
"Hair at the roots is conditioned on its own by the natural oils from your scalp," says Kattia Solano, owner of Butterfly Studio Salon in New York City. "It's also healthier, as it hasn't been exposed to as much heat styling and coloring."
When applying daily conditioner, start at the ends (where most damage occurs), then run what's left on your hands through the rest of your hair, avoiding the first two inches at your scalp. Leave on for at least three to five minutes before rinsing.
Copyright Health Magazine 2011