First things first, a moisturizer and a leave-in conditioner are exactly the same thing. It is a water-based product designed to help soften and detangle hair.
For kinky and curly hair, a moisturizer is a must.
I personally use my moisturizer daily when my hair is loose so it's actually used a lot more than my rinse-off conditioner. If my hair is in twists I use it every other day.
A moisturizer (leave-in conditioner) can be applied to freshly washed hair or to dry hair. I find it easier to spritz dry hair with a little water first and then apply the moisturizer. This has the added benefit of stretching the moisturizer further and therefore helping it last longer.
Application To Very Dry Hair
If my hair is super dry and perhaps matted I normally spritz it with water first, apply the moisturizer then cover my head in a shower cap whilst I shower and get ready. The reason for this is to soften the hair even further - it works every time. I think this is a lot better than sleeping with a shower cap over your head for the whole night long.
So, How Do Leave-in Conditioners (a.k.a. Moisturizers) Actually Work on Hair?
Hair is negatively charged. This means that, positively charged ingredients are needed in order to get them to attach to your hair - remember, opposites attract. Just as with a rinse-off conditioner most of a leave-in conditioner contains positively charged ingredients called "cationic polymers" and "cationic quaternary compounds".
The positively charged stuff in your leave-in conditioner gets attracted to your negatively charged hair and keeps it softer and moisturized for a period of time.
The positively charged ingredients in moisturizers:
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By Heather Katsonga-Woodward