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Hair Conditioner 101


Conditioners can help moisturize, add shine and manageability.

Hair Conditioners are More Complex Than Shampoo

Many people may not realize the mechanics of a good hair conditioner. In all honesty, conditioners are far more complex than most hair products, such as shampoo.

First, you must realize that conditioners are there to treat the hair after shampooing occurs. Conditioners often help replenish the look and feel of the hair after shampooing.

Conditioners can help moisturize, add shine and manageability. Much like a fabric softener does to your clothing, after washed in a detergent.

A conditioner should only be applied to the hair shaft and the ends, especially, the ends. Never apply a hair conditioner to the scalp, it will buildup and create a limp look.

Because the hair at the shaft and ends are "dead"; it is chemically inert and insoluble; therefore, many conditioners may claim to change the structure of the hair, but it's purely from a superficial standpoint.

Conditioners may coat the hair with a protein or polymer and this gives the simulation of thickness; but conditioners do not penetrate the hair and improve the internal fiber structure. So in order to choose the right conditioner for you, you must consider the type of hair you have dry, oily, or normal. You must also consider how many hairs you have on your head, whether thick or thin. This will help in defining the type of ingredients you are looking for in your conditioner. The ingredients of conditioners differ greatly because the result women need differ greatly. So the term conditioner is very vague. Conditioners need to pick up where the shampoo left off. Therefore, most women are looking for 3 types of conditioners.
  • Conditioners that replace the oils removed by the detergents in shampoos. Moisturizing Conditioners or deep conditioners contain humectants. These are compounds that hold moisture into the hair. The best hair types for this type of conditioner is dry, curly, often frizzy, and coarse hair. Look for products that contain cetyl or stearyl alcohol, panthenol and methicones, silicone or dimethicone, or essential oils and botanicals such as avocado, jojoba oil, or shea butter. Oil-Based Conditioners are those that usually contain EFA's. The oil glands located in the scalp produce natural body oil known as sebum. EFA is a lubricant similar to sebum. This type of conditioner works very well on extremely dry and porous hair.


  • Conditioners that give body and temporarily helps the appearance of the hair. Protein Conditioners or volumizing conditioners are often labeled re-constructors. Protein conditioners simply coat the hair shafts and ends with a layer of protein that gives the appearance of thicker hair. It can fill in gaps if the outer cuticle is damaged, giving the hair a smoother look and adding shine, but contrary to popular belief, they don't re-construct or strengthen the hair, as mentioned earlier. Protein conditioners like any other are a temporary fix and must be reapplied daily. These types of conditioners can be applied to fine and limp hair or hair that is damaged. But as stated earlier, only apply to the shaft and ends.

  • Conditioners that reduce static and create manageability of the hair. After shampooing, the hair is usually tangled and unmanageable. Acidifier Conditioners have a low pH of 2.5 to 3.5. This type of conditioner basically closes the cuticle layer of the hair, which in turn allows each individual strand of hair to remain separate from others. This helps the hair not tangle and creates more body. These type of conditioners can be used by all hair types, but work significantly well on fine hair. Detangling Conditioners are often separated from Acidifier Conditioners, but basically all detangling conditioners are acidifiers. However, some do have polymers added like silicone that will coat the hair shaft, making it look fuller.
In recent years, the conditioner market has started combining ingredients, for example, almost all conditioners produced today contain some type of static resistant compound to aid in the "fly-a-ways", this makes choosing a conditioner somewhat less complicated because they can multi-task. But for the most part, knowing your hair type and what your hair needs most is the key to choosing a good conditioner.

Often times, your hairstylist may be able to help you in making conditioner choices. With their advice and the information listed above, you should be able to condition your hair, no matter what the type.

Proper Application of Conditioner
Proper application of the conditioner is very important, as well. It is important to follow the directions on the contents or follow these simple steps.

The correct amount is usually a "quarter's" worth. Pour the conditioner in your hands and rub them together, never apply a glob of conditioner to the hair directly. Apply even amounts of conditioner to the hair shaft and ends. Do not apply to the scalp and always condition the ends or tips the most.

Most conditioners, even instant, need to be left on the hair for at least 1 minute. Leave-in conditioners stay in the hair until the next washing and do not require a rinse, but these types of conditioners are for damaged or dry hair, they often weigh fine hair down.

Just as important as the type of conditioner is the rinsing. It is important to rinse the conditioner off completely and as directed by the packaging instructions. Often times leaving residues of conditioner on the hair can attract dirt and dust, as well as leave you with a "greasy" feel.

When combing the hair while wet, be very careful, you're hair is at its most vulnerable state when wet. This is when the most damage can occur.