Hair conditioners are one of the most purchased products in the hair care industry. There is a reason why conditioners are very popular. In this article we shall explore the conditioner basics to help you understand why you actually need a conditioner, the chemical composition of conditioners, types of conditioners and how to select the right conditioner for your afro/kinky/4C hair type
If you already understand the hair conditioner basics and are only keen on just a few questions, I will go straight into answering the two most popular hair conditioner questions:
What is the best conditioner for 4C hair? A good conditioner for 4C hair is one that will improve the feel, appearance and manageability of your hair. Whilst the conditioner you chose may not undo trauma and damage to your hair, it should slow down the deterioration process. When selecting a conditioner for 4C hair, you will need to check the ingredients to ensure that it’s does not contain toxic ingredients such as Parabens and Sulfates. The conditioner you pick should not leave your hair feeling dry and brittle.
What is the difference between a regular conditioner and a deep conditioner? A regular conditioner is also known as a rinse-out or surface conditioner. It works on the outside by softening your hair and minimizing static. A deep conditioner on the other hand has deep penetrating ingredients such as Coconut, Olive or Avocado oil. A deep conditioner is used less frequently compared to a regular conditioner.
Here is an overview of what you will learn from this article:
What is a hair conditioner? Why should I condition?
A hair conditioner is a product that is used to improve the feel, appearance and manageability of hair. Conditioners restore moisture lost to the shampooing process. Conditioners improve manageability by reducing friction between the hair strands hence making the hair smooth and Strong. This allows easier brushing or combing, which might otherwise cause damage to the scalp if the hair is not conditioned.
With the above description of what a conditioner is and what it does to your hair, I do hope you see why you need it. Simply put, in order for you to have an easy time working through your hair and minimize damage through breakage, conditioning your hair is mandatory.
Conditioners are water-based and low in PH (Acidic). It is important to note that conditioners contain much less water than shampoos and more of ingredients that protect the cuticle. Because conditioners are acidic, this means they are cationic or positively charged and also means they have a lot of hydrogens. When a conditioner is applied to hair, the scales stick down better, because of the acids from the conditioner, making the hair softer and easier to comb/ brush. Unlike conditioners, most shampoos contain ingredients that take hydrogen ions away from the cuticle, and this why it is important to add conditioner after shampooing, otherwise your hair may end up being . one big tangle after you wash it.
To better understand how conditioners work on hair, it is important to understand the hair structure:
Hair is made up of three major layers with the innermost being the medulla, then comes the cortex where hair dye sits, and then the cuticle, which is made up of overlapping flat cells like fish scales. These are supposed to lie down flat in a smooth, shiny layer, which is held together by forces called hydrogen bonding.
What chemicals are in a hair conditioner?
Conditioners contain cationic agents, humectants, moisturizers, oils and a small percentage of proteins whose purpose is to improve the overall quality of hair.
1. Cationic Surfactants and Cationic Polymers
There are two main types of cationic agents used in the black hair care conditioners, these are cationic surfactants and cationic polymers. These two groups of compounds are long molecules which give conditioners their smoothing effect on the hair. They stick to the surface of hair, coating it in microscopic lubricating fur. This makes the hairs slide past each other without catching on jutting-up cuticle scales, making them softer for easy detangling. Some cationic ingredients present are cetrimonium chloride and dicetyldimonium chloride. These cationic compounds carry positive charges that neutralize our hair’s negative charges by surrounding the cuticle.
A very important part of a conditioner is for it to actually make sure that it is nicely moisturized. Humectants do this as they attract water to the hair and keep it there. Components like humectants keep the moisture locked preventing it from drying out and breaking. Examples of hydrating ingredients include panthenol, glycerin, and ethers.
Oils cover the hair to form a protective coating that seals in the moisture making styling easier and less damaging. Moreover, some oils (such as olive and coconut oils) can penetrate through the cuticle of the hair into the core, which can improve the hair’s elasticity and make it feel softer. Much like the humectants, oils keep our hair healthy and hydrated. By providing additional hydration, the oils added in a formula can add an extra functionality for the product. Examples include coconut oil and olive oil.
Proteins are often touted to repair the hair, and some might penetrate the cuticle. They often form a protective coating over the damaged hair and also add a slight protective barrier that prevents hair breakage. Examples of these include hydrolyzed keratin, elastin and silk proteins.
Silicones sit on top of our hair cuticle and are responsible for giving that shiny appearance and also provide improved conditioning benefits such as smooth feel and reduced friction to both damaged hair and healthy hair while providing other benefits such as slippery and smooth feel on wet hair. Additionally, silicones give our hair that extra slip needed to be combed or braided. An example of a silicone used in conditioner is dimethicone.
Other conditioning agents:
The body can’t always repair hair after it has grown out of the root; at that point it’s dead. Since lipids are mostly layers of fatty molecules, they help protect and further preserve the hair. Hair conditioners should have lipids to protect the hair further from damage/ dryness as well as increase the flexibility/pliability of the hair strands.
These are lubricants that provide increased slip (decreased drag) between adjacent hair strands that makes detangling much easier. They reduce tangling in general by smoothing and flattening the cuticle surface, which can also add shine and gloss to the hair. They impart a soft, silky feel to tresses and some can penetrate the interior structures of the hair and act as plasticizers, improving elasticity, toughness, and suppleness.
Types of conditioners
1. Instant Conditioners
These are the most commonly used and are applied immediately after shampooing and are left for a short period of time before rinsing. They are ideal for daily use with minimally damaged hair. They are best for people with thin or oily hair .Instant hair conditioners act on your hair by conditioning it while treating its problems such as hair loss and scalp irritability
2. Cream-rinse ( creme-rinse) conditioners
This is a combination of waxes, thickeners, and a chemical group called “quats.” Which is supposed to be absorbed into the shaft, with any residue being rinsed out. However this type of conditioner can make hair feel sticky if not completely rinsed out, hence very little is needed; using a lot of crème rinse won’t hasten the absorption rate. This conditioner is great for detangling and also for heat protection, so you can use this type of conditioner AFTER your regular condition and shampoo for heat protection element
Cream-rinse conditioners usually do not contain all the moisturizers, oils and ingredients that are strongly attracted to hair as found in a deep conditioner but is still appropriate for just a wash and go situation.. Creme rinse normally contains a thinner consistency hence does not work as a deep conditioner would.
3. Deep conditioners
Deep conditioners contain lots of proteins, hydrolyzed proteins, and amino acids, which are meant to penetrate through the cuticle to be absorbed into the hair where they go ahead to add strength to the existing complex protein-based composite inside the hair shaft called Keratin. These ingredients mostly stick to the surface of the hair and act as patches over areas that have been depleted off protein by extra shampooing and unhealthy hair regimens
Deep conditioners that are well formulated contain oils, esters/fatty acids, called emollients. These ingredients help to soften the hair and add elasticity to it. This is especially important when proteins are being used, as they can make hair very hard and brittle. Deep conditioners are products that are meant to be left on the hair for about 30- 45 mins, then rinsed out. An important thing to note is that although a deep conditioner will repair the shaft, it is not permanent and must be repeated.
- Boost moisture content on the hair strands
- Boost protein in the hair strands
- Strengthen the hair strands
4. Moisturizing conditioners
Moisturizing conditioners are those that help retain and/or add moisture, to hair. These types of conditioners rely heavily upon the properties of ingredients such as humectants to retain this moisture to the hair, fatty alcohols, light oils such as aloe or jojoba since they act as sealants.Oils or polymers that form an occlusive film on the surface of the hair are also often found in these products, as they aid in retaining of moisture in the interior of the hair shaft.
- Boost moisture in the hair that reduce hair breakage
- Boost hair elasticity and pliability(flexibility)
- Reduce frizz that causes hair to tangle
5. Protein conditioners
There conditioners boost the hair with a variety of nutrients and proteins to help reconstruct and strengthen hair strands. When your hair strands are protein-packed it is an amazing way to maintain your overall hair health.
The protein conditioners:
- Temporarily rebuild damage along the hair’s cuticle
- They sometimes surface act; so when you wash your hair you remove this protein instead of ripping off the original protein in the hair
- Also contain moisture boosting element to prevent hair breakage
Difference between a regular and deep conditioner
A regular conditioner is also known as a daily, rinse out, normal or surface conditioner. A surface conditioner is not left on our hair for more than 1-5 minutes and if one is a co washer they are usually scrubbing their scalp and rinsing it out as if it were shampoo. Rinse out conditioners can only moderately adsorb ingredients on the surface of the hair. It is safe and gentle enough to be used daily or a few times a week. The rinse out conditioner is a formulation that falls in the middle of your leave in and deep conditioner’s formulations. Almost all rinse out conditioners contain humectants, silicones, and emollients that leave behind various levels of moisture behind on the hair making your hair healthier.
Deep Conditioner is often used once a week at most. It is usually thicker in consistency and requires one to leave them on for a longer period of time. Usually around the 10-30 minute. The best deep conditioners consist of ingredients that can penetrate the shaft of the hair and nourish your cuticle on a deeper level leaving your healthier and stronger Most consist of some sort of penetrating oil (Coconut, Olive or Avocado oil). All deep conditioners have a longer lasting effect compared to a regular rinse out conditioner because it is usually highly viscous and provides better results on the hair. Adding heat to the deep conditioning process/treatment also helps with the absorption rate of moisture into the shaft of hair.
I hope you found the article useful. If you want to learn more about 4C natural hair, here are a few of the most popular articles: