Now this is just me; but in my opinion nothing is as important as a step in hair care regimens that many naturals rush through. No, it’s not detangling (although that is uber important) and it’s not necessarily moisturizing the hair (also important). It’s the step that makes a lot of those other aspects of your regimen a lot easier.
I find it interesting that oftentimes women purchase cheap, inferior quality conditioners that do nothing good for their hair, and then wonder why their curls and coils feel dry, why their hair looks dull and why their hair is breaking. I will say that more expensive conditioners don’t necessarily work “better”. The point is that this is one product that you want to really invest in if necessary, for your hair to look and feel its best.
There are a few things conditioners should do without compromise.
Conditioners are meant to do a lot:
- Restore lost moisture
- Seal the cuticle
- Provide emollients and oils
- Soften the hair
- Make it easier to comb
- Improve manageability
- Strengthen the hair
How Conditioners Work
Conditioners basically work on the outside of the hair. They usually contain ingredients that don’t penetrate into the hair but sit on the surface of the hair. And depending on which ingredients are used in the conditioner, those ingredients can be removed easily or not. With hair that is more damaged or chemically treated, conditioning ingredients will cling to hair more than they will on natural hair or healthier strands.
So why DO we use conditioners? A few months ago I was speaking to a cosmetic chemist about various hair care ingredients. We were discussing dry, brittle hair and she mentioned that when people speak about wanting their hair to be softer, they really need CONDITIONING.
It turns out that conditioning is a huge factor in achieving soft hair. Soft is often more flexible and easily combed and manipulated. Often hair that is softer and moisturized experiences less breakage than dry brittle hair. Conditioning also helps water stay in the cortex of the hair which is important for the hair to remain moisturized. If the conditioner is rinsed off some conditioning agents do remain on the hair to keep the hair feeling soft.
Conditioners for Natural Hair
Natural hair requires adequate conditioning regularly and we need to invest in a high quality (and not necessarily a high cost) conditioner. The main types of conditioner agents used in products for curly hair are cationic surfactants, fatty alcohols and polymers. They work to improve hair softness and manageability, enhance shine and seal the cuticle. You may also find silicones, emollients and oils that may either penetrate into the hair shaft or add “slip” to the hair; proteins, vitamins and botanicals that improve the look and feel of the hair.
A great conditioner should leave your hair feeling soft, detangled and moisturized. That feeling should remain well after the conditioner is washed off and while the hair is styled.
Conditioners formulated for naturally curly hair will typically contain emollients and oils in a fairly high amount. This is because curly and coily hair tends to be drier than other hair types. Now when it comes to conditioners, there are so many types available, and each one has its specific attributes and benefits to the hair. For the purpose of this discussion I’ll refer to moisturizing conditioners since this is the type of conditioner most curlies will be using.
Moisturizing conditioners can increase the moisture content of the hair, improve elasticity and manageability. When we talk about your hair needing extra moisture that doesn’t mean oil. Hydration is a main characteristic of water so increasing water really means replenishing water in the hair and preventing or minimizing it’s escape into the surrounding environment. So anything that is going to help improve water retention in the hair is ideal for dry textured hair. There are many ingredients that will help and emollients and oils are among them.
There are several opinions about which oils are best for hair and it’s really up to you which oils will work best for YOUR hair. However, there are some oils that seem to work better than others. Some oils with low molecular weights or shorter fatty acid chains can penetrate the hair cuticle. One of these oils is coconut oil.Olive oil has also been shown to penetrate. Other oils may be too long to penetrate into the cuticle, and sit on top of the hair coating it increasing slip, improving softness and manageability, and adding shine to the hair. Additionally, using oils in conditioners can help nourish the scalp. All of these benefits can remain even when the conditioner is rinsed from the hair.
For dry hair, oils are important for another reason. Porosity is a key factor in the ability of your hair to maintain moisture. The more porous your hair is the more water it can absorb. Seems like a great thing but there is a flip side to this – it will lose a lot of moisture over time as well. Overly porous hair can be corrected with specific steps. Additionally, conditioners that contain oils can help seal moisture into the hair strand better than those without and this is important for help to keep moisture in the hair.
So what are some great oils for hair? The two oils that are commonly used are coconut oil and Shea butter. Coconut oil is fantastic and there is a lot of science behind its benefits to the hair. Other oils that are beneficial include jojoba, avocado, macadamia nut, olive oil, etc.
The key to using conditioners with oils is really knowing why they are in the product and how they will benefit your hair. They are there to improve the condition of your hair, not make it worse.