How Does Hair Conditioner Work?

Ever hear of Ed Pinaud? If you use conditioner on your hair, you can thank him, since he presented a product he called brilliantine at the 1900 Exhibition Universelle in Paris. This product was intended to soften men’s hair, beards, and mustaches, and it has advance to the hair conditioners we know and use today. (No, I didn’t make this up to amuse myself! Check out my source: Wikipedia).

Hair conditioners, according to CopperWiki, “perform as temporary filler which smooth out chinks in the cuticle layer. This keeps strands from tangling around each other as you brush and style your hair. Conditioner also develop a protective seal around hair, which forces the cuticle to lie flat – this flat surface reflects light and makes hair shine.”

So…just how does conditioner work this magic, anyway? Well, some people actually get paid to study hair at the nanometer level, in other words, one billionth of a meter at a time.

Bharat Bhushan, a mechanical engineer professor, concluded that many conditioners do not uniformly coat the hair surface, gathering in pockets at the bottom of the cuticles (source: He concluded that, “You use a conditioner basically to lubricate. You’re looking for a good feel,” and “If it does not chemically attach to hair, does not interact with hair, then it’s not doing much of protection.”

According to, conditioners fall into 6 major categories:

Moisturizers: concentrated with humectants. Humectants are compounds that attract and hold moisture into the hair. They may not necessarily contain botanicals or protein (they often do).

Reconstructors: normally contain protein. Hydrolyzed human hair keratin protein is the best source, because it contains all 19 amino acids found in the hair. Human hair keratin protein has a low molecular weight. This enables the it to penetrate the hair shaft (the cortex). The main purpose of a reconstructor is to strengthen the hair.

Acidifiers: The key word here is “acid”. Yes, is is good to put acid on your hair. When a product carries a pH of 2.5 to 3.5 it is normally termed an acidifier. This pH will close (compact) the cuticle layer of the hair. The result is shiny, bouncy hair. This pH range will adjust the beta bonds to alpha bonds (hydrogen bonds). Acidifiers do not weigh the hair. They do create shine, and add elasticity. This category is great for people with fine textured hair.

Detanglers: Most detanglers are acidifiers (see above). Most have low pH’s 2.5 to 3.5. They close the cuticle of the hair which cause tangles. Some “shield” the hair shaft with polymers (polymers are strings of “like” molecules- a chain). Some detanglers are instant, some take 1-5 minutes to work.

Thermal Protectors: safeguard the hair against heat. Using thermal protectors are one of the best things you can do to your hair if you blow dry, use curling irons, or hot rollers. They normally use heat absorbing polymers that distribute the heat, so your hair does not get heat damage (a major cause of hair damage)

Glossers: For the most part glossers are cosmetic. Most Glossers contain dimethicone or cyclomethicone ( very light oils derived from silicone). Used in small amounts they reflect light. Also, they are one of the best products to control the “frizzies.”

Oils (E.F.A.’s): If you have dry hair (esp. if you have chemicals on your hair color-perm-relaxer), you need to add oil to your hair. The scalp produces a natural oil called sebum. EFA’s are the closest thing to natural sebum (sebum contain EFA’S). EFA’s can take very dry and porous hair and transform it into soft pliable hair.

Now that we know sort of how they work, ezinearticles offers these tips on how to choose and use a conditioner:

1. Look for rich, moisturizing conditioner if hair tends to get extra dry or frizzy.

2. If the hair is limp or fine, use a volumizing conditioner.

3. Healthy and shiny hair needs only a conditioner made for normal hair.

4. Use leave-on conditioners at least once a week. Use it in the shower and rinse immediately if the hair is fine but for drier hair, leave it longer.

5. If a person has baby-fine hair then too much conditioner will weigh it down. Test the hair at night to see what amount of conditioner works best. Fine hair can be nice and shiny, but too much conditioner makes it look oily, damp or weighted down.

6. Be sure to rinse the hair well. It seems that cooler rinse water works better as it does not leave the scalp feeling heavy or irritated and this has been proven from a lot of hair experts too.

Got it? Now go forth and use some of these tidbits to impress your friends with your endless array of knowledge.


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