I would like to know if spending more money on conditioners is worth it for increasing the strength of your hair. As a science teacher I would like to be able to explain why conditioners increase the strength of hair, and why the more expensive ones should work better!
The Right Brain’s headstrong reply:
Kathy, from one science professional to another, we can tell you that expensive does NOT always mean better when it comes to hair and skin care products. But to explain further, we’ll have to fill you in on how conditioners work.
How do conditioners strengthen hair?
The outer layer of the hair consists of overlapping scales called cuticles. These cuticle are like the shingles on the roof of your house – they protect what’s beneath it. As your hair is damaged from washing and drying and combing and brushing and perming and coloring, the cuticle starts to wear away. When this happens your hair is broken more easily.
Conditioners strengthen hair two ways. The most important thing they do is to smooth the cuticle and help keep it in place. The “strengthening” effect can be shown by measuring combing force.
The other effect is internal. Some material, like panthenol, penetrate into the cortex, the middle part of the hair. By interacting with the proteins in the cortex, these conditioners can improve the tensile strength of hair. This type of strength is measured with an instrument that pulls on individual hair fibers (after they’ve been removed from your head, of course!) and measures how much force it takes for the hair to break. If you want to learn more, you can read our post on measuring hair breakage.
Are expensive conditioners better?
So do expensive conditioners strengthen hair better than cheap ones? Not necessarily. The very, very cheap conditioners typically rely on one or two conditioning agents to do the job. And they usually can’t afford to use silicones, which are among the most effective smoothing agents. So, chances are, if you’re only spending a buck or two on your conditioner, you’re not getting the best product.
But once you get up to the $4 or $5 conditioners, the differences in strengthening are less significant. For example, Pantene and Tresemme are among the best conditioners we’ve ever tested and they’re certainly not that expensive. Most mid or high priced conditioners will do a pretty good job of lubricating your hair to prevent breakage.
Can a conditioner be TOO expensive?
What about the conditioners that are $30 per bottle? They use the same basic types of ingredients as products that are $10 or less. They may cost 3 times more but they certainly don’t strengthen your hair 3 times more! But as we always say, you should buy what you like and what you can afford. If you really like the way Frederic Fekkai’s Overnight Hair Repair makes your hair feel, and you can afford the $195 per bottle then go for it. (Yes that’s right – it’s a $200 conditioner! Click the link if you don’t believe us!) But don’t buy it just because you think that it will make your hair stronger than another less expensive brand.
The Beauty Brains bottom line
Picking the right conditioner is a very personal thing. There are literally thousands of combinations of ingredients out there and it’s tough to know which one is best for you. So talk to your friends who have similar hair types. Or just experiment until you find something that feels good. But DON’T be tricked into spending more money than you want to.