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Should I put salt in my hair conditioner?

JazzyFresh just wants to know…I’m a member of a hair care forum and recently there has been talk of putting salt in your conditioner for smoother, softer hair. I always thought salt was bad for the hair. Many have said they tried it and have had great results. How exactly is this working?

The Left Brain responds:

Salt can be drying to hair and skin when left in contact for a long period of time but there’s really no issue with using salt in a rinse off product. In fact, salt is a common thickener used in many shampoos because it is effective (and inexpensive.) It works by screening the ionic charges between surfactant molecules which allows them to pack closer together, resulting in increased viscosity. However, salt is not frequently used in conditioners because it can destabilize the oil and water emulsion system that holds the conditioner together. Having said that, I do have a theory that could account for the effect you’ve described.

Salty sensation

Even thought it’s not commonly used in this context, salt can also thicken conditioner. A touch of salt gives certain conditioner formulations a richer, creamier texture. This effect is most noticeable when starting with a thin, translucent product. Because this effect is very apparent and instantly observable, it’s easy to attribute this transformation in texture to improved conditioning. If the product feels richer and feels more cushiony as it spreads through the hair it must be better for your hair, right? Wrong. Increased viscosity doesn’t necessarily correlate to improved technical conditioning, although texture provides a powerful sensory cue that can be easily misinterpreted.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Salt does not provide any direct conditioning to hair although it can improve the rich creamy texture of conditioners. It’s easy to see how some women might assume that this better texture means the salt gives you better conditioning, but that’s not true.

Have YOU ever added salt to a conditioner? Leave a comment and share your salty experience with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Aine February 9, 2014, 2:38 pm

    This is probably way too late to the conversation, but I found this article because I was worried about using LUSH’s Big solid conditioner which contains sea salt- I have been very happy with it, but I was afraid I was damaging it in the long term, as I’m trying to keep my hair long on purpose now, instead of my usual “I should probably get another hair cut, it’s been four months since I got this ‘bob’ “. Thanks for tackling this question!

    • Randy Schueller February 9, 2014, 4:15 pm

      You’re welcome, Aine. Let us know if you have any other questions we can help with.

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