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Is fabric softener a good hair conditioner?

Ling loves to learn…I was reading this post about replacing hair conditioner with fabric softener. The blogger’s mother found this “idea” through Woman’s World magazine.  This sounds really dangerous….. Could the magazine be sued for liability issues? But most importantly, is this a bad idea?

The Beauty Brains respond: 

It amazes me that people are scared to death of the so called “toxic ingredients” in cosmetics (which are designed to be used on skin) but they have no problem applying a household laundry product to their body (which is NOT designed to be used directly on hair and skin.) There are two main reasons why this is a bad idea:

Putting laundry products directly on your skin is not safe

Despite what  people may tell you, cosmetics ARE regulated to ensure they are safe.  These products are  formulated and tested to ensure they are safe for direct, prolonged contact with skin. Not surprisingly the laws that govern fabric softeners are different than the ones that control cosmetics. That’s not to say that fabric softeners are necessarily dangerous but they contain ingredients that aren’t designed to be directly applied to skin. Here are three examples:

  • The conditioning ingredients themselves may be more aggressive and therefore more irritating.
  • The colorants don’t have to be approved for use in cosmetics and therefore may be unsafe.
  • The co-solvents used (which would be rinsed away in the laundry process) may dry skin or have other undesirable side effects.

Fabric softener won’t work as well as conditioner

Even if safety wasn’t an issue, why would you want to do this? Fabric softeners are formulated to soften fabric where as hair conditioners are designed to detangle, smooth, and increase shine. The two products are similar but that doesn’t mean they are interchangeable. Here are a few examples of characteristics that you want from a conditioner that a fabric softener is NOT optimized to deliver.  

  • Nice hair feel: Fabric softening ingredients have a stronger charge than many hair conditioners so they may stick to fabric to provide long-lasting softness. This is a good thing when it comes to your clothes which you wash rather infrequently. However in the case of your hair, repeated frequent use of fabric softer could result in horrific buildup. Also, the types of quats (quaternary ammonium compounds) used in hair conditioners are fine-tuned to deliver the best aesthetic experience possible. The ingredients that are good at softening fabric may leave hair feeling heavy and limp with a notable waxy coating.
  • Increased shine: A good conditioner will include some sort of agent to add shine to your hair, for example a silicone. You will not find this in a fabric softener since “shine” is typically not desirable of clothing.
  • Pleasant scent: Fabric softeners are heavily fragranced you may find yourself choking on the scent of Downey or Snuggle compared to your typical hair care product.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

While fabric softener may function as a hair conditioner why would you bother when you’re risking excessive buildup, poor performance, and skin irritation or worse? As we noted in our recent post about using lip gloss as eye shadow, there’s a lot of bad beauty advice out there. Fortunately the Muse was savvy enough to NOT recommend using this do-it-yourself product.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Eileen April 4, 2014, 10:31 am

    It’s amazing what some people will consider doing for the sake of saving a bit of money, and that is how these ideas are usually promoted. Clothing fabric softener is certainly much cheaper than a hair conditioner but they are intended for entirely different uses. It is beyond me how a person could reasonably think one product could substitute for another–unless they read about it in a print publication, saw it in a video (i.e. Refinery 29’s irresponsible use lip gloss as eyeshadow video), heard about it through the proverbial grapevine, etc. I know that the consumer bears the ultimate responsibility for being well educated and informed, but the media also has a responsibility to do their due diligence before publishing such potentially harmful ideas. I’ll step off my soap box now. Oh, wait! Is it safe to stand on a soap box in the first place? LOL

    • admin April 4, 2014, 2:14 pm

      Stand on a box of detergent bars instead, it’s less drying to your skin.

  • Ling April 4, 2014, 3:44 pm

    @ the beauty brains: Thanks for the answer. Not that I wanted to do it, but I wanted to confirm my suspicions.

    @Eileen: yeah, I agree about the media. I can’t believe that a MAGAZINE published this!!!!! They should be held accountable for this.

  • Anna January 15, 2015, 4:35 pm

    Thank you for this – I would not go in that direction (fabric softener as hair conditioner) but I sometimes use hair conditioners I don’t like as fabric softeners, especially on fibres like silk or wool, in hand wash. I wonder what’s your take on that? I hate to see good hair conditioner that doesn’t work for me get completely wasted…

    • Randy Schueller January 16, 2015, 6:53 am

      Hair conditioners and fabric conditioners do have some ingredients in common so I suppose this could work. It depends on what’s in the formula you’re using. Some hair conditioners contain silicones that can build up on fabric but if you’re seeing good results I guess it’s fine.

      • Anna January 18, 2015, 2:36 am

        No silicones 🙂 thank you, Randy.

    • Chelsea January 2, 2016, 2:01 pm

      I use conditioner I don’t like as shaving cream until it’s gone. I’ve actually come to prefer it to traditional shaving creams.

      Also, my conditioner is like $6 and it lasts about a month. My fabric softener is closer to ten and it never lasts an entire month. I think even the cheapest fabric softener is more expensive than the cheapest conditioner.

  • vaneeta ingram January 23, 2015, 12:11 pm

    Have you really researched the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners? Synthetic hair wigs extention are made of plastics and animal hair (wool) anyway human hair is a fiber much like your clothes. If you know what you are doing then yes it can be used as a hair conditioner. Do your own reasearch!!!!!

  • Karen February 16, 2016, 11:55 am

    My mom used fabric softener in my hair when I was a child back in the 60’s. It made my hair super soft and it’s great on de-tangling. I never had a bad reaction from it nor did it damage my hair.

  • Hannah February 23, 2016, 7:00 pm

    I’ve used fabric softener in my hair before. I’m sure it could potentially be dangerous considering it’s not necessarily meant for direct contact with skin. But I would like to point out that we do actually touch it on a regular basis. If we wash our clothes and use it, that soft feeling is the coating on the clothing from the softener which then touches our skin. Obviously it’s very diluted, though. When I used it, I never had any bad reactions and my hair was extra soft and very manageable. I didn’t use it to save money, I was trying to find something to make my hair more manageable. Anywhos, if you’re willing to take a risk then try it, but realize, since everyone is different, you may not like the results.

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