Do conditioners cause your hair to fall out?

Lunatique asks…During a discussion on conditioners etc, a friend of mine told me that I shouldn’t use conditioner on daily basis because I would eventually lose my hair. That one bothered me for a while (in the summer I wash my hair every day, and if I don’t use conditioner they are totally untamable), so I decided to ask my hairdresser which I trust. To my surprise, she agreed, but told me not to use it daily near the roots, because the emollients in it would soften the hair follicle and it wouldn’t be able to hold the hair anymore, thus making my hair fall. So…am I really causing that much damage on my hair, or is it just another beauty myth?

The Right Brain responds:

We thought we’d heard all the hair care myths but this was a new one to us. We’re highly skeptical that this could be true given that conditioner ingredients coat the hair shaft and that they generally are too large to penetrate into the follicle. Plus, we’ve never seen any data to suggest that emollients “soften” the follicle as your hair dresser suggested. We tried to be as thorough as possible and did a literature search but we could not find definitive proof that conditioners don’t cause your hair to fall out. But, we did find a study showing that shampoos with conditioning agents do not impact “hair fall.” Let’s take a look…

Hair fall study

We found this journal article (“Absence of effects of dimethicone- and non-dimethicone-containing shampoos on daily hair loss rates”) which was published in 1991 the the journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. The study, conducted by researchers for Proctor and Gamble, involved 400 women in Thailand. They had women collect lost hairs ( in drains, combs, brushes, pillows, etc) for 2 weeks to establish a baseline of what normal hair loss was for them. (Most people will lose between 30 and 180 hairs a day.) Then they divided the women into 3 groups and on a blind basis gave them one of three shampoos: A regular non-conditioning shampoo, a silicone containing shampoo, or a 2-in-1 type shampoo with silicone.

Results and Discussion

Results showed that regardless of how much conditioning the shampoo provided, it did not impact hair fall rates. We recognize that this test was done on shampoos, not conditioners as asked in the question. But, it is reasonable to assume that this data could be extrapolated to conditioners for two reason: One, the testing was done with shampoos containing dimethicone which is one of the most popular ingredients used in conditioners. Two, one of the cells tested a two-in-one shampoo which typically contains cationic guar, which is representative of the kind of positively charged (or cationic) ingredients often used in conditioners. Therefore, we’d expect these results to be similar for conditioners. (If anyone finds a more recent study that contradicts our assumption, please let us know.)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Conditioner helps keep your hair looking and feeling healthy. We could find no data suggesting conditioners cause your hair to fall out. If this really was an issue, the entire hair care industry would be affected and you can be sure that the large cosmetic companies would be racing to create the first “non-hair fall” conditioner because that would give them a competitive advantage.