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Hair conditioning myths Episode 08

In our last episode we explained how hair conditioners work. This week Perry and I talk about the different types of conditioners and bust some conditioning myths. Plus – more fascinating personal anecdotes about Perry’s family!

Show notes

Rinse off vs Leave on

Many natural oils and other simple ingredients can do a good job of conditioning when left on your hair. But rinse off conditioners need special ingredients that are designed to stick to hair after rinsing.

Beware of marketing spin

Deep conditioners, hair masks, 3 minute miracles, Beauty Balms, are all essentially the same thing. BTW rinse off conditioners were originally called “cream rinse” because they were emulsions.

Types of conditioners

Deep conditioners can be better for your hair if they contain coconut oil, one of the few ingredients that actually penetrates hair to protect it from the inside. But the product needs a LOT of coconut oil to make a difference. Beware of regular conditioners with just a drop of coconut oil (if it’s not the first or second ingredient, forget about it.)

Protein conditioners are nothing really special. They are typically “classic” conditioners with a jacked up level of protein. Proteins are not essential ingredients in conditioners. (They can be chemically modified to stick to hair but they are not as effective as quats and silicones.)

Are 2-in-1 shampoos the same as conditioners? NO! Essentially, it is 2 ingredients added to a regular shampoo, a silicone and a suspending agent. The silicone is usually an ingredient called Dimethicone and it is what makes the formula conditioning. The suspending agent is Glycol Distearate and it is what keeps the silicone from separating out of the formula. The way it works is this when the bottle of shampoo is sitting on the shelf, the suspending agent is able to hold the silicone in the formula. But when you put the shampoo on your head and mix it with water, the suspending agent does not work so well. The silicone separates out, stays behind on your hair where it can provide conditioning. That’s the theory anyway and it actually works. However when creating 2 in 1 products the formulator is always faced with trade-offs: It won’t clean as good as the best shampoo and it won’t smooth hair as well as the best conditioner. But it does do a little bit of both in a single product which maybe worthwhile.

Myth 1: Conditioner works better the longer you leave it on

False because 90% of the benefit from standard conditioners come from coating the surface of the hair. That’s not a bad thing – in fact, the best thing you can do for hair is to smooth and protect the cuticle (that shingle-like layer that covers your hair.) Yes, you have to take the time to work the product through your hair to make sure it’s evenly distributed (especially if you have a lot of hair.) But once the conditioner has had a chance to spread through your hair, leaving it on longer doesn’t make it do anything better. This part is very important – YOU HAVE TO WORK THE CONDITIONER EVENLY THROUGH YOUR HAIR! That process may take you a few minutes. But once you’ve done that part well, you can rinse.

Myth 2: Conditioner “suffocates” hair

False. Even if you didn’t wash all the silicone out, we’ve never seen any data that indicates that a small amount of silicone residue acts as a “barrier” between hair shaft and moisture. On average, your hair contains about 8 to 14% water by weight but it will equilibrate to the ambient humidity. In other words, it will pick up moisture when it’s very humid and it will lose moisture when it’s very dry. Slight silicone residue won’t substantially change that. Now, if you slather on a heavy layer of a silicone hair treatment product, that’s a different story! But either way remember that hair is not alive and doesn’t need to breathe!

Myth 3: Silicone coats hair with “plastic” or wax

False. Typically the Pantene brand is associated with this claim. In reality, Pantene Shampoos and Conditioners do not contain wax. Although Pantene has unique and proprietary ingredients based on recent technological advances, the classes of ingredients (silicones, fatty alcohols, cationic polymers and cationic surfactants) are used consistently across the hair care industry.

Pantene Shampoo and Conditioners do leave behind conditioning ingredients (such as coacervate conditioning complexes, liquid crystals, and terminal amino silicones) for healthy hair benefits such as moisturization, damage protection and shine. Pantene shampoos and conditioners are designed to work together, depositing conditioning ingredients that will wash out of the hair with the next shampoo. When women feel they have build-up from their shampoos and conditioners, it is often a sign that the products they are using are too heavy for their hair, and they may be more satisfied with a lower conditioning version.
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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • celeste October 29, 2015, 12:48 am

    Is sitting under the dryer for 20 mins with the plastic cap for deep conditioning a myth? I’ve heard the the heat swell the shaft making the absorption of the conditioner more effective. Do I need to do that for deep conditioning my porous fine afro hair?

    • Randy Schueller October 29, 2015, 6:51 am

      There is no evidence that sitting under the dryer for 20 minutes provides any additional conditioning.

      • Celeste November 3, 2015, 4:20 pm

        Thank you so much for the reply.
        What are the clues to over conditioned hair? I am of the mind that our hair, afro cottony hair, can’t be over conditioned. So I plan to start deep conditioning with coconut oil on dry hair overnight twice a week, so if it is possible to over condition please let me know.

        • Randy Schueller November 4, 2015, 8:50 am

          Hey Celeste. Over conditioning can feel different to different people. Sometimes it’s a greasy feeling or look. Other times it’s a heavy, weighed down look or feel. It can even be the feel of build up over time. And, yes, it’s true that afro hair needs a lot of conditioning and is harder to over-condition.

  • Sarah July 8, 2017, 11:40 am

    Hi guys. Thanks for the helpful info.

    So it sounds like as far as conditioning my hair, I’d be better off with coconut oil rather than a hair mask to help my hair (which I find to be just a pain because it’s hard to get out, despite having thick/curly hair).

    As far as frizz though — would a hair mask or other leave-in conditioning treatment really help? I’ve been trying to embrace natural hair but the humidity is KILLER.

    • Randy Schueller July 10, 2017, 7:07 am

      You’ll have to experiment to find a product that’s right for your hair. Certainly conditioning and styling treatments can fight frizz to some degree but many people find that they weigh down the hair too much.

  • Lisa April 30, 2018, 2:51 pm

    Hi, I’ve been avoiding silicones because I read that they don’t wash out when you are using a sulfate-free shampoo or co-wash. Is that a myth too?
    My reason for avoiding sulfates was that I use a gentle cleanser for my face, so I guessed it would also be better for my scalp.

    • Perry Romanowski June 15, 2019, 12:10 pm

      Yes, that is a myth. Sulfate-free shampoos can remove silicones. Sulfate free are not necessarily better.

  • Lindsey Wright October 21, 2018, 6:42 pm

    Is hot water drying to hair?

  • Gemma Williams October 9, 2019, 9:07 am

    What is the best order for doing deep conditioning and coconut oil masks? I assume coconut oil first, mask after? What about Olaplex no.3, is it best to avoid using with coconut oil during the same washing session?

    Thanks! Huge fan of the blog 🙂

    • Perry Romanowski October 9, 2019, 3:07 pm

      Yeah, coconut oil treatment would go first since it penetrates hair. Probably avoid coconut oil prior to Olaplex.