Hair Liberty’s Nicole Harmon, our Resident Curl Chemist, is answering your most urgent hair questions. Got one for her? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org using “Hair Liberty” in the subject line and she may answer your question right here on the blog.
What is deep conditioning?
“Deep Conditioning” is often suggested as a remedy for dry or damaged hair. The goal of deep conditioning is to strengthen damaged hair and prevent breakage. To deep condition you must use a conditioner that contains ingredients that can absorb into the hair strand. Examples of penetrating ingredients include hydrolyzed protein, amino acids, cetrimonium bromide, panthenol and some silicones.
Does deep conditioning require heat?
No, it’s a common myth that deep conditioning requires heat. If a conditioner works with heat, its instructions will tell you to apply heat for a specific amount of time. Heat will only increase the effect of a conditioner if it has been formulated with penetrating ingredients. Conditioners that require heat don’t work better than conditioners that tell you to apply and rinse after a few minutes. It all depends on the ingredients.
I like sitting under the dryer. Is there any harm?
Yes, sitting under a bonnet dryer for long periods of time with conditioner in your hair can cause harm. The instructions on your conditioner tell you the safest way to use the product. Studies show that preservatives and other chemicals in cosmetic products can cause eczema and a type of alopecia called telogen effluvium.
We’re used to thinking of eczema as a skin condition that runs in families, but frequent exposure to cosmetic chemicals can cause a type of eczema called “acute contact dermatitis”. Symptoms of acute contact dermatitis include itching, bumps, tenderness, and dry patches. Studies show that acute contact dermatitis on the scalp leads to a form of short-term alopecia called telogen effluvium. The condition causes excess hair shedding for up to 6 months.
When you leave a conditioner on longer than the recommend time you may be increasing your exposure to cosmetic chemicals that have been linked to eczema, alopecia, and more serious health problems like cancer. Adding heat increases your exposure even more.
Can I sit under the dryer if I only use natural/organic products?
It will always be safest to follow the instructions on your conditioner. Just because a product is labeled “natural” or “organic” doesn’t mean it’s safer than anything else. Some natural ingredients cause more allergy problems than synthetic ingredients. There are also loopholes in FDA guidelines that allow manufacturers to omit certain ingredients from the label. The manufacturer is the only one who knows exactly what’s in the bottle and whether it’s safe or not to use the product with heat.
I think I have contact dermatitis on my scalp and excess shedding. What do I do now?
1) Make a decision today to follow the instructions on your products. Don’t leave in rinse-off products and don’t let rinse-off products sit on your scalp for long periods of time.
2) Visit a Dermatologist or Trichologist for a scalp evaluation if possible.
3) Don’t scratch your scalp when it itches. Micro-cuts on the scalp can lead to bacterial infections.
4) Be patient. Itching, bumps, and the other symptoms of acute contact dermatitis usually go away within 4 weeks after the exposure stops. Excess shedding due to telogen effluvium should stop within 6 months.
5) For extra softness and easier detangling when you wash your hair, do a pre-shampoo oil treatment each week.
AetnaInteliHealth. Health A to Z: Eczema. Available at http://intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/9339/9501.html.
Antonella Tosti; Bianca Maria Piraccini; Dominique J. J. van Neste. Telogen Effluvium After Allergic Contact Dermatitis of the Scalp. Arch Dermatol. 2001;137(2):187-190.
CW Hughes, E. Telogen Effluvium. Medscape Reference. Available at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1071566-overview.
Environmental Working Group. 2008. Study: Almost Half Of All ‘Natural’ Personal Care Products Contain Known Carcinogen. Available at http://ewg.org/node/26160.
Flyvholm MA, Menné T. Allergic contact dermatitis from formaldehyde. A case study focusing on sources of formaldehyde exposure. Contact Dermatitis. 1992 Jul;27(1):27-36.
Toribo, J., et al. “Allergic Contact Dermatitis In A Girl Due To Several Cosmetics Containing Diazolidinyl-Urea Or Imidazolidinyl-Urea.” Contact Dermatitis (01051873) 63.1 (2010): 49-50.
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I had a similar problem with my own hair and the only way to fix it was to cut my hair. Although it was hard, I do not regret cutting my hair because now its longer and healthy. If you are still apprehensive about cutting your locks, I would let your hair grow to your desired length and then cut your hair. Between the time you grow your hair out and cut it, wear your hair is protective styles so people will not notice the damage. I wore braids, buns, and twist.
Hope that helps!
what is the best way to handle heat damaged natural hair? Unfortunately, I went to a professional hair stylist for about 4 months faithfully(only getting straightened every 3 weeks) and she used the flat iron that goes in the "stove"..the last time I had my hair flat ironed was November 11,2011….to this date with me only wearing my hair in its natural state…I still have BONE STRAIGHT hair…I deep condition weekly hoping for my hair to revert. At this point I have given up and I am not cutting my hair as it is below shoulder length. It literally looks like I have a perm when it is wet with about 3-4 inches of new growth. Can you suggest anything that could help me?
thank you for all the info, especially on the contact dermatitis! i think that's probably what was happening to me 2 summers ago because I kept laving in this one conditioner and not rinsing out, and then a lot of my hair came out everyday. Then it kind of started to stop and I switched to CG ans my hair's fine now but right now kinda dry, so I'll definitely try some deep conditioning, but using the products right 🙂
Well, this makes me never want to deep condition again. I have eczema and I never thought that my conditioning treatments were making the condition worse.
Here's the description of the article in the email newsletter: "Find out what deep conditioning can do for your hair, how often to do it and what the best method and regimen is."
Instead of any of that helpful information, it's a short and shallow blurb on how heat can be bad if you have crappy ingredients in your deep conditioner.
THANK YOU NICOLE!!!! Your blog is one I recommend when women ask about my hair. You do the research & post references instead of just putting crazy information out there or the tired old disclaimer 'this is what works for MY hair'! YouTubers & their followers do too much & it is just overkill. It is just hair, as a human – it will grow (gasp!), so keep it clean, moisturized & take care of it – a very simple concept.
Deep conditioning overnight (what??), adding five oils to a conditioner (what??) – just a couple of examples of the crazy stuff that is passed from one UTuber to another, one blogger to another with no chemist-R&D to back it up. If anyone refutes these crazy theories, there is ignorant dissension as seen in Michelle & Anonymous@1:14's posts above.
I understand if people want to know how something works, I understand if people are having difficulty with something so search for alternatives, but I never understand why people will jump off something that has caused them no problems.
An experiment could be done on every head in the world except yours and show one thing and you know what, yours might be the anomaly! Stop fretting too much. If you're happy with your hair growth and health, keep doing what you're doing ladies!
I respectively disagree re: the heat issue. I've done both ways and don't get the same results.
Anyway, @Tamika, thanks for the tip on the oils. I've tried a few but I'm thinking my scalp issue may be more internal…working on that!
@Michelle – Peppermint, tea tree, and rosemary essential oils all help with itchy or dry scalp. Mix with a carrier oil and apply! Though I realize you can't exactly do that right after henna…
Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is wonderful, let alone the content!
@Nicole – Hair Liberty 9:35PM:
I had my hair analyzed at LiveCurlyLiveFree and they recommended that I add a little baking soda to my conditioner because my hair has low porosity. This works great for me! My hair now absorbs the conditioner and is moist, soft and curly.
I don't think that you should make a general statement about baking soda.
@Anon 9:44 – Those are easy to find 🙂 The majority of the "Deep Conditioners" sold at CurlMart.com, the "Deep Conditioners" sold at SallyBeauty.com, and the "Damage Repairing Hair Conditioners" at Folica.com do not require heat.
Thank you Nicole. What about deep conditioners that don't require heat?
Anon 2:22p – Conditioners with instructions that suggest heat:
Aphogee Two Step Protein Treatment
Carol's Daughter Monoi Repairing Hair Mask
Curl Junkie Repair Me Reconstructive Hair Treatment
CURLS Curl Ecstasy Hair Tea Deep Conditioner
Jessicurl Deep Treatment
Karen's Body Beautiful Luscious Locks
Kenra Moisturizing Conditioner
KeraCare Humecto Conditioner
L'Oreal Nature's Therapy Mega Moisture Nurturing Creme
Motions Professional CPR Treatment Conditioner
Organic Root Stimulator Hair Mayonnaise
Ouidad Deep Treatment Intensive Conditioner
Manufacturers usually create formulas that don't require heat because it's inconvenient for the customer to get out of the shower.
@Michelle@RadiantBrownBeauty: Heat is not required for a treatment to penetrate the hair shaft. When it comes to products, your hair and skin work in similar ways. You don't need heat for moisturizers or eye creams to penetrate your skin and you don't need heat for conditioner to penetrate your hair.
@Cia – I would not say that the steamer is a waste of time. I'll have to do more research before I can tell you the facts. I will say that the steamer is a waste of money if you're not taking basic hair care steps like washing weekly and wearing low-manipulation styles.
@ebone – Thank you!
@Anon 5:37p – Baking soda is not good for your hair. Especially if your goal is to condition it. Check back for next week's Q&A topic 🙂
how about when you use brahmi, amla, and castor oil? I baggy overnight 1x week with those things, and my hair looks great – no shedding here.
deep conditioning is essential to keep my hair moisturized – and believe me it is a pain in the butt to do, but my hair is like a sponge – it sucks up everything i put into it, and asks for more!
@ Michelle@Radiant Brown Beauty: treatment can go deep and penetrate the hair shaft without heat if you add a little baking soda to the treatment to make it alkaline, so that it will raise the cuticle and "go deep".
I'm doin a deep condition right now. I left it in overnight cuz it really needed it and glad I came across this artical
Great post… so how does this line up with the huetiful steamer? Is that now a waste of time?
Great points here but in order for a treatment to go "deep", the hair shaft needs to be penetrated. I don't believe that can be accomplished without heat. At best, the product will sit on top of the hair shaft. Heat is used to swell open the hair shaft in turn allowing the product to do its work.
Also with ref. to itching, while I do agree that it's not good to scratch the scalp too much, that's easier said than done. When your scalp feels like it's on fire, rubbing with the balls of your fingers just won't do. What would you suggest to satisfy the itch? I notice I only get itching when I do a henna. No rash or anything, just an intense itch which fades by day 2. Hence, I can no longer do my beloved henna more than once a month or even longer.
WOW. I am even more confused. Any suggestions for silicone free deep conditioners and conditioners that are safe for use with heat? I currently use giovanni deep mositure or aubrey organics for everything…