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Curly Nikki

How Do Conditioners Make Hair Shiny?

By January 27th, 202111 Comments
via The Beauty Brains

Havoctheory says…I heard that conditioners contain ingredients such as polymers with reflective qualities to coat hair strands. They reflect light and therefore makes your hair shiny. Is
this true? What kind of chemicals would also produce this effect?

The Left Brain responds: 

This question comes from our Forum where Pufff added this comment:
“Hey! I actually was just thinking about this the other day! I was
reading the ingredients on some of the old gel I have and saw it used a
polymer which surprised me cause isn’t that plastic??? The gel did make
my hair look shiny soooo who knows.”

Polymer does not equal “plastic”

It’s true that polymers are used to make plastic. But that doesn’t
mean that every polymer IS plastic. A polymer is simply any chemical
compound made up by a number of small repeating units which are called
monomers. Depending on the type of monomer (or monomers) chosen,
 polymers with different properties can be created.  For example, when
propylene monomers are strung together in a long chain the result is
polypropylene, a common plastic used to make a variety of packaging
materials.  On the other hand when acrylamide and
diallyldimethylammonium chloride monomers are combined the result is
Polyquaternium-7,  a common air-conditioning agent. These materials are
both polymers but they have very different physiochemical properties.

How do conditioners make hair shiny?

You have the right idea when you say that polymer ingredients reflect light to make hair shiny. Actually what happens is the ingredients smooth the cuticle of the hair. (Remember the cuticle is made of tiny shingle-like structures like the ones you find on your roof.) When these “shingles” become loose and start to stick up they cause light to reflect unevenly from your hair. This uneven reflection makes your hair look dull. Smoothing the cuticles allows light to reflect evenly which makes it look shiny.

Which ingredients increase shine?

The shine increasing ingredients are the ones that do the best job of
smoothing the cuticle.  Here are few types of ingredients to look for:

These are are excellent conditioners even though they receive a lot of bad press. Dimethicone is one of the best for smoothing the cuticle. Look for ingredients that end in “-cone” or check this list of Silicone Ingredients Used In Hair Care Products for more details.

Fatty conditioners
These “quats,” like stearalkonium chloride, are good at lubricating
hair as well. Look for ingredients that end in “-ium chloride.”

Mineral oil, meadow foam seed oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, are good shine enhancers. These work best from leave in products because the oils are not chemically modified to stay on your hair after

*What enhances your shine?!*
How Do Conditioners Make Hair Shiny?
CN Says:
For me, Henna’s the ultimate shine enhancer. Again, because it helps the cuticle lay flatter and adds to the ‘baby doll hair effect’… with more substantial, smoother strands that reflect light a bit better.  Also, many of my favorite conditioners including Redken’s Butter Treat including cheapy drug store conditioners like Aussie Moist and Herbal Essence’s Hello Hyrdration, when left in, leave me shining… but only when I’m lighthanded.  Use too much and my hair is ashy and dull.
Finally, that Aveda Anti-Humectant!  It leaves a shine on my hair like none other… I may revisit with my upcoming trip to humid ass Charlotte!


  • Anonymous says:

    Pro Naturals Moroccan Argan oil Conditioner did nothing for my hair or my friends. I think its just another product that doesnt deliver. Someone is going to all the hair sites hyping it up so I tried it and was dissapointed in the product.

  • JoJoFree says:

    KCCC is the only thing that tames my hair in beautiful sunny humid Florida. We Floridians are humidity experts! LOL!

  • Viviask says:

    It's because the conditioner seals the cuticles and smooths them down to create shine. if the cuticles were open your hair would look dull and frizzy. I recommend Pro Naturals Moroccan Argan Oil Conditioner, it's what I use and my hair is looking pretty shiny!

  • Anonymous says:

    My new lets jam clustard keeps my hair moisturized and shine for days. I saw mahoganycurls review it on YouTube the PJ came out so I went to Walgreens and pick it along with Shea moisture curl and style milk my leave in I love. It does not hold that much only if you pair it with eco styled gel or curls curl goddess gel that I use because of the wheat protein in eco styled dries my hair out. Curls curl goddess gel is sold at target now and is protein free.

    Megan Montgomery

  • The Curly Oenophile says:

    CN, I'm definitely with you on shine and other benefits of henna. I've only used it once along with indigo and I'm already hooked. My hair feels stronger and I definitely have great shine! This way I don't have to use anything with silicones or a lot of oils. Very informative post!

  • nola707 says:

    Nikki, I heard that you're going to be in New Orleans for the Essence Festival. Just a heads-up that the climate here is always humid, very humid. In addition, it will be fry an egg on the sidewalk hot and historically it's rainy during the days of the fest. You might want to pack the same hair products you did for Brazil. As you will no doubt we sweating here in New Orleans, the Aveda Humectant might not be the best thing to use.

  • MissT1806 says:

    Ha I was in Charlotte this past weekend with a ton of naturals rocking their hair, looking fabulous and enjoying the weather. Was really great weather and hope you have same! I'm rocking box braids right now so I was alright. For shine, coconut oil is so good to my mane

  • Anonymous says:

    The proclaim activator gel enhances my shine & leaves my hair soft.

    Brooke B.

  • moya says:

    That polymer word was in the PM gel.. I was nervous and wonder if its good for you hair or not, but get nice curls def

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes but Lawd that Aveda Anti-Humectante is sticky and HEAVY! Use sparingly, sparsely, a teenchy bit, like, for real.

  • quite says:

    you def need to pull out the aveda anti humectant before you arrive to charlotte if you want any type of definition to your hair at the end of the day!!

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