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Curly Nikki

What are Cationics? Why Do They Stick to Hair?

By January 27th, 20215 Comments
What are Cationics? Why Do They Stick to Hair?

 via TheBeautyBrains

Ximenia asks..I read that cationic surfactants
stick very close to the hair because of their charge. So they can’t be
rinsed off with water. Which shampoo do I have to use to avoid a build
up? Is a build up possible at all? Can I use soap for this, too?

The Left Brain responds:

“Cationic” is a chemist’s way of describing a surfactant that has a
positive charge. Many, but not all, cationics have a chemical name that
ends in an “-ium” (like Polyquaternium-7.) There are also anionic
(negatively charged) and non-ionic (non-charged) surfactants.

How do cationics condition hair?

Damaged hair has a negative charge and opposites attract so cationics
make good conditioners because they will stick to the damaged spots of
hair. This charge interaction helps them deposit on hair during rinsing
but the attraction is not like glue which would make them hard to
remove. It’s more like the static electrical stickiness a balloon has
after you rub it on a sweater. The attractive force is relatively easy
to over come which means that washing with almost any regular shampoo
will remove them. If you find that your regular shampoo feels like it’s
leaving something behind, that’s because most shampoos these days have
some conditioning agents built in. In that case, use a clarifying
shampoo and you should be just fine.

By the way, as a rule of thumb you should avoid using soap on hair
(especially if you have hard water) because the soap can react with the
mineral ions to form a residue that leaves your hair feeling raspy and
looking dull.

CN Says:
 The quick roundup of cationics-

Alkyl-quaternized ammonium salts:
  • Stearalkonium chloride
  • Cetrimonium chloride
  • Cetrimonium bromide
  • Behentrimonium methosulfate
  • Behentrimonium chloride
  • Benzalkonium chloride
  • Cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride
  • Cocotrimonium chloride
  • Dicetyldimonium chloride
  • Dicocodimonium chloride
  • Hydrogenated Palm Trimethylammonium chloride
  • Lauryltrimonium chloride
  • Quaternium-15
  • Quaternium-22
Alkyl amines or amine salts:
  • Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine (lactate, citrate, propionate)
  • Isostearamidopropyl dimethylamine
  • Isostearamidopropyl morpholine
  • Wheatgermamidopropyl dimethylamine
  • Behenamidopropyl dimethylamine
For more info, check out THIS ARTICLE and THIS ONE too!  

Personally, I seek out Behentrimonium methosulfate.  It seems that any conditioner that contains that ingredient high up on the list (within the first five listed), leaves my hair more easily detangled and soft, even after rinsing the product.
Do you seek out or avoid cationics?


  • Brooke B. says:

    I tend to look for cationics because I feel that they give extra slip, sheen & softness to the hair

  • Gwenn4ya says:

    I have to read up more on this because I'm finding myself reading this article twice. I have heard mention of it before but I didn't understand. Thanks for the article!

  • Anonymous says:

    I did not know what cationics were but I see it in my ingredients they really help my damaged hair a lot easy detangling.

    Megan Montgomery

  • Erika A. says:

    Thanks for the article. I don't seek out cationics because I didn't know what they were or their purpose. Very informative!

  • Annie L. says:

    I used to with BTMS in KCKT. But even after diluting it with water all of the slip left a sticky feeling and coated my hair drying it out. I wash with only water now so cutting back on a lot of ingredients is important because I don't have the agents in shampoo/condish to remove product. I am low-to-no tangle and also find that my natural slip, once I nurtured it, made up for what I got from conditioners.

    "Damaged hair has a negative charge and opposites attract so cationics make good conditioners because they will stick to the damaged spots of hair"

    Does this mean that cations won't bind to healthy/positively charged hair? Tks for the article.

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