by Susan Walker of Earthtone Naturals
How do you know if your deep conditioner is good or not? Do you rely on price? Not necessarily as an expensive product doesn’t mean the product is good, nor does a cheap product mean it doesn’t work. So what should you look for? The answer to this question is to become ingredient savvy. Having an understanding of ingredients will help you determine, at least at first glance, if a deep conditioner is going to be effective for you or not.
Look for ingredients that attach onto to the hair
Remember we discussed the fact that conditioning agents ADSORB to the hair? ADSORBING means that the ingredients attach to the surface of the hair. This phenomenon is responsible for helping to soften the hair, temporarily repair the hair, smooth the cuticle and reduce flyways.
The main types of ingredients you’re looking for are cationic surfactants, cationic polymers, emollients, oils and silicones.
What are surfactants?
Surfactants are molecules that have water-loving and water-repelling segments. There are many uses for surfactants and they are mainly used for their cleansing ability. Surfactants can carry a positive charge, negative charge or no charge. However, when it comes to conditioning, cationic surfactants – or those with a positive charge – are extremely important. Since hair carries a relative negative charge, if you use a cationic or positively charged surfactant it will be attracted to the negatively charged section of the hair and bind to the surface of the hair. The surfactants will also form a film that smoothes the cuticle resulting in reducing static, tangling and improving softness.
Give me some examples…
What are some main cationic surfactants? Behentrimonium methosulfate, behentrimonium chloride and cetrimonium chloride. Other ingredients that adsorb are conditioning polymers like the polyquaterniums and cationic guar gum. Lastly emollients such as cetyl and cetearyl alcohol, some oils and silicones also have the ability to attach to the hair and convey benefits.
Look for ingredients that penetrate
Some ingredients can penetrate into natural hair at a temperature of about 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This corresponds to the temperature that would be reached if you applied conditioner to your hair and covered it with a shower cap.
These ingredients include hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed silk protein, coconut oil, cetrimonium bromide, panthenol, some silicones.
Many can penetrate in between the layers of the cuticle and into the cortex of the hair. Each ingredient has its own time for penetration ranging from minutes to hours. This time can also depend on the condition of the hair often with damaged hair resulting in faster penetration than hair that is not damaged.
So what are the best steps to deep condition curly hair?
1. Shampoo with a product containing negative surfactants or cleansers.
Look for these ingredients: SLS, SLES, sulfosucciantes, and betaines. These are most commonly found in your clarifying shampoos. Remember, this is just before you deep condition. It’s not recommended to use a clarifyer on a regular basis. Rinse the shampoo from the hair and then apply the conditioner with positive surfactants. This is the best method for getting the most amount of conditioner to adsorb onto the hair, while allowing the maximum penetration of key ingredients into the hair. The reason you want to shampoo the hair first is that high carries slight negative charge which is enhanced with the use of shampoo with a negative charge. Opposites attract so when hair with a negative charge encounters the positive charge of the deep conditioner there will be more adsorption onto the hair and better penetration of active ingredients. It’s important to rinse out the shampoo because if not, the negative charge of the shampoo could interfere with the ability of the conditioner to adhere to the surface of the hair.
2. Apply enough conditioner on the hair to completely cover and saturate the hair.
Put a plastic cap over your hair and then apply heat for up to 30 minutes. The time the conditioner is left on the hair combined with the application of heat increases the penetration of some ingredients into the cortex. If you don’t have a heating cap you could theoretically use a hair dryer or blow dryer or, steam or boil some towels in hot water, carefully remove them from the water with gloves, remove excess water and wrap your head (covered in the plastic cap) with the towels for the required time. The point is that the warmer your hair is, the deeper the penetration into the hair and the more effective the conditioning treatment.
3. Rinse with cool water. Cool water helps to seal the cuticle.
After you have effectively deep conditioned your hair it should feel softer, moisturized, shiny and more manageable. If your conditioning treatment results in this then you’ve definitely found a product to keep. If it doesn’t then get rid of it, read the ingredient list and invest in a product that is really going to do something for your hair.
Beware of over-conditioning!
Some women love to leave a deep conditioner on their hair for hours at a time for various reasons. While conditioning is good for the hair, too much of a good thing is not necessarily better. Conditioning for hours at a time can result in softer hair and this likely occurs because of a change in the keratin forming a different configuration than normal. Hair that is softer will be weaker and more prone to breaking if manipulated. This change in keratin is temporary and your hair will return to its stronger state but you’ll need to be careful how you handle it until it does.
This article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.