A hair conditioner is a product used to improve the feel, appearance, and manageability of hair. Its main purpose is to reduce hair friction allowing for easier brushing or combing. Other claimed benefits include:
- improved shine
- reduced frizz and fly aways
- strengthening/reduced breakage
- a reduction in split-ends
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Conditioners are available in a wide variety of forms including gels, creams as well as thin lotions and sprays. Hair conditioners are usually used after hair has been washed with shampoo. They are applied and worked into the hair and may either be washed out or left in (1).
The perfumer Édouard Pinaud is credited for developing the first modern hair conditioner in the early 1900s which he presented at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. His product was intended to soften men’s hair, including beards and mustaches (2).
Types of conditioners
The different types of conditioners available include instant conditioners, deep conditioners, and leave in conditioners.
- Instant conditioners are the most common type. They are applied shortly after shampooing and are rinsed out.
- Deep conditioners are more concentrated and contain similar ingredients found in instant conditioners. Deep conditioners are meant to remain on the hair for at least twenty minutes before rinsing. They are good for treating long hair with rough, dry ends, hair that tangles easily, and hair that has a lot of breakage.
- Leave in hair conditioners are applied to shampooed, towel-dried hair, and are meant to remain on hair until the next washing. Leave in conditioners are excellent for restoring hair damage caused by frequent perming, straightening, curling, or dyeing (3,4).
The typical hair conditioner is comprised of:
- Deionized water
- Humectants (0-2%)
- Cationic conditioning agent/emulsifier (1-4% active)
- Fatty alcohols, Glyceryl Stearate (1-7%)
- Fragrance (.1-.5%)
- Preservative (up to 1% depending on the type of preservative used)
- Emollient (0-2%)
The majority of instant, deep, and leave in hair conditioners sold globally are lamellar gel network (LGN) based oil in water formulations using a cationic surfactant to swell fatty alcohols. LGNs are combinations of low and high hydrophilic-lipophilic balance (HLB) surfactants that can thicken water and shear thin when applied to hair. LGN bilayered structures can easily slide toward each other to provide a slippery, smooth feel to hair during use. The LGN structure is critical for:
- Thickening and stabilizing the formulation
- Increasing cationic surfactant, fragrance, and emollient deposition
- Helping to disperse/stabilize emollient oils
- Provide a wet/slippery/smooth feel during application
- Provide wet detangling and dry conditioning
- Reduced hair friction and static charge.
Factors affecting cationic LGN performance
- Total surfactant Concentration (low plus high HLB surfactant) effects both viscosity and the conditioning properties
- Ratio of high HLB to total surfactant has a significant impact on viscosity and the conditioning properties. For optimum conditioning this ratio should be ~30%.
- Chain length of low and high HLB surfactants. The best low HLB surfactants are Cetyl, Stearyl, and Behenyl alcohols. The best high HLB cationic surfactants are Stearamidopropylamine (SAPDMA-neutralized), Behenyltrimonium Chloride (BTMAC). Combinations of SAPDMA and BTMAC are also used
- The use of electrolytes should be minimized since they can negatively impact viscosity and stability.
- Fragrances can significantly reduce viscosity and high temperature stability
- The level and type of preservative, especially solvent type (benzyl alcohol, phenoxyethanol, 1,2 Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin). These normally significantly reduce viscosity and can impact high temperature stability.
- Branched/unsaturated fatty acids, alcohols can negatively impact viscosity and stability.
- Presence of polymers can impact viscosity and stability
- LGN based formulations are very processing sensitive. The type of shear, when the shear is applied, the cooling rate, and order of addition of ingredients are all important.
Conditioner formulation trends/new technology
- Silicone free conditioning
- Quaternium 100 improves the conditioning performance of BTMAC based conditioners
- PPG3 Caprylyl Ether
- Natural oils are hot (Argan oil as a conceptual ingredient)
- Use of more natural, sustainable ingredients
- Conditioners for dyed hair to increase color fastness
- Using a conditioner before shampooing can provide better conditioning and hair volume versus post shampooing use.
Marketed instant hair conditioning products
The top selling products have similar conditioning performance mostly differentiated by packaging, fragrance, and conceptual ingredients.
- The top selling products use Cetearyl alcohol, Cetyl, and Stearyl alcohol as low HLB surfactants and SAPDMA, BTMAC as high HLB emulsifier/conditioning agents. Hydrolyzed proteins are also commonly used as conditioning agents.
- Emollients used include Amodimethicone, Bis Aminopropyl Dimethicone, Dimethicone, Cetyl esters, Avocado oil, Soybean oil, Coconut oil, Argan oil (as a conceptual ingredient)
Amazon top-rated hair conditioners (5 point scale)
- Silk18 Natural Hair Conditioner (4.3/5, 7582 ratings) – Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride, Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Phytokeratin
- Hydrating Argan Oil Hair Mask and Deep Conditioner By Arvazallia for Dry or Damaged Hair (4.4/5, 4130 ratings) – Cetearyl Alcohol, Amodimethicone, Cetrimonium Chloride, Cyclopentasiloxane and Dimethicone
- ArtNaturals Argan Oil Hair Mask (4.4/5, 3014 ratings) – Quaternium-91, Behentrimonium Chloride, Myristyl Myristate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetrimonium Chloride, Hydrogenated Moringa Oil Esters, Amodimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Cyclohexasiloxane
- Wikipedia: Hair conditioner
- The History of Conditioner. Prell. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
- Detergents & Soaps: Conditioners
- Science-y Hair Blog: Deep Conditioning
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26 Responses to “Conditionally Yours: Hair Conditioner Formulations”
1.What is Quaternium-100? It’s not in the CTFA Dictionary. (Highest number is 98)
2.Do you believe that quat-free (nonionic, amphoteric or even anionic) instant hair conditioning is achievable?
Genadvance Repair (Quaternium 100-Clariant) is quite new and probably why its not in the dictionary
Yes I believe that quat free hair conditioning is possible
A quat free hair conditioner is possible but it’s difficult to achieve the same performance without any cationic molecula, to substitue cationic surfactants by other cationic molecules like polymers, silicones, etc is possible but not the best cost / performance solution
What is actually the benefit of deep conditioners? What exactly the formula supposed to do?
Just more intense conditioning.
KCC Basildon have achieved non-silicone conditioning by emulsifying argan, coconut and olive oils (SeraShine EM 801, 802 and 807). They have enhanced penetration into hair versus non-emulsified oils.
Hello! Great information in the write-up. I have 3 questions
1. What are examples of conceptual ingredients besides Argan Oil?
2. What jobs do they perform in conditioners?
3. What examples of fragrances might one consider that don’t negatively effect viscosity and high temp stability?
Conceptual ingredients provide marketing stories and usually don’t provide any benefits. Aloe, Vitamin E, exotic oils are examples. Fragrances are complex mixtures of ingredients. Some increase others decrease viscosity. There are no general rules of which hurt or help.
Do you have more information on doing this?
Would you include Broccoli seed oil in the conceptual ingredients list?
Many thanks for a great post 🙂
Yes but it could also provide some wet conditioning benefits if used at ~1-2%.
Looking for Sustainable green biodegradable conditioning agents. Please Guide.
Thanks and Regards
What would be the optimum ratio of low HLB vs high HLB to formulate a daily, economical conditioner?
Typically 1-1.5% Quat (high HLB) and 3-5% Cetearyl alcohol (low HLB) or a ratio of around 25-30%.
The best low HLB surfactants are Cetyl, Stearyl, and Behenyl alcohols. The best high HLB cationic surfactants are Stearamidopropylamine (SAPDMA-neutralized), Behenyltrimonium Chloride (BTMAC.
When I look up HLB value for Cetyl Alcohol , it is 15.5 , which is a high HLB. Is this correct and if so can you please explain ?”
I’m also confused.
Cetyl alcohol don’t have HLB. actually it has RHLB (required HLB=15.5). It’s not emulsifier itself. But it’s act as co-emulsifier.
So could you please explain why you consider cetyl alcohol as low HLB?
Is there something I’m missing?
I’m interested in lamellar gel so i would appreciate it if you helped me out and answer my previous question.
Thanks for the information. It is very helpful.
Please, can someone help me out here, I have discovered that after 3 weeks to 1 month of production, my conditioner starts changing color from the top. I have trie d different ways to correct it but no success. What can I do?
You may be having an oxidation or a trace metal problem with an ingredient in the formulation. A chelating agent may help if the problem is caused by trace metals like iron.
Thank you for reading,
Am interested in formulating a hair treatment conditioner. Can you please help me with some recipes.
There are numerous formulations provided by suppliers on UL Prospector. https://www.ul.prospector.com
Thank you for reading,
Check out Stepanquat Helia on UL Prospector.
Nice reading your work. Am working on skin lotion project. And my question is how do you stabilize an emulsion bacause after four days of use. A thin layet of oil setts at the top of lotion
The easiest way is to add a swellable thickening polymer like Carbomer to your formulation assuming it is a oil in water emulsion.
Thanks for reading!
Hi. I the read the article and found useful. However I could not get the answer how to maintain a stable flowy Conditioner like lotion. All marketed conditioner are significanly thick and requires a packaging of pumping or controlled dispensing – like Squeeze tube.
Can you please guide
Generally the fatty alcohol and or Glyceryl Stearate levels in a conditioner formulation increase the viscosity. Just reduce the levels to the desired viscosity you want.
Thanks for reading!