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How Does Hair Conditioner Work?

We know why we’re adding a conditioner to our hair’s rinse routine. It increases the lubricity of the hair, removes electrostatic charges from happening, it moisturizes your hair and makes it easier to comb and style, reducing breakage.

You repeatedly perform this routine over the week – You’ve lathered with shampoo, rinsed, and maybe shampooed again. Now it’s time to condition. You start by massaging your scalp going through the hair, making sure each strand is covered, while the sweet smell of the conditioner fills your nostrils.

You wait between two to four minutes, waiting for the conditioner to do its thing and then rinse again. You feel the silky smooth hair even when wet and may ask yourself – How exactly does this creamy stuff transform my hair into that silky pile of fluff?

Basic Hair Chemistry

The short answer is chemistry. There’s a chemical reaction that takes place while the conditioner is in contact with water, but what is exactly happening?

The conditioning agent is made out of positively charged compounds that when applied to the hair, which has a negative charge, they form a bond that makes them “stick” together.

As you may remember from the basic chemistry lessons back in school, that is a known phenomenon – when compounds with an opposing charge get close, their electric charge makes them want to stay together.

Regarding the conditioner and the hair strands, once they are bound, they resist rinse off not only because of the electric charge but also because the conditioner itself is what’s called hydrophobic –  a compound that does not mix with water. Other hydrophobic compounds you may know for this particular behavior are oil. Oil is hydrophobic and therefore does not mix with water.

pH & Negative Charge on Hair

Another note about hair’s negative charge. Regular hair that’s undamaged or didn’t go through a chemical process has a pH value of around 4.5 – 5.0 and as we mentioned, is negatively charged (If you want to know more, we have a post that explains pH). The more damaged or chemically treated the hair the higher the negative charge. In this case, applying a conditioner will make the bond with the hair much stronger due to a higher difference in the negative charge.

Hence, a tip – When your hair is relatively healthy, make sure you gently rub the shampoo as much as you can into the hair and leave it no less than 2 minutes. Because of the low electric charge of your healthy hair, you must give the conditioner some time to bond with your hair for optimal results.

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