If you look at the ingredient list on your conditioner bottle, chances are that polyquaternium –n is listed there, where n is a number. Let’s discuss what these are and the benefits that they provide to your hair.
What is polyquaternium?
Without going too deep into a chemistry lesson, let’s take a quick look at what this chemical is. The polyquaternium, often referred to as a polyquat, is actually a polymer with several (poly) positive charges on it. The positive charge is found on the nitrogen (See image) which forms a quaternary ammonium group. Thus the name polyquaternium.
The name is usually followed by a number (polyquaternium-7, polyquaternium-37 etc.). The numbering has nothing to do with the chemical structure of the ingredient, but rather, it has to do with the listing order in which the polyquat was registered with the International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients.
Each of those polyquaternium polymers will confer different physical properties to hair because of their different chemical structures.
Why is it a great conditioning ingredient?
It is the numerous positive charges on this ingredient that makes them useful in hair care. Hair by itself has a net negative charge. When damaged either by regular grooming or more vigorous treatments, cysteic acid is formed making the hair even more negatively charged. Those long chains of polyquaterniums create several points of contact to the hair and bind through ionic interactions to the hair: the positive areas of the polymer attract to the negative areas of the hair. In so doing, they help smooth out the cuticles/hair surface providing a good layer of conditioning.
What benefits does the polyquat convey to hair?
Like I mentioned before different polyquats will have different primary benefits. Some of the benefits are listed here:
- Ease of wet and dry combing
- Smooth, seal and realign damaged areas of the hair shaft
- Minimize porosity
- Add volume and body
- Eliminate static electricity
The drawbacks of polyquats
Because of their substantivity to hair and depending on how well the product was formulated, some of them can create build-ups over time, The good news is that they can be removed with anionic surfactants fairly easily. [More about types of surfactants here.]
But the bad news is that not all polyquaterniums can be used in the formulation of conditioning shampoos. The reason is that the cationic polyquat will complex (combine through opposite charge interaction) with the anionic polymers of the surfactants easily. Some that are commonly used in shampoos are the polyquaternium- 7 and polyquaternium-10. Poorly formulated 2-in-1 shampoos can result in complex formation in the product, leaving behind an undesirable film on hair.
Examples of polyquaternium ingredients
Polyquaternium-4: Provides excellent combability, holding, gloss and antistat properties.
Polyquaternium-7 : Leaves hair feeling soft.
Polyquaternium-10: This is a cationic, water-soluble substantive conditioner for hair care. It provides film formation on hair and moisturization. It is non-irritating and compatible with a wide range of surfactants.
Polyquaternium-44: This is a very efficient for use in a variety of cleansing products to improve the wet combability of the hair and prevent electrostatic charging when the hair is dry. It also protects the hair by forming a shield around each hair so that its surface is less readily attacked. It conditions and provides a smooth silky feel to the hair. There are no drawbacks with fine hair regarding volume, accumulation and build-up when used at recommended use levels.