Conditioners play an important role in our hair routine because of the numerous benefits that they provide. But what do we really know about them? How do they work on hair and most importantly are we applying them the correct way? This article will explain how conditioners work best on split ends and damaged areas.
A quick look at the chemical structure of conditioning agents
Despite the long list of ingredients at the back of the conditioner bottle, there are only a few ingredients that will actually deposit on the hair substantively, and those ingredients are usually positively charged. Nevertheless, conditioners also contain oils, and other uncharged essential ingredients that provide benefits as well.
Image 1 shows the general structure adopted by the charged conditioning ingredients. It usually consists of a long uncharged chain (hydrophobic chain – doesn’t like water) and a positively charged end (a quaternary ammonium compound).
Why conditioners love the split ends and damaged hair areas
Hair has an overall net negative charge on its surface under neutral pH conditions. Since we know that opposite attracts, the conditioning agents were designed with a positive charge for more effective binding to the hair. Furthermore, the long uncharged portion (hydrophobic) part of the conditioning ingredient will also adsorb to the surface of the hair.
The mechanism of how these ingredients are deposited on hair is complex and is dependent on several factors not mentioned here for the sake of simplicity. So, let us look at what happens near the split ends and damaged hair such as in bleached hair.
As you can see from image 2, the conditioning agents deposit more substantively at the split ends and damaged areas since those areas create more negative sites for the positively charged conditioning agents to bind. On the other hand, on virgin hair or areas that are less damaged (such as near the scalp), there are comparatively less negative charges on hair, and the ingredients deposit in smaller amounts.
Similarly, because at the split ends and damaged areas, there are more crevices and cracks, other ingredients present in the product such as oils can penetrate those areas better, providing additional benefits.
This tells us that conditioners work best where they are needed the most! And, that dictates how one should apply the product on hair: focus on the areas that need conditioning most and move up towards the scalp.
For maximizing the deposition efficacy (and hence the benefits) of the conditioner: Spread the product evenly through the hair fibers and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing thoroughly.