Wednesday, March 11, 2009


If you've made your own shampoo, you must make your own conditioner! I must warn you, though. Once you've made your own, you will never go back to store bought again, even the fancy salon stuff. It is a surprisingly easy process to make your own conditioner, and it is great fun to tweak it to suit your hair type.

How to make a basic, very thick conditioner...
7% Incroquat BTMS (found at Voyageur)
.5 to 1% preservative of choice (I use .5% germall plus)
water to get to 100%

Weigh your water into one, heatproof container, then weigh your BTMS into another heat proof container. Heat and hold in a double boiler until the BTMS has melted completely, then mix the two containers together. Mix for at least 1 minute with a hand mixer, then let cool. You may need to mix it a few times as it cools. When the mixture cools to below 45C, add your preservative. Rejoice!

It's basic, and it will work. But where's the good stuff? Always ask yourself -- what exactly am I looking for in a conditioner? Moisturization, detangling, de-frizzing? Everyone has different needs, so figure out what you want, then work backwards with your ingredients.

Incroquat BTMS: You can go lower than 7%. This will be a very thick conditioner, so if you want to start with 3 to 4% Incroquat BTMS to ensure it will emulsify your oils or silicones, then you are going to have a very nice, thinner conditioner. Incroquat BTMS is your main conditioner in this recipe, and it is great on its own. It will condition, detangle, and soften your hair.

Liquids: You can substitute some of the water for various liquids like aloe or hydrosols.

Hydrolyzed proteins, like oat, silk, wheat, or soy: Use these at 1 to 2% in your conditioner. These are film forming, and offer moisturization without oils. Everyone's hair type is different and you might find that your hair doesn't like a certain protein. I know my coarse, oily, thick hair doesn't respond well to silk, so I use Cromoist or hydrolyzed oat protein in my hair products.

Silicones, cyclomethicone or dimethicone: Use these up to 2% each. Dimethicone is the main conditioning agent in 2 in 1 shampoos, and offers conditioning and de-frizzing. Cyclomethicone is good for de-frizzing as well, and it actually speeds up hair drying time!

As a note, there are different weights of silicones. I use 350 c.s. dimethicone (Voyageur) for body products, 1000 c.s. dimethicone (Soapcraft) for hair products for my frizzy hair. You can use either in your products!

Oils: Use these at up to 6% in a recipe with 3 to 4% BTMS. Choose a hair loving oil like jojoba, coconut, or camellia oil. Sea Buckthorn is apparently very good, but expensive. Avocado can be good for dandruff prone hair. Coconut is supposed to be great for hair in general. If you have oily hair, you might want to avoid the oils...instead choose...

Cetyl alcohol: Use at equal amounts of Incroquat BTMS (up to 3.5%). This offers oil free moisturization, increases the efficiency of the BTMS, and improves wet combing. It's very inexpensive and easy to find, so including this in a recipe is always a good idea.

Panthenol: Up to 2%. Vitamin B5 is great for your hair!

Humectants: Add at up to 4%. Glycerin, honeyquat, condition-eze 7. They will add moisturization to your hair and thickness to the mixture. Olive oil is a great humectant, so you could add it as an oil at a low percentage for a two-fer! Honeyquat is also a good conditioning agent, so you could add this to do double duty. (You'll notice I leave this out for the oily and de-frizzing conditioners. We don't need more water attracted to our hair!)

Cetrimonium chloride (cetac): (Found only at The Personal Formulator) Up to 2%. It is a fantastic detangler!

Other quats - honeyquat, celquat, condition-eze 7 (polyqyuat 7), etc. -- these are cationic conditioning polymers, which means they aren't great on their own but add some oomph to your conditioning. Some are also humectants. Each has their own suggested usage, so check the bottle. (I use condition-eze 7 at 2 to 3%). Celquat will thicken your mixture substantially as it tends to gel things, so check your consistency.

Why use another cationic ingredient? Isn't BTMS simply awesome on its own? It is, but the cationic polymers can help you with wet and dry combing, slip, and volume, as they don't weigh your hair down like BTMS can. They can also help with split ends, which is never a bad thing!

A note about Incroquat CR - it is not an emulsifier like the BTMS and makes a "cream rinse". It is a great way of stretching out the more expensive BTMS. Use at up to 5% for conditioning and anti-static properties. If you are going to use this, use less BTMS -- start at 4% BTMS and 5% CR (keeping in mind your emulsification needs...) Or you could just make a cream rinse like the Hemp Seed Conditioner (at Voyageur, scroll down a bit).

Extracts: Rosemary, Multifruit BSC, etc. -- again, these have their own usage rates and purposes. For instance, rosemary is suggested at 0.5% to help with oily hair and claims to stimulate hair growth (not making claims, just reading the package).

Essential oils and fragrance oils: Up to 1% for fragrance oils, check the essential oils you want to use to see what the guidelines might be. (See the essential oils post for ideas for hair loving essential oils!)

Check your chosen ingredients to see when you would add them to the conditioner...

Heated ingredients: BTMS or CR, oils, cetyl alcohol, glycerin or other humectants, water and other hydrosols, should be heated and held for 20 minutes. Then add them together and let cool to 45C.

Added when the temperature is below 45C: Hydrolyzed proteins, extracts, silicones, preservative, fragrance or essential oils.

So what are you looking for in a conditioner? I'll use my hair as an example -- I have waist length, frizzy, coarse hair that gets oily in two days. My goals with a conditioner are to condition, detangle, moisturize without oils, de-frizz, and keep it from getting oily in two days! So my choices in making a conditioner would be...

OILY HAIR CONDITIONER - defrizzing, conditioning, moisturizing without oils
.5% preservative
2% cromoist -- my hair hates silk, so I have chosen oat protein
2% panthenol - is supposed to keep my hair healthy
2% cetac - detangling is a must for me!
2% cyclomethicone - defrizzing action
2% dimethicone - again with the defrizzing action
2% cetyl alcohol - moisturization without oils
1% fragrance or essential oils -- oily hair blend - equal parts rosemary, clary sage, cedarwood, and lemon
water up to 100%

DRY HAIR CONDITIONER - moisturizing and conditioning on an intense level
.5% preservative
2% silk - she loves this stuff
2% panthenol
6% oils - sea buckthorn, camellia, and jojoba -- all hair loving oils
2% cetyl alcohol - can't get enough moisture for her
2% honeyquat or glycerin - again, humectants are good for dry hair
2% dimethicone - extra conditioning, soft feeling
1% fragrance or essential oils
water to 100%

NORMAL HAIR CONDITIONER - regular conditioning, light moisturizing
.5% preservative
2% cromoist
2% panthenol
2% dimethicone - for the soft feeling, not de-frizzing
1% fragrance or essential oils
water to 100%

Let's modify this tomorrow by turning our conditioner into a shaving lotion!

If you'd like a more science-y description of conditioners, please check out this article at! Cationic quats are so interesting!!!


Motherhues said...

Hi Susan!

I am enjoying the heck out of your March blog and sooo happy it's continuing into April :D
I have a question, if you don't mind, about conditioner for my little girl. She has gorgeous light thin blonde flyaway hair and so I was thinking that the dimethicone would be good for her but my OTHER daughter has rather opposite hair. still absolutely gorgeous, but dark, shiny but thick and tangles really easily. Sometimes it feels almost "sticky".
Do you think dimethicone in a conditioner would work well for the both of them? Or should I make separate formulae for each of them?
I have everything except cetyl alcohol and honequat. I do have oat protein from lotioncrafter which I beleive would work in place of the silk/cromoist? But I think I will leave that out.

Anyhow. that was a long comment. THANK YOU for posting all of this great information! I have been making soap for 13+ years but I am all new to hair products :D THANKS for sharing!

SwiftCraftyMonkey said...

Thanks for the kind words. I think I have about 2 weeks of daily entries, then I'm going to have to cut down to 2 or 3 times a week as I prepare for my wedding in May!

I love questions! I find the best way to learn is to ask questions, and I love answering them (because if I don't know the answer, it challenges me to learn more!)

I think dimethicone would work well for both girls in a conditioner and I would try them both out with a formula containing it. I have very thick, very tangle prone hair and I find that even the 2% dimethicone helps a great deal. If you find that one daughter doesn't tolerate it well and want to make only one formula, then make up a basic formula without it and make a leave in conditioner for the tangly daughter!

Even better, if you can get your hands on cetac (from the Personal Formulator) it sounds like the tangly haired daughter would be the happiest girl in the world. I love this ingredient! I can actually get out of the shower and brush my hair! And it only needs 2%!

As for the cetyl alcohol - leave it out. It works with the BTMS to make it more substantive (sticking on your hair) but you can make a lovely conditioner without it (my best friend's favourite recipe doesn't contain it!) The honeyquat as well is a nice addition, but not essential. A cationic polymer is a nice thing to add, but again, you can make something really nice without it.

And Cromoist is oat protein, so use whatever proteins you have and love! (I just love Cromoist, so that's what ends up in my recipes.)

Thanks for the question! (And sorry for the long answer...I do go on sometimes!)

Motherhues said...

whoo hooo! THANK YOU for your response :) I LOVE long answers as much as I love long questions ;) I am going to make two conditioners today, I think. One for the girls and one for a friend. She is normal to slightly dry (just like me) so I think I will tweak your "basic" formula for us and do the dimethicone and other goodies for the girls. :) Cetac is on my next shopping list!
I have an oat protein from lotioncrafter so maybe cromoist is just a brand name :)
I can't wait! Thanks sooo much for your information! I am starting a big ol pot of distilled water on the stove right now ;) Need to make lotions for sale and conditioners for friends and family!:)
Thank you, again, feel free to ramble on and on and on ;) I will still be reading!

France said...

Hi Susan,
Just a head's up for ppl in Australia, you can find Cetac at New Directions Australia! And yes, IT IS GREAT!! It is not listed online, but it is in their catalogue, perhaps it's the same deal with NDA in the USA?
New Directions: USA (they have a 1800 number) and

Anonymous said...

Awesome recipes.

Do you think any of these coud be used as a leave-in conditioner?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I wouldn't use any of these as a leave in conditioner - it's very thick, and it would make your hair really limp and oily. Why not try making a leave in conditioner instead? (Check out the numerous posts on this blog about this topic.)

Natalia said...

Hi Susan! Great blog! I'm trying to experiment in making my own conditioner. What can be a good substitute for BTMS or Polawax? Is polysorbate 20 good enough? Thanks!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Natalia. You can't substitute BTMS-50 with any of the other emulsifiers like Polawax or polysorbate 20 as the BTMS is cationic (positively charged, so it will adsorb to your hair strands) whereas the others are non-ionic (neutrally charged, meaning they'll do nothing for your hair). You can substitute the BTMS-50 for BTMS-25 or cetrimonium bromide or other "conditioning emulsifiers" because they will all be positively charged; you cannot substitute a regular emulsifier for them because your hair will feel just awful and unconditioned!

Natalia said...

Hi Susan! Can I use cetrimonium chloride instead of bromide?

Natalia said...

Can I use Cetri Chloride for lotions as well instead of Poly 80/20? Thanks!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Natalia. Cetrimonium bromide and cetrimonium chloride are two very different things. Cetrimonium chloride is a great addition to a conditioner, whereas cetrimonium bromide can be the base of the conditioner. I wouldn't bother using cetrimonium chloride in a lotion as it isn't a good emulsifier - it's a very poor one - and it doesn't really offer much to the skin feel or conditioning of the product. You can use BTMS-50 as the emulsifier for lotions, but cetrimonium bromide doesn't work well for products other than conditioners.

I have an entire section devoted to hair care products - please click here to take a look at it - where you'll find write ups for each ingredient you might find in conditioners. It might help you choose exactly what you want to include in your products!

Polysorbate 20 and 80 are not complete emulsifiers on their own, so you have to combine it with something else under the HLB system. Something like glycol distearate with a low HLB value. The polysorbates are good for dispersing or solubilizing oils into water based products - they aren't good emulsifiers uncombined.

Natalia said...

Thanks Susan! You're the best!

natalia said...

Hi Susan! Is it safe to use cetearyl alcohol as my emulsifier for hair conditioner? I read in one of yor posts that we have to add a low hlb like gds to create a system. But my concern is if i do so the amount of cetearyl will end up low (34% of the total 3% emulsifier system)and not be too beneficial. Or is it better to just put 2.5 cetyl and 2% stearyl and put 5% cetrimonium to create the base? Thanks!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Natalia. You don't need to have an emulsifying system in a conditioner. Although BTMS-50 is an emulsifier, it isn't necessary to have an emulsifier in a conditioner. The emulsifier isn't what makes it a conditioner - the fact that the main ingredient (BTMS-50, BTMS-25, cetrimonium bromide, and so on) are positively charged. I don't know what value an HLB based emulsifier like glycol distearate and cetearyl alcohol would have for a conditioner.

Having said that, cetearyl and stearyl are good ingredients in a conditioner because fatty acids boost the substantivity of the positively charged ingredient, which in your case is one of the cetrimonium based conditioners (are you using bromide or chloride). So I wouldn't bother with the emulsifying system and just use the fatty alcohols to boose the cetrimonium.

Here's the link to the cetearyl alcohol post. And here's the link to the hair care posts, including ones with cetrimonium bromide as the base and cetrimonium chloride as an addition.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan, I have a very short question: Can Cetyl Alcohol be replaced with liquid Lecithin in a Leave-in Conditioner?


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

What role does the lecithin play in the conditioner? What would be the purpose of using it?

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan, I was thinking the Lecithin could be an emollient and add some moisture. I have african american hair and the leave in conditioner I made doesn't leave my hair moisturized after it dries.

Here are the ingredients:

2% Glycerin
.5% Silk Amino acid
3% BTMS-25
2% Coconut oil
1% Argan oil
2% Castor oil,
1% Preservative
.5% fragrance EO

What could be wrong?



Rah said...


Please could your review this product, it claims to be really good for frizzy hair. It is PREEN CREAM by Philip Kingsley. i have checked your posts but has not been covered.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Sky. Sorry for the late response, but I just saw this message. I think you might need to increase all the oils and BTMS-25. You only have 0.75% conditioning agent and 5% oils in there. And can I make a suggestion - go with 10% coconut oil and leave the other oils out. They don't really do much for your hair, while coconut oil has been studied extensively.

Hi Rah. I don't do product reviews on the blog. Thanks for the suggestion, though.

Marjo said...

Hi susan! I have a question.. I know i have curly hair
Since i make my own products thanks to you
I have my curls back instead of frizzy hair... I cannot find the reason why next to i have more hairloving ingredients in it... What makes my hair so curly!?? :) THANK YOU!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Marjo! Here's a short answer...Frizzy, straight, and curly hair types. There's more in the hair care section on hair types!

Heather said...

Hi, thank you for this blog and sharing your knowledge. I have very damaged, frizzy hair and I haven't been able to find a conditioner that works for me. Enter your recipe and I'm VERY happy.

My first recipe was your dry hair conditioner recipe without the dimethicone, except I forgot to add oil. I loved the conditioner. I've just made it again today and used oil. It changed the texture of the conditioner completely.

Both times I added more water as I prefer my conditioner less thick.

I heated the BTMS, Cetyl Alcohol and water and held. Then let cool and added the remaining ingredients. The preservative I used was germall, I believe. I added orange essential oil the first time, for scent, and grapefruit oil the second time.

This is for personal use, and I did package it in a plastic bottle that I purchased for this purpose. The remainder I put in a glass jar.

I enjoyed making the recipe and I'll probably make some body lotion soon with your recipe.

I REALLY like this conditioner better than any I have ever tried.


Heather said...

I should have also mentioned that I used a stick blender to mix the conditioner.

It may sound difficult to make, but it was really easy and I truly recommend trying to make your own conditioner.


Winnie Stekelenburg said...

I already left a comment but I forgot to mention I whisked the conditioner by hand.


Winnie Stekelenburg said...

Hi Susan,

I guess my previous comment got lost somewhere out there on the web.
What I wrote was that I yesterday I made your 'DRY HAIR CONDITIONER - moisturizing and conditioning on an intense level'.
Earlier I made a conditioner for fine hair as that is what I have. But it wasn't conditioning enough and I couldn't comb through very well after using it. I guess that is because I àlso have dry and wavy/curly hair.
So, I thought 'I'll make another conditioner and mix that in with the 'already existing'one. And it worked out great! Today I have soft, shiny silky smooth hair with enough volume in it.

Things I added/changed:
1% instead of 0.5% preservative (just to be safe)
1% silk instead of 2%
4% sea buckthorn oil
2% jojoba oil
2% honeyquat
I left out 2% dimethicone and 1% fragrance (as the 'already existing' conditioner had enough fragrance)
I added 2% hydrolyzed wheat protein and 1% glycerine.
As you can read in my previous post ;-) I whisked by hand and I used an oil, water and cold phase.

Thank you for your recipes so far Suan and I wish you a great holiday!

Greetings, Winnie (from the Netherlands)

Karen M said...

Hi Susan,

When formulating your (conditioner) recipes, do you go by weight or volume?
Thanks, Karen

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Karen! Please take a look at today's Weekend Wonderings to see the answer to your question!

Wendy said...

hey susan, how are you?

I have a question. I am formulating the dry hair conditioner but kind of stuck. Im sure this is the small batch formula but once i weigh my water it doesnt seem like it will be enough and it also looks like it will evaporate after being on the stove for twenty minutes.

Please help me out here because i dont know if its my scale or if it is normal for the water to be so little...less than 4oz...

kindest regards,

Wendy said...

also, i have a fondue but i am finding it difficult to heat and hold. is there a specific way you heat and hold? When I check my temp for my oils it reflecting in the hundreds. when i lower the fundue to warm it no longer boils? please help as i am really trying here but getting discouraged!


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Wendy! Check out the newbie section of the blog. All your questions are answered there! And yes, 100 grams isn't a lot, but it's enough to let you know if you like it!

Wendy said...

hey susan,

im so aggravating but disregard the second message. i had my therm set to F and not C.... but I do need help with the first post... please


thank you for the swift reply on question one...

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Wendy. As I said above, 100 grams isn't making a ton of conditioner. It's around 1/3 cup total. So you won't have more than 80 ml of water. Read the FAQ for information on how to replace evaporated water.

Chris Carney said...

Hi Susan-Love your blog and I bought your book! Thank you!
I made a double batch of conditioner with BTMS in it. After everything was said and done, I found chunks of BTMS that had not melted. Can I remelt the whole thing? It has EVERYTHING in it...ugh.
I should never blend in the middle of the night while fighting insomnia.
Is there any hope of salvaging this mess?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Chris! You can try heating it to 45˚C, no higher than the preservative, then consider adding a bit more preservative to ensure it worked. Sometimes I'll find a chunk or two and it's annoying, but if you have a lot of them, try heating them gently to see what happens.

Chris Carney said...

Thank you! I did it, and it worked perfectly!

Mello Willis said...


I tired the about formula with a few change and loved it.

I noticed that glycerin is used more often than sodium lactate in hair products. Is there a reason for this.

Mello Willis said...

I love the formula with a few changes.

One question I have is I noticed that glycerin is the preferred humectant used in hair care, is there a reason why sodium lacate is not used more in hair care.

Unknown said...

Hi Susan,

First of all, your blog has made my life. Thank you so much for consolidating so much information in one place. As a fellow science-minded person (biologist), your descriptions and explanations are exactly what I needed.

In the post above, you have listed hydrolyzed proteins as cool-down ingredients. In all of the recipes I've seen so far, they're listed for heated water phase. I saw that one or two other ingredients changed over time in the recommended addition stages. Is this one that's changed, or should they be added in the heated phase?

I plan on using 1% liquid oat protein and 1% powdered silk protein (my hair is very fine and very dry...) and only worry about the solubility of the silk protein powder in the cool down phase. (I haven't actually attempted any conditioners yet - just planning the first batch in my "lab" notebook.) If the silk protein is added in the cool down phase, should it be pre-dissolved?

I've searched around your site for a while, including the comment threads and FAQ, but if the answer is out there and I've missed it, I apologize.

Thanks so much,

Rachel Brown said...

Oh dear, I just found it. I think I must have seen that same update earlier while looking at other things and didn't write it down.


For anyone else wondering the same thing - the "hydrolyzed protein" link in the right hand menu has the following update:

"UPDATE NOTE: I've been contacted by Bonnie, who reminds me of the legendary LabRat's suggestion that adding a hydrolyzed protein to your cool down phase can result in contamination. Although all the materials I've read have suggested adding to the cool down phase, I'm going to side with LabRat on this one (after all, he's my guru!) Adding the hydrolyzed proteins to your water phase and heating and holding it will not result in the destruction of the goodness that is found therein, so add your percentage to your water phase while warm and avoid the pains and suffering of icky lotions and potions!"