Sunday, June 6, 2010

Conditioner: What's that then?

If you're read any of my previous posts on conditioners, you'll notice there are three general categories - rinse off, intense or treatment, and leave-in conditioners. The formulations for each of these start in kind of the same place with us choosing our favourite cationic quaternary compound and adding hair friendly ingredients like proteins, humectants, emollients, film formers, silicones, and preservatives, but we use them in different proportions in the different types. Each one of these is an oil-in-water emulsion with the cationic quaternary compound acting as the emulsifier.

For an overview of how conditioners work, please click here. 

What are our goals when formulating conditioners? We want a product that will...
  • leave us with smooth, tangle free hair that is easily wet or dry combed
  • reduce static electricity (fly-aways)
  • improve gloss and lustre
  • improve body or volume
  • improve texture of chemically or heat damaged hair
  • make hair feel softer and more moisturized
  • in general, make our hair more manageable
The first goal of a conditioner is to reduce the combing forces on wet hair, as this is when it's at its most vulnerable. You can actually lift cuticle cells from the surface of your hair and tear them away if you're working on a particularly difficult tangle. When hair is dry, you risk chipping, fragmenting, and eroding the cuticle cells by styling and using heat appliances. 

How do we reduce the combing forces and friction on our hair? When we lubricate the hair fibre - generally with a cationic quaternary compound like BTMS - we reduce the combing forces. When the hair fibres align in a more parallel configuration, we see easier-to-comb hair as well as an increase in hair shine and gloss. 

The key to any good conditioner is the cationic quaternary compound (sometimes called the quaternary ammonium salt). It is the positively charged compound we use as the main conditioning ingredient in our products. (Our hair is negatively charged so the cationic quat will adsorb to our hair strands and stay there until our next washing. This concept is called substantivity.) It offers a hydrophobic (or water-hating) coating on our hair strand that reduces friction and combing forces. It reduces static charge makes our hair softer and easier to comb. (Please read this post on build-up and cationic ingredients for more information on that topic.) 

The most common cationic quaternary compounds you'll see at your suppliers are (click on the links to see full details of each ingredient)...
Each has a different role to play in a conditioner.

Incroquat BTMS-50 is probably the quat most commonly used by homecrafters. It's easy to use, emulsifies well, and offers a lovely conditioned feeling on your hair. You'll find it as BTMS or BTMS-50. I use BTMS-50 as it contains more of the active ingredient (so you'll use less) and it contains an additional humectant (butylene glycol). It can cost as much as $20 per pound in the States - about $0.05 per gram - or up to $30 per pound in Canada - $0.07 per gram - but you should be able to get about 65 - 4 ounce bottles of thick liquid conditioner out of this pound! Now that's saving money!

Cetrimonium bromide is used in a lot of commercial conditioners, and, although it isn't as lubricious as BTMS, it can actually penetrate really damaged hair to condition from inside the cortex. (The only place I've found to buy cetrimonium bromide is at The Personal Formulator.)

Cetrimonium chloride is a very weak quaternary compound and wouldn't be used alone unless you wanted something for fine hair or a leave-in detangler. It can seriously decrease combing forces and friction, and makes even the most tangly hair easy to comb. It can be used at up to 5%, but I find that 2% is generally enough for great detangling. (The only place I've found to buy cetrimonium chloride is The Personal Formulator.)

Incroquat CR also isn't something you'd use alone, unless you wanted a creme rinse type product as it doesn't emulsify oils or silicones well. It is a fantastic softening and anti-static ingredient.

And Incroquat OSC (one step conditioner) is probably best used in combination with either BTMS or cetrimonium bromide because it isn't as conditioning as either of these, but it is a good emulsifier. (The only place I've found to buy Incroquat OSC is at Southern Soapers.)

As a note, if your product doesn't contain a cationic or positively charged ingredient, it's not a conditioner. It might have some conditioning benefits - for instance, making our hair softer, more manageable, more moisturized - but it is not considered a conditioner. If you're using apple cider vinegar or mayonnaise or oils on your hair, they may make your hair feel nicer, but they are not - by definition - conditioners. 

We'll be including a lot of other ingredients as we make our conditioners. I've written up full posts on these ingredients already, so here are the links!
If you're eager to making a conditioner and can't wait for tomorrow's starting recipe, here are a few links to get you interested! 


seventh77 said...


I was looking around to see if I could find cetrimonium chloride available anywhere else online, and then I found this:

Jim Anderson said...

Hi Susan,

I’ve been meaning to write to you about this for quite some time. I have a favorite salon hair conditioner that I’ve been using for over 25 years – “Sorbie Riche Conditioner.” It provides a very unique feel that I have not found with any other conditioner I’ve used. I know this sounds kind of gross, but I would describe the feel of it like -- a thick mucus – rather than a typical creamy conditioner. It leaves your hair with a fantastic, non-greasy feel after rinsing it out. I’m wondering if you could figure out what that ingredient (or combination of ingredients) is/are from the list on the bottle that creates that feel.

After researching all of the ingredients, I’ve narrowed the list down to these three as the most likely: Dicetyldimonium chloride, Glyceryl collagenate, and Trimethylsilyl-amodimethicone. However, the Collagen amino acids, and perhaps the Sodium PCA may figure into it as well. I’d like to know what it is so that I can try to order it, and use in my own personal creations as well.

Sorbie Riche Conditioner

Cetrimonium chloride
Dicetyldimonium chloride
Cetyl alcohol
Glyceryl collagenate
Lauryl alcohol
Collagen amino acids
Sodium PCA
Citric acid

Thank you,