by Susan Walker of Earthtone Naturals
via Three Naturals
Deep conditioning is an extremely important practice for many naturals and as a result there are various ways women deep condition their hair. But what is the proper way to deep condition the hair? Why are some methods more important than others and what is a complete waste of time. The purpose of this article is to sift through all of the information to give the real truth about this process, and how to get the results your looking for.
What is conditioning?
What you’re trying to accomplish with conditioning is to restore or maintain the elasticity of the hair so that it’s better able to withstand combing, brushing, cleansing etc. without too much damage. Conditioning can also improve the appearance of the hair causing it to appear healthy. Conditioning in general should accomplish the following:
- Ease combing (both wet and dry)
- Increase softness to the hair
- Minimize flyaways
- Reduce the porosity of the hair
- Improve the manageability of the hair
- Loss of elasticity
- Breaking hair
- Dull-looking hair
- Dry and brittle
- Highly porous
- Split ends or mid-shaft splits
- A lot of tangling
The type of conditioner you use for your hair will depend on your hair texture and the state of your hair. For example, fine limp hair will need a conditioner that can increase body and thick, dry hair will require a conditioner that can be used for softness and moisture. Reconstructors containing a lot of protein should be used on hair that is fine, limp and damaged. Moisturizing deep conditioners with a lot of oils, emollients and moisturizers should be used on hair that requires softening or is very dry. If your focus is on real deep conditioning then the type of product you use will be important, as well as how that conditioner is used on the hair. In order to get the best results enough of the conditioning agents must bind to the hair and sufficient amounts of active ingredients must penetrate into the cortex of the hair. This occurs under one or a combination of the following situations:
- High pH
A higher pH results in cuticles that are more open. Hair is most vulnerable in this state but it’s also a great opportunity for the conditioner to really penetrate into the cortex of the hair rather than if the cuticles are closed. Cuticles are typically opened when hair is relaxed or chemically processed in some way. For natural hair, the cuticles are typically not really open unless the hair is very porous or damaged in some way. Using baking soda and castile soap (which are high pH ranges) for cleaning can result in the cuticles opening. I don’t have any experience with either one of these cleansing agents to recommend how to properly use them and as a result, time and the use of heat with the conditioner will be discussed in order to maximize conditioning results.
The amount of time the conditioner is left of the hair
The longer the contact between the conditioner and the hair, the more the conditioning agents can bind to the hair, and active ingredients can penetrate into the cortex. Every ingredient in a conditioner has its own ability to adsorb (adhere) to the surface of the hair and/or penetrate into the hair. Many factors depend on the use of high or low molecular weight proteins, the use of oils with long or short fatty acid chains etc. The key ingredients that can stick to hair like the surfactants, hydrolyzed proteins and polyquats will do so within a few seconds of applying the conditioner. If left on hair for longer the more they will be absorbed. In general the conditioning effect is present for up to 25-30 minutes. After this time absorption of active ingredients has reach its maximum and there is no real added benefit to leaving a conditioner on the hair after 30 minutes.
The Use of Heat
As the hair increases in temperature the possibility of the conditioners penetrating the cortex also increases. What temperature are we talking about? The hair should be at about 60 degrees Celcius (about 140 degrees Fahrenheit) which can be achieved at the medium setting of an electric heat cap.
In Part 2 of this series we’ll take a look at the ingredients you need to look for in an great deep conditioner and the steps you should take to get the most out of your deep conditioning.
by Susan Walker of Earthtone Naturals
via Three Naturals
Ingredients that attach onto to the hair
Remember we discussed the fact that conditioning agents ADSORB to the hair? ADSORBING means that the ingredients attach to the surface of the hair. This phenomenon is responsible for helping to soften the hair, temporarily repair the hair, smooth the cuticle and reduce flyaways. The main types of ingredients you’re looking for are cationic surfactants, cationic polymers, emollients, oils and silicones.
Surfactants are molecules that have water-loving and water-repelling segments. There are many uses for surfactants and they are mainly used for their cleansing ability. Surfactants can carry a positive charge, negative charge or no charge. However, when it comes to conditioning, cationic surfactants - or those with a positive charge - are extremely important. Since hair carries a relative negative charge, if you use a cationic or positively charged surfactant it will be attracted to the negatively charged section of the hair and bind to the surface of the hair. The surfactants will also form a film that smoothes the cuticle resulting in reducing static, tangling and improving softness. What are some main cationic surfactants? Behentrimonium methosulfate, behentrimonium chloride and cetrimonium chloride. Other ingredients that adsorb are conditioning polymers like the polyquaterniums and cationic guar gum. Lastly emollients such as cetyl and cetearyl alcohol, some oils and silicones also have the ability to attach to the hair and convey benefits.
Ingredients that penetrate into the hair
Some ingredients can penetrate into natural hair at a temperature of about 35 degrees celcius. This corresponds to the temperature that would be reached if you applied conditioner to your hair and covered it with a shower cap. These ingredients include hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed silk protein, coconut oil, cetrimonium bromide, panthenol, some silicones. Many can penetrate in between the layers of the cuticle and into the cortex of the hair. Each ingredient has its own time for penetration ranging from minutes to hours. This time can also depend on the condition of the hair often with damaged hair resulting in faster penetration than hair that is not damaged.
So what are the best steps to deep condition curly hair?
1. Shampoo with a product containing negative surfactants or cleansers. Rinse the shampoo from the hair and then apply the conditioner with positive surfactants. This is the best method for getting the most amount of conditioner to adsorb onto the hair, while allowing the maximum penetration of key ingredients into the hair. The reason you want to shampoo the hair first is that high carries slight negative charge which is enhanced with the use of shampoo with a negative charge. Opposites attract so when hair with a negative charge encounters the positive charge of the deep conditioner there will be more adsorption onto the hair and better penetration of active ingredients. It’s important to rinse out the shampoo because if not, the negative charge of the shampoo could interfere with the ability of the conditioner to adhere to the surface of the hair.
2. Apply enough conditioner on the hair to completely cover and saturate the hair. Put a plastic cap over your hair and then apply heat for up to 30 minutes. The time the conditioner is left on the hair combined with the application of heat increases the penetration of some ingredients into the cortex. If you don’t have a heating cap you could theoretically use a hair dryer or blow dryer or, steam or boil some towels in hot water, carefully remove them from the water with gloves, remove excess water and wrap your head (covered in the plastic cap) with the towels for the required time. The point is that the warmer your hair is, the deeper the penetration into the hair and the more effective the conditioning treatment.
3. Rinse with cool water. Cool water helps to seal the cuticle.
After you have effectively deep conditioned your hair it should feel softer, moisturized, shiny and more manageable. If your conditioning treatment results in this then you’ve definitely found a product to keep. If it doesn’t then get rid of it, read the ingredient list and invest in a product that is really going to do something for your hair.
Beware of overconditioning!
Some women love to leave a deep conditioner on their hair for hours at a time for various reasons. While conditioning is good for the hair, too much of a good thing is not necessarily better. Conditioning for hours at a time can result in softer hair and this likely occurs because of a change in the keratin forming a different configuration than normal. Hair that is softer will be weaker and more prone to breaking if manipulated. This change in keratin is temporary and your hair will return to its stronger state but you'll need to be careful how you handle it until it does.