Solved: The Mystery of Hair Conditioners

Considering the huge reader response on a past post on how to know which cheap shampoos are actually good for your hair, it seemed only right to follow with a similar piece on conditioners.

Unfortunately, conditioners are not quite as simple as shampoos.


First, we need to demystify the term “conditioner.” It is a vague term that refers to a wide range of hair products designed to make hair more manageable and also treat common hair problems.

Conditioners fall into general categories according to what they do and the problems they solve.

Using the wrong product for the specific condition of your hair will produce disappointing results. For example, if your hair is thin and fine you are not going to be happy with my industrial-strength conditioner for thick, coarse, frizzy, color-treated hair.

MOISTURIZERS are concentrated with humectants, which are compounds that attract moisture into the hair and hold it there. If your hair is dry, brittle and limp, you should consider a moisturizing conditioner like Pantene Pro-V Daily Moisture Renewal Hydrating Conditioner

RECONSTRUCTORS typically contain protein. Many hair professionals say that keratin protein is the best source, because it contains all 19 amino acids found in the hair and has a low molecular weight. The main purpose of a reconstructor, they say, is to strengthen the hair. If your hair is fine and thin try a reconstructing conditioner like ApHogee Keratin Reconstructor.

ACIDIFIERS put acid on your hair and it’s OK. It’s a good thing for hair. When a product carries a pH of 2.5 to 3.5 it is considered an acidifier. This pH will close the cuticle layer of the hair resulting in shiny, bouncy hair. Acidifiers do not “weigh down” hair but rather create shine and add elasticity. The answer for fine, dry hair that has been damaged by chemicals or harsh environmental factors is a product like Joico Acidifer Chemical Enhancer.

DETANGLERS almost always come as a spray-in product that you leave in—no rinsing required. It’s got a quirky name, but don’t let that discourage you from giving Mane N Tail Detangler a try. You’ll love it.

Nearly every line of hair care products includes a wide range of conditioners, with at least one in each of the categories mentioned above. And there are many good choices right at your supermarket. 

The most cost-effective way to buy good-quality, name-brand hair conditioners is to collect hair product coupons from the Sunday newspaper inserts and then wait for the brands you prefer to go on sale at a store that doubles coupons.

My personal favorite conditioner is Pantene Pro-V Color Revival and when my Pantene conditioner goes on sale and I have coupons, I load up.

Infusium23 makes an excellent line of conditioners that are available in most supermarkets. When I have coupons and this line comes on sale, I’m an enthusiastic buyer. 

Some beauty supply stores are open to the public and sell conditioner for less than $10 a gallon. While that’s a good deal, it’s also a lot of conditioner, so before you jump on it make sure it’s compatible with your family’s hair needs.

One of the responses to the shampoo article came from hair professional C.C. Courville of Louisiana. In that the subject of her message was “Kudos on the shampoo article!” I sensed we had a “thrifty” connection so I grabbed the opportunity to ask her professional opinion on conditioners:

“My all time favorite conditioning spray, which is a leave-in that you spray into clean, towel-dried hair, is a professional product called Biolage Daily Leave-In Tonic by Matrix. This spray-in, leave-in conditioner can be used daily.

“Biolage also has a conditioning balm that can be used weekly. After shampooing use a dime- to a quarter-sized amount (depending on the thickness of hair), work through from scalp to ends, even combing through if desired. Leave on for 5 to 20 minutes then thoroughly rinse out.”

C.C.’s Rule of Thumb: Conditioning spray: leave-in. Balms or cream rinses: always rinse out completely.

Both Pantene Pro-V and Infusium 23 have spray-in, leave-in conditioning sprays in their line of products.

Now, no article on hair care would be complete without a homemade solution or two:

DIY CONDITIONER.  Many readers, including a couple of hair professionals I know, insist that the best way to deeply condition your hair is to put a liberal amount of regular (not low-fat) mayonnaise on it, then put on a shower cap and spend an hour in the sun. Wash out completely. I have yet to try this myself. 

DIY “HAIR RID.”  While shampoo will not build up on your hair, conditioner and other styling products will. You can purchase pricey “clarifying” products to remove this build-up, or simply use a teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) mixed in your palm with your favorite shampoo every few weeks. Shampoo as usual and rinse thoroughly. The baking soda helps remove the build-up of  conditioners, mousses and sprays to give you naturally clean hair. Follow with your conditioner of choice.

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