The Awful Truth about Conditioner

Back before I did my research on hair chemistry, I figured I should use more conditioner during times of Bad Hair. I assumed it could only help.

Not true. Much as I hate to admit it, it’s possible to overdo a good thing.

A conditioner leaves a smooth waxy coating on the hair, strengthening the layer of cuticle cells that protects the hair shaft or forming a protective layer where cuticle cells have broken away. Hair tangles when the lifted edges of the cuticle layer on one hair get caught on the cuticle layer on another hair. Adding a coating that smoothes out these rough edges helps keep your hair from tangling.

This coating also helps reduce static electricity and seals moisture into your hair, keeping it from getting dry and brittle. Some conditioners also include proteins that may be absorbed into the hair protein, helping restore its structure.

That's the good news. Now for the bad news. Hairdressers talk about "over-conditioning" your hair. That means that you’ve used so much conditioner that the waxy layers are weighing your hair down, making it limp and unmanageable.

My hair is short and perky when it’s the right length and in the right mood. But it lies down limply when it’s too long. At that point, more conditioner only makes it heavier and limper. Rather than adding more conditioner, I'm better off using a clarifying shampoo (also known as an antiresidue shampoo) that has no conditioners at all. Such a shampoo cleans the hair and leaves nothing behind, stripping away any conditioners that may have built up.

Bad Grrlz Contents| Bad Grrlz and Bad Hair | Books by Pat Murphy