A 19th-century advertisement for hair care products

Hair conditioner is a hair care cosmetic product used to improve the feel, texture, appearance and manageability of hair. Its main purpose is to reduce friction between strands of hair to allow smoother brushing or combing, which might otherwise cause damage to the scalp.[1] Various other benefits are often advertised, such as hair repair, strengthening, or a reduction in split ends.[weasel words]

Conditioners are available in a wide range of forms, including viscous liquids, gels and creams, as well as thinner lotions and sprays. Hair conditioner is usually used after the hair has been washed with shampoo. It is applied and worked into the hair and may either be rinsed out a short time later or left in.


For centuries, natural oils have been used to condition human hair.[2] A conditioner popular with men in the late Victorian era was Macassar oil, but this product was quite greasy and necessitated the pinning of a small cloth, known as an antimacassar, to the headrests of chairs and sofas to preserve the upholstery from being damaged by the oil.[3]

A bottle of modern-day hair conditioner by Clairol (right)

Modern hair conditioner was created at the turn of the 20th century when the Edouard Pinaud company presented a product he called Brilliantine at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.[4] His product was intended to soften men's hair, including beards and moustaches.[5] Since the invention of Pinaud's early products, modern science has advanced the hair conditioner industry to include those made with silicone, fatty alcohols and quaternary ammonium compounds. These chemical products have the benefits of hair conditioner without feeling greasy or heavy.

Mechanism of action

The outermost layer of a hair follicle is called the cuticle and is composed largely of keratin.[6] This is rich in cysteine groups which are mildly acidic.[7][8] When the hair is washed these groups can deprotonate, giving the hair a negative charge.[citation needed]

The ingredients in conditioner, especially positively charged quaternary ammonium species, such as behentrimonium chloride or polymers that are known as Polyquaternium-XX, where XX is an arbitrary number, can then become attached to the hair via electrostatic interactions. Once attached these compounds have several effects. Their long hydrocarbon backbone helps to lubricate the surface of each hair follicle, reducing the sensation of roughness and assisting combing. The surface coating of cationic groups means that hairs are repelled from each other electrostatically, which reduces clumping. The compounds can also act as antistatic agents, which helps to reduce frizzing.[citation needed]


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There are several types of hair conditioner ingredients, differing in composition and functionality:


Conditioners are frequently acidic, as low pH protonates the keratin's amino acids. The hydrogen ions give the hair a positive charge and create more hydrogen bonds among the keratin scales, giving the hair a more compact structure. Organic acids such as citric acid are usually used to maintain acidity.

See also


  1. ^ Barel, André O.; Paye, Marc; Maibach, Howard I. (3 March 2009). Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology, Third Edition. CRC Press. pp. 687–. ISBN 978-1-4200-6968-6.
  2. ^ "Argan oil as a geographic indication". www1.american.edu. Archived from the original on 2017-03-19. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  3. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Antimacassar". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 127.
  4. ^ Gaspar, Enrique (2012-06-26). The Time Ship: A Chrononautical Journey. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-7239-4.
  5. ^ "The History of Conditioner". Prell. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  6. ^ Yang, Fei-Chi (2014-10-14). "The structure of people's hair". PeerJ. 2: e619. doi:10.7717/peerj.619. PMC 4201279. PMID 25332846.
  7. ^ Dawber, Rodney (January 1996). "Hair: Its structure and response to cosmetic preparations". Clinics in Dermatology. 14 (1): 105–112. doi:10.1016/0738-081X(95)00117-X. PMID 8901408.
  8. ^ Longo, V. M.; Monteiro, V. F.; Pinheiro, A. S.; Terci, D.; Vasconcelos, J. S.; Paskocimas, C. A.; Leite, E. R.; Longo, E.; Varela, J. A (April 2006). "Charge density alterations in human hair fibers: an investigation using electrostatic force microscopy". International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 28 (2): 95–101. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2494.2006.00280.x. PMID 18492143. S2CID 6402716.
  9. ^ Chung, Madelyn (May 29, 2017). "Everything You Need to Know About Cleansing Conditioners". Fashion Magazine. Retrieved July 21, 2021.
  10. ^ "Introduction". wwwcourses.sens.buffalo.edu. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  11. ^ Hair Conditioner, Moisturizer. "Understanding Scalp Issues". Archived from the original on 2016-10-21. Retrieved 2015-09-18.
  12. ^ "How does hair conditioner work? » Scienceline". scienceline.org. 2014-01-09. Retrieved 2016-01-01.