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Conditioners: $2 Vs $20 and then some…

October 20, 2009

Your hair is dead.  Dead straight, Dead Curly, Dead Flat, Dead Red. Whatever, its dead and so is there any point in “feeding”  it with expensive conditioner?

remember bad hair day

It is true that once your hair leaves the cozy nest that is the hair follicle and enters life in the world above skin it is no longer alive. Sad? yes.  Tragic? Doesn’t have to be.

Hair grows in cycles and it is during the anogen phase that it grows. The time that your hair spends in the anogen or growth phase depends on where the hair is on your body and on your genes. That is why our eyelashes and leg hair don’t grow as long as the hair on our heads. Some lucky people have an anogen phase that lasts around 10 years on their heads leaving them able to the very long hair seen in the record books. For others the growth phase lasts anywhere between 2-6 years. It is likely that Rapunzel from the fairy tale had some kind of genetic disorder meaning that her hair never left the anogen growth phase. A useful genetic flaw for those trapped in tall towers!

Anyway, the hair that we see on our heads is long dead so there is a limit to what we can do to it.  However, as we shall see below, that doesn’t mean that you should give up and throw out the hair masks and treatments now….

  • Smoothness. Each hair on our head has an outer cuticle or coat that sits over the hair shaft like roof tiles (or like the scales on a snake). If you rub them one way they are soft and the other they are rough.   Hair conditioners contain electrically charged softening agents that stick to the cuticle and stick it back down. Usually the  more expensive the conditioner, the more sophisticated the glue!
  • Shine. Just by lining up the cuticle in an orderly fashion you will improve the look and shine factor of your hair. However, the more expensive conditioners will contain special additives chosen for their high refractive index (or shine factor) to give your hair even more gloss.  Again, the more expensive the conditioner,  the more likely it is to have these high tech actives.
  • Body. So your hair lacks volume? This may be down to your genes again (do you have fine or thin hair?) or it may be to do with the weather.   Whatever the cause a cheap conditioner will usually do nothing to enhance the body of your hair. More expensive conditioners contain things called polymers which are basically very large chemicals (of natural or synthetic origin) that can add volume and a bit of style to your locks. These come in many guises but look out for anything starting with “polyquat” on the pack.
  • Frizz Control. So you have curly hair but you don’t want it frizzy? Again the cheap conditioners will only be able to go so far with their cuticle sticking power, to get a good frizz control you probably need to use modified vegetable oils or silicones (such as dimethicone) to tame the frizz.
  • Colour Management. Some of the more expensive conditioners do contain ingredients that help to protect your hairs colour. They do this by containing sunscreen actives (UV absorbers) that have been specially designed to stick to the hair shaft.  If you dye your hair red these conditioners are a must as red dyes are really prone to UV degradation. Again, cheap conditioners can’t usually do anything to help you with colour.

So, performance wise the more expensive the conditioner the more likely it is to be able to offer you some extra benefits listed above and while it is not necessary to “feed” your hair it is a good idea to manicure it! Think about the tiles on your roof, they are not alive but you can paint them, seal them, brush them and UV coat them. Do that and they will last longer and look better but remember to choose wisely to ensure that you leave the environment as clean and manicured as your shiny locks.

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