Published on February 28th, 2015 | by Yashodhara Ghosh
BEAUTY SCIENCE: Conditoners et al
Static charge making your crowning glory a tangled mess? Conditioners is what you need – here’s what they do and why!
Did you know that once upon a time conditioners were so greasy that users would have to spread cloth on furniture to avoid staining the upholstery? If this is bringing back woeful memories of your oily days in school, let’s quickly repress that thought and take comfort in the fact that the science of beauty has made massive leaps and strides since those days: thankfully, oils isn’t the only conditioner at our disposal these days.
Whether you have wild curls or poker straight locks, conditioners are your saviour from that frizz attack. They coax your hair into submission, making them more manageable and less tangled. But why do they get tangled, you ask? Now that’s a long story, but we’re willing to share… Each strand of hair consists of three layers: the cuticle, the cortex, and the innermost medulla. The chief function of the cuticle is to lock in moisture and pigment for the strands. The cuticle consists of separate scales which lie flat along the length of the hair shaft, arranged like tiles on a roof, forming a sheathe that protects the inner cortex. Now whenever the strand of hair is under stress of any kind, these scales inadvertently open out, standing up on their ends instead of lying prone to form the protective sheathe. When these scales stand up, they leave the inner cortex exposed and vulnerable to loss of moisture.
Stress? On hair?
The next logical question, of course, is what counts as stress. Sadly, many things: ranging from heavy duty factors like perming, colouring, straightening to everyday factors like washing, pollution, wind, and friction. All it takes is a few electrons to abandon the strand of hair and cause it to develop an electrostatic charge, and the hair strand develops a bad case of gooseflesh, with the scales of the cuticles standing on their ends. One of commonest reasons that cause displacement of electrons and unhappy cuticles is shampooing. All that soaping and rinsing inevitably strips off all the moisture and causes enough friction for the hair strands to become electrically charged, making your mane sport a dry, bedraggled look. Shampoos are notorious for disturbing the natural pH balance of hair: in a nutshell, that means that while the soap in shampoos removes dirt and grime, they also strip electrons: and the more you lose electrons, the more static-y and dry-looking your hair becomes. But at the end of the day, shampoos are a necessary evil: and to undo the damage that they unwittingly do while cleansing your hair, conditioners are an absolute must. While shampoos agitate your hair, conditioners calm down the strands, making them lie flat, and hold on to every ounce of moisture.
- Conditioners contain large doses of moisturisers such as dimethicone. Some of the moisturisers are also humectants, which help retain and hold on to the moisture as well. One such agent is panthenol.
- Then there are detanglers, which help you run the comb from root to tip without encountering and knots and tangles. They usually consist of polymers that add a glossy protective coating over your hair, preventing friction between strands.
- Reconstructors are another component: they replicate the structure of the amino acids that hair is formed of. They add strength to the hair.
- Fatty acids are usually found in intensive or deep conditioners, as they provide extra doses of moisture. They are thick and heavy, and practically smother your hair into submission. Unless your hair is screaming out for moisture, you could give these a wide berth or use once in a while.
- Acidifiers maintain the pH balance of conditioners, and contain hydrogen ions that tighten the cuticle and force them to close, leaving your hair smoother.
- Some conditioners also contain sunscreens to sun protect your hair.