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Is conditioner good for hair | Decoding modern haircare with Ayurveda

Is conditioner good for hair?

This is the question we are most asked when we help our customers plan and design an authentic ayurvedic hair care routine. An authentic ayurvedic hair care routine has no room for a conditioner.

How then do you keep your hair frizz and tangle free? What even goes into a conditioner and how do conditioners work? Most importantly, why are we, a company that creates authentic ayurvedic products for healthy hair , advising against a conditioner? This post attempts to answer these questions and more.

Why does a modern hair care routine use hair conditioner? The answer lies in our Shampoo

For millennia human beings lived and co-existed with plants, soil and natural water bodies by finding sustainable, and healthy ways to care for their skin and hair. In India, our rich biodiversity , bountiful soil, and plants meant that we enjoyed access to thousands of herbs which varied every 100 Km as the terrain changed. From soapberries, to Shikakai, to mild river soil, Desert dates and other gentle Ayurvedic herbs, our traditional ayurvedic texts documented the use of hundreds of natural saponin containing plants that could be used safely to cleanse hair.

is conditioner good for hair ? Before we answer this, we should understand why we need this product.

Clearly this worked because India continues to supply the world with high quality, strong virgin hair which is made into natural hair extensions and wigs. 

Across the world, traditional cultures have documented the use of plants for cleansing from soapwort to seaweed, to other herbs. 

This changed drastically at the beginning of the 20th century. Emboldened by the success of mass-market soaps which moved the onus of creating, curing and crafting your soap from a DIY, homestead activity to a commercial product, companies decided to enter the personal care space with shampoos.

The first set of shampoos made were based on Anionic detergents. They used surfactants like SLS, SLeS as their primary cleanser. Anionic detergents are extremely efficient at removing sebum, wax and grease from any surface. Their initial use was therefore in industrial sheds and factories to clean cars and automobile parts. When used on hair , they ended up drying out hair severely and causing minor inflammation on the hair and over time weakening hair structure.

is conditioner good for hair - this product has entered our regimen only because shampoos dry out hair

Therefore a 2 in one shampoo was invented – a shampoo which used 2-4 different surfactants from different classes of surfactants and not just anionic surfactants. This surfactant was combined with thickeners and conditioning agents along with colours, fragrances and other sequestering agents. By trial and error the modern shampoo evolved to be pleasant smelling, rich and creamy to use and appeared to be less damaging to the hair and scalp, at least initially.

With the takeoff of the 2 in one shampoo and with greater experimentation on hair, there was a greater need felt for a separate conditioner that could make hair more manageable given how dry and unmanageable processes like bleaching and dyeing were making hair.

The invention of the modern Conditioner

The First commercial conditioner was exhibited in the Paris Exposition in 1900. We emphasize the word “commercial” here because human beings had long invented beautiful natural hair oils made from natural plant oils and butters. In ayurveda, the Acharyas gave us the gift of the Tila Paka vidhi. This process jump-started the nutrition an oil could give you by slowly processing it with beneficial herbs extracted in special ways. This process supercharged oils making them easy to absorb and excellent for hair.

But, back to Paris.

Apart from Matryoshka dolls, dry cell batteries, escalators and diesel engines, one of the products showcased in the 1900 expo was “Brilliantine”. This was a hair pomade, a combination of oil and wax created by the Edouard Pinaud Perfume House and Cosmetic company. 

The first commercial conditioner was unveiled in the Paris Expo in 1900

Brilliantine was a perfumed, slightly oily product intended for male grooming. It was presented as a way to make mustaches and beards glossy, fragrant and soft at the Paris Expo. 

Over time, companies have built on Edouard Painaud’s idea and have added a variety of other chemical ingredients to create different types of conditioners like rinse off conditioners, deep conditioning masks, holding hair gels, and leave-on conditioners.

Hair care basics: Why does my hair get frizzy and tangled?

The hair cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair strand. The cuticle is not a single piece. Instead, it has an arrangement similar to fish scales with the scales lining up in one direction. The cuticles are coated naturally with a mixture of sebum , natural salts from sweat, water. This forms a smooth coating on the hair strands, so that they look glossy, feel smooth and are easy to manage.

However, when we use harsh synthetic soap or shampoo, do not add back natural oils to the scalp or use heat styling tools, bleaches and dyes on hair, we  damage the hair:

  • Strip the natural oil coating from the hair strands
  • Rip the cuticles of the hair strand apart leaving gaps and tears in the strand structure
  • Alter the uni direction of the cuticular scales
  • As a result of the above three, we deprotonate the hair strand which contains a special layer of acidic cysteine molecules in the natural sebum coating. This removes a proton from this acid base, leaving the hair strand frizzy with a negative electric charge. 

shampoos damage the cuticle bringing in the need to use a synthetic conditioner

The stripping of natural oils, ripping of cuticles and deprotonation of hair makes hair strands frizzy, full of static, dull, rough and prone to breakage.

Why does a hair conditioner make my hair smooth?

On deprotonated hair with a negative charge, the synthetic ingredients in a conditioner like Polyquaternium and Benhentrimonium chloride, get attached to the hair strand through electrostatic interactions. Once they adhere to hair, they work in multiple ways:

  • The hydrocarbon chain in these compounds help externally lubricate hair leaving it less rough and easier to manage
  • By surface coating the hair strands with cation groups, the individual hair strands are electrostatically repelled from each other – so they clump and tangle less
  • Because of the positive electrostatic charge, they cancel the hair’s negative charge acting like antistatic agents

Synthetic conditioners use plasticising coating agents to lubricate, repel individual hair strands from one another and create appearance eof smooth hair

How do other types of conditioners work ?

Certain kinds of conditioners like deep conditioning masks, which are typically used in salons as a part of a hair spa package, have more added uses.

The cationic surfactants in the product can glue the hair scales together. This temporarily covers any rips or tears in the hair cuticle, leaving the hair feeling smooth and temporarily sealing the break points in damaged hair.

A holding conditioner thoroughly binds and holds hair in a particular style or shape . They are formulated similar to hair gels. These conditioners contain cationic electrostatic polymers that have a plasticizing and adhering effect. It allows hair stylists to shape the hair into different styles and leave it in place without using pins or other physical equipment.

Leave-in conditioners use a different combination of surfactants with conditioning agents.  They are formulated to be lighter and work similarly to a hair oil. Of course, they do not have any of the real nourishing benefits of a good hair oil. This kind of conditioner helps make extremely curly hair more manageable.

Co-wash conditioners or cleansing conditioners are a relatively new category of conditioners. They have been formulated to address the new need for curly hair products. They are typically used instead of shampoo in between washes to lightly cleanse curly hair without affecting its coil and texture. 

These products use a combination of amphoteric surfactants like Cocomidopropyl betaine (often used in no more tears baby shampoos) and cationic surfactants like quaternary ammonium compounds. Cationic compounds adhere quickly to hair strands and stay on your hair,  resisting being washed off. They provide a coating effect, and temporarily strengthen weak hair strands. Amphoteric surfactants are gentler and have less detergency compared to anionic surfactants like SLs, and SlES – however, they produce copious lather, giving the impression of cleansing. This combination can temporarily moisturize your hair, cut down frizz and make it feel more manageable. 

Is conditioner good for hair?

Readers would notice the multiple uses of the word “temporary” throughout this article as we explain why when you condition your hair, you may see some initial benefits. These initial benefits can largely be seen on the ends of your hair and on hair length as this product allows you to be able to momentarily manage your hair.

A regular conditioner can make your hair soft, smooth, and glossy temporarily. This is especially useful if hair is dry, frizzy or for people with curly hair.  However, every time you wash your hair, the benefits of the conditioning or moisturizing agent disappear, and you will see your hair revealed in its actual state. 

A conditioner cannot make the hair healthy actually. Neither can it work on the scalp, nourish it, help grow strong hair or improve hair growth.

In fact, if you are to use conditioner correctly, it should NOT be used close to the scalp as it can block the pores of the scalp, trap heat within, prevent healthy thermo-exchange, and limit hair growth. 

Most importantly, let’s not forget the real reason why conditioner is considered so essential in a modern hair care routine. Synthetic shampoo is extremely damaging to hair, scalp and hair follicles. Therefore a conditioner exists to mask the damage caused by shampoos. In fact, most modern hair care routines like heat styling, texture alteration, and hair coloring REQUIRE the existence of a conditioner to undo the damage caused by these routines. 

Our final answer to the question: is conditioner good for hair?

No. It is a simple temporary fix

To us, a conditioner is like a Trojan horse. It is a synthetic invention created to prop up the shampoo industry. Attractive terminology like “moisturizing conditioner” hides the fact that such products simply mask damage. They hide the actual health of the hair and only work temporarily.

So at Krya, we ask people to avoid using a synthetic conditioner of any kind, whether it is a deep conditioner or a leave-in conditioner. In fact every hair type can benefit from this advice, even people with dry hair or curly hair.

In Ayurveda, we have something MUCH better than even a deep conditioner or hair treatment mask. This practice is a part of Dinacharya / daily wellness routines. The product can nourish the eyes and relieve stress apart from nourishing the scalp, improving hair quality, and protect hair from breakage, water, etc.

What are we talking about? A Shiro abhyanga with ayurvedic hair oil.

The Ayurvedic alternative to a conditioner 

In Ayurveda, hair conditioning is treated differently. The focus is on retaining the natural sebum and oils of the scalp as much as possible, and working WITH and not against the microbiome constructed in your skin and scalp.

So instead of using a harsh shampoo, stripping out natural oils and washing away the microbiome layer and then adding back plasticizing silicones in the form of conditioners to prevent hair from being frizzy and dull, Ayurveda uses a more gentle and wholesome approach to hair care.

Ayurvedic hair oiling : Makes hair healthy and protects hair

The foundation of Ayurvedic hair care is a 3 step hair care routine that is held together by the regular, leave on application of a hair oil. In Ayurveda we follow 2 kinds of hair oiling:  Leave on hair oiling and Wash off hair oiling. Both these practices are used for different purposes. 

The ayurvedic alternative to a synthetic conditioner? Hair oiling works in multiple ways.

Leave-on hair oiling is done directly on the scalp. The purpose here is to nourish the scalp and stimulate growth for better quality hair that is thicker and stronger. Here a good ayurvedic hair oil acts like food for the scalp. By feeding it with a nutritionally dense hair oil that penetrates quickly into the scalp, the oil positively impacts hair growth, quality, and health. This is completely different from how a conditioner works on hair. With regular hair oiling, hair is thicker, shinier, stronger and healthier. Leave on hair oiling also positively impacts the health of the eyes and helps regulate temper, anxiety and build focus. This is why Shiro abhyanga or head oiling is a Dinacharya in Ayurveda.

The second way Ayurveda advises us to use a hair oil is to use it before shampoo to protect hair and condition the hair before hair wash.  Wet hair is very fragile and prone to water based damage and hair breakage. When we pre-oil the hair strands generously, one hour before hair wash, the oil acts as a coating protecting the hair shafts from damage. If your hair is prone to breakage, especially during wash, wash-off oiling is an excellent way to prevent further damage.  

Explore our Ayurvedic hair oils by concern here:

How to prevent hair damage which needs a

conditioner cover up – Choose the right shampoo

We started this article with a history of why the conditioner was invented. To cover up shampoo-related damage. 

How can we prevent hair damage? By choosing a better hair cleanser to start with. 

Despite having advanced technical knowledge, the Ayurvedic Acharyas did not suggest the use of a soap. A hand made soap is extremely basic and easy to make and has been used for millennia in other parts of the world for cleansing. however, in warm, humid climatic conditions and in countries like India where Snana is a Nityakarma (to be done daily), a soap is TOO harsh on skin or the hair. 

Therefore in Ayurveda, we have always used a harmonious mixture of lentils, grains, clays and ayurvedic herbs to create ubtans, body cleansers and hair wash powders.

Such ayurvedic cleansers are MUCH milder compared to synthetic shampoo. They do not strip hair of natural oils and help conserve the body’s microbiome. They do not alter the hair’s electrostatic charge. They do not dry out hair causing hair breakage or split ends. The scalp and hair health is protected much more when such gentle ayurvedic hair wash choornams are used.

At Krya, we formulate hair wash choornams for different hair concerns and dosha types. Every one of

our hair cleansers has a pH close to the skin’s natural pH, is non-irritating and non-inflammatory and protects scalp and hair health. 

Improving scalp health – the Ayurvedic hair mask (lepa)

Consistent use of clogging products like synthetic conditioners, leave in conditioners, holding sprays end up clogging the fine pores of the scalp. This creates small blocks in the scalp, preventing healthy hair growth. It also acts as point of excessive buildup in the scalp attracting microorganisms.

So the 3rd part of an ayurvedic hair care routine after regular oiling and cleansing is to work on scalp health by application of a hair mask (lepa).

When we use a carefuly curated mix of ayurvedic herbs regularly (once a week or once a fortnight) on our scalp, we deep cleanse and help prepare the scalp for better thermo exchange, to receive nourishment properly from oil and to grow higher quality hair.


Frequently asked questions

Does conditioner cause hair loss?

A conditioner does not directly cause hair loss. However, we have observed that regular conditioner use hides how much damage the hair actually has. So we end up never seeking proper treatment and nourishment for hair.

As conditioners also temporarily leave hair glossy and smooth, we believe that our hair is healthier than it is. We dont pay enough attention to our hair routine, our scalp health or minimizing damage. 

 Is conditioner good for hair everyday?

We’ve made a case for completely replacing a synthetic conditioner with an ayurvedic hair oil. Ideally, we advise not using a conditioner at all.

An ayurvedic hair oil can, instead, be used every day for excellent scalp and hair health. 

Can I wash my hair with just a conditioner?

There is a lot of interest in the Curly Girl method to help develop and maintain curl integrity. To reduce hair dryness and improve hair manageability, companies have created a concept called co-washing, where they ask you to use a conditioner instead of a shampoo to cleanse hair or to clean hair between washes. This is suggested as a gentler way to wash hair more often – sometimes even daily ad as a way to provide deep hair conditioning.

Please note that this washing schedule is excessive. Hair should not be washed more than twice a week, unless it is getting especially dirty. Every time you shampoo your hair, the product and water damage can cause hair breakage, rip the hair’s cuticular structure and weaken hair over time.

If we limit hair washing to twice a week, there is no question of using a conditioner instead of a shampoo to wash hair as we would need a suitable cleanser to clean hair.

Even on those shampoo occasions, it is much more preferable to use a gentle ayurvedic choornam to cleanse hair instead of a harsh synthetic shampoo. Therefore it is not advisable to wash your hair with a conditioner. A conditioner cannot clean the scalp. Instead, choose a gentler hair wash product and cut down the number of times you wash hair. 

Which conditioner is best for hair growth and thickness?

A conditioner cannot influence hair growth. Hair growth starts at the scalp and only a well-nourished, healthy scalp can grow healthy hair. a conditioner should not be used on the scalp. Therefore it can , at best, improve hair manageability temporarily. It cannot improve hair hydration either. 

Synthetic conditioning ingredients cannot improve hair growth or hair thickness. 

What conditioner is good for hair loss?

A conditioner really cannot improve hair growth or hair quality. However, if you have severe hair damage, extremely dry or brittle hair, when you apply a conditioner it can temporarily minimize hair breakage. But in the long run, such dry, brittle and frizzy hair should be treated with a vata balancing set of hair products. 

If you have hair thinning, hair loss due to high stress , dandruff based hair fall or hard water damage to hair, just a conditioner may not help your issue. It may even harm the hair.  You may need a specific ayurvedic hair oil, a hair mask to work on scalp health and a gentle ayurvedic hair wash. These products should be chosen to specifically address the root cause.

Do you want a consultation to build a personalised ayurvedic haircare routine?

To Sum up: Is conditioner good for hair?

In this article, we decoded the issues around conditioners from an Ayurvedic point of view. We spoke about various hair needs and different hair concerns & how the modern shampoo and conditioner is too simplistic to care for hair .  They often end up damaging hair and scalp.

Hair and skin are important organ systems . They need better quality nourishment and care. 

Ayurveda can help. Drop the conditioner and shampoo you’re using, today. And choose better.

DM us for a personalized recommendation for the right hair products for you. 

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Preethi Sukumaran
Preethi Sukumaran

Preethi is deeply committed to the formal study and application of the timeless principles of right living as laid down in the Ayurvedic canon. At Krya, her synthesis of ayurvedic principles with botanical expertise drives R&D & Product development.

We have over 100 proprietary formulations in the market today which are trusted and loved by our consumers.

Preethi is also deeply passionate about building Krya based on the Indic principle that Dharma leads to Artha ; we call this "Dharmic Entrepreneurship". She works with the Krya team on establishing Krya as one of the most trusted wellness brands in the categories we operate in.

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