Hands up if you ever thought, ‘If only I could just find the right conditioner, my hair troubles will be over?’ I know that when I first went natural, I really did dedicate a lot of time to looking for a hair conditioner that would magically do everything from making my hair retain moisture and yes even quite sadly attempt to create spirals where there were none. It is only with developing a more strategic scientific approach that I finally learned that even hair conditioner does have its limits. Here are some of the things that I know hair conditioner cannot do:
1. Conditioner cannot make your hair clump
If you are in the trial and error phase, you may be struggling to get your hair to clump with hair conditioner (or gel, or mousse, or whatever) but finding that whatever you do it simply does not. Why not? Well hair that clumps tends to be hair that is more curly than kinky and in addition, the individual curl pattern on each strand tends to be quite uniform allowing them to conveniently merge into one larger curl/spiral/clump. If your hair is kinky curly, you will notice that the position of the kink on each strand varies. This means that your hair will not naturally clump as the strands are far from identical. Therefore if you, like I was, expect hair conditioner to create clumped curls, forget it! Your hair either naturally clumps or it doesn’t.
2. Conditioner does not stop breaking or shedding
I have noticed a trend of naturals advising that when you experience above average shedding or breakage, a protein conditioner should be considered. I don’t disagree with this advice but I would also put a huge proviso with it. Hair that is breaking will only be temporarily stopped from breaking by a hair conditioner. The damage that caused it to break is still present, the hair is weak and will continue to break albeit at a slower rate. Fix the real cause of breakage, don’t rely on hair conditioner.
3. Conditioner combing is not necessarily gentler
There are some people who love conditioner combing because the mix of slip and wet hair allows the comb or brush to glide through easily, fast and painlessly. However, as a natural, you have to be very aware that sometimes this type of combing can lead to breakage by stealth. You do not hear the strands snapping because the hair is not dry but you will find a lot of hair coming out in the process. If you find that your hair is not progressing lengthwise, you should stop regarding that conditioner combed hair as shed hair and start thinking of it as breakage. Conditioner combing does not suit all hair, don’t assume it to be gentler.
4. Hair conditioner is not a constant source of moisture
Hair conditioner is excellent for fixing your cuticle, forcing the scales to lie flat and somewhat mending any cracks or holes. These actions do help your hair retain moisture and certainly immediately after a shampoo and conditioner wash, you hair will almost certainly have a higher water content. However, after that wash, most naturals will find that their hair will progressively get drier day after day. The way to retain moisture after that first wash lies in experimenting and finding techniques and additional products (humectants, oils) to maintain moisture. Sometimes though it can be as simple as showering with hair uncovered allowing steam to replenish moisture.
5. Hair conditioner can never really fix scalp problems
One of the worst pieces of advice that I read about co-washing is that it can help fix a dry scalp. Hair conditioner works by depositing itself on the surface of hair and therefore also the scalp. The scalp is an ecosystem of its own with a balance of bacteria and fungus that help it be healthy and itch free. The oils in hair conditioner constantly deposited can actually exacerbate scalp problems and allow build up as well as dandruff to form. Very often the solution to scalp issues is to find a very good shampoo and to avoid conditioner contact on the scalp.
Ladies, have you tried unsuccessfully to use conditioner in any of these capacities? When did you realize it wasn’t effective?