The primary purpose of hair conditioning products is to reduce the resistance that occurs when hair (particularly wet hair) is combed or brushed. Conditioning agents lubricate the hair fiber so that surface friction is diminished and hair becomes easier to comb through. The hair feels softer, more moisturized, more manageable, and “flyaway” hair is tamed. In addition, increased ease-of-combing means that hair fibers can be aligned in a more parallel configuration, thus improving the appearance of hair shine.
Hair conditioners work by protecting the hair’s structural elements, especially the cuticle, from grooming damage, which is probably the most significant source of damage to the hair surface. Excessive combing and brushing without conditioning can chip and tear away the cells of the hair cuticle. The ends of the hair fiber are subject to greatest damage because the tips are older and have been exposed to more combing, brushing and stress as a result of the detangling process. Without sufficient conditioning, the cuticle layer, particularly on hair tips, is eventually lost, causing split ends. Keep in mind that hair is at its most fragile when wet, and combing wet hair can cause maximum damage to the cuticle cells; therefore it is particularly important to condition hair at this stage of grooming.
Conditioners also help combat another prevalent cause of damage to the hair: the use of grooming appliances such as blow dryers, curling irons and heated rollers. Some appliances reach temperatures of 200 to 400°F and can cause steam to be released from the hair fiber, resulting in bubbling and buckling of the cuticle, especially if hair is not completely dry while being styled. Conditioners protect the hair from heat damage, and certain conditioning polymers can provide extra protection from heat and increase the life of a hair fiber.
Finally, regular use of conditioner helps maintain the integrity of cuticle cells in hair that has been chemically processed. In healthy “virgin” hair (i.e., hair that has not been chemically processed), the cuticle surface is hydrophobic, because there is a layer of fatty acids covalently bonded to the outermost surface (epicuticle) of the hair. On the other hand, hair that is chemically treated (e.g., with bleaching, dyeing, perming or straightening agents) is compromised because these chemical treatments include oxidative steps that modify and strip the surface of the hair. Chemical treatments increase surface friction, causing greater resistance to combing and making hair feel rough and dry. Because of this increased likelihood of grooming damage, treated hair generally requires more conditioning than “virgin” hair.
I hope you find this information useful. Often patients come into our office with hair loss. Sometimes, there is significant hair breakage which can be easily remedied if you smooth hair’s outer cuticle. Conditioning your hair will help your hair look healthy and shiny. It is worth doing!
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