Nowadays, I can’t seem to walk past a product without taking a look at its ingredients list. I’ve had to learn the hard way that a beautifully packaged and effectively marketed product does not always equate to a good one. On a recent trip to my local hair shop I stumbled upon a deep conditioning product which claimed to strengthen and rebuild the hair, I scanned through the ingredients list almost three times, before confirming that I could not identify one familiar protein within the list. I would assume I am not only one that would expect at least one protein ingredient in a strengthening and rebuilding product?!
Now truth is it’s not always an easy task to know whether or not a product will live up to its claims before you try it, but on the topic of deep conditioners I have a few tricks up my sleeve. The secret is in knowing which ingredients to look out for, and I’ve got just the list you need to make shopping for deep conditioners a walk in the park, but before we get into that let’s iron a few things out…
What Are You Looking For?
The first question to ask yourself before picking out a deep conditioner, is ‘What am I looking for?’
On a basic level conditioners and deep conditioners can do two things, adsorb and/or penetrate.
Both adsorption and penetration are fundamental in helping us to achieve moisture, softness, strength, manageability, elasticity, and pretty much everything else we desire in healthy hair, however you don’t always need a conditioner to do both. For the sake of addressing today’s topic which is penetration, let’s assume you are looking for a deep conditioner that can penetrate your hair, and therefore moisturise, strengthen and rebuild it from within. Here are some key ingredients to look out for:
The most obvious of all ingredients. Water is able to penetrate the hair, it softens, moisturises and helps with manageability. It is one of, if not the most moisturising of all penetrable ingredients.
Proteins, one of the key ingredients we look for when it comes to rebuilding and strengthening our hair, are known to have a very low water solubility. In order to get them to work their magic they must first undergo a process called hydrolysis, which in simple terms is the breaking down of the protein molecules, to make them smaller and therefore more able to penetrate. The proteins below are renown for their abilities to strengthen, increase shine, and in most cases are great at improving water retention. If you can find them within the top 5/6 ingredients of your deep conditioner, you’re definitely on to something!
[Hydrolysed Silk Protein, Hydrolysed Wheat Protein, Hydrolysed Milk Protein, Hydrolysed Soy Protein, Hydrolysed Corn Protein, Hydrolysed Keratin, Hydrolysed Collagen, Phytokeratin etc]
Side note: The level of penetrability depends greatly on the moelcular weight of each protein. Some are better at forming a protective film around the cuticle than actually penetrating. Nevertheless they can all be found in some of the most effective deep conditioners on the market.
*Supporting study here
Often not given enough praise ceramides are lipids (oils) which occur naturally in our hair, they help to keep the different layers of the cuticle in tact. Whilst research suggests that the benefits of ceramides are more significant in chemically processed hair [great post on this here], there’s no harm in looking out for them in your products, some naturals absolutely love them.
Similar to ceramides 18 MEA is also a lipid intended to help maintain the solidity of the cuticle layer. A lack of these lipids is known to be one of causes of hair strands that stick together resulting in intense tangling.
* Study: Surf. Interface Anal pp 298-301, 2011
This is an excellent ingredient to look out for if you have damaged hair. The cetearyl alcohol component in this compound, helps positively charged ingredients attract to our negatively charged hair, thus increasing moisture and lubricity. It is a small-sized compound which can also penetrate the hair shaft.
Also known as Vitamin B is another ingredient you’ll be pleased to have in your deep conditioner. It can penetrate the hair cuticle and draw moisture into the cortex. It’s definitely an ingredient you should be happy to see in just about any hair care product.
So there you have it, a good starter list to take with you on your next hair care run, the list is far from conclusive but these ingredients will definitely have you on your way to more deeply treated hair. You may have noticed I did not add coconut oil or any other oils proven to be able to penetrate the hair, to the list above. My reason for this is that studies show that oils [e.g. coconut oil] penetrate best when applied to dry hair, and in this post my suggestions are based on the assumption of wet hair post washing.
In my personal experience my most effective deep conditioners are able to penetrate and adsorb. So whilst this list focuses on those that can penetrate, don’t forget that our hair also needs products that can do both.
What are you top deep conditioners that give the perfect balance of penetration and adsorption?