The Right Way To Condition Hair Part I

Causes of Hair Damage

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We, as hair care professionals, are engaged in the art and science of beautifying hair; a notable pursuit that has been around for centuries. Modern techniques of hair beautification range from the simple acts of shampooing, combing and brushing, to chemically treating hair with relaxers, permanent waves and/or hair coloring. Whenever excessively curly hair is modified to a relaxed (straightened) or permanently waved state, we gain better control of hair; but in the process, we end up damaging the hair to some extent. 

There are four basic causes of hair damage: mechanical (combing/styling), shampooing, weather and chemical treatments.  Hair care professionals, whether they're stylists or chemists, are always trying to find ways of eliminating or at least minimizing the effects of hair damage. The most effective weapon against mechanical, shampooing and weather-related hair damage is proper conditioning. Damage caused by chemical treatments, especially over-processing, cannot be reversed by any kind of conditioning treatments. However, such damage can be minimized with certain state-of-the-art conditioning relaxers and permanent wave systems available in the marketplace. 

Proper Conditioning 

What is meant by the word conditioning? Basically, conditioning means attempting to restore or maintain the tensile strength of hair so that it can withstand the effects of combing, brushing, shampooing, weather and, to some extent, chemical treatments. It also involves the giving of certain cosmetic properties representative of healthy hair. 

The following properties of hair are the goals and evidences of effective conditioning: ease of wet and dry combing; elimination of static electricity; minimal hair loss during wet and dry combing; soft and silky feel; minimization of porosity; extra sheen (due to the tight realignment of cuticles); improved body, and enhanced manageability. Hair chemists have an ongoing mission to formulate conditioners that address these hair properties. It's important to keep in mind that the conditioning needs of hair fibers vary according to their texture. For example, fine hair requires increased body, while coarse hair can be use added softness. It's apparent, then, that one type of conditioner cannot be used on all hair textures with the best results. Conditioners containing excessive amounts of proteins, such as reconstructors, should be used only on fine, limp or badly damaged hair. Conditoners containing softening agents, humectants and highly concentrated emollients, such as creme conditioners and moisturizers, should be used on medium to coarse hair or hair that is very dry.

To achieve a maximized result, sufficient amounts of conditioning agents must penetrate deep into the cortex of the hair. This occurs only under one or a combination of the following circumstances: an elevated pH, heat and time. 

Elevated pH

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The higher the pH level of hair, the more widely open are the cuticles. Although hair is in its most vulnerable state under these conditions, the opportunity for conditioners to penetrate deep into the cortex layer of the hair is at its greatest. (When cuticles are closed, it is difficult for conditioners to penetrate in this way. If they do, an extended amount of time is required). When relaxers or permanent wave solutions are applied to the hair, the pH becomes very high (about 13.0 with relaxers and 9.5 with permanent waves). Some premium brands have protective and restorative conditioners built right into the chemical systems so that they can go to work in the hair, when they can do the most good. Even when the chemicals are first rinsed from the hair, the pH declines only partially (down to about 10.0 with relaxers and 7.0 with permanent waves). The hair is still alkaline and the cuticles remain partially open. This represents the second best opportunity to condition the hair once again before completely closing the cuticles with neutralizing shampoos or solutions. But remember, conditioning at these times can only be accomplished with systems that provide such features. 


As the temperature of hair is increased, the greater the possibility of conditioners penetrating the cortex. Penetration is much greater when hair is about 60-degrees centigrade than when it is at the normal environmental temperature of 25 degrees centigrade. A temperature of 60-degrees centigrade is easily achieved at the medium setting of an electric heat cap. 


As the time of contact between hair and the conditioner increases, the degree of the conditioner penetration into the cortex increases. The conditioning action continues to be productive up to 25-30 minutes. After that time, absorption reaches its maximum. It is safe, therefore, to conclude that conditioners should be left on the hair, with a plastic cap, for 25-30 minutes. The use of a hood dryer will enhance the conditioning effect.