When you first decide to become an organic haircare formulator, you’ll soon realise that there is no single formula for how to make hair conditioner let alone an organic and natural one with the challenges these formulations present. You will no doubt have Googled around and come across a wide variety of ‘recipes’ for homemade hair conditioner. In this post, we take you through the core constituent ingredients required to make a safe, effective natural and organic hair conditioner.
If you are bothering to seek out and buy, or already making natural shampoo, it goes without saying that it makes sense to continue your natural haircare routine by using a natural, homemade hair conditioner after shampooing too. Given that we’ve come across some people using a pea size or two of rinse-off conditioner to leave in on dry ends, we think it’s far better to ensure you are using all natural products all the way through your hair washing routine.
Conditioners can be oil- based, emulsion-based, water-based, gel-based or butter-based. Some conditioners will contain cationic surfactants, others won’t. Some conditioners are rinse-off products, others are leave-in formulations. Some conditioners will deliver a positive charge to the hair, others will contain lipids, anti-static or moisturising ingredients.
There is no standard definition for what a conditioner must be, although the mainstream industry would tell you that it must be an emulsion with cationic surfactants. You can make innovative different conditioners which don’t only use cationic surfactants, in fact you can make a whole multitude of different types of product that can condition the hair. We define 14 types of different hair conditioner in our Diploma in Organic Haircare Formulation, but we’re sure there are even more possibilities!
So how is an organic and natural hair conditioner structured? We’ve broken it down in this blog post to give you some points on how you can make an organic and natural hair conditioner and hope to expand your knowledge beyond what you may have gleaned from the many homemade hair conditioner recipes you’ve come across.
1. The Conditioning Base
A traditional conditioner consists of an oil-in-water (O/W) emulsion, which is a dispersion of oil droplets in a water base. Because a traditional conditioner is used as a rinse-off product, the water phase will consist of distilled water or a water-based botanical ingredient. The oil phase will generally not be greater than 10% of the final formulation because the emulsion will often have to be thin and squeezable.
The base of a conventional rinse-off conditioner formulation also contains a cationic surfactant. The positive charge of the cationic surfactant binds to the negative charge of the hair surface. This charge-driven process coats the hair strand with the conditioner, reduces flyaway hairs and static charge, softens the hair and makes the hair easier to comb.
2. Active Ingredients
An organic and natural hair conditioner is never ‘just’ an emulsion with a cationic surfactant – it will also contain ingredients to help moisturise and make the hair easier to comb.
Some examples of active ingredients include:
Proteins in conventional hair conditioners are broken down into smaller components such as peptides and amino acids which attach themselves to the hair strand and help smooth the cuticle. This process strengthens the hair strand and repairs existing damage.
Similar to cationic surfactants, proteins are washed out of the hair when you next use a shampoo or cleansing product. They do not permanently attach themselves to the hair strand.
Moisturising ingredients – Humectants
Many conditioners contain humectants whose purpose is to attract moisture. Examples of organic ingredients include panthenol, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid.
These materials are not very effective in (fast) rinse-off products because they are not in contact with the hair strand for long enough to have a lasting effect. However, in a leave-in conditioner they can help to moisturise the hair strand and provide an overall nourishing effect to the conditioner.
There are a number of botanical extracts which are thought to strengthen hair growth by stimulating the skin of the scalp. Although scientific information on the effects of such botanical extracts is limited, they have been used for millennia to aid the lustre, colour and growth of the hair. Examples include Indian Gooseberry (thought to lead to hair re-growth), eucalyptus (found to have anti-fungal activities against the main fungus found in dandruff), and guarana (stimulates the hair shaft and helps it grow faster).
3. Functional Ingredients
When you make a homemade hair conditioner rather than buy one, you will want it to be more than just a blend of water and surfactants as this would be a rather low viscosity blend that wasn’t easy to apply to the hair. You also want your conditioner to look nice, smell nice and feel nice to the touch. That’s why we use functional ingredients to perfect the overall conditioner formulation. Examples of functional ingredients include:
Emulsifiers and thickeners
Thickeners are the ingredients that bulk up your conditioner emulsion and make sure that it can be measured easily in the palm of your hand and spread over the hair and scalp. After all, if your conditioner was very runny then it would be very challenging to apply.
The mainstream personal care industry wants their conditioner formulations to look as white as snow in order to make them look more appealing to customers. Organic formulators generally do not subscribe to these principles and any colour in an organic conditioner will come from the innate and natural colourants found in the individual ingredients.
In organic conditioners, we use essential oils to provide scent and also to fragrance the hair. As conventional conditioners are generally rinse-off products, the amount of essential oil you use in a conditioner formulation will generally not exceed 1%.
Finally, any conditioner formulation should of course contain stabilising agents to ensure that the formulations remains safe, stable and sellable for the duration of its shelf life. Examples include pH modifiers, chelating agents and preservatives.
When you enrol for Formula Botanica’s Diploma in Organic Haircare Formulation, we teach you how to make organic cream conditioners, deep conditioners, hair masks, hair oils, leave-in sprayable conditioning milks, organic cleansing conditioners, herbal hair rinses, organic hair primers, hair & scalp serums, aqueous sprays and leave-in conditioning foams. Watch our introductory course video and get on the waiting list for our next term time.
There is no standard definition of a hair conditioner. They can be oil- based, emulsion-based, water-based, gel-based or butter-based. Some conditioners will contain cationic surfactants, others won’t. Some conditioners are rinse-off products, others are leave-in formulations. Some conditioners will deliver a positive charge to the hair, others will contain lipids, anti-static or moisturising ingredients. Given this complexity, it is difficult to say what goes into a standard hair conditioner. However, a typical hair conditioner contains a conditioning emulsion base, emulsifiers and/or thickeners, stabilising agents, active ingredients like proteins (often from wheat), humectants and moisturisers including panthenol, glycerin and hyaluronic acid, as well as colourants and fragrance.
The best homemade deep hair conditioner will likely be a thick, viscous emulsion containing natural and organic ingredients. These might include botanical oils, butters and waxes for their hair-beneficial properties, scent, colour and ability to provide substance and structure. To restore, protect and give vitality to hair, a deep conditioner may include proteins and active moisture-retaining ingredients including panthenol and hyaluronic acid along with regular humectants like glycerin.
Join us at Formula Botanica, where tens of thousands of students and followers take our free and paid online courses to learn how to formulate organic skincare and haircare for themselves or to sell and also how to set up a beauty brand and business.
Leave us a comment
Lorraine Dallmeier is a Biologist, Chartered Environmentalist and the CEO of Formula Botanica, the award-winning online organic cosmetic science school. Read more about Lorraine and the Formula Botanica Team.