Conditioners and masks are essential ingredients for the beauty routine dedicated to hair. These products are distributed on the hair, wet or dry according to the request on the package, and then left on for a period of time ranging from a few seconds to 30 minutes. Then, they should be rinsed or not, always based on the type of product. But precisely because conditioners and masks remain in contact with hair and scalp for a long time and represent the last step dedicated to hair care when we wash it, it is important to know how to choose them.
Conditioners and hair masks, what are they for
The use of conditioners and masks has become practically necessary due to the advent of shampoos that are increasingly effective in removing sebum and dirt from the hair. The point is that sebum is the conditioner par excellence and the fact of removing it with the cleaning action makes other actions important to protect the hair, and this is where conditioners and masks intervene (D Souza et al, Indian J Dermatol, 2015). Conditioners and masks are used to give the hair softness and shine and reduce the friction between the cuticles, which, on the other hand, increases the loss of proteins and makes the hair more brittle and prone to breakage (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Int J Trichology, 2015). Not only that, these products help make the hair easier to comb and limit the frizz effect (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Int J Trichology, 2015). Conditioners and masks intervene after the shampoo by neutralizing the negative charge with which the hair is charged and making the hair less hydrophilic, which would be a characteristic of damaged hair (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Int J Trichology, 2015).
Conditioners and hair masks, are silicones good or bad?
Silicones are the most used ingredients in conditioners and masks but also the most discussed. These are synthetic polymers deriving from quartz crystals and can be easily identified in the products by reading the INCI, which is the label that by law must indicate the substances contained in a cosmetic, having a name that always ends in -thicone, - siloxane and -silanol. For example, a well-known silicone is Dimethicone. By themselves, silicones are not toxic and they also do their job, protecting the hair from friction and, in some cases such as with the addition of Siloxy Silicate silicone, also giving the hair more body (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Int J Trichology, 2015). However, this effect is due to the film created by the silicones, under which the hair suffers, since the nutrients do not reach it. To understand how silicones work, after having always used silicone-based products, their sudden interruption causes, for a few weeks, the impression of having terribly damaged hair. This damaged hair was like that also before, it just wasn't noticeable under layers of silicones. Not only that, silicones are produced through polluting processes. For these reasons, the new cosmetics are moving towards a reduction if not total removal of silicones from products (Liu et al, ACS Omega, 2022).
Conditioners and hair masks, the role of vegetable oils
Vegetable oils are a valid ally for the health and beauty of hair and are often included in the formulation of conditioners and masks instead of silicones (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Indian J Plast Surg, 2021). Some oils, in fact, are able to penetrate the hair and reduce the amount of water absorbed, a fact which limits what experts call hygrometric fatigue, caused by the continuous swelling of the hair due to an excess of humidity and subsequent reduction in size due to loss of water, which damages the hair (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Int J Trichology, 2015). Not only that, the oils, penetrating the hair, protect it from the entry of aggressive substances used in shampoos, such as surfactants. Studies have observed that applying oils regularly to the hair helps lubricate the cuticle and reduce the risk of hair brittleness and breakage (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Int J Trichology, 2015). The oils also help prevent the formation of split ends (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Int J Trichology, 2015). Among the oils that can be used, coconut oil was found to be the best at reducing and preventing damage to the hair, helping to strengthen it (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Int J Trichology, 2015). Agran oil is very valuable and counteracts the damage of free radicals while castor oil acts as a moisturizer (Gavazzoni Dias et al, Indian J Plast Surg, 2021).
Hair conditioners and masks, do-it-yourself recipes and useful advice
In general, given the complexity of the action of these products and the difficult availability of ingredients, it is a good idea to buy ready-made post-shampoo conditioners and masks, choosing quality products and, as we have seen, perhaps without silicones, while it is much easier to create pre-shampoo masks at home. A simple idea? In a small bowl mix 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and one of argan oil. Apply to damp hair for 15 minutes, then rinse with shampoo and complete with conditioner. Here is another idea, based on flaxseed gel, which is moisturizing, detoxifying and cleansing, as well as able to stimulate hair growth (Majula et al, IJRPC, 2018). In a bowl, pour 250 ml of water and 30 grams of flax seeds. Bring everything to a boil and let it simmer for a few minutes. Filter and get a gel to which add a spoonful of coconut oil, mix and leave to cool. Apply to the scalp and hair until the ends, leave on for 30 minutes, then rinse with shampoo and conditioner.