A short, no BS guide to shampoo and conditioner

And why we use them

Whether you believe in a five-step serum regimen or want to keep your beauty routine as pragmatic as possible, it’s pretty safe to say that the shampoo and conditioner duo is the common denominator among us all. 

But why? And what can a conditioner really do? Is this behavior just group think, or is it actually scientifically sound?

How it started
First, a brief history: the word shampoo entered the English language from India during the colonial era where early traders indulged in champu, the act of cleansing hair and massaging the body during daily bathing.  The word derives from the Hindi capo, which derives from the Sanskrit root capati, meaning ‘to press, knead, or soothe’. When the colonials returned to Europe, they brought the newly learned hair treatment they called shampoo back with them.

How it’s going
Today you can buy shampoo in every price range, colorway, and zodiac sign. But when you get down to brass tacks, shampoo is there to rid your scalp of sebum, sweat, dirt and product buildup, and to prevent scalp irritation.

To cut through the sebum and properly clean hair, you need a surfactant. That’s the star ingredient in your shampoo. There are all kinds of surfactants out there, and there is a lot to learn. Just know that they are chemicals that facilitate the binding of water to your body’s oils and help rinse them away.

When shampoo met conditioner
The catch is this deep cleaning leaves your hair and scalp exposed to all kinds of irritation and dryness.

Enter conditioner.

Conditioner basically mimics the oil that shampoo removes to restore the key signs of healthy hair. How, you ask?

Hair is a protein that contains both positive and negative charges. Damaged hair has more of a negative charge than undamaged hair.  The positively charged conditioner molecules are attracted to the negatively charged (damaged) sites on the hair, resulting in conditioner getting deposited on your strands and reducing static electricity. Because conditioners are slightly acidic, they also flatten the cuticle scales over the hair shaft, reducing the friction between hair fibers and increasing light reflection which improves shine and color. And that smoothness also means easier combing and detangling. Conditioners can even temporarily seal split ends!

So, is it healthy to wash your hair every day then?
Part of this comes down to preference. Most derms agree that frequent cleansing with a well-formulated shampoo won’t do any harm. But as we just learned, it’s all about making sure you’re balancing shampoo usage with the right conditioner—like ones formulated with essential oils for healthy hair. Need help finding the right shampoo and conditioner for you? Take our hair quiz!

Got burning questions about hair, hair products or hair concerns? Comment below, and we’ll give you the 4-1-1.

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