Before talking about alternatives to conditioner, the question is:
What does conditioner do?
- moisturize hair
- soften hair (making it easy to detangle, getting rid of frizz - frizz caused by dryness)
- add protein to hair to strengthen it (some of them anyway)
Sources: What Does Conditioner Do To My Hair?, Hair Conditioners, How Does Hair Conditioner Work?
The truth is water is the only thing that adds moisture to hair, so conditioners add or help keep water in hair. Conditioners are also more or less creamy, and may or may not add fat to the hair strands.
In order to make hair softer the cuticle must be closed as opposed to open, it must lay flat. Conditioners do this by being acidic and by coating the hair strand.
What are the alternatives?
- acidic rinses
- natural protein treatments
How do oils moisturize?
- Oil and water repel each other, so if the hair is wet or damp and then covered with oil, some of the water will be retained and unable to escape. Sealing (non-penetrative) oils work best for this, but any oil will work to some extent. This is best used after washing the hair, keep in mind that less is more, a few drops will do, you don't want to walk around with oily looking hair. A hair forum favorite is mineral oil
- Oils that penetrate the hair can add fat to the hair, one of the best oil for this is coconut oil
. These oils are usually used on dry hair so that water can't keep it out of the strand. This is most effectively done before washing the hair, just put a lot of oil on your hair, let it sit (preferably covered, to use your body heat to allow the oil to penetrate better) for an hour or overnight, then wash it out.
(To figure out options between coating and penetrating oils check this out: Oils and how they moisturize/penetrate the hair.)
Sources: Can oils moisturize hair, if so which ones?, The Best Natural Oils for Moisturizing Natural Kinky Curly Hair, Hair Oil is a Healthy Way to Moisturize Dry Locks, The 9 Most Ineffective Ways to Moisturize Your Hair, Best Moisturizer for Black Hair, How to Use Coconut Oil for Hair Moisturizing and Conditioning, Coconut Oil for Hair: Your Chemical-Free Way to Truly Healthy Hair, Is Olive Oil Good for Hair, Jojobo & Other Hair Oils - HairTopia Beautiful Hair Oil.
How do humectants work?
- Humectants draw moisture into the hair strand if the hair has lower humidity than the environment, however they also draw moisture out of the strand if the environment humidity is lower than the hair strand, effectively drying out the strand. Thus they are best used by people with dry hair that are in a humid environment or season.
- Examples of natural humectants: honey
(it can lighten hair so it is best warmed up until it bubbles up so that the peroxide in it dies), glycerin
and aloe vera gel
Sources: Humidity, Humectants and Hair, What are Humectants?, humectants and occlusives: what are they and how do they work?, What is an Humectant?, Humectants: What They Are and When We Use Them, Humectants For Hair - Natural Aloe and Glycerin Moisturizers Work With Humidity To Prevent Frizz, Why does natural soap "sweat" in humid weather?, The Academy/Moisturising Hair/2. Humectants, Give your hair a moisture surge.
Acidic rinses for hair?
- In order to make the cuticle lay flat, an acidic rinse can be used. This makes the hair soft, easy to detangle and gives it extra shine.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
is probably the best for this, but white vinegar
also works especially for light colored hair, because ACV can add red tones to lighter hair colors. For vinegar one tea spoon of vinegar to one 8 oz cup of water is a good place to start, it can be drying so increase or decrease the amount based on how your hair reacts to it.
- Lemon Juice
is great at preventing fizz and it is also acidic, the danger with this one is that it can lighten hair so no more than a half a tea spoon to one 8 oz cup of water should be used. Lemon juice works best for curly, frizzy hair. The natural sugars in it do a better job at taming frizz than vinegar by coating the hair.
- Teas can also be acidic, the more sour a tea is the more acidic it is (Acidity of Tea). The only tea that is truly acidic as far as I could find is black tea.
Sources: Acid Rinses for Hair, The Effects of Acids and Alkalis on Hair, The Curl Whisperer on ACV Rinses, DIY Homemade Hair Rinses, Lemon rinse defines curls dramatically and fights frizz.
What's the deal with protein?
- High porosity hair, hair that has been chemically treated with perms or coloring, long hair that has been washed multiple/thousands of times all lose protein and it needs to be replenished.
- You can tell your hair needs protein if it is overly stretchy while dry and you can tell your hair has too much protein and needs moisture when it snaps easily and lacks elasticity. The test should be done to dry hair because water=moisture and wet hair WILL be over-moisturized by definition.
- Natural sources for protein treatments: coconut milk
, soy sauce
(actually adds protein inside the strand), egg/mayonnaise. Protein treatments tend to dry out the hair and should be followed by a deep moisture treatment.
Sources: Protein Treatments for Natural Hair, How to Give Your Hair a Natural Protein Treatment, 8 Homemade Hair Treatments, Protein Treatments, Coconut Oil and Natural Hair, DIY Protein Treatment for Hair, hydrolyzed plant protein (soy), All About Protein Treatments, Part 2: Hydrolyzed Protein & the ApHogee Treatment, How to Determine Whether Black Hair Needs Moisture or Protein Read more: How to Determine Whether Black Hair Needs Moisture or Protein, Hair Moisture & Protein Check Time!
The point of this entry is that you don't have to use conditioner with unpronounceable names in order to get the benefits it gives you. There are pure, natural alternatives that can give you the same results without all those potentially dangerous chemicals, or artificial perfumes if you're allergic (alternatively you can add essential oils to your treatments to get the smell you want from them).