Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cleansing Agents In Shampoos And Cleansing Conditioners

Hey fellow HHJs!  I recently finished up all of the shampoo that I have in my stash, but I still have a number of cleansing conditioners.  Since I’m on a no buy challenge, my dilemma has been whether to borrow some of my hubby’s stripping shampoo or just stick to these cleansing conditioners.  My concern with cleansing conditioner has always been whether it would be cleansing enough.  I have always loved the As I Am Coconut Co-wash, which feels like it cleanses.  I also tried the Ouidad Curl Co-wash, which was a little too stripping for my hair.  However, I've heard rumors that some of the other co-washes are basically the same as regular conditioner.  So, I decided to do a little research to figure out what makes a cleansing conditioner different from a regular, rinse out conditioner.  To avoid making the post on my research too long, I’m going to break it out into two parts.  This part will talk foundation for what makes a great cleanser.  The second part will talk about specific cleansing ingredients to look for.

First off, let’s start with two basic concepts.  The purpose of a shampoo is to cleanse, which includes binding to dirt and oil to remove it.  The purpose of a rinse out conditioner is to balance ph levels and coat the hair cuticles to make it easier to detangle the hair.  In other words, while shampoo binds to oil, conditioner binds to hair.  I assume that the goal of an effective co-wash / cleansing conditioner is be a hybrid of the two.  With that in mind, I’m not as concerned with the conditioning portion of a cleansing conditioner, as I am about the cleansing portion.

In terms of cleansers, the active ingredient for removing dirt and oil from the hair is a surfactant.  Surfactants are great for two reasons.  First, they are great because they have two parts, one part that is water loving (hydrophilic) and one part that loves fat (lipophilic) and fears water (hydrophobic).  The fat-loving part is what binds to oil to remove it.  If you really want to know more about the structure of surfactants, the Natural Haven has two really great articles on this (here and here), so I’m not going to get more complex than that.  The important thing to know, for purposes of finding a proper cleanser, is that surfactants bind to oil and carry it away.

The second reason that surfactants are great is that many of them have a negative charge, which means that hair strands repel them, rather than holding on to them, because hair also has a slightly negative charge.  Remember that old saying that opposites attract?  It applies to hair too. 

Thus, there are three types of surfactants usually used in cleansers:  anionic surfactants (negative charge), zwitterionic / amphoteric surfactants (hybrid charge), and nonionic surfactants (no charge).  The stronger the negative charge, the better for cleansing hair.  Thus, anionic surfactants are the strongest cleansers, followed by zwitterionic, and then nonionic.  Positively charged (cationic) surfactants are almost never used as cleansers because they bind to the hair, rather than being repelled.  Have you guessed yet what kind of surfactant the conditioning agent BTMS contains?

In my next post, I will run through some common anionic, zwitterionic, and nonionic surfactants to look for in cleansers.

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