This post has been copied and pasted here from a couple of conversations I've had today with fellow curl artists and a curl advocate. I will not call them out out of respect but they encouraged me to share this with the public. So--Without them, this post wouldn't be possible--so, thank you.
Here’s what we said: (forgive the casual FB comment tone. lol!)
what is the importance of conditioner? Can you skip it like the CurlNinja is promoting?
So this is partially true. (And long) Here’s the deal—in old days shampoo used to be high pH and conditioners used to be low pH but these days they are both relatively pH balanced. After a high pH service, like any chemical service, a low pH conditioner is necessary to balance the moisture levels and readjust the pH so acid conditioners are typically used.
*but the whole reason we started using conditioners in the first place is that shampoo WAS so high pH and the surfactants were so drying that hair was so stripped it needed to be infused with conditioners called “cream rinse”
But now with pH balanced shampoos and more gentle surfactants—yeah, the need for conditioner is not as necessary to do that job if the hair is healthy. That’s the key. Dehydrated hair needs help and treatment... ie: conditioner.
But if the hair is healthy and hydrated it’s not so necessary... it’s really more of a styling product if anything these days that softens the hair and adds slip... and anything that adds slip leaves behind a layer of “film” that eventually builds up and needs to be shampooed off...
But—with the desire to get clumps for curls—conditioner helps that happen. And for chronic dehydration... conditioner helps. I like the way the conditioner feels in hair and I accept the need to shampoo due to that choice.
Conditioner also helps hold some of the water in the hair which lends to the whole easy to style/detangle thing. I think it’s fine to skip conditioner if your hair is healthy and hydrated. Most people don’t have this hair, however, so I don’t recommend this practice—because it’s a slippery slope. (Pun?)
Most people want a certain look and conditioner helps achieve that. Conditioner free hair will be drier feeling and fluffier for sure and if hard water is involved... well. Now we’re talking about a serious problem. Water isn’t talked about NEARLY enough.
Could hard water damage the cuticle?
Yes—hard water tends to be higher pH which raises the cuticle and allows minerals to deposit just under the cuticle—over time the open cuticle allows the internal moisture in the hair to escape—eventually drying it out. Dried out hair is unlubricated dehydrated protein strands... dehydrated protein strands begin to break down and crack and become damaged. Damaged proteins break apart and dissolve when a lot of water is allowed to enter the strand and with so much empty space in the strand where the intact proteins and lipids once existed, it begins to degrade and this starts the process of dreaded “hygral fatigue” pretty soon the hair is so damaged it cannot stay detangled. Those gentle surfactants are not strong enough to remove the hard water deposits which already cause buildup on their own. I agree with that. Water itself is able to evaporate off of and out of the hair so it’s “pure” but the minerals it caries cannot and will be left behind.
Very hard water requires removal with special chelating ingredients (fond in specialty shampoos... which tend to be drying and if that person wants more controlled look... well. Conditioner is necessary.
Who would want to avoid conditioner?
—I don’t discount the whole “I don’t like using products” attitude and the desire to skip cosmetics... including conditioner. But that person will for sure have drier ends and they will REALLY need to stay on top of their trims.
I’ve known people in the “au natural” community who wanted to avoid cosmetics as much as possible and took to washing themselves (their entire selves) with Dr. Bronners Castile soap and no conditioner... it ruined so many heads of hair and after. Awhile the hair just naturally started loc-up (in not a nice or organized way) and it became impossible to detangle. (That’s a huge sign of internal and cuticle damage right there!!) they eventually "big chopped" and started over using hair cosmetics, reluctantly.
The only people this approach works for consistently and across the board are those who keep their hair short and due to cutting, never see the damage.
What about “water only washing”
A healthy cuticle and intact hair strand can withstand water and is actually hydrophobic to some extent. The MEA-18 (natural oil) naturally produced by the scalp hold the cuticle down and keeps the strand together... when we remove the oils from the hair with shampoos and surfactants then we remove some of the hairs natural protection... eventually the cuticle is no longer able to do its job and it opens up and we lose internal moisture and ability to withstand water. But, in my opinion, that is not feasible these days. Cutting hair, for one, damage the strand and moisture escapes through that “wound” and needs to be addressed; some hair is naturally drier than other’s hair due to less oil production. And if that person doesn’t want the fluffy hair look... shampoo and conditioner are necessary. And others produce more oil and their hair/scalp can look like an oil slick and unless they want some other look besides greasy... they need to use shampoo and light conditioner.
It’s just not really feasible in our time/society. So much to address here. But to each their own.
What about the positive and negative charges of shampoo and conditioner? They are charged to work together, no? Or is that “old” shampoos and not the neutral ones of today?
that’s a great point! Yes—I know you (and everyone here else too) know the ionic charge of the products play a role! But for reference, here goes:
Weathered hair (aged and damaged hair) for instance is negatively charged and attracts dirt, debris, minerals, pollution... etc. those things get lodged into the hair strand —which can swell the cuticle and lead to dehydration from lifted cuticles—for sure!!
The charge of shampoo attracts debris away from the hair into the shampoo to be removed and sometimes Ingredients are added to the shampoos that are ionically charged to attract to the hair and leave behind some films (think about moisturizing shampoos. They tend to be less aggressive and less cleansing because the surfactants have weaker charges to start with and the additional Ingredients added to be ionically attracted to the hair to leave that “moisturizing” film.
When the hair is “stripped" it is left in a state that will now attract those pollutants and debris/minerals again so the use of conditioner helps to “plug” those sites that will be prime for new unwanted deposits so the conditioner leaves behind deposits of its own to neutralize the charge of the hair and effectively repel those unwanted deposits from attaching to the hair.
And this is where the combination is necessary— if you are removing deposits and leaving the hair “open” and attractive to more deposits-- that’s no good.. and if you add conditioner that leaves a film (slip) behind you will need to remove that with shampoo at some point. So it seems like a damned if you do damned if you don’t kind of situation, you know?
I’d rather make informed decisions.