What Is Deep Conditioning? (Truth Exposed by Science)

Deep conditioning is the hair moisture restoration method of applying a rich hair treatment. We will go in-depth and explain what is deep conditioning, the science behind it, the process, and its little-known secrets.

What Is Deep Conditioning?

Deep conditioning is the process of applying a thick, restorative mixture to your hair while employing steam or moist heat to promote the formula’s penetration. Rebuilding the molecular layer of the hair and replenishing moisture is key to repairing dry, damaged hair and promoting the growth of thicker hair that is softer and more revitalized as a result.

As a result of deep conditioning, the hair strand is better equipped to handle daily stresses without being damaged. It’s a common misperception that deep conditioners work primarily by entering the hair and moisturizing it from within. Surfactants, tiny particles found in deep conditioners, adhere to gaps and damaged hair strands, allowing for temporary healing of the hair shaft. Now, there are chemicals that are able to penetrate the hair shaft and work their magic on the hair’s cortex.

When it comes to developing long hair, deep conditioning is considered an essential tool. The effectiveness of deep conditioning and whether it’s even necessary has been a subject of discussion among hair experts in the past few years.

Hair Cuticle Science and Anatomy

Is Deep Conditioning a Lie?

The majority of deep conditioners are just ordinary conditioners used for a longer period of time.

Big firms generally thicken up your ordinary conditioner. By doing so, they may improve the conditioning and possibly offer it in a jar rather than a bottle where it will squeeze out. And this is true of the majority of intense deep conditioners on the market.

This isn’t to say that leaving a product on your hair for 30 minutes will have no effect. It indicates that if you used your regular conditioner as a “deep conditioner,” you’d probably receive a similar result.

However, there are several deep conditioners available in the market that is much more than a regular conditioner. Deep conditioning has different advantages based on the substances utilized.

Keep an eye on the components. Turn the product over and familiarize yourself with the ingredients instead of depending on marketing and hoopla on the front.

Read along to know how to select the perfect deep conditioner for your hair that actually works.

pH Variation’s effect on Hair

When it comes to hair health, it’s important to keep the pH of your hair and scalp at the right level.

Chemically, a pH of 7 is neutral. For hair care, products with a pH value between 3.5 and 5.5 are recommended.

pH values below 6.0 cause the cuticle layer to shrink and tighten. It is possible to increase shine to the hair using a moderate acidic conditioner, as smooth surfaces reflect more light; but, powerful acids will damage the hair. Using acid conditioners on hair that has been dyed red/orange is not recommended.

With an increase in alkaline pH, the cuticle layer becomes more malleable and swells like a pinecone. In order for colors to be deposited inside the hair structure, this step is required, but if the pH gets too alkaline, damage will result. Other items make advantage of alkali pH levels on hair, such as shampoos and conditioners.

Porous, highly alkaline hair will not hold color well. Due to poor cuticle adhesion, the new pigments will wash away early.

The Science behind Deep Conditioners

Applying conditioner to freshly washed hair and leaving it on for 10 to 30 minutes is known as deep conditioning on wet hair. You may apply a deep conditioning treatment on unclean hair, but you’ll receive the finest results if the conditioner has total, unrestricted contact with your hair. It’s preferable to thoroughly condition clean hair first and remove any dust and debris.

In scientific research, a pH level of 7 was shown to encourage the maximum absorption of conditioner to your hair. It’s preferable to keep the pH between 6 and 7. Most store-bought conditioners fall under this category. Get some pH test strips and test the pH of what you’re adding if you start adding acidic or alkaline substances. You need pH control if you want to enhance the uptake of conditioner by your hair.

It’s common for non-wet hair to have a greater number of negative ions than positive ions. Especially porous and average porous hair. Hair below the ear or chin is considered typical porosity for the majority of people. The ends of your hair are likely to be porous if you color or highlight it, brush it frequently, spend a lot of time in the sun or swimming pools, or it is quite long.

Moisture loss is more readily caused by porous hair, which has more negative charges. As a result of the conditioner’s adhesion to negatively charged surfaces, pores in porous hair are temporarily filled in.

Negatively ionized hair reacts to positively ionized conditioners because of their positive charges. As with magnetism, positive attracts negative. Conditioners are absorbed into your hair for a short period of time and are not rinsed out. As a result, your hair is left with a layer of conditioning that reduces friction in your hair and adds softness.

Below is the list of ingredients that have positive charges:

  • Polyquaternium-10
  • Polyquaternium-4
  • hydrolyzed soy or wheat or keratin protein
  • Laurdimonium hydroxypropyl
  • Hydrolyzed proteins – slightly positively charged
  • Palmitamidopropyltrimonium Chloride
  • Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Cetrimonium Chloride
  • Quaternium-87
  • Behentrimonium Methosulfate
  • Behentrimonium Chloride
  • Cetrimonium Bromide
  • Dicetyldimonium Chloride
  • Polyquaternium-44
  • Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride
  • Polyquaternium 55
  • Distearyldimonium Chloride

Effects of Different Ingredients when added in Deep Conditioner

The cuticle is the outermost layer of your hair, and most of the items you put on it have an effect there. Deep conditioners include emollients, cationic conditioners, and lubricants as well as proteins that create the water-binding film.

Some components, on the other hand, do penetrate the cuticle layers and may even go deeper. You’ll find substances like panthenol, peptides, amino acids, Cetrimonium bromide, and hair-penetrating oils. If you find that deep conditioners make your hair excessively soft, you may wish to use these substances in tiny amounts or not at all. These ingredients will provide an additional softness that lasts!

When oil is added to your Conditioner

Adding oily components to a conditioner recipe increases the amount of conditioning goodness that sticks to your hair, making it even more effective. In addition, the oils provide additional smoothness and elasticity. It’s an innovative way to improve the ultimate outcome by combining conditioning substances. Lipidic compounds are added to deep conditioners to make them more effective. As lubricants and hair softeners, oils themselves are excellent.

There are lipids in most conditioners already in the form of cetyl alcohol or cetaryl alcohol, which provides for a wonderfully creamy, thick conditioner with a pleasant after-feel. A conditioner can also be enriched with plant oils or butter. When you add additional oil to a conditioner, it becomes a deep conditioner!

When salt is added to your Conditioner

Adding salt to the conditioner reduces its ability to absorption to hair. Due to its higher “charge,” salt absorbs to your hair instead of conditioner. In addition, the salt clogs the conditioner. If you use salt frequently, it might cause friction in your hair. As a result of its high osmotic gradient, salt will draw water from everything that has water. If you’re using a water-based conditioner on damp hair and it contains salt, there’s plenty of water for it. It’s only that if you leave them on your hair, they’ll draw the water out of it! As a humectant in humid air, salt will draw water out of your hair when exposed to dry air. For this reason, you should avoid salting your hair regularly.

When Proteins are added to your Conditioner

Effective deep treatment might include protein if your hair is capable of handling it. Water-soluble proteins help your hair retain moisture. Protein in hair care products slows down the loss of moisture from hair. Look for solutions that contain hydrolyzed proteins, amino acids, and peptides, among other ingredients. When it comes to heat and time, proteins have a weak cationic charge.

Things you need to know before deep conditioning your hair

Before you start: Freshly washed hair that has been wrung of extra moisture should be treated with a water-based deep conditioner. When your hair is clean, your conditioner will have the best touch with your hair and produce the finest results. As a result, if you leave it on for too long, it may weaken your treatment.

Pre-conditioning hair treatments: A pre-shampoo oil treatment may be preferable to a water-based deep conditioner in the following situations. Prior to washing or cleaning the hair, pre-shampoo oil treatments are applied to dry hair and left on for a few hours or overnight.

  1. Tightly coiled hair or hair that shrinks when wet or: A water-free oil pre-shampoo won’t create tangling by shrinking the hair. It will offer your hair elasticity, softness, lubrication, and resistance to swelling in water, as well as protect it from further washes.
  2. Low porosity hair: Everything appears to accumulate on your hair if you have low porosity hair, and conventional conditioners only make your hair limp. The method of “removal of extra conditioning” is integrated into pre-shampoo oil treatments. They provide lubrication and weight to your hair without leaving a build-up. To untangle your hair, you may need to use a rinse-out conditioner.
  3. Long hair with dry ends and normal to oily scalp: Treat only your hair’s ends with pre-shampoo oil.
  4. Hard water: Negatively charged shampoos and positively charged conditioning chemicals interact with the minerals in your water, causing build-up on your hair. Oils in hard water, for the most part, do not interact with minerals. If you want to use a chelating shampoo for hard water, oil before shampooing is also an useful pre-treatment.

How much: More conditioner adsorbed to the hair implies higher concentrations of cationic conditioner or protein in your conditioning product, but you rarely know what concentration is contained in a product before you buy it.

The amount of conditioning absorbed by your hair depends on the quantity of active ingredients. When the concentration of the cationic components is higher, it can adsorb a little bit more or a lot more to your hair, depending on the cationic ingredient in question and its concentration. And this is especially true if your deep treatment contains cetyl alcohol, Cetearyl alcohol, or oils.

Try a tiny quantity and see which product works best for you.

Leave-in Time: More adsorption of conditioning chemicals on your hair can be achieved by leaving a protein treatment or cationic conditioning ingredient on your hair for longer. Deep conditioning for 30 minutes provides double the amount of conditioning for your hair components as 5 minutes. If your hair is porous or you have a lot of breakages, you should go for the entire 30 minutes. You won’t require as much time if your hair doesn’t soak up a lot of oils and conditioner. The only way to find out for sure is to try it! This holds true for protein treatments as well; some people with porous or fine hair may take 30 to 60-minute protein treatments with heat without experiencing any negative side effects whatsoever. The protein treatment with heat can only be used for a few minutes on hair that has lesser porosity or coarser texture.

Ideal Temperature: Deep treatments at 35°C/95°F can virtually quadruple the quantity of cationic conditioning chemicals that cling to your hair compared to treatments done at room temperature or below.

Heat or Steam: When it comes to your natural curls, you may believe that all heat is bad for them, but steam may really be good. Using a store-bought hair steamer, you can generate steam. In most cases, they will need to be refilled with water. As soon as your hair steamer is hooked into power, the water starts to boil and creates the steam for your hair. A plastic shower cap or a towel can also be used to cover your hair. As a result of this, your hair will be steamed as a result of your body’s heat. For those with sensitive scalps, this is really better because applying additional heat to your scalp might create itching.

Underdoing or Overdoing: Your deep treatment may need to be left on for an additional 30 minutes, or you may need to apply heat if you didn’t get enough out of it. Other options include putting on a thicker moisturizer, increasing the amount of oil, or adding protein.

Also, over-conditioning is a very real risk. Weak, brittle, or limp hair might be a sign that your hair has gotten overly soft. This can also be caused by over-protein. No matter how it happened, you choose the wrong product, used the wrong concentration of the wrong ingredient, or kept it on your hair for longer than was required.

Keep an eye on the different symptoms and recalibrate your deep conditioning process accordingly.

Whose hair doesn’t need Deep Conditioning?

Everyone’s hair doesn’t react to deep conditioner the same way. Oily, un-bleached, un-dyed or low porosity hair cannot absorb much conditioner and is more prone to buildup.

When it comes to protein treatment conditioners, you’ll want to stay away from them if you have hair with poor porosity. As a result of their tendency to rob the hair of moisture, protein formulations can increase the likelihood of hair breaking.

Whose hair needs Deep Conditioning?

Below is the list of hair that would benefit from deep conditioning:

  • Chemically curled and straightened hair.
  • Hair exposed to high-heat styling equipment like straightening irons, curling irons, and blow dryers.
  • A lack of elasticity and flexibility in the hair as well as roughness and dryness
  • Hair that has been exposed to dry wind, seawater, swimming pools, and the full summer sun for long periods of time.
  • Constantly drier hair
  • Hair that feels poofy, frizzy, or flies away.
  • Anyone who experiencing breakage in hair shaft splits in the middle, the hair ends, or anyplace else.
  • People with bleached hair.
  • Hair that is prone to tangling
  • Anyone with rough and dry ends on very long hair

Check the complete article on How to Deep Condition 4c Hair, Steps, Pros & Cons

Deep conditioner’s effect on high porosity hairs

By contrast, unbleached hair absorbs less conditioner by absorption than bleached or porous hair. Bleached hair absorbs 8 to 20 times more conditioner than unbleached hair, with the higher amount being for hair bleached twice.

Porous, highlighted, bleached or sun-damaged hair will absorb more conditioner than hair that hasn’t been subjected to such conditions. As a rule, the finer and narrower the hair, the more likely it is to be damaged.

In contrast to less porous hair, more porous hair can withstand a lot more conditioning without becoming excessively soft.

Natural alternative to Deep conditioner that may work better

able to maintain your hair healthy by preventing protein loss from the inside out.

Water swells the hair and messes with the cuticle, making washing and drying the hair one of the most harmful things for hair. Coconut oil stops water from penetrating the hair, reducing the swelling damage caused by water absorption.

Coconut, sunflower, and mineral oils were used in a study to determine the benefits of applying them to the hair either before or after washing. The quantity of protein lost by the hair after each treatment was evaluated by the researchers in order to determine which oil was most effective in protecting hair health.

The researchers found that Mineral and sunflower oils did not prevent protein loss as well as coconut oil when applied before or after washing the hair. Find the complete article on the research done on coconut oil’s effect.

According to all of their research, coconut oil decreased protein loss even in hair that was not damaged, bleached, chemically treated, or exposed to ultraviolet light.

This was not the case with mineral and sunflower oils and neither was beneficial in decreasing hair protein loss.

Coconut oil is mostly composed of lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid. A long, straight structure is created which allows the coconut oil to be more easily absorbed into the hair shaft.


The bottom line is even with regular conditioning you still need to deep condition. Hair that’s chemically treated including straightened or colored needs extra deep conditioning attention to prevent breakage, improve manageability, look and feel shiny.

Unlike daily conditioners, deep conditioners feature a higher concentration of moisturizing, emollient, and humectant chemicals and are kept on the hair for longer.

Here is another article on what is deep conditioning.


Can you use regular conditioner to deep condition?

You should not use regular conditioners to the deep condition because deep conditioners are more nutritious for your hair and their benefits last longer than regular conditioners.
Deep conditioners penetrate your hair’s cuticle considerably more deeply than ordinary conditioners.

What can I use if I don’t have a deep conditioner?

Due to its perfect size and structure, coconut oil can be used as a deep conditioner alternative. Because of its antibacterial properties, it can preserve your hair from the inside out as well as decrease protein loss.

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