• “Natural” Co-Wash & Leave-In Conditioners

    Posted on May 14, 2012 by in Beauty, Hair

    I’ve been testing a few natural conditioners that work well with a no-poo hair regimen, co-washing, and specifically the Curly Girl Method.  One thing that I did learn during this process is that the ingredients that make a conditioner different from a moisturizing lotion is that conditioners contain fatty alcohols, quaternary ammonium salts, and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins.  All of these ingredients are chemically derived one way or another.  I honestly feel more comfortable with fatty alcohols and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins than quaternary ammonium salts, but honestly am not 100% loving any of them.  I also read an interesting article that you can read here about the mislabeling of natural products specifically conditioners.

    Fatty Alcohols

    “Fatty alcohols are oleochemicals derived from vegetable feedstocks (which) include coconut and palm kernel oils. These refined vegetable oils are first converted to a methyl ester or fatty acid. This reaction generates crude glycerine. The intermediate methyl ester or fatty acid are then fractionated and hydrogenated to produce fatty alcohol. Alcohols are often distilled and fractionated to achieve the chain length distribution.” ~P&G Chemicals

    A few examples of fatty alcohols as listed in conditioner ingredients are coconut fatty acid base (a mislabeled term), cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and cetearyl alcohol.  Fatty alcohols add detangling properties to conditioners and also some create foaming properties to the product.

    Quaternary Ammonium Salts

    For those who love science here is a medical journal titled “The Differential Toxicity of Ammonium Salts”.  From the research that I have done, it seems as if certain quaternary ammonium salts are toxic while others are not considered toxic at all.  Two ammonium salt ingredients to avoid are PEG’s and benzalkonium chloride.   A few examples of quaternary ammonium salts that are used in conditioners are behentrimonium chloride, behentrimonium methosulfate, stearalkonium chloride, and cetrimonium chloride.  These ingredients act as mild preservatives as well as add serious detangling and conditioning to the hair.

    Hydrolyzed Vegetable Proteins

    Hydrolyzed vegetable proteins are common in so many conditioners.  A few that I see a lot are wheat protein, soy protein, and rice protein.  When I looked them up in the Cosmetic Database, wheat protein and soy protein were rated a “0” in toxicity while rice protein was rated a “2”.  I am not as concerned with hydrolyzed vegetable proteins in conditioners yet they are still chemically derived.

    Chemicals and Itchy Skin

    So after all of this ingredient talk you are probably wondering which conditioners that I tested and liked.  I will admit it has been somewhat frustrating finding a conditioner that would abide by my specific requirements and serve as a multi-use conditioner.  You may also want to know that I specifically have been searching for conditioners that did not contain phenoxyethanol which is a preservative that can also contribute to skin irritations.  I usually have itchy skin when I use products with certain chemicals or preservatives.

    The Conditioners Tested

    Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner

    Ingredients: purified water with *tea tree, *peppermint oil, *eucalyptus oil, *nettle oil, *thyme oil, birch leaf oil, *chamomile oil, *clary, *coltsfoot leaf, *yarrow oil, *mallow, *horsetail oil, *soybean protein, cetyl alcohol, tocopherol vitamin e, trace minerals, citric acid, sodium hydroxymethylgycinate, grapefruit seed.

    *organic ingredients

    I’ve used the Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner before.  It definitely gives the scalp a tingling sensation yet not too much.  I really like this product as a co-wash conditioner, yet not as a leave-in simply because my skin does not like all of the ingredients.  Also sodium hydroxymethylgycinate is a preservative that can also be a skin irritant with possible formaldehyde contamination.  I’m not happy with this ingredient, yet this is a very affordable co-wash conditioner.

    Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner

    Ingredients: Deionized Water, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter)*, Argan Oil, Coconut Oil*, Behentrimonium Chloride, Essential Oil Blend, Vegetable Glycerin, Emulsifying Wax, Sea Kelp Extract, Panthenol (Vitamin B‐5), Avocado Oil, Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower (and) Lonicera Japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle) Flower extract, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil.

    All in all I found the Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner to be very very moisturizing, easy to detangle my hair with, a wonderful leave-in, and smells like sweet honeysuckle.  This conditioner does not give hair hold yet defined my curls.  It made my hair extremely soft.  I co-wash my hair every 2-3 days.  To refresh frizzy third day hair I simply add flax seed gel to dry hair in sections and my hair looks like day one all over again.

    Earthly Delight Hair Conditioner

    Ingredients: Deionized water, vegetable glycerine, rice bran oil, avocado oil, wheatgerm protein, panthenol, amino acids, vegetable emulsifying wax, essential oils of neroli, cinnamon & coconut.

    One of my concerns with leaving this conditioner in my hair was that it contained wheatgerm protein.  I have experienced hard dry hair with conditioners that had proteins in them.  I wasn’t sure how this conditioner would work out.  To my surprise Earthly Delight Hair Conditioner was amazing for detangling my curly hair, left my hair extremely soft as a leave-in, and also turned out to be a fantastic deep conditioner.  For defined curls, I suggest using this conditioner with flaxseed gel or another natural gel.

    In terms of ingredients I am extremely content with this conditioner.  It also has a spicy herbal smell which I love.  I have not experienced any build-up with this conditioner, yet there is always my DIY Green Tea Cleansing Hair Rinse to use as needed.

    Test More Conditioners or Make My Own

    I plan to try maybe one or two more conditioners if I can find what I am looking for.  To be honest I will probably end up going back to making my own conditioner again.  It will also be better in terms of not having to purchase one more thing in a plastic container that is not in bulk.  Also I do have a few new ideas since I have done more research so I’m up to the challenge.

    What’s your favorite natural conditioner?

    (Image by D Sharon Pruitt)

    Stay Connected with Minimalist Beauty & Subscribe with bloglovin’. Also Join the Community on Facebook & Twitter. For more about Dawn Michelle go here!

    The winner for the Azuha Giveaway is Annisa!

38 Responses so far.

  1. Rachael says:

    Just an FYI, I was loving Earthly Delight conditioner for a while but the ingredients have now changed! I was in Whole Foods planning to buy a bottle when I saw the new label, flipped it over and saw the new list…color me disappointed!

  2. Kate says:

    I like Aubrey Organics conditioners, especially Honeysuckle Rose.

    Love your blog!

  3. Paloma says:

    Hi, I have a question for you about using oils in hair. I recently started fully going no-poo. Before, I was using a hair rinse as a conditioner but with shampoo because I couldn’t find a proper natural shampoo because I live outside the USA, and where I live, is practically impossible to find natural beauty brands and bulk ingredients shops, until I found that Weleda is sold in my country and I bought their calendula soap to use as a shampoo and their sweet almond oil to use as a conditioner. The soap is incredibly drying for me, so I just can’t use the rinse to condition my hair as I used to do when I was using shampoo, but the oil will never absorb, it’s very thick and heavy and I have no problem with that, I actually like that it flats and smooths my wavy hair, but the greasy shine and feel is something I can’t tolerate. I don’t know how to do to make it absorb and I don’t want to manipulate my hair too much or I’m sure I’ll damage it. I have a very short bob, so it’s a little hard for me to apply it evenly, I have to apply it in parts, but that way it always end up being too much. I tried mixing the oil with the foam that I make with the soap but it still remains greasy, and if I shampoo again, it will be dry again.
    Can you give me some tips to use oils properly? Should I switch to argan oil (that I can get here but it’s way more expensive)?
    Hope some help. Thanks.

  4. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Rachael, What are the ingredients that you saw for Earthly Delight Conditioner at your Whole Foods? My Whole Foods doesn’t carry it so I’ve ordered it online with the ingredients that I listed above.

  5. Dawn Michelle says:

    Thanks Kate! Aubrey Organics does have some amazing products!

  6. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Paloma,

    Soap usually had a pH of 9-10 which is extremely high for hair. If you are interested in staying with a no ‘poo regimen without conditioner, you may want to look at the DIY Green Tea Cleansing Hair Rinse which I linked to in the article. The ingredients you can find at any grocery store. Also an apple cider vinegar rinse would make a good hair cleanser/clarifier to replace shampoo all together. I have a few articles on my no ‘poo experience without conditioner and with DIY hair products that I wrote last fall.

    As for hair oils you may like using jojoba or even apricot kernel oil more than almond oil as they are both very light and also at many grocery stores. Coconut oil is another great option that is pretty easy to find. I would try applying a quarter size or less oil total to all of your hair both on wet and dry hair to see which one works better. Aloe vera also makes a wonderful hair conditioner.

    I’m not sure of your hair type since you did not mention that but I do hope that this is somewhat helpful to you.

    Dawn Michelle

    FYI: You can order bulk ingredients online if you are interested in that.

  7. Carola says:

    I love the idea of using Apple Cider Vinegar to replace shampoo, altogether! Thank you! I have been using the “organix” brand which I do like; but I will have to recheck the ingredients against your very comprehensive list…. ! Thank you! I have begun to use Surya Henna and so am looking for a more gentle regime than I currently have in order to keep the colour bight… This helps… thank you!

  8. Chi Chi says:

    Thank you for doing all the hard work! Have you ever tried Giovanni products? I use the deep moisture line but I am looking for something that is more moisturizing. I have sisterlocks so I never use leave-ins, but I need something for deep conditioning for my locks and my daughter’s TWA.

  9. Kisha says:

    Thanks for posting this article! I have the same feelings as you about avoiding phenoxyethanol. I hope this doesn’t put a damper on things but I use Shea moisture sometimes as a creamy moisturizer under my flax seed gel but read about the Japanese honeysuckle extract which is in all SM products and in some 100% pure products. I believe it was bubble and bee that wrote the article but they say the extract is constructed the same as parabens so it can be a endocrine disruptor. I am still up in the air if I’m going to stop using the SM condish because it is a natural ingredient and blueberries contain natural parabens. I’ve started experimenting with Cara B and himalaya’s amla and holy basil condish which earned certification from the natural product association. I can’t wait for your product line to come out. I really like a thick hair lotion moisturizing product under my flax gel for awesome definition. Thanks again for this article!

  10. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Carola, I’ve been using diluted apple cider vinegar for hair clarifying and cleansing in recipes and alone for sometime. It really is a perfect natural hair cleanser. My scalp loves it and it is perfect for maintaining the proper pH for hair. When I started making my own conditioner in January my hair responded extremely well. Using apple cider vinegar and conditioner in my hair regimen has worked wonders for my hair!

  11. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Chi Chi, So glad you liked the article! I haven’t used Giovanni products in a very long time. My favorite deep conditioner is coconut milk. Also I know that you said that you do not use leave-in products, but have you ever thought about using aloe vera juice in your hair as a leave-in? Aloe vera provides moisture and pH balance like no other in a very light unassuming way.

  12. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Kisha,

    The more research you do the more disappointing it is to learn about the cosmetic companies and their ingredient choices. Shelf life is the main reason many natural cosmetic companies choose their ingredients. It is very important to provide safe cosmetics for consumers yet I wish more were doing it without the harmful chemicals.

    I am going to do some research as well on the Japanese honeysuckle extract. There is also debate about grapefruit seed extract as well. Thanks for the info and it is so good to know that you are also trying to seek out true healthy cosmetics. I’m beginning to believe that DIY products are one of the best ways to ensure exactly what is in the products that you are using.

    Dawn Michelle

  13. Dawn Michelle says:

    Here is an interesting article about Japanese honeysuckle extract for those interested.

  14. Kisha says:

    Thank you for finding that article on Japanese honeysuckle extract. It is very interesting. I feel a little more comfortable with using the SM Products because the extract “natural parabens” or not is composed of the para benzoic acid that’s found in other plants and food in nature but I think I will just eventually phase out of using anything with the extract since its questionable. SM condish and the baby argan oil lotion which I use in my hair as a moisturizer under my fsg works really well. Thanks again!!

  15. Monik says:

    I am currently experimenting with Shea Moisture Curl and Hibiskus style milk after my rhassoul wash. It is ok so far, but one ingredient is bothering me…

    Sometimes I skip it and go ” naked”, so to speak… the rhassoul, especially mixed with a little honey left my hair very moisturized, but only one some days… on other days it is tangle city…. I am still on my quest for the perfect conditioner..

  16. Chi Chi says:

    Thank you Dawn, I read the post on coconut milk and plan to try it on my next wash day. I do have a question about when to use it though. Should I use it after my shampoo in place of my regular conditioner, rinse it out then apply the aloe vera juice?

  17. Dawn Michelle says:

    You’re so welcome!

  18. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Monik, Look for a conditioner that has at least one of the conditioning ingredients I mentioned. I’ve learned there really is a difference between conditioners versus moisturizer and hair milks. The rhassoul with honey sounds like a nice hair cleanser too. Are you mixing it with aloe vera?

  19. Freda says:

    This may be a little off topic but I didn’t see any other articles on summer hair care on your blog. As the humidity has risen my hair has become more unmanageable. I cowash with Suave and deep condition with Triple Nutrition. I use your DIY serum and leave in conditioner recipes and liked the results very much in the winter. Do you tweak your routine during high humidity days? Thanks for addressing this if you can!

  20. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Freda, The weather in Los Angeles is not as drastic as where I grew up back East. I do not change my hair regimen during the seasons and there isn’t high humidity in LA either. I enjoy the benefits of leaving lots of conditioner in my hair. I have noticed more consistent results by doing this. If I feel I need more curl definition I use flaxseed gel for hold. Best wishes!

  21. Danielle says:

    Thank you Dawn for this article! I was faithfully using Aubrey’s Honeysuckle Rose conditioner. This was my all time favorite until I started to notice my daughter would sneeze every time I use it. She was allergic to something in the conditioner! I started researching the ingredients and the conditioning ingredient just wasn’t sitting well with me. So now I use Just Naturals conditioner for natural hair and my DIY conditioner to co-wash. It includes an ayurvedic herb tea pack, honey, a couple of nourishing oils,& xanthan for slip! I am so pleased with the health of my hair! I will give Earth Delight a try since it seems to cost less than Just Naturals (which by the way has some delicious ingredients!).

    Thanks again for this post!

  22. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Danielle, So glad you like the article and I’m now curious about Just Naturals Conditioner. Thanks for sharing!

  23. Monik says:

    Hi Dawn, thanks for responding :-)
    for some reason still unknown my hair does not like Aloe Vera, so I use just rhassoul and honey.
    Recently I tried hoeny alone as a conditioner and I was pleasantly surprised. It was quite easy to apply and easy to rinse out and left my hair very soft but with some nice volume and curl definition.
    I will definitely check out some conditioners with the ingredients you mentioned and see what will happen.

  24. Sydney Green says:

    Hello Dawn my name sydney and I was wondering if you could help me. I’m currently experiencing extreme breakage. I have fine dry porous hair and have a dry sensitive scalp. I tried doing a weekly henna challenge and while it worked for a while it ended up having reverse effects. My hair refused to “accept” deep conditioners and it worrying me. I’m at the point where I want to cut it all off but I thought you might have some advice.

  25. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Sydney,

    I hope that I am able to help you, yet it is very difficult to give hair advice when I can not see your hair or touch it. I’ve experienced henna to coat the hair and make it stronger, yet not prevent the hair from receiving moisture or nutrients from products. I’m not sure what your hair regimen is yet I would cut back on the henna treatments until you can figure out the true cause of your hair breakage.

    Try to determine if you have product buildup on your strands which may be preventing even water to moisturize your hair. You can do a apple cider vinegar rinse to remove excess build up. You also want to only put products on your hair that make it soft, so steer clear of hard gels or styling products like that. Condition washing your hair (no shampoo for awhile if you use it) may help bring some life and moisture into your hair as well. Leaving conditioner in your hair for more moisture and adding a natural oil on top will seal in moisture.

    Be very gentle with your hair and if possible keep it in soft braids especially at night. Make sure that all hair styles that you do are not tight or pulling at your scalp. Don’t use any damaging hair accessories such as those with metal clasps or clips. I hope this helps some.

    Best Wishes,
    Dawn Michelle

  26. mangomadness says:

    My favorite natural conditioner is Shea Moisture Purification Masque.

  27. Regine says:

    Hi DM. Not sure this is the best place to talk about this. But here it is. Why is it that of all the stylers I have experimented with, the one that made my 4a Afro hair the most curly, shiny and soft (I hate hold) is the least natural? Hawaiian Silky Gel Activator (pink one)!
    Ingredients are water, glycerin, propylene glycol, terra sodium EDTA, peg 75 lanolin, hidantoin DMDM, polisorbate 20, triethanolamine, hydrolozed vegetable protein, carbomer, various extracts etc.
    This product is the bomb in terms of how my hair seems to magically turn into nicely clumped/defined shiny curls.
    The other products that i love are more natural but Hawaiin seems to be a bit better. These are Curls Curl Creme Brûlée, 4Naturals Curls Craze lotion, and Hair Rules Curly Whip. All are good but the Hawaii product is the cheapest ($4-$5 for 16 oz) and least natural but yet my curls go from an A to an A+. The 2
    Common ingredients in all are water and glycerine.

  28. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Regine,
    It looks as if you have at least figured out that your hair responds extremely well to glycerin and water based products. My hair also loves humectants as well such as honey, agave, panthenol, glycerin, etc. In terms of the ingredients in one product over another, it just depends on what your goals are. If you are looking for cost effective versus ingredients, do what works for you. Natural ingredients do cost more which is why natural products cost more. Becoming familiar with product ingredients is helpful overall so that you can find the best products for your hair. I’m not sure how many products that you have tried yet possibly playing around with some DIY glycerin and water recipes could be a good start. Here are two on this site:
    DIY Curl Conditioning Serum
    DIY Moisturizing Hair Detangler
    Best Wishes,
    Dawn Michelle

  29. iris says:

    Have you tried griffin remedy conditioner before? I saw it my natural foods store and the ingredients are very good (no synthetics). I’m wondering if I should try it out, so I thought I’d ask your opinion. Here’s a link:http://www.luckyvitamin.com/p-242300-griffin-remedy-restorative-conditioner-with-shea-butter-and-macadamia-nut-oil-8-oz

  30. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Iris,
    I’ve seen this line before yet haven’t tried it. The ingredients look great. Let me know what you think if you do try it out. Have an amazing weekend! TGIF!!!

  31. myra says:

    What ingredient in Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner cleanses the scalp and hair? I’m interested in cowash in, but I don’t get how it cleans..

  32. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi myra, Fatty alcohols in conditioners and other surfactants are why conditioners can be used as hair cleansers. In Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner it is the cetyl alcohol and tea tree oil that has cleansing agents. I found that co-washing created amazing moisture levels in my hair although my scalp wasn’t a fan after sometime of it. This is why I personally returned to using herbs and clays to cleanse my hair with versus co-washing. Herbs and clays are gentler on my skin although very effective at cleansing my hair and also better for the environment.

  33. Angie says:

    Hi, thanks for this amazing site. Two questions. Can you please put up why the no-no ingredients are important to avoid? I was surprised to see some of the ones that made the list. Also, what brand of Flax Seed Gel do you buy and where? I’m interested to try it. I tried doing henna your way with Coconut milk instead of what I had previously learned and it worked much better though not putting my normal products after has caused me a little trouble. I’m going to try the DIY recipes and see if I can get to my usual results. Excited to try! Thanks again!

  34. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Angie,

    I’m going to write an article for tomorrow on the why of the chemical ingredients list. As for the flaxseed gel I purchased organic brown flax seeds from the grocery store and make the gel myself. I describe how I make it in this article. I absolutely love flaxseed gel because it is so easy to make and customize, and gives my curls wonderful definition when I’m wearing my natural curl pattern.

    When ever you stop using chemical hair care there is a transition period that everyone endures. I experienced another transition at the beginning of the year when I stopped using store bought conditioners or making my own conditioner with synthetic conditioner ingredients. My hair at first felt like I’d done a protein treatment and not moisturized well enough afterwards. I suggest using clays to help rid your hair strands of synthetics so that it will become soft again.

    If you hair is feeling dry add aloe vera juice into your hair regimen to spritz daily and seal in the moisture with an oil or butter of your choice. Also you may consider using “the baggie method” to increase the moisture levels in your hair. Lightly spritz your hair with water or aloe vera and the oil or butter that you are using to your hair. Sleep in a conditioning cap/shower cap overnight with a scarf or bonnet on top. Your hair may be damp in the morning yet will dry quickly. This is like giving your hair an easy deep conditioning and moisturizing treatment with little effort and amazing results. My last recommendation would be to add a humectant to your cleansing and/or conditioning treatment for added moisture.

    Hope this helps <3

  35. Lisa Perdue says:

    Hello Dawn;
    I love your blog! You have so much information for those of us interested in a natural lifestyle. May I ask where I can buy Flaxseed Gel? All I can find is other products with Flaxseed gel in them and Flaxseed gel tablets.
    Thank you, I appreciate it!

  36. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Lisa, Flaxseed gel is a DIY hair product. You can learn how to make it here. They do sell flaxseed oil in the store, but that’s different. Best wishes!

  37. Daisy says:

    The Shea moisture conditioner is my holy grail. I don’t even know how my hair could live without it. I SWEAR by it. When I found it, it was like my life was complete. It’s the best conditioner I’ve ever used in my life.

  38. Dawn Michelle says:

    Hi Daisy, I’m glad that you found something that works so well for you. Best wishes!