Conditioning Shampoo
August 29, 2007 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Why doesn't conditioner lather like shampoo?

I love shampoo that gives a thick lather with minimal effort and always get disappointed when I can't achieve the same result with a conditioner. Am I missing something fundamental about it's properties that applies to all of these types of products i.e. moisturisers?

Are there any hair conditioners avaliable in Australia that foam like a shampoo but leave your hair feeling soft?
posted by simplesharps to Shopping (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about using the "two-in-one" products? There's a really good scientific answer to your question that someone will be along to give you any minute.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:55 PM on August 29, 2007

I'm no chemist, but I think that what makes soap and shampoo produce lather is a surfactant. I imagine that conditioners lack this component.
posted by jquinby at 4:57 PM on August 29, 2007

If it's just a question of coverage, you might try going with a more specialized or higher end conditioner. I've tried using the cheap stuff, and it take a handful just to cover my relatively short hairstyle. Even something like Pantene's "Always Smooth" variety will work.
posted by evil holiday magic at 4:57 PM on August 29, 2007

Not all detergent foams up, either. Dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent don't. As J. Quinby says, they specifically add an ingredient to hair shampoo to make it do that. It would seem that they don't add such an ingredient to conditioner.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:01 PM on August 29, 2007

conditioner isn't supposed to lather. what makes shampoo lather is the surfactant. it changes the surface tension of the water so it lifts the sebum, oils and dirt away. a conditioner is designed to replace some of the oils that shampoo removes.

(before you point out that this seems counterproductive, remember that the conditioning substances in conditioners are 1. clean, and 2. sometimes less greasy than what your scalp produces.) if your conditioner lathered, the oils wouldn't stick to your hair.

it is much like putting on moisturizer after washing your face, or using fabric softener after you wash your clothes.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:04 PM on August 29, 2007 [4 favorites]

Sodium Laureth Sulfate
posted by blue_beetle at 5:10 PM on August 29, 2007

in the case of laundry detergent and dish detergent, they actually add a small quantity of foaming agent to some brands, because people feel better when they can see the suds. The foam has no effect on how well the detergent works, though.

I suspect the same is true for shampoo.

Also consider that shampoo and conditioner do very different things to your hair, so it's not surprising that they'd have different properties and feel different to the touch.

Conditioner is supposed to attach to the hair, moisturizing and repairing chemical crosslinks. Lots of the molecules stay around, even after rinsing. Shampoo is designed to surround the dirt with micelles, then wash completely away, taking the grime with it. I imagine that if you could make conditioner foam up, it would actually be a waste of product - You'd be washing all that foamy moisturizer away away.
posted by chrisamiller at 5:11 PM on August 29, 2007

If it's just a question of coverage, you might try going with a more specialized or higher end conditioner.

I've used a variety of high-end conditioners (read $30-80 per bottle) and can safely say that none have "lathered". In fact, the really, really good shampoos I've used (that claim to be super moisturizing) tend to lather significantly less than normal shampoos.

Example: Bumble and Bumble's Alojoba shampoo.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 5:14 PM on August 29, 2007

Most shampoos have chemicals added to make them foam, because it gives the illusion of cleaning better! It's surfactants that actually clean your hair. I believe there are small amounts of surfactants in conditoner too, in order for it to rinse cleanly out of your hair. So theoretically you could wash your hair with conditioner but you'll never get the foam.

Anyways, a 2-in-1 is probably your best bet. The new Herbal Essences line smells delicious!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 5:24 PM on August 29, 2007

none of the answers here seem very convincing.

chemical-wise i can't see any reason why conditions cannot foam (although i don't think either shampoos or conditioners need to foam to work). in fact a popular conditioner ingredient - alkyloamides - is also a foam booster.

and if you want this, presumably other people do - to argue that it would be inefficient/wasteful is to somewhat miss the point of cosmetics.

the only reason i can come up with is that ammonium lauryl sulfate is cheap, foams, is a detergent, and is the major component of shampoo (particularly cheap shampoo). since it's a detergent it's not suitable for conditioners, which must use something else as a base - something that probably doesn't foam as well.

in other words, my best guess is not so much that conditioners don't foam, as that shampoos foam a lot because the basic, cheap ingredient, foams well.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:38 PM on August 29, 2007

Shampoo opens the hair ,conditioner closes the hair.
posted by hortense at 6:21 PM on August 29, 2007

and if you want this, presumably other people do

Probably some other people, but I don't think it's a particularly common craving.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:31 PM on August 29, 2007

i guess i wasn't very clear - i meant that if some people do, then you should be able to find this. it seems at least as likely to be popular as, say, red highlights. yet no-one here seems to know of a good foaming conditioner (while even i know that there are shampoos that give red highlights).
posted by andrew cooke at 6:36 PM on August 29, 2007

it seems at least as likely to be popular as, say, red highlights.

Huh, not to me, especially considering that agents that foam are likely to partly undermine the objective of conditioning your hair. I honestly think the original poster is expressing a significantly unusual desire, but what do I know?
posted by redfoxtail at 7:12 PM on August 29, 2007

I think the reason shampoo foams and conditioner doesn't lies in the purpose of each. Succintly stated by Billy Madison: "Shampoo is better! I go on first and clean the hair! Conditioner is better! I make the hair silky and smooth!”
posted by BuddhaBelly at 7:14 PM on August 29, 2007

On a side note, exquisite_deluxe is correct, and it is possible to wash your hair with conditioner alone. I've been doing conditioner-wash-only for about five years, now. It's fantastic for reducing frizz in curly hair.
posted by Andrhia at 8:10 PM on August 29, 2007

It's because lather is a gimmick anyways. People feel lather and think their shampoo is cleaning better, even if it's due to extra chemicals that have nothing to do with cleaning your hair. Conditioner isn't supposed to clean, so lather won't enhance the perceived effectiveness of the product.
posted by almostmanda at 3:13 AM on August 30, 2007

It's been a long time since I worked in a specialty chemicals lab, but I believe shampoos use anionic detergents whereas conditioners contain cationic detergents in order to balance the charge on your hair after you've washed it.

This link has some additional info.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:03 AM on August 30, 2007

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