HomeThe science of cosmeticsHow do hair products work?How does conditioner work?

Read our section on 'How does hair work?' for background on the science of hair!

Conditioners as we know them today have come a long way since their invention. the first noted use of a specific conditioning product was at the 1900 Exposition Universelle by Édouard Pinaud.

Cosmetic scientists around the world have had over 100 years to innovate and perfect this simple-seeming product. Today, conditioners of all types exist, from natural oils to nuanced formulations which are able to work alongside the many different types of hair. Whatever style you want, you can find a product to help.

What is the science behind conditioner?

Individual hairs are mainly made up of keratin, which is the same protein that creates our nails. An individual hair is formed from three layers; the innermost core containing some proteins and lipids, the middle cortex layer which contains the pigments which give hair its colour, and the outer hard, fibrous layer made from keratin protein. This outermost layer is called the cuticle.

Under a microscope, the cuticle looks scaly because it is made from overlapping cells. A healthy cuticle will have smooth scales but the cuticle can become damaged easily and this will result in scales which lift rather than sitting flat. This can allow moisture in and result in frizzy hair which easily tangles.

Conditioners contain specifically-designed ingredients which carry a positive charge which binds to the negative charge in our hair follicles - just the same as how the positive and negative poles on two magnets will attract. These ingredients cover the cuticles, smoothing them down, meaning our hair becomes less frizzy and easier to manage!

What are the different types of conditioner?

Innovations in conditioners have allowed for a range of conditioners that serve multiple purposes including hair repair, fixing split ends, and suitability for dry or oily hair types. Different types of conditioner also help to improve different types of hair, for example a 'leave-in' conditioner may be ideal for curlier hair types as it continues to moisturise and keep curls looking smooth as it is kept on the hair.

Learn more about different types of cosmetic claims and what companies must do to be able to make them.

Was this page helpful


Thank you for your feedback!