Formulating Non-Traditional Hair Conditioners

February 6, 2007

Consumer demand for novel products has forced the industry to move beyond ordinary cream rinses. Here are some new ideas in formulation.

Formulating Non-Traditional Hair Conditioners

Consumer demand for novel products has forced the industry to move beyond ordinary cream rinses. Here are some new ideas in formulation.

Tom Schoenberg
Schoenberg Consulting

A major shift in hair cleansing occurred in the mid- 1940s when sodium lauryl sulfate replaced saponified vegetable oil as the surfactant base. Lauryl sulfate shampoos provided superior foam properties without leaving the characteristic calcium residue experienced with liquid soap shampoo after rinsing. Unfortunately, the lauryl sulfate cleaned so well that the hair was left “frizzie” due to the removal of natural oils (sebum) from the hair shaft which created an electrostatic charge. This problem led to the development of the first cream rinse.1

Cream rinse evolved from the textile industry, where it is used as a finishing agent. One of the first cream rinse formulas was a blend of stearalkonium chloride and glycerol monostearate. This combination has passed the test of time and is currently used in many major brand hair conditioners. In fact, all hair conditioners on the market today continue to contain cationic surfactants, either a fatty quaternary ammonium compound or an amine salt.2

After the introduction of the first cream rinse, marketers began to introduce value-added products. A cream rinse simply claimed: improved combing, eliminated fly away and left the hair with a smooth feel. More claims were needed in order to capture greater market share in an increasingly competitive market. Today, conditioner label claims include: Protects, balances, weatherproofs, protects from thermo and environmental damage, contains plant-based emollients, leaves hair soft and silky, rejuvenates and refreshes color, contains plant-derived color, herbs, volumizes, provides damage protection, etc. The list is endless.

This article covers a range of conditioner types in today’s market. Also included are new concepts that have yet to be marketed. Each formula promotes a specific property and an explanation is given as to why the components were chosen for each application.

No Build-up Conditioner

After repeated use, quaternary ammonium compounds are known to build-up on hair fibers, causing a matted after-feel. Fatty amine salts rinse more readily from the hair, reducing or even eliminating this effect.

Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine is one of the most widely formulated compounds used in hair conditioners to reduce this effect. The amine is typically neutralized in situ with an organic acid such as citric, lactic and propionic, to form a cation salt. It can also be formulated as the neutralized salt. The amine salts are also compatible with anionic surfactants and are often used in two-in-one shampoos to provide conditioning and thickening. Another unique feature is that amine salts do not depress foam. Quaternary ammonium compounds, on the other hand, will form an insoluble complex in the presence of anionic surfactants, which results in a cloudy product along with foam reduction.3,4

The following is an example of a formula that contains stearamidopropyldimethylamine lactate as the conditioning agent. The product is an opaque, pearled lotion that provides excellent conditioning and rinses readily from the hair, thus, eliminating an undesirable build-up effect after repeated applications.

No Build-Up Conditioner

Ingredient    %Wt.

Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine    2.0
Lactic acid (88%)      0.7
PEG 400 distearate      0.5
Sodium sulfate      0.5
Preservative    q.s.
Water, dye, fragrance    q.s. to  100.0

Procedure: Add stearamidopropyl dimethylamine, lactic acid, PEG 400 distearate and sodium sulfate to water. Heat to 70ºC and blend until homogenous. Cool to 50ºC and add preservative, fragrance and dye. Cool to room temperature and fill.

Clear Foaming Conditioner

Traditional conditioners based on quaternary ammonium compounds provide little foam. A conditioner based on a low molecular weight amine salt, plus a betaine surfactant, however, will produce foam and provide mild conditioning. This type of conditioner is useful for the consumer who desires a product that provides moderate cleaning and conditioning.

The following formula is based on a low molecular weight cationic surfactant, cocamidopropyl dimethylamine lactate, which provides foam and mild conditioning. Wheatgermamidopropyl dimethylamine lactate provides additional conditioning. Lauramidopropyl betaine enhances foam and hydroxy- ethyl cellulose provides viscosity.

Clear Foaming Conditioner

Ingredient    %Wt.

Lauramidopropyl  betaine (35%)   10.0
Cocamidopropyl  dimethylamine lactate (40%)   15.0
Wheatgermamidopropyl dimethylamine lactate         1.2
Hydroxyethyl cellulose (Natrosol 250 HHR)   0.8
 Preservative      q.s.
Water, dye, fragrance    q.s. to 100.0

Thoroughly disperse and hydrate Natrosol 250 HHR in room temperature water. Heat to 45ºC and add remaining components. Blend until clear and fill.

Hair Dye Retention

When dyed hair is shampooed, the dye gradually washes away. Conditioning with a quaternary ammonium compound will reduce the rate of dye washed away due to the protective film formed on the hair fiber.

This protective effect can be enhanced by the incorporation of an amino functional or quaternized silicone oil.5 In a recent study, conditioners containing amino functional and quaternary silicones were compared to fatty cationic conditioners without the silicone compounds. The dyed hair tresses containing the silicone compound were found to provide improved dye retention. In addition, the conditioners containing the cationic silicone were found to provide improved dry combing compared to conditioners without the silicone compound.5

The following formula provides both improved dye retention and dry combing. The silicone is blended with other conditioners and emulsifiers into a single blend as a means to simplify the production process. The consistency is an opaque creamy liquid.

Dye Retention Conditioner

Ingredient    %Wt.
Mackconditioner Brite  5.5
    (Cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate, stearalkonium chloride, amodimethcone)    
Cocodimoniumhydroxypropyl     4.0
    hydrolyzed wheat protein (25%)
Citric acid    q.s. to pH 3.5-4.0
Water, fragrance, preservative    q.s. to 100.0
Procedure: Add Mackconditioner Brite (McIntyre Group Ltd.) to water and heat to 70°C. After the Mackconditioner Brite is melted and dispersed, cool to 45°C, slowly add the protein. Adjust pH to 3.5-4.0 with citric acid. Add fragrance and preservative. Cool and fill.

Deep Penetrating Conditioner

Deep penetrating (sometimes also known as restructuring) conditioners are often formulated with components such as protein or dl panthenol which claim to improve tensile strength.6 This product type is typically clear, water-thin and packaged in an ampule designed for one-time use. The ampule typically contains 10-20ml of the product.

The user massages the conditioner into the hair and does not rinse for several minutes allowing the product to completely penetrate the hair fibers. Because damaged hair is quite porous, a greater amount of the conditioner will be absorbed into the part of the hair shaft that requires the most conditioning.
In the following formula, a quaternized protein, cocodimonium hydroxyl-propyl hydrolyzed wheat protein, which claims to provide conditioning, moisturizing, enhances luster and improves tensile strength is the primary conditioner.7 The isostearamidopropyl morpholine lactate provides improved lubricity.

Deep Penetrating Conditioner

Ingredient    %Wt.
Cocodimoinium hydroxypropyl    3.0
    hydrolyzed wheat protein (25%)
Isostearamidopropyl morpholine    2.0
    lactate (25%)
Lactic acid (88%)     q.s. to pH 4.0
Preservative    q.s.
Water, fragrance    q.s. to 100.0

Add the conditioners to water and blend until clear. Adjust pH to 4.0 with lactic acid. Add preservatives, fragrance and fill.

Self-Warming Conditioner

The self-warming conditioner provides a slight warming effect on the scalp when applied to the head in the presence of a small amount of water. The warming effect is created by the phenomenon known as heat of dilution. Some compounds when diluted with water release energy in the form of heat; e.g., polyethylene glycol 200 and 300. When blended with an anhydrous cationic conditioner, the product upon dilution provides a slight warming effect, which is perceived by the user as deep penetrating conditioning.8

The following formula will provide a warming effect. Polyethylene glycol 300 is the solvent that provides heat upon dilution with water. Sunflowerseed-amidopropyl ethyldimonium ethosulfate in a PEG-9 media is the conditioning quaternary ammonium compound and Isostearamidopropyl morpholine lactate (anhydrous) provides conditioning, plus a mild lather.

Sunflower Seed Conditioner

Ingredients:    %Wt.
Sunflowerseedamidopropyl         6.0
    ethosulfate (and) PEG-9
Isostearamidopropyl                      3.0
    morpholine lactate 100%
Lactic acid (88%)            to pH 3.5-4.0
Fragrance, dye    q.s.
Polyethylene glycol 300    q.s. to 100.0

Add conditioners to PEG 300 and blend until clear. Adjust pH to 3.5-4.0 with lactic acid (measure pH of a 5.0% solution). Add fragrance and dye.

Clear Wash Out Conditioner

The appearance of a traditional hair conditioner has been an opaque, white viscous lotion. This form has been the standard for over 50 years. Although a clear form provides equivalent performance, the concept of a clear transparent conditioner has never been successful in the mass market. Perhaps someday a major company will successfully mass market a clear hair conditioner.

An isostearylamidoamine salt was found to be an excellent choice for this application. The high molecular weight cationic salt provides a clear product that is water white and almost odorless. The viscosity is built with hydroxyethylcellulose and polyquaternium 7 is included for improved detangling. The following formula provides these features:

Clear Wash Out Conditioner

Ingredients:    %Wt.

Isostearamidopropyl-dimethylamine lactate (25%)   8.0
 Polyquaternium 7 (9.2%)      1.0
Hydroxyethyl cellulose     1.0
    (Natrosol 250 HHR)
EDTA (40%)         0.2
Preservative    q.s.
Water, dye, fragrance      q.s. to 100.0

Procedure: Slowly add Natrosol 250 HHR to room temperature water with rapid agitation. When the Natrosol 250 HHR is completely hydrated (approximately 1 hour), add Polyquaternium 7. When completely dispersed, add isostearamidopropyldimethylamine lactate. Heat to 40ºC and add EDTA, preservative, fragrance and dye. Blend until clear and cool.

Clear Leave-on Conditioner

Leave-on conditioners are typically clear, water thin and sprayed on the hair with a pump spray. This type of product is very popular as a children’s conditioner, but is also widely used by adults. One of the key features of a leave-on conditioner is that is should be mild to skin and eyes. The following formula is based on a very mild cationic conditioner, isostearmidopropyl morpholine lactate.9 The compound is an excellent conditioner and is more mild to skin and eyes compared to quaternary ammonium compounds (see Table above). Polyquaternium 007 is also included to provide improved detangling. The product can be dispensed as a liquid or sprayed onto the hair.

Clear Leave-on Conditioner

Ingredients:    %Wt.
Isostearmidopropyl (25%)    8.0
    morpholine lactate
Polyquaternium 7 (9%)    1.0
EDTA (40%)     0.1
Citric acid    q.s. to pH 5.0-6.0
Preservative    q.s.
Water, dye, fragrance     q.s. to 100.0


Add components to water and blend until clear. Adjust pH to 6.0-6.5 with citric acid.

Conditioner/Setting Properties

An interesting duel action concept is to combine a conditioner and setting lotion into one product. For this product category, a mild conditioner that does not build up is required. A fatty amidoamine salt was found to be a better choice than a quaternary ammonia compound because it will rinse more readily from the hair. For the setting properties, polyquaternium 11 prepared by the reaction of diethyl sulfate and a copolymer of vinyl pyrolidone and dimethyl aminoethylmethacrylate was used. Although the effect is not the same as applying the two products separately, the final product offers an excellent compromise.

Conditioner with Setting Properties

Ingredients:    %Wt.
Stearmidopropyl dimethylamine      4.0
    lactate (25%)
Polyquaternium 11     8.0
Cetyl alcohol     0.5
Preservative    q.s.
Water, dye, fragrance    q.s. to 100.0

Procedure: Completely disperse polyquaternium 11 in water. Add stearamidopropyl dimethylamine lactate and cetyl alcohol and heat to 70ºC. When the cetyl alcohol is melted and dispersed, cool to 45ºC. Add remaining components and cool to room temperature.

Novel Formulas Boost Sales

The overall hair care market is only growing about 2% a year. However, subsectors, such as men’s, ethnic and salon, have shown significant growth. Healthy hair continues to be a major trend.10 In order to build market share and maintain a competitive edge, manufacturers continually search for novel means to promote their products.

The clear, leave-on or self-warming conditioners are not new, but by adding a creative twist to these non-traditional conditioner forms, additional new product concepts are possible. This article, hopefully, provides the cosmetic chemist with some unique ideas as to how to develop the next new conditioner.  

    1. Schimmel Briefs, March 1947, No. 144, “Synthetic Detergents in Shampoos.”
    2. E. Sagarin, “Cosmetics Science and Technology,” 1957, p. 538.
    3. T.G. Schoenberg, “New Look at Cationic Surfactants for Today’s Low pH Shampoos,” Cosmetic and Perfumery, March 1975.
    4. T.G. Schoenberg, A.A. Scafidi, “Role of Alkylamidoamine Salts in the Modern Hair Conditioner,” Cosmetic and Toiletries, March 1979.
    5. M. Kropfgans, S. Musiol, S. Nienstedt, “Silicone quats—Color Retention Benefits and Influence of Structure Modifications on Blending or Conditioning,” Journal of Cosmetic Science, Vol. 55, S133.
    6. McIntyre Group Ltd, “Mackcondition- er: Ready to Produce Conditioner Concen- trates,” p. 3, Aug. 2004.
    7. McIntyre Group Ltd, “Mackpro Plus” Product Guide, p. 3, Aug. 2004.
    8. Julia Hernandez-Marin, “Sunflower Oil, Derivatives for the Ethnic Market,” McIntyre In Touch Newsletter, Summer 2002, p.3.
    9. T.G. Schoenberg, U.S. Patent 4,168,302.
    10. Hair Care Trends, Happi, Dec. 2005, p. 76.

About the Author

Tom Schoenberg is president of Schoenberg Consulting, Lemont IL. Previously, he was director of international sales for the McIntyre Group Ltd., University Park, IL. He has more than 40 years of
experience in the personal care market. For most of his career, Mr. Schoenberg has been involved in the development of new applications for raw materials. He has authored many articles and holds several application patents in the field of personal care raw materials. More info: tgschoenberg@aol.com