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Four reasons why conditioning ingredients are essential for maintaining healthy hair

Regardless of texture or colour, healthy hair is something we all strive for when it comes to beauty maintenance. In the wake of lockdowns and salon closures, consumers are continuing to prioritise conditioning treatments to keep their hair in great condition. So, it’s no surprise that the global hair conditioners and treatment category is booming, with a 7.5% growth in 2021[1] and a market value expected to reach $886.4 million by 2026[2]. We are also witnessing the rise of the “hairtellectuals”, a group of consumers that exhibit a natural curiosity about the science of hair and are continuously learning about the importance of maintaining the condition of their tresses[3]. Whether it be embracing our natural hair styles or caring for over processed hair, the ultimate goal is to keep our hair looking and feeling fabulous.
mature happy women touching healthy hair

Conditioning is essential in order to maintain our hair in a healthy condition. It is achieved thanks to products that contain ingredients which provide lubrication between hair fibres, both in the wet and dry state, allowing hair protection from damage caused by everyday grooming practices, amongst other damaging factors. These can disrupt the natural morphology of the hair and can lead to visual and tactile signals that let us know our hair is not in great condition. But this can be complex as there are different forms of damage that can be inflicted, and it is important to understand how each of them can impact the hair structure to allow the creation of the most beneficial products. So, let’s take a look at some examples:

Mechanical damage
Mechanical damage includes everyday grooming practices such as washing, brushing or styling the hair and is mainly focussed on the cuticle as this is the first point of contact for the hair fibre. This can result in friction between the hair fibres and deteriorate the condition of the hair cuticle:

- When hair is tangled or not properly conditioned, cuticle abrasion can occur. This is where the      protective lipids on the hairs surface are lost, which in turn causes more friction between fibres and hair condition to deteriorate further [Image 1].

- Cuticle lifting can also occur when the hair is stretched and pulled during styling. When hair is not properly conditioned, a lot of force is required to groom the hair which causes the fracture of cuticle bonds and leads to cuticle lifting, otherwise known as de-cementation [Image 2].

- Cuticle shear band formation describes the precursor to a split end and is caused by the tangling and twisting of weak hair as we brush or comb it. When weakened hair becomes tangled, this can result in fractures and eventually leads to split ends [Image 3].

- The repetitive pulling and elongation of hair during grooming can also weaken fibres and can result in fibre breakage [Image 4].

Damage to the cuticle results in unmanageable hair that feels rough, appears dull and is more prone to further damage and breakage.

microscope images mechanical hair damage

Thermal damage
Heat from thermal styling, such as curling, straightening and drying, can also inflict damage on the hair. Styling tools vary in temperatures, from 60 – 80°C to 220°C, so it’s little surprise that styling hair with heated appliances can cause serious damage.

Hair dryers operate at lower temperatures, effectively removing bulk of water from wet hair, and this repeated action can cause low levels of damage to build up over a prolonged period of time.

Styling tools such as curling or straightening irons operate at much higher temperatures. The natural hair shape can be changed by the temporary re-alignment of hydrogen bonds present within the cortex. This styling practice is usually performed on dry hair and can cause high levels of damage after only a few times, which can build up with repeated exposure to such high temperatures.

- Vertical or longitudinal cracking occurs due to the rapid contraction of the outer cuticle layer during drying processes. This can gradually weaken hair fibres, leaving them more susceptible to further damage and breakage caused by other means, such as grooming practices [Image 5].

- Craters and bulges are caused by the rapid vaporisation of water to steam during thermal styling processes, where water inside the hair fibre is quickly drawn to the surface, where it cannot escape, causing the cuticle to bulge [Image 6].

- Cuticle lifting or decementation can also occur with the repeated elongation of hair fibres during such styling practices, which produces radial and circumferential compression stresses. Lifted cuticles are then exposed to further damage from additional grooming practices [Image 7].

microscope images thermal hair damage

Chemical damage
Chemical treatments that alter the hair's natural shape or colour, such as permanent waving, relaxers, bleaching or colouring can weaken and disrupt the internal structure of the hair. Each involve damaging processes where hair cuticles are lifted to allow treatments to penetrate the hair fibre and influence the structural bonds within the cortex, therefore changing the hairs shape or colour either temporarily or permanently:

- Cuticles need to be raised to allow chemical treatments to penetrate the hair fibre to alter the bonds present within the cortex, so it is inevitable that cuticle damage will occur. Cuticles are closed at the end of the chemical treatment, but not all will lie flat again, leading to cuticle lifting [Image 8]. This in turn leaves cuticles more vulnerable to further damage, such as cuticle abrasion [Image 9] or the removal and pitting of cuticles [Image 10].

- Damage also occurs within the cortex, which is weakened due to the breaking and re-forming of bonds. Not all bonds can re-form again, leaving the hair weaker, more brittle and prone to breakage [Image 11].
 microscope images chemical hair damage

We now understand how hair structure can be modified as a result of damage, but how do we, as consumers, recognise this in our own hair? There are many signals that tell us that our hair is no longer in its healthy, natural state, and indicate that damage has occurred. Visual cues can include frizz, flyaways, visible split ends and dull hair that lacks shine. There are also tactile cues which include dry hair that feels rough or like straw, tangled hair, and weak breakable hair. As we are now able to identify signs of damage to our hair, the ability to preserve, manipulate, and repair its structure with customized solutions is essential in order to deliver consumer perceivable benefits.

Once damage has occurred, it can be difficult to repair. The easiest means for maintaining healthy hair is to prevent damage and excessive friction from developing on the hair fibres in the first place. Lubrication delivered from conditioning treatments can achieve this. Products that can help to seal and smooth damaged cuticles can also help to temporarily repair hair and restore a healthy look and feel. There are many products on the market that can offer this benefit, each in different formats that are specifically designed to deliver the desired level of conditioning based on the targeted hair type and need. These range from traditional rinse-off conditioners applied after shampooing, to leave-in conditioners for detangling and treatment masks for intense conditioning. Many can also include additional ingredients to offer multi-functional benefits, such as damage repair and preventing hair colour fade but each have the same primary function: to smooth and protect the hair fibre, providing lubricity to maintain manageability.

So, how Croda can help to keep our hair in good condition? Let’s take a look at some key tips:

Protect hair from damage
Protecting hair that is already compromised from further damage is key in order to maintain a healthy hair condition. Conditioning products that contain ingredients designed to deposit and remain on the hair surface can deliver much needed lubricity to hair fibres and prevent excessive friction that can lead to progressive surface damage.

Crodazoquat MCC  is an effective conditioning agent on a range of diverse hair types, from straight to coily, delivering impressive detangling and conditioning benefits. This ingredient can also help to improve the appearance and feel of tresses, helping hair to look and feel healthier.

Repair signs of damage
Damaged hair cannot be permanently repaired, but symptoms that lead to an unfavourable hair condition can be temporarily treated to improve hair look and feel.

Kerestore 2.0  is perfectly positioned for this. Proteomic analysis has been used to show this ingredient contains peptide fragments which are identical to parts of the peptide sequences found in human hair fibres. This provides replenishment to the most damaged areas of the hair using biomimetic technology.

Another great solution is Crodabond CSA  which acts as a cuticle sealing agent. On damaged hair, where cuticles may be raised or lifted, this ingredient can penetrate between cuticle layers and help to reseal the cuticles, forming a smoother, shinier hair surface to prevent future damage.

Replenish hair weakened by damage
Hair weakened by damage is more prone to breakage, so replenishing the strength and integrity of hair is essential.

KeraMatch V  is a vegan suitable alternative to animal derived keratin and was specifically designed to mimic the amino acid composition of keratin using plant-based protein sources. This ingredient is shown to improve some of the tensile properties of damaged and fragile hair, and sensory evaluations have shown the overall condition of damaged hair can be significantly improved.

Regulate moisture within the hair
Regulation of moisture is also important to prevent further damage to the hair and ensure manageability is maintained. Moisture levels within the hair can influence its visual and tactile properties, with high moisture levels leaving the hair more prone to frizz and low moisture levels leaving the hair more brittle and prone to breakage.

Hydrosativum P  is a hydrolyzed protein sourced from peas, well known as a super food protein source with powerful moisturising properties. This ingredient is able to deliver effective moisturisation to the skin and hair, meaning it is able to bind moisture at low humidities and in dry climates, helping to maintain moisture within the hair at an optimum level.

At Croda, we offer a wide range of multi-functional conditioning ingredients that can be utilised in many different product formats. To validate their performance, we have a global network of claims substantiation teams that perform a variety of tests to validate the benefits of our ingredients. To help validate conditioning claims, we are able to perform a combing test and measure the force required to comb a hair tress before and after treatment so we can quantify the level of conditioning delivered to the hair tress. In the video below, our hair care team in Brazil delve deeper into this test and explain more.


Inside the lab: focus on combing test for hair conditioning

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Published by

  • Danielle Jamieson Marketing Coordinator

Hair strengthening infographic

hair strengthening blog infographic cover image
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Female combing conditioner through her wet hair to maintain shine and vibrancy using Croda ingredients that are suited to all hair types and ethnicities with conditioning, sun protecting, anti-age, anti-frizz, retention of curls and colour maintenance, benefits


Discover our wide range of multi-functional conditioning agents suitable for all hair types and conditions, delivering personalised hair care solutions.

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