My 4 Best Ingredients To Look For In A Hair Conditioner

4 best ingredients for a hair conditioner 2

In a hair world where practically every product promises great things for your hair, how do you choose what’s right? The hair aisle can be a girl’s biggest nightmare because there are so many options that, left up to each company’s marketing strategies, vow to do the same thing.

Getting wooed by promises of longer, stronger, softer hair is a huge trap when not paired with little understanding of ingredients and what they do. Especially when said promises are written in bold, can’t-be-missed lettering and the ingredients are pushed to the back of the bottle in fine print.

It becomes easier to believe the bottle rather than deciphering for ourselves. What’s worse, the ingredients have such long scientific names that deciphering them turns into an instant migraine.

One of the biggest disasters that ever happened in my hair journey was caused by my lack of product knowledge. I didn’t really grasp the concept of protein and moisture and just went off of what the labels promised me.

I gave my hair too much protein and it was a hot, brittle mess. I chalked it up to my hair just not liking that particular conditioner, but later down the road I realized what the real issue was. Hindsight is indeed 20/20.

The good news is that it’s normal to fall victim to this. The even better news is that you don’t need to don a lab coat to gain a basic understanding of what you should be looking for in your hair products.

With just a little research of your own those long names can become familiar to you. Also, a lot of companies put the ingredients common name in parenthesis next to it, making it so that you’ll only have to know what the product does generally and not memorize its chemical name too.

It will be a huge relief seeing things like shea butter, jojoba oil, etc there in those little parenthesis and thinking “Hey, I know what that is!”.

Once I got a basic understanding of the common ingredients in hair products and starting taking note of them in the products I used I was able to filter out what my hair responded to the best.

Now, when I’m in the market for a new product I can quickly scan the ingredients and figure out if it’s something that will work for me. Not only does this make life much easier, but it also keeps my wallet fuller which is a college girl’s dream.

This is probably starting to sound something like a fairy tale and we all know life does not  work like that. I will have you know that the road was far from easy and in my quest to learn ingredients I have tried a ton of different products.

I still have bottles full of conditioner that I have only used once and every year before moving out of my dorm I’m always looking for people to take stuff off of my hands; it’s that bad.

On a brighter note, this has afforded me wisdom which I can now share with you all. So, here’s the list of my top four ingredients to look for in a conditioner:

Cosmetic Bottles 2**Water

Duh. I am not going to count this one as my official top four because that would almost be cheating, but I do want to stress the importance of water in your hair conditioners.

It should be in your products to do its magic from the outside, but you should also be consuming it to do its magic from the inside. Water is usually the first or second ingredient in moisturizing products so be sure to look to see if the product is worthy of your tresses.

Okay, now on to the real list, they are not in any particular order.

1. Glycerin (glycerol, vegetable glycerine)

Glycerin is a humectant that can be found in a lot of moisturizing conditioners. Humectants are touted for their ability to absorb moisture from the surrounding air and into your hair.

For those of us in humid weather like Florida this may not always be a good thing because of the frizz factor. On the flip side, if you are in a dry climate the glycerin will actually strip your hair of moisture because it can’t get it from the outside.

However, in non extremes, glycerin can provide great benefit. In addition to pulling in moisture, it also works to seal moisture in.  Because of this I love conditioners with glycerin in them.

2. Hydrolyzed Silk Protein

Usually I am not an advocate for protein. I guess you could say I’ve been scarred. However, the benefits of hydrolyzed silk are pretty plentiful. Not to mention, my hair loves it!

If you are looking for shine silk protein can help you get it. First, proteins found in conditioners are usually listed as “hydrolyzed” which just means they’re broken down so that they will better penetrate your hair.

Silk protein also helps to form a barrier on your hair which will make it stronger and allow it to retain more moisture. It is the protein of choice for those who think that they may be protein sensitive.

3. Cetearyl Alcohol

This one may throw you off because of the world “alcohol” which inherently is supposed to be bad for your hair. However, I’ve come to tell you that there are a few alcohols that can actually help your hair and this is one of them.

Cetearyl alcohol is in nearly all of the conditioners that have worked well for me. It is a fatty alcohol that basically provides the slip you need to detangle when conditioning.

4. Coconut Oil

I am obsessed with coconut oil so when I find it in conditioner it is a must for me. The benefits of this magic oil could circle the globe, but I’ll stick to conditioning factors.

Coconut oil is an emollient, which basically means it makes things softer. To take it one step further, what sets coconut oil on a different level is that it can actually penetrate your hair shaft. That is uncommon of other oils, plus, it smells great too!

Another important factor is that it has been shown scientifically to prevent damage to hair during grooming. That is reason enough to love any conditioner containing coconut oil!


There you have it; that’s my list of must have ingredients in conditioners. The great thing though is that we are all very individual in tastes and preferences so your 4 best ingredients are very likely to be completely different from mine. You will find that favorite ingredients will vary with different textures and hair density too.

For instance for those with coarser, drier textures may prefer to have thick oils like shea butter or castor oil in their conditioners while those with finer, low density strands will prefer lighter oils like sunflower oil or macadamia oil. In essence, it’s all relative.

It is pretty common for ladies to add individual ingredients to a conditioner that you may feel is lacking in order to amp it up a little. A spoonful or two of glycerine or oil to a dud conditioner could mean that you are able to make use of a product that you would otherwise have tossed out.

What are your best ingredients?

Originally posted 2014-01-08 15:00:25.

About Ashleigh Nelson

I am Ashleigh Nelson a journalism student at Northwestern University and a part-time hair fanatic. My hair journey began at the beginning of my college career because I decided that it was time for me to finally learn how to gain and maintain healthy hair. The past two years have had ups and downs, but I have learned so much along the way. And now I am here to share my experiences and knowledge with everyone!

About Ashleigh Nelson

I am Ashleigh Nelson a journalism student at Northwestern University and a part-time hair fanatic. My hair journey began at the beginning of my college career because I decided that it was time for me to finally learn how to gain and maintain healthy hair. The past two years have had ups and downs, but I have learned so much along the way. And now I am here to share my experiences and knowledge with everyone!


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  1. R Brown

    I love making homemade conditioner with avocado,banana, honey, aloe vera,coconut milk, EVOO, & castor oil. I also add rosemary and peppermint essental oil. These ingredients have been beneficial in keeping a good moisture-protein balance. So if I see a conditioner with majority of these ingredients, I am happy:-)

  2. Linda

    Excellent article, I learned a lot! Thank you, Ashleigh and please keep sharing your hair wisdom!

  3. Ramah

    I am actually new to this site, & I truly appreciate the information! I am learning so much. my favorite prod are:
    coconut oil, honey, hydrolyzed silk protein, and cetaryl alcohol.

    My fine, low density, high polarity hair’s new fav is sunflower seed oil, thanks to your article last week, I’m trying it and loving it!

  4. Emily CottonTop

    I have to say other than water *wink* my fave has to be the silk protein with coconut oil running a close second!… Great article!

  5. LaDonna

    Say, does anyone have anything to share about their experience with Argan Oil? Most of the new products on the market has this ingredient. I’m just wondering is it worth the expense.

    1. Tiffiany Lighten

      It is possibly your stress spot. Have you tried vitamins, applying natural oils in that spot like Castor Oil!?!

  6. Allison Thompson

    Dymon Mallory if you are still relaxing your hair it could be the texture difference causing the breakage. The hair in the middle of my head is the must coarse. If you are going to continue to relax try putting it on that part last and not letting it get as straight. Extra moisture wouldn’t hurt try something with water in the ingredients and no alcohol.

  7. April

    Another thing I’ve heard and have been watching in the products I use is that these ingredients should be in the first five that you see. If they are the first five they are more prominent in your product. Thanks for the news on the alcohol. I was really avoiding products with alcohol if I could….but just about everything has some type of alcohol in it.

  8. Mel Stevens

    I think argan oil is the best ingredient for a thoroughly conditioning product. I have been using the pro naturals hair repair mask and I totally love it and recommend it!

  9. Qubilah

    I recently got cornrows for a protective style and they weren’t tight or hurting. After 2 weeks I noticed small bumps were forming and then my scalp became irritated like a chemical burn. I am natural and this is my first time experiencing this with braids. Should I just take them out?

    1. B white

      Yes they are too tight! And will cause problem with your hair follicles and can cause much damage to scalp and hair. This has happened to my friend. They did not feel or appeared tight, but they Were!,,

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