I felt obliged to write this post because I honestly feel that sometimes we have to take information with a grain of salt. It has been questioned time and time again if deep conditioning is merely a myth or a placebo used so that hair companies can make a quick buck from non suspecting buyers!
Let me go on record by saying there might be instances where a hair company might be using a little exploitation to get more money out of us but all in all I think we generally have great judgment of what our hair needs are and how a specific product can help with those needs.
Now about the myth…
The question of whether deep conditioning is beneficial to hair care or just a complete waste of time seems to stem from 3 perspectives.
1.) What you are using, store bought product by itself, store bought product combined with natural ingredients, or just natural ingredients such as oil or water.
2.) The length of time the conditioner is left on the hair – should it be 5 mins or 1 hour?
3.) The structure of the hair strand itself in its ability to accept the product for it to have some benefits – can the ingredients actually penetrate the hair shaft?
Many products put claims on the label that indicate ‘deep treatment’ ‘penetrates the hair’, ‘provides strength to the core of the hair’, we have all seen it. The truth is only a few things penetrate the hair shaft whether the cuticle is open or not these include water, coconut oil, olive oil* and hydrolyzed protein. In my opinion if a product has either of these ingredients then more than likely those ingredients will be able to pass through the cuticle and provide benefit to the inner portions of my strands. With that said I could choose to just use ingredients such as water and coconut oil* on my hair for deep conditioning* or I have the option of mixing my product with these ingredients to add health to the cuticle and to the inner areas of the strand.
The length of time to leave a ‘deep conditioning treatment’ on your hair is often questioned because most products recommend 5-10 mins max. Why then do we leave conditioner in for hours? The short answer for me is because a 5min deep treatment does not feel as effective in comparison to when I use my conditioner (mixed) for 20-30 minutes. I think it is a matter of preference really!
This is the most important part of the debunking! The hair shaft is made up of three parts, the cuticle, the medulla and cortex. The cuticle acts like a door; it opens and closes which allows for the movement of particles in and out. The cuticle can be opened by applying heat, or through chemical processing. As mentioned before water, Coconut oil, Olive oil* and hydrolyzed protein do not need the cuticle to open for them to penetrate the hair shaft. The cuticle then dictates wether the product you have chosen to deep condition with, just sits on top of your hair leading to more of a placebo effect rather than penetrating the hair and imparting health benefits.
The question for me now becomes, what do I want penetrating my hair shaft and if the cuticle is closed how can I open it to receive the benefits of my chosen ingredient? Since my hair is primarily made up of protein, if I do have damage, logic dictates that one of the primary things that can help is protein in its hydrolyzed form. Another thing I may want is some moisture from the inside out, with that said some oil wouldn’t be bad either! I like Olive oil* and Coconut Oil* so I will take those. If I have a product that I think has some benefits but from the ingredients I have determined that it will not penetrate the hair shaft without some help from heat, then I will use heat!
So is deep conditioning a myth?
My answer, no, not for me! I think it is beneficial depending on the perspective from which it is argued, if you are plopping a bunch of conditioner that has no ‘penetrating capabilities’ and leaving it on for hours without heat, then that is frankly a waste of time, if anything you might be able to detangle easily due to the slip. When articles surface that question the benefits of deep conditioning* generally something is always left out! For example: There might be no mention of heat opening the cuticle which will allow for some of the benefits our products boast about.
The point is read everything with a grain of salt and trust your instincts and what you know, get educated about your own hair and do what is best for you.