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How To Make the Ultimate Natural Homemade Hair Conditioner

Updated on December 8, 2017

Homemade Natural Hair Conditioner Is Easy and Inexpensive

I have never been the type to go in for expensive shampoos and conditioners. For most of my life, I've been perfectly well satisfied with Suave--and for a good many years of my life as a mother of five daughters, expensive hair products were out of the question. There were just too many heads of hair using up staggering amounts of hair products.

Another reason I never went in for the fancier hair products is that my hair is fairly low-maintenance. That is, I don't have fly-away fine hair, easily tangled curly hair, or hair that is particularly dry or oily. Except for the years when I colored my hair, it always seemed to be reasonably healthy. So my attitude was that Suave (or whatever was on sale) seemed to be working fine.

When I began making my own natural soap shampoos, I was surprised at the improvement in both the health and texture of my hair. I honestly did not know that hair could be so dramatically improved. The change in my hair from using my own shampoo is best described as "making my hair feel like it did when i was ten years old." Both hair and scalp became completely healthy and free of dandruff, and my hair became so silky soft and smooth than I couldn't stop touching it--and frequently asked people (family members, okay) to "feel my hair."

Since any old conditioner also "worked fine" for my hair--meaning that anything would work to rid my freshly washed hair of snarls--I was very satisfied with the simplest homemade hair conditioner. Hey! It worked fine!

A simple homemade hair conditioner is also very cheap. A pound of BTMS-50, which costs under $20 (plus shipping) will make about three gallons of basic conditioner--and it's very easy to make. Such a simple, basic conditioner is, in my experience, equal in quality to inexpensive store-bought conditioners. Fragrance is, of course, an added cost, but very little is needed, and another very major advantage of homemade is that it allows you to choose really nice fragrances. (Maybe you have noticed that most cheap shampoos and conditioners have an unpleasant plastic scent, and that the Sweet Pea is indistinguishable from the Lavender.)

But making your own conditioner also allows you to move on from something that just "works fine." Additives are available that will make your hair silky soft, shiny, and healthy, and will allow you to customize your product to suit your hair. (For more information about customizing both shampoo and conditioner to your hair's specific needs, I would suggest studying swiftcraftymonkey's blogs.) Additives involve extra expense, but they also mean that you need not settle for a product that may be skimping on quality ingredients. And, for me, the cost of making a rather fancy homemade conditioner comes to $5.55 for a 24-ounce batch, which is not bad for what I (immodestly) believe to be a really great product.

How I Got Around To Exploring Additives

I'd like to start out by directing you to an excellent discussion of hair conditioner additives from Swiftcraftymonkey (the go-to source for information on all things related to cosmetology). Here she discusses the additives I've suggested, along with quite a few others that may interest you: http://swiftcraftymonkey.blogspot.com/2009/03/conditioner.html

Because I am a member of just about every Facebook soapmaking group in existence, when I make a discovery related to formulating one of my products, I like to share it. So the first time I tried adding DL-Panthenol to my conditioner, I couldn't resist telling the world about the thrilling improvement in my hair's texture.

Turns out, many of the other members of these groups know a great deal more about this stuff than I do. Dozens of these women are veritable Madame Curies of cosmetology. (I suspect them of having advanced degrees in the subject.)

Well, they set me straight! Panthenol is indeed a wonderful additive, but there are others that can work still more wonders for hair. (Comments on my recipe were along the lines of, "Well, that's okay. But you're really going to need a quaternary cationic polymer for that.")

Good additives to a basic BTMS conditioner are:

DL-Panthenol, aka Pro-Vitamin B5, is a stable lit racemic mixture of D-Panthenol and L-Panthenol. The human body readily absorbs DL-Panthenol through the skin and it rapidly converts D-Panthenol to Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5), a natural constituent of healthy hair and a substance present in all living cells. Both D-Panthenol and DL-Panthenol are equally effective for moisturization, improvement of hair structure and adding luster and sheen to the hair. (This is a quote from a supplier's description of the product.)

Swiftcraftymonkey says, "Panthenol is an alcohol that is processed by our body to become pantothenic acid - a water soluble vitamin, Vitamin B - a major constituent of our hair. This is why you see it in most hair care products, and why an entire hair care line is named after it! Panthenol for hair care products is a fantastic addition at 2% to 5%. It builds a thin moisture film on the surface of your hair (film former) and makes it shine without oil or greasiness. In addition, it can penetrate the cuticle of your hair and brings moisture to the cortex! This means you get good manageability and pliability of your hair, and it is better able to cope with brushing, wind, and other non-hair friendly things. Finally, it could give your hair more body! Studies have shown that 2% left on for 2 minutes can actually swell the hair shaft, making it seem thicker! (So use it up to 5% in your conditioner or leave in conditioner!)" http://swiftcraftymonkey.blogspot.com/2009/04/better-crafting-through-chemistry_30.html

Recommended Usage: 1-5%. Add to cool-down phase, as it is heat-sensitive.

Centrimonium chloride is an excellent conditioner with anti-static, anti-frizz, and detangling properties, especially effective for softening coarse hair. It also washes away silicones when used in shampoos.

Recommended Usage Rate: Use level 0.5-4%, add to water phase.

Honeyquat (Hydroxypropyltrimonium Honey)

Excellent for use as a cationic conditioning agent to create moisturizing hair conditioners, thickeners, detanglers, anti-static and other hair care treatments, due to the extreme humectant (moisture booster and binder) properties provided.

Honeyquat is a cationic (positively charged) quaternary polymer conditioning agent, which means it is attracted to the negatively charged hair strands (or neutral skin), and will absorb and cling on to the surface, and resist being easily rinsed off. This action gives the feel of enduring moisturization and deep conditioning, leaving hair with a sleek, glossy shine and skin a dewy glow. Lubricity will also be boosted and static control increased, which will help reduce friction and pull during wet comb-outs, and frizzy fly-aways from dry brushing.

Recommended Usage Rate: 2% - 5% used in the cooling phase of formulation.

I tried them, and I liked them! People with hair that is a little more difficult and "needy" will especially appreciate these additives.

Homemade Hair Conditioner
Homemade Hair Conditioner

How To Make a Simple, Basic, and Cheap Conditioner with No Additives

You may want to begin with the very basic version of hair conditioner--the "works fine" version.

NOTE: This very simple method is for personal use only. It's a quick, easy way to make a good, inexpensive conditioner. If you would like to make a conditioner to share with others, or offer for sale, you should use "good manufacturing practices" (GMP) as described in the complete recipe below.

You'll need a crock pot and a wide-mouth quart jar (or other wide-mouth container), a kitchen scale (preferably digital) and a stick blender. The stick blender fits well into a wide-mouth quart jar.

In the quart jar mix:

20 ounces distilled water

0.6 ounces BTMS-50

Set the jar containing this mixture in your crock pot and add water to the crock pot so that the water level in the crock pot is about even with the level of the mixture in the jar.

Turn the crock pot on high and let the mixture warm until the BTMS-50 melts (probably about an hour).

Stick blend the mixture until it is creamy and free of any lumps.

Allow the mixture to cool a bit, add about a half-ounce of fragrance, stick blend to mix it in, and pour into bottles.

NOTE ON FRAGRANCES: I've found that essential oils are best for hair-care products. Essential oils that are good for hair include lavender, rosemary, cedarwood, ylang-ylang, and geranium. My experience is that many fragrance oils are very bad for hair and scalp.

This very basic conditioner works very well for many people.


How to Make a Conditioner with Additives

This conditioner recipe includes DL-Panthenol, centrimonium chloride, and Honeyquat.

This recipe uses BTMS-25 rather than BTMS-50. I've chosen BTMS-25 for this recipe mainly because it is less expensive and more readily available in bulk. Here's the difference: BTMS-50 is about 50% BTMS, about 40% cetyl alcohol, and about 10% butylene glycol. BTMS-25 about 25% BTMS and the rest is cetearyl alcohol. By using BTMS-25 and adding cetyl alcohol in an amount equal to at least 25% of the BTMS-25, what we get is equal to using about half as much BTMS-50, though it will be missing the moisturizing and conditioning butylene glycol. What I've done with this recipe is add more cetyl alcohol than needed (because it makes the conditioner thicker), and also added Honeyquat for moisturizing and conditioning

For this recipe, we are going pro and using "good manufacturing practices" (GMP). Before you begin, spray all containers, utensils, and surfaces you will be using with 90% isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and dry with clean paper towels. Wear polypropylene gloves sprayed with 90% IPA. Spray gloves again if you touch anything that has not been sprayed with IPA.

Further, since all additives have a recommended percentage rate--as well as a maximum recommended percentage rate--it is critical that we compensate for water loss through evaporation during the Heat and Hold Phase. You could start out with 22.1 ounces of mixture for the Heat and Hold Phase and find, after heating for 20 minutes, that there are only 16 ounces left. (Much more water is lost this way than you would expect.) If you lost 6.1 ounces of water to evaporation, you need to replace precisely this same amount of water to your Heat and Hold Phase. Further, this additional water must also be heated to 165 F. for 20 minutes to sterilize it. (You're gonna need two pans.) If you don't compensate for water loss through evaporation, your final product will contain a substantially higher percentage of the additives than intended.

I've separated the recipe into two phases: the Heat and Hold Phase and the Cool-Down Phase, as some ingredients are heat-sensitive and must be added after the mixture has cooled to 100 F. or less.

Heat and Hold Phase

20 ounces distilled water
0.6 ounces BTMS-25
1 ounce Centrimonium Chloride (4%)
0.5 ounces Cetyl Alcohol (2%)

IMPORTANT! Weigh the mixture and make a note of the total weight, including the pan. During the Heat and Hold Phase, quite a bit of the water will evaporate. This water loss will be replaced at the end of the Heat and Hold Phase by adding enough water to bring the mixture up to the original weight, which you are recording now.

Put 10-16 ounces of distilled water in a separate pan, which will also be heated and held at 165 F. for 20 minutes. This is the water you will add to the above mixture at the end of the Heat and Hold Phase, to compensate for water loss through evaporation.

Cool Down Phase

2 grams Argan Oil (or other oil of your choice)
2 grams Liquid Germall Plus (0.3%)
1.3 ounces DL-Panthenol (5%)
0.5 ounces Honeyquat (2%)
0.5 ounces Lavender essential oil (or other essential oil of your choice)

DIRECTIONS

Heat and Hold Phase

Put all the ingredients in the Heat and Hold Phase in a stainless steel saucepan. Weigh the mixture and the pan and make a note of the weight.

Heat the mixture to 165 F. and hold for 20 minutes. Heat and hold the plain distilled water in the separate pan to 165 F. and hold for 20 minutes. Remove both pans from heat.

Weigh the mixture to see how much water was lost through evaporation. Add enough water from the pan of plain distilled water to bring the mixture back up to its original weight, which you recorded before you began.

Stick blend the mixture till it is smooth and creamy. Make sure it is free of lumps.

Cool-Down Phase

After the mixture has cooled to 100 F., add the ingredients in the Cool-Down Phase and stick blend till thoroughly blended.

Once everything is well blended, the conditioner is ready to bottle. I like pump bottles for this. Wal-Mart carries some nice, fairly inexpensive pump bottles, like the one shown in the picture at the top.

Some Notes on this Recipe

Cetyl alcohol has been added as a thickener. The amount makes quite a thick product. If you'd like a thinner product, you can use less. Swiftcraftymonkey says of cetyl alcohol, "This offers oil free moisturization, increases the efficiency of the BTMS, and improves wet combing. It's very inexpensive and easy to find, so including this in a recipe is always a good idea." It's a good ingredient in its own right, beyond just being a good thickener. Here's the link to her excellent discussion of additives (again): http://swiftcraftymonkey.blogspot.com/2009/03/conditioner.html

I have suggested argan oil to add a bit of shine to hair. The amount I've suggested seems to be about right for most hair. (This probably seems like a tiny amount, but a little of this stuff goes a long ways.) You can adjust the amount to suit your hair. You can also omit the argan oil, or choose a different oil. There are many oils that are favorites for hair care. Perilla seed oil contains rosmarinic acid to strengthen hair. Safflower oil is reuted to make hair shiny. Black cumin seed oil is said to help prevent hair from thinning--though I doubt if this tiny amount would do the job. Meadowfoam oil is said to be absorbed by the hair more than other oils.

Both DL-Panthenol and centrimonium chloride are used at the maximum recommended usage rate. You may want to use less.

Finally, I have suggested 0.5 ounces of essential oil for fragrance for this recipe, which is a rather high amount. This may be too much for you, and you may want to cut this back a little. (I fear that years of soapmaking may have made me nose-blind--and unable to tell when I've overdone the fragrance.)

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