"Oh wow, your hair is so dry and damaged. We really need to do a treatment today. It's going to make your hair so much more healthy."
No doubt you've heard this nonsense before, and likely paid for it too. Aside from the 'you need to get your ends trimmed every 6 weeks' myth, moisture treatments are another example of hairdressers (and product manufacturers) promoting and selling misinformation. Throughout my entire 30 year career I've seen time and time again salon websites and beauty blogs promoting and talking up the importance of getting treatments. As I have to regularly state in this site's blog, do not believe the hype!
Product manufacturers and hairdressers have always been very much aligned in that they both aim to profit off the emotional manipulation of women - particularly regarding that which they are most sensitive about, their appearance. Conventional hairdressers readily believe that most women (especially those with frizzy, curly and chemically treated hair) need to have regular moisture treatments to improve their hair. This is a lie. Again, loud and proud this time for the people in the back... This is a lie. A conditioning treatment, especially one done with a supposed specialised product will not provide any lasting or uniquely tangible results, period. This goes double for the idea that one must do treatments regularly to notice the benefits. Conditioning hair isn't going to the gym people! Thinking otherwise is counter to the very chemists who formulate the products. Cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski writes:
"You have to keep in mind that a lot of these conditioner products overlap and that the only reason they exist if because marketing wants to sell more products. A rinse out and a deep conditioner or a mask that you leave in your hair for 3 to 5 minutes don’t really do anything different. They can deliver lubrication using different ingredients but they all do essentially the same thing to the outside of your hair."
Sceptics will tout their belief that time and heat make all the difference. This too is false. Deep treatment conditioning products left on the hair for an extensive period of time are not going to resolve in any lasting or significant improvement to the hair - heat applied or otherwise. A standard, quality made conditioner would provide exactly the same results with approximately 5 minutes of saturation or 15 minutes. The application of heat (and water) simply swells the hair allowing for better penetration, but as most moisturising conditioners and treatments work on the outside of the hair this is unnecessary. When pressed about whether a consumer would notice benefits from either a deep treatment or a moisturising conditioner being left on the hair for a considerable period of time, I asked an expert. Richard, a cosmetic chemist from the US had this to say:
"This isn't how conditioners work. Double the time does not equal double the results. One likely wouldn't notice any significant improvement from one over the other in this regard."
Back in February 2019, I wrote a very long post about 2 products from EverEscents, the Australian product range I use almost exclusively in my studio and at home. Generally speaking, the products are quite good. People like them and so do I. In that post, I took to task two of EverEscents more popular products, Deep Treatment and the Moisture Conditioner. After regularly using both products in my studio for more than a month, I felt that aside from one having a thicker texture they were very similar in terms of actual conditioning benefits. Then I looked at the ingredients listed on the labels of the two products and sure enough, they were nearly identical. I then decided to dig a bit further to prove - or disprove - my suspicions. As part of my research, I hired two cosmetic chemists with decades of experience in an effort to seek credible information and validate my belief that the two EverEscents products would not offer any significant, notable difference for the consumer. Both chemists, who were not aware that I had hired the other, provided a similar statement on the matter:
"While there are likely different concentrations of ingredients used in both products, they would only offer subtle conditioning differences from one another. It wouldn't be drastically huge or remarkable. The biggest differences would be in Product B [Deep Treatment] having a noticeably denser texture than that of Product A [Moisture Conditioner]."
That EverEscents markets and sells these two products the way they do is really common in the cosmetic industry but still, it doesn't sit well with me. The official response from the company was that the Deep Treatment was made first years before the Moisture Conditioner. Apparently they then developed the Moisture Conditioner to be a "slightly thinner, slightly less conditioning" version of the Deep Treatment. I found that statement interesting as that was literally the exact point of my post and what my 2 chemists validated. Interestingly too, many clients and I find the Moisture Conditioner to actually be slightly more conditioning than the Deep Treatment, albeit thinner. As it was developed years later, this kinda makes sense. Interestingly, Ethical Brand the parent company behind EverEscents recently launched their new range Clever Curl. In it, there also are three brand new conditioners two of which are a 'Rich Conditioner' and a 'Curl Treatment'. They have the exact same ingredients listed on their website.
Look, in the world of moisturising cosmetics, any 2 products which have identical ingredients will not provide any notable conditioning benefits from one another. If one is developed to be "slightly less conditioning" than another it is not going to be essential that consumers need both products. To note, EverEscents have quite a number of conditioners which all feel and perform rather similarly to one another, despite them being marketed and sold as specific for certain hair situations. Kind of reminds me of all those different types of Nurofen they used to sell. EverEscents also have at least 2 different treatment type products too. Despite what is stated here, are their products any good? Absolutely they are! I find their products are indeed effective, well made and many people like using them. However, I find their portfolio is excessively redundant, somewhat unnecessary and potentially confusing for the consumer. As a result, I educated my clients on things which may help with their needs and which things to likely avoid.
Monica, a UK based cosmetic chemist I consulted with agreed in her summary to me:
"Unfortunately companies offer so many product variants these days with a cover of brilliant marketing on the bottle, but not a substantial difference in the effect of the product. In my opinion, the consumer is left so confused & eventually falls prey to the marketing tactics due to these practices. Being a chemist myself, I feel pity for the consumers at times as they cannot make the right assessment."
All of this is what got me motivated to clear up the confusion regarding treatment products in an effort to further educate and level the playing field. I know EverEscents does not like me stating my opinions online like this, but my clients tell me that they don't like spending money on products necessarily. I think this balances things out. Let's press on. In researching this post I stumbled across an excellent article (linked below) written by Angela Che, the science editor for the website Verge. Her article echos my professional position. Funnily enough, she also spoke with a cosmetic chemist as part of her research. Here is the most damning section:
What about deep conditioning?
Say it with me: deep conditioning is a lie. Deep conditioning is just regular conditioning plus time plus the tricks our minds play on us when we dare to hope. This is simultaneously the discovery I am most angry about (because I was looking forward to the wonders of deep conditioning) and most relieved about (because I haven’t gotten around to actually buying deep conditioner yet).
"I’ve formulated these products and seen other companies do the same thing," says Schueller. "You take your regular conditioner, you make it a little thicker, you increase the conditioning so it’s more concentrated and maybe you sell it in a jar instead of a bottle where it squeezes out and then there’s your ‘intensive deep conditioner.’"
This doesn’t mean that putting a product on your hair for 30 minutes does nothing. It means that you could probably get the same effect if you used your normal conditioner the way you use a "deep conditioner" (which, yes, deserves those scare quotes).
It’s important to spread conditioner out through your hair, but after that, "your hair has absorbed as much of the conditioning agents as it’s going to, so adding more time or product won’t make it do much more," says Schueller. All the extra steps are just to make us feel like we’re partaking in extra luxury.
Angela's original Verge article can be read here. I found the entire thing to be quite helpful and imagine clients might too.
Look, I am well aware that these days anyone can form an opinion and easily Google their way to others who will validate this opinion as fact. Therefore, I always try to find valid trusted information which is the opposite of mine in an effort to see things from another perspective. While I do feel inclined to trust the identical opinions of the multiple independent cosmetic chemists who were consulted with for this post, I like to be thorough. As such, I did stumble onto a couple of individuals who felt different on this topic. One such was from someone who states they are a Materials Scientist. Admittedly, I had to look up what that was. In their article regarding conditioner saturation benefits, they used a chart to state that...
"If left on hair for longer, the amount will in general double within 10 minutes. If left on for another 10-20 minutes, the amount will increase by another 60-100% of the mark set at 10 minutes."
The author then used the following graph to visually demonstrate their point:
However, below this chart and claim the scientist in question actually stated the following in bold as a disclaimer...
"Please do note that the numbers 5% and 10% are NOT real measurements. Adsorption is usually much lower than this (even as low as 0.01%) but for ease of digesting the information I picked simpler numbers like 5 and 10."
They actually admitted to using made-up numbers to present their bias! Numbers which could manipulate the reader into believing a particular position. Why not consult with and directly reference peers in the scientific community to validate a claim? According to this particular individual's opinion, with the additional time you can get 'more' conditioning but the actual absorption rates are such that a consumer would be hard-pressed to notice any perceivable differences. Again, this is exactly what the three different cosmetic chemists in the post validated.
So is there anything that can offer extra moisture support? Well, apparently coconut oil can provide some benefits if left on their hair for a while. This may or may not be something which will be notable for all hair types but some experts have validated this. As it is inexpensive to try and not a cosmetic or salon service, I find no issue with anyone giving it a go. Again, results may vary. What about protein treatments? Is your hair literally breaking off from or pulling apart from bleaching it way too much? If so, then I did find that 20-minute treatments, twice a week for 2 weeks did help a bit. That said, once that damage has been done the best treatment is cutting that hair off and making different chemical decisions next time. If your hair isn't compromised from extensive chemical lightening treatments, protein really isn't going to make a massive difference. If it is just flat iron usage or standard colouring which has affected your hair, daily moisturising with a quality conditioner is all that can help to bring temporary relief. Keep in mind, severely damaged hair is like sunburned skin. There's no amount of moisturiser which can help make up for your lack of sunscreen. One just needs to be patient and make better choices.
Right. Let's just break this whole argument down in the simplest of realities though, shall we? Forget the chemists, hairdressers and online experts for a moment. If any moisture treatment truly - and I mean truly - could do the amazing, miracle worker, holy grail transformation to women's hair that they all claim to, literally every woman the world over would already know about it. I wouldn't even be writing this blog, we'd all be going holy shit, look what science did?! All this cosmetics game is doing is playing and profiting off our insecurities and hopes. We are smarter than this.
Do you know what EverEscents could have done? Make one high-quality moisturising conditioner and on the back of the bottle state that it can also be used as a treatment if left on longer. While using it this way isn't at all necessary, there's no harm in it either. Too, this approach would honestly support what cosmetic chemists who made the products actually know to be true! Crazy idea, I know. Trouble is, conventional hairdressers still want to up-sell treatment services and sell products. Consequently, clients will continue to believe what they are told. Interestingly, hairdressers foolishly believe what they do about treatments because cosmetic companies wanted them to. Product companies have long held in-salon 'training classes' where they indoctrinate this exact sort of stuff to young impressionable staff. Salon owners buy-in because this all helps their bottom line. Look, somewhere along the line, either a hairdresser or a cosmetic company told the lie first. I have no idea who it was. Chicken and egg apparently.
Here's the thing. I am a vocal minority, despite my irrefutable experience and highly considered presentation. Conventional hair salons, their hairdressers and the cosmetic companies themselves are absolutely going to continue their ways. Sales and marketing people will always try to control the narrative. Remember, big or small they are part of a billion-dollar industry and there isn't much which can stop them. The only weapon we have is our common sense and the collective voice of our experience. So. Will some women continue to get treatments and swear by the results? Absolutely. Are some going to spend hundreds on products and also feel validated with their decision? You betcha. Despite the scientific evidence that they are likely fooling themselves, are any of us right to judge them? Certainly not! If anyone person wants to believe in something they are surely free to do so. If anyone wants to spend their time and money on something which makes them feel good, so be it. In fact, good for them! Whatever one needs to do to get themselves there. That said, I do not believe in selling bullshit to people and find it increasingly frustrating when trusted professionals and cosmetic companies do. I will continue my quest to educate and inform so that others can know the truth.
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