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How to Select The Best Conditioning Agents for Shampoo Manufacturing

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Conditioned smooth shiny hair


Shampoo has been a staple of personal care routines for decades, with its primary function being to cleanse hair and remove dirt, oil, and product buildup. However, in today’s highly competitive market, simply cleaning hair is no longer enough to stand out among the countless shampoo options available.

In recent years, conditioning and repairing properties have become increasingly important, with 2-in-1, 3-in-1, and even multifunctional shampoo formulas gaining popularity. As a result, conditioning agents have become a key focus for shampoo manufacturers and formulators, as they strive to differentiate their products and offer a wider range of benefits to consumers. In this article, we will explore the importance of conditioning agents in shampoo formulas and provide tips for selecting the best options for your specific shampoo products.

What are Conditioning Agents in Shampoo?

Our hair gets damaged over time due to friction, heat, and harsh chemical treatments attack the protective outer layer of the hair known as the cuticle. This results in cracks in the cuticle’s exterior, causing damaged hair. Conditioning agents are ingredients added to shampoos to repair hair damage and improve the hair’s appearance and feel.

There are different types of conditioning agents to add to shampoos, and each functions in a different way. In general, conditioning agents in shampoo work by moisturizing the hair, coating the hair strands, reducing hair frizz, lubricating the hair follicles, and making them more manageable.

A woman with damaged hair
Hair damage annoys many of us

Types of Conditioning Agents

Some common types of conditioning agents found in shampoos include:

A. Cationic Polymers

Cationic polymers are positively charged compounds that have a high molecular weight. Unlike small molecule cationic surfactants, they are compatible with anionic surfactants in a shampoo formula. Cationic polymers’ positively charged heads can bind to the negatively charged hair surface to neutralize the hair charge and form a thin coating film on the hair keratin, thus repairing damages, providing lubricity and improving the hair’s texture, reducing frizz, and increasing manageability.

One of the main advantages of cationic surfactants is their ability to provide immediate and long-lasting conditioning effects. However, they can also cause buildup on the hair surface, which can lead to dullness and reduced volume over time.

Some common cationic polymers used in hair conditioners include:

  1. Polyquaternium-7: This polymer provides excellent detangling and conditioning benefits to the hair. It is also known for its ability to reduce static electricity.
  2. Polyquaternium-10: This polymer is a popular ingredient in hair conditioners due to its ability to improve the hair’s wet and dry combability, resulting in less breakage.
  3. Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride: This polymer provides excellent conditioning benefits to the hair by reducing tangling, improving manageability, and adding shine.
  4. Behentrimonium Chloride: This polymer is often used in hair conditioners as a conditioning agent. It is particularly useful for improving the softness and smoothness of the hair.

B. Silicones

Silicones are synthetic oils that can provide a protective layer on the hair surface, reduce frizz, and improve the hair’s shine and softness. They work by forming a hydrophobic barrier that repels water and prevents moisture loss from the hair.

Silicones can also provide immediate conditioning effects and last for an extended period. However, they can also cause buildup on the hair surface, weighing down the hair and making it appear greasy.

The most commonly used silicone conditioner in shampoos is Dimethicone.

A microscopic image of human hair surface
Human hair microscopic illustration

C. Natural Oils and Butters

Natural oils and butters, such as coconut oil, shea butter, and jojoba oil, are plant-based ingredients that can nourish and moisturize the hair. They work by penetrating the hair shaft and restoring its natural oils, resulting in improved softness, shine, and manageability.

One of the main advantages of natural oils and butters is their ability to provide long-lasting conditioning effects without causing buildup on the hair surface. However, they can also be more expensive and less accessible than synthetic conditioning agents and may have a shorter shelf life.

D. Fatty Alcohols

Fatty alcohols are commonly used in hair conditioners as they have emollient and moisturizing properties that can help to nourish and protect the hair. These alcohols are derived from natural sources such as coconut oil or palm oil, and are usually found in the ingredient list as cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, or behenyl alcohol.

In shampoos, fatty alcohols work by forming a protective film on the hair shaft, which helps to reduce moisture loss and increase hair elasticity. This can make the hair feel softer, smoother, and more manageable, and also help to reduce frizz and breakage.

However, they may not be as effective at reducing frizz as other conditioning agents and may require higher concentrations to achieve optimal results.

E. Proteins

These are hydrolyzed proteins that are derived from sources such as wheat, soy, and silk. They help to strengthen and protect the hair by filling in gaps in the hair shaft. Examples of protein-based conditioning agents used in shampoos include hydrolyzed wheat protein and hydrolyzed silk protein.

Hydrolyzed proteins are very natural and gentle conditioner options for hair care. However, they are also generally more expensive and less accessible than other types of conditioners.

Factors Affecting Conditioning Agent Performance

The performance of conditioning agents can be affected by various factors, including pH levels, water hardness, temperature, and formulation compatibility. Understanding these factors can help shampoo manufacturers optimize their formulations for maximum conditioning effects.

A. pH Level

A shampoo formulation’s pH level can affect conditioning agents’ performance. Cationic surfactants, for example, are most effective at a slightly acidic pH level, while natural oils and butters are more effective at a slightly alkaline pH level.

To optimize the performance of conditioning agents, shampoo manufacturers should ensure that the pH level of their formulations is compatible with the type of conditioning agent used.

B. Water Hardness

The hardness of the water used in shampoo formulations can also affect the performance of conditioning agents. Hard water contains minerals that can interact with conditioning agents, reducing their effectiveness.

To account for water hardness, shampoo manufacturers can adjust the formulation by increasing the concentration of conditioning agents or using chelating agents that bind to the minerals in hard water and prevent them from interacting with the conditioning agents.

C. Temperature

The temperature of the shampoo formulation can also affect the performance of conditioning agents. For example, cationic surfactants work best at a warmer temperature, while natural oils and butters work best at a cooler temperature.

Shampoo manufacturers should be cautious with the timing to add conditioning agents in the homogenizer to ensure that the temperature of the slurry is optimized for the type of conditioning agent used to maximize their performance.

D. Formulation Compatibility

The compatibility of conditioning agents with other ingredients in a shampoo formulation can also affect their performance. Some ingredients, such as anionic surfactants, can interact with cationic surfactants and reduce their conditioning effects.

Shampoo manufacturers should ensure that their conditioning agents are compatible with the other ingredients in their formulations to avoid any negative interactions.

How to Choose the Suitable Conditioning Agents For Your Shampoo Formula

Determine Customer Needs

To choose the best conditioning agents for shampoo manufacturing, shampoo manufacturers must first assess their target consumer’s needs. This is done by considering 3 factors: hair type, desired performance, and preference for natural ingredients.

For example, if you are formulating for dry or damaged hair, you may want to choose conditioning agents that are highly moisturizing and can help repair the damage. If you are formulating for oily hair, you may want to choose lightweight conditioning agents that won’t leave the hair feeling greasy. And if customers are looking for a natural and eco-friendly product, natural oils and butters may be the best choice. However, silicones may be the best choice if customers are looking for immediate and long-lasting conditioning effects.

Find out hair type with a simple test

Consider Cost and Availability

Shampoo manufacturers must also consider the cost and availability of conditioning agents. While natural oils and butters may provide excellent conditioning effects, they can be more expensive than synthetic conditioning agents. Similarly, some conditioning agents may be more readily available than others.

Shampoo manufacturers should evaluate their options and find cost-effective and readily available conditioning agents that meet their customer’s needs.

Evaluate Performance

Shampoo manufacturers must also evaluate the performance of different conditioning agents. This can be done through laboratory testing and consumer testing. Laboratory testing can assess the effectiveness of conditioning agents in controlled conditions, while consumer testing can provide real-world feedback on how well the conditioning agents work.

Shampoo manufacturers should conduct performance tests to ensure that the conditioning agents they choose meet their customer’s needs and provide the desired results.

Regulatory Considerations

Finally, shampoo manufacturers must consider regulatory requirements when choosing conditioning agents. Some conditioning agents may be restricted or prohibited by regulatory agencies, and shampoo manufacturers must ensure that they comply with all applicable regulations.

Shampoo manufacturers should research and understand the regulatory requirements related to conditioning agents and ensure that they choose safe and compliant ingredients and formulate them in a respectful way.

Conditioned smooth shiny straight hair
Well conditioned shiny hair


Conditioning agents play a vital role in modern shampoo formulations, providing a range of benefits that go beyond basic cleansing. By understanding the different types of conditioning agents and how they work, shampoo manufacturers can choose the most suitable options for their specific formulations. Consideration should be given to factors such as customer needs, cost, availability, performance, and regulatory requirements.

By selecting the right conditioning agents and optimizing their formulations, manufacturers can create high-quality shampoos that meet the needs of consumers and stand out in a highly competitive market.

Written by:
Jun Xie
Jun Xie
Jun is the head of R&D at Yeser Chemicals. He holds a master's degree in Chemical Engineering and Technology. After joining Yeser Chemicals in 2013, he has been dedicated to researching and developing new coconut-based green surfactants and their safe uses in Home & Personal care products. In addition to serving as the Head of R&D at Yeser Chemicals, Jun is the director of the Guangdong Green Surfactant Engineering Technology Research Center and a member of the Standard Committee of Guangdong Daily Chemical Chamber of Commerce.

Yeser Chemicals is a leading producer of CAPB, CDEA, CMEA, EGDS, and other various Coconut-derived surfactants.

By self-manufacturing and 3rd-party toll-manufacturing, we provide a long list of safe ingredients, including surfactants, conditioners, thickeners, etc.,  used in Home & Fabric Care, Personal Care, and Cosmetics.

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