Is Your Expensive Conditioner Worth It?

Just in case you missed it on Black Girl Long Hair....

 Let's be honest here -- there is big money in the haircare industry. And at one time or another, we all fall prey to the alluring claims of "hair is 873% stronger after just one use!", and fancy packaging touting super-ingredients and exotic oils. Many times, those dazzling products come with a hefty price tag. As a recovering product junkie, I am always looking for ways to recession-proof my haircare arsenal, and save a few bucks. I have never personally been a big believer in dropping major dough on haircare products, but I know there are many naturals who will spend upwards of $40 on a small bottle of conditioner and not bat an eyelash. Sometimes, the purchases are justified (for people who believe in utilizing exclusive, exotic, organic, silicone-free, paraben free products). Other times, we have to just concede and admit that the shampoo has been squirted in our eyes.

I'm not sure about you all, but I am a conditioner freak. Hands down, it is the product that I buy most frequently, and in the largest quantities. My hair soaks it up like crazy. Suffice it to say, conditioner is my staple product for everything -- from co-washes, to leave-ins, to detangling, to deep conditioning treatments and even styling. Since I use so much, I literally cannot afford to spend $30 every two weeks on an 8oz bottle of the creamy concoction. While some of my staple products are bargain basement cheap by nature (Aussie Moist), others require me to do a little more work to get them to a desirable price point. For more information on getting expensive products for less money, click here.

Before I get started, please know that this article is guided by the following parameters:
  • I live in LA. Therefore, all price points are guided by what's available to me. Prices are based on my findings at Ulta Beauty and Target, and refer specifically to conditioners only.
  • For purposes of comparison, I am basing everything on Jc's findings on the importance of the first five ingredients in a conditioner. Sure, many of the more expensive products contain the complex chemical concoctions, exotic, and arbitrary oils and extracts, but read the article here and understand why they're more of a marketing ploy than a miracle ingredient.
  • I am not suggesting that the cheaper products work better -- rather that for less money, you may be able to acquire a product with a similar effect.
  • The example products used are not necessarily silicone, or anything else-free. But for what it's worth, none of the products have silicones or parabens in their first 5 ingredients.
Now that we've gotten that out the way, let's get down to business. For most naturals, repairing/restoring, moisture, and curl definition are some of the most highly sought performance points for conditioners and hair products. In my journey to Ulta Beauty and Target, I sought out popular expensive brands and potential, more cost-effective alternatives:

Carol's Daughter Monoi Repairing Conditioner vs. 
L'Oreal Eversleek Silicone-Free Reparative Smoothing Conditioner
Price Point: Carol's Daughter will cost you $20.00 for an 8.5oz bottle, while the same size of L'Oreal product is only $5.99.
Carol's Daughter First 5: Water (Aqua), Cetearyl Alcohol, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Glycerin, Isododecane,
L'Oreal First 5: Aqua (Water) , Cetearyl Alcohol , Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil (Sunflower Seed Oil) , Behentrimonium Chloride , Glycerin ,
Ingredient Breakdown:
  • 50 - 80% of any given conditioner is water alone.
  • Cetearyl Alcohol is a blend composed mainly of Cetyl and Stearyl Alcohols -- waxy/creamy fatty alcohols that act as emulsifiers and thickeners.
  • Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine is a surfectant and slip-adding alternative to silicones derived from rapeseeds (read: canola oil).
  • Glycerin is a humectant (absorbs and helps retain moisture)
  • Isododecane is a hydrocarbon ingredient and emollient, added to products to promote spreadability.
  • Sunflower Seed Oil acts as an emollient, softening agent, and contains valueable fatty acids that help prevent hair breakage.
  • Behentrimonium Chloride is a surfectant/cleansing, anti-static and conditioning agent.
Why L'Oreal Wins: The Carol's Daughter Monoi line focuses on "The rejuvenating Monoi Oil – an age-old nourishing blend of Tahitian Tiare Gardenia Flower and Coprah Coconut Oil – plus replenishing Bamboo Water and Pro-vitamin B5 [to] help fortify distressed hair against breaks and snaps". Unfortunately, the oil blend ingredients don't appear until 9th and 10th on the list. The Bamboo Water? 14th. Pro-vitamin B5? 20th. By the way, Carol's Daughter has Sunflower Seed too -- but listed at 19th. L'Oreal on the other hand, puts much of it's advertising stock in Sunflower Seed oil, and lists the product at 3rd.

Ojon Dry Recovery Hydrating Conditioner vs.
Shea Moisture Organic Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner
Price Point: Ojon's product will set you back $23.00 for 8.5oz, while $9.99 gets you 12oz of Shea Moisture.
Ojon's First 5: Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Shea Butter, Palm Oil, Behentrimonium Chloride
Shea Moisture's First 5: Deionized Water , Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) , Argan Oil , Coconut Oil , Behentrimonium Chloride                
Ingredient Breakdown:
  • Shea Butter: Emollient fat from the nut of the East or West African shea nut tree used to moisturize and soften hair.
  • Palm Oil: Plant oil derived from the flesh of the palm fruit. It is an anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant oil rich in vitamins A, E, D and K.
  • Argan Oil:Plant oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree. It is a Vitamin A, E and anti-oxidant rich oil that nourishes and protects hair.
  • Coconut Oil: Oil extracted from the meat of coconuts. It is unique in the sense that it is one of the few oils that can penetrate the hair shaft to provide moisture. It also reduces protein loss when used as a pre-poo treatment.
Why Shea Moisture Wins: Although the first five ingredients for both products are pretty similar, Shea Moisture gets you the better deal. Ojon's packaging states, "This rich and rapid daily moisture-proofing system with the hair-repairing power of nature's golden elixir [Ojon oil] plus Blue Agave, Shea Butter, Jojoba Oil and Babassu Oil instantly quenches parched strands and surrounds them in an invisible aura of protection". With the exception of shea butter and ojon (palm), all the other oils are present in negligible amounts. In fact, on a list of ingredients 14 rows long, agave doesn't appear until the 11th row. Shea Moisture's product gets you more bang for your buck; after water, the next three ingredients are oils.

Curl Defining
DevaCurl One Condition vs.
Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curls
Price Point: For $18.95, you can have 12oz of DevaCurl. Or, you can get the same amount of Herbal Essences for $2.99.
DevaCurl's First 5: Water (Aqua, Eau), Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride, Glycerin, Glycol Distearate
Herbal Essences' First 5: Water , Stearyl Alcohol , Behentrimonium Methosulfate , Prunus Serotina Fruit Extract (Wild Cherry) , Orchid Extract                      
Ingredient Breakdown:
  • Glycol Distearate: Fatty acid compound that acts as an emollient and controls viscosity (read: thickener)
  • Behentrimonium Methosulfate: Ammonium salt that acts as a conditioning agent and surfectant
  • Wild Cherry Fruit Extract: Fragrant, moisturizing and conditioning extract of dried wild cherry
  • Orchid Extract: Conditioning extract known for fragrant and soothing properties
Why Herbal Essences Wins: DevaCurl is "Calling all curls" with their product line, focusing solely on the niche market of textured and curly hair. With curly hair needing much more moisture and TLC than straighter hair, this line appeals to naturals as a no-brainer. But with the first 5 ingredients constituting the vast majority of any product, I am hard pressed to find a reason why this particular product stands apart from the rest and warrants a nearly $20 price tag. In fact, you may be better off with the Herbal Essences. At least some herbal-esque ingredients made it into the top 5.

The Bottom Line
 Maybe you tried the less expensive products, and didn't like the results they gave. Maybe you used them incorrectly (yes, even though you know it's conditioner...reading the instructions on the bottle gives you the best insight into a product's intended use). Or maybe you're like most of us, and assumed that because a product is expensive, it contains expensive ingredients and must work well. If you discover that you're expensive products work best for you, then keep doing what you're doing. At the end of the day, the mantra of doing what works best for you still holds true. I am by no means suggesting that you raid your product stash, and toss out your $50 conditioner that a salesperson convinced you to buy. I just encourage everyone to do their own research -- understand that sometimes, we are the victim of our own illusions. We deceive ourselves into believing that some things work, or are better because they cost more....and that isn't always the case.