Conditioning your beard and scalp hair is one of the most critical steps in any grooming routine. Conditioning not only restores hydration to the hair shafts — it also helps protect the hair from environmental damage, helps reduce tangles, and helps prevent the hair shafts from breaking.
But do you need a separate conditioner for your beard than what you use for your scalp hair?
For years, we took a straightforward approach to scalp and beard hair — an approach informed by the understanding that there are some differences between beard hair and scalp hair. That resulted in us formulating different products for your beard and scalp.
And now, here we are, no longer selling single-use products — shampoo, conditioner, beard wash, and beard softener — and only selling multi-use products like Utility Wash and Utility Softener in their stead.
We recently did a deep dive into the science behind Beardbrand Utility Wash and why it’s a stellar cleanser for both beard and scalp hair. And in this blog, we’re going to do the same deep dive into Beardbrand Utility Softener and why its formulation makes it a versatile all-around conditioner for your beard and scalp hair.
But before we get into the product itself, let’s start by reviewing the difference between facial hair and scalp hair.
There are some subtle differences between facial hair and scalp hair. We cover this in far greater detail in the science behind Beardbrand Utility Wash blog, so we’re just going to do a quick summary below:
Now let’s talk about conditioners — how they work and what makes a conditioner good for facial hair versus scalp hair.
Conditioning products — like a hair conditioner or Beardbrand Utility Softener — are designed to be used directly on the hair shafts. This differs from cleansers like shampoo or beard wash, which are intended to be used directly on the scalp or face, beneath the hair.
To understand how conditioner works, we have to know a little bit about the structure of hair shafts.
Every strand of hair on your body has three layers, regardless of where it grows. The innermost layer is the medulla, followed by the cortex, and lastly, the cuticle.
The cuticle is a super thin shell that envelopes the inner two layers. The cuticle comprises microscopic dead skin cells that give it a flaky look underneath a microscope. Think of fish scales — when they’re all moving in the same direction, the fish feels smooth and slippery. But if you try to run your hand in the wrong direction, it’s a much rougher feeling. A similar thing happens on your hair shaft.
One other thing to know about these flakes on the cuticle is that they are made up of negatively charged ions (more on this later).
The following excerpt from Scienceline explains what happens to the cuticle over time and how that impacts how your hair looks and feels.
Under the microscope, hair strands are flaky-looking. These “flakes” are dead skin cells overlapping to form a cuticle layer that protects the fragile inner layers of a hair strand. Light reflects off this cuticle layer, giving hair its natural shine. The average person has between 120,000-150,000 hair strands and they look their best when the overlying cuticle flakes lay tightly against one another. When hair begins to look frizzy or limp, it means the cuticle layer is being worn down and the overlapping cells are no longer lying snugly flat.
“Imagine frayed rope,” says Robert Lochhead, a polymer scientist at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. Lochhead is also a consultant for several companies that make cosmetic and personal care products. He explains that on a molecular level, the invisible bonds that hold the cuticle cells together weaken over time. Cells become more and more loose and snag against cuticle flakes of other strands. The individual hair strands then tangle and sometimes break off. This change in the way our hair looks and feels is often the first reminder that it may be time to reach for the conditioner.
Essentially, keeping your hair and beard looking good means keeping those cuticle flakes from getting out of control. There are two ways to do that: your body’s natural sebum production and a hair conditioner.
Your body, being the incredible thing it is, naturally produces a lubricant to help smooth out the scales on your cuticle. That natural lubricant is sebum. And as we talked about in the science behind Beardbrand Utility Wash, properly managing your sebum is paramount in caring for your beard and scalp hair.
But there’s a problem — every time you shower, that all-essential sebum gets stripped away from your beard and hair. And even if you’re not always using a cleanser, the water alone will remove some of it.
But you can’t just avoid showering and washing your hair and beard. There is a point of diminishing returns with sebum; if too much of it accumulates, you end up with clogged pores and dirty, matted-down hair. This is where conditioner comes to play.
To help combat the loss of sebum, conditioners were invented. But they go beyond just replenishing the moisture and hydration lost from showering. Conditioners help all those scales on your hair shafts lay tightly against the strand, making hair smoother and softer to the touch. This also helps prevent your hair and beard from getting knotted and tangled.
So, how does conditioner actually work? Let’s look at the types of ingredients you’ll find in the formulas.
HOW CONDITIONERS AND BEARD SOFTENERS ARE MADE
For a conditioner to be effective, it needs to have a few characteristics.
- It needs to be acidic. Your hair has a natural pH of around 4.5 to 5.5, but most things we do to it push it into the alkaline territory.
- Remember how we mentioned that those flaky skin cells on the cuticle contained negatively charged ions? We need ingredients with a positive charge to help the conditioner bond to the hair shaft, help those scales lay flat, and reduce static cling.
- It needs to add moisture to the hair shaft.
Here’s what those characteristics look like in function.
Like shampoo, water is always the first ingredient listed in a conditioner. It makes up the most significant percentage of the formula.
FATTY ALCOHOL AND QUATS
Fatty alcohols and quaternary ammonium salts — or “QUATS” for short — contain a positive nitrogen atom that helps the conditioner bind to those negatively charged flaky skin cells on your hair cuticles. This allows the product to coat the hair shafts and reduces static electricity in your hair. Common fatty alcohols used are cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, and glycol distearate (technically not alcohol, but similar in structure). Some commonly used QUATS are behentrimonium chloride and cetrimonium chloride.
OILS AND BUTTER
Plant-based essential oils and butters can be found in conditioners because they help moisturize and hydrate hair shafts. Some oils and butters — such as mango butter and glycerin — are humectants, meaning they pull moisture from the air and into the hair. Others — such as coconut oil — form a protective layer, preventing water from escaping while simultaneously lubricating the hair.
SILICONE COMPOUNDS AND POLYMERS
Silicone compounds are often used in conditioners because they form a thin, oily film around the hair shaft that reflects light, giving hair a shiny appearance. Silicones also help lubricate the hair, making hair easier to comb and less likely to tangle. Commonly used silicones are dimethicone, amodimethicone, dimethiconol, and cyclopentasiloxane.
A quick note on silicones
Silicones have developed a mixed reception in the skincare and hair care industries.
Now, there’s no evidence that silicone is harmful, and they do work well for coating the hair shaft, trapping moisture inside, and instantly giving hair a shiny, healthy appearance. The instant gratification offered by silicone can be very appealing.
The catch is that the most commonly used — dimethicone, for example — many silicones are not water-soluble, making them difficult to rinse with water alone. Silicones are also notorious for attracting dirt and oil like a magnet. All of this can cause your hair to feel dirty and oily faster, causing you to wash it more frequently and use more products. Over time, this can lead to a negative cycle of overwashing, which can leave hair dry and frizzy.
Using silicones comes down to personal preference. Some people use products with silicones and have great success. We choose not to use them in Beardbrand products because with think there are better alternatives, such as glycerin and coconut oil.
Technically, a conditioner’s thickness and texture don’t impact how well it works — so long as it sticks to your hair and doesn’t slide off as soon as you put it on. But a thicker product feels nice, and people like it, so thickeners are added to make the conditioner extra creamy.
PH ADJUSTERS AND MODIFIERS
Remember, hair looks its best when it has a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. So, conditioners typically have a low pH to help return the hair to that balance. Some ingredients are added to help get the pH level right. Other modifiers change the color of the conditioner — generally to an opaque or pearly white. Why? Years of market research say that’s what people want.
These are added to prevent the growth of bacteria and allow the product to have a longer shelf-life. These tend to be less than 5% of a formulation.
This is where all kinds of things get added to conditioners. Often, these are just fluff ingredients that sound good.
The key takeaway is that all conditioner formulas are comprised of water and a combination of fatty alcohols, QUATS, essential oils and butters, and silicone compounds or polymers.
The percentage of each of these ingredient types varies drastically between brands and types of conditioner. Some conditioners are heavy on silicones, while others contain more oils and butters. This makes specific formulations better for one kind of hair than another.
CONDITIONING FACIAL HAIR VS. CONDITIONING SCALP HAIR
So, can you use the same conditioner on your beard as on your scalp hair?
Potentially. It depends on a few factors.
When choosing a conditioner — whether it’s for your scalp or beard — your hair type, density, and texture are what you need to consider.
Here’s a quick recap on hair type, density, and texture.
All hair — whether on your scalp, face, or body — can be classified as one of four hair types: straight, wavy, curly, and coily.
Hair texture refers to the actual circumference of each hair strand and can be fine, medium, or coarse. Fine hair has fewer cuticle layers, and coarse hair has more.
Density has to do with the volume of hair follicles per square inch. If your hair is thin, you have a lower number of active follicles than someone with a thick head or a thick beard.
You can absolutely use the same conditioner for both — with great results — if your beard and scalp hair are similar in type, texture, and density.
It doesn’t need to be an exact match either because you do have the power to customize how you use the conditioner to meet your hair and beard needs. Suppose your beard hair is thicker and coarser than your scalp hair. In that case, you can dial back the amount of conditioner you use for your scalp hair and get a good result(and hey, using less product saves you money).
One other thing to consider is the length of your hair.
Shorter hair doesn’t need much conditioning because the hair tips are still close to the skin and easily soak up all of the sebum your body produces. When your hair and beard are short, it’s hard to notice much difference between particular products. But as your hair and beard get longer, you’ll start seeing different needs for each.
The only scenario in which you would see a drastic difference in performance is if you had drastically different hair on your head compared to your beard. For instance, suppose you had long scalp hair that was pin-straight and fine in texture and a long beard that was thick and coarse. These are wildly different, and in this scenario, you should explore using a separate conditioner for your scalp hair than your beard hair.
We recommend starting with a conditioner that works well for your beard. If your scalp hair is relatively similar to your beard hair in type, texture, and density — or you wear your hair short — you can use the same conditioner for both.
However, If you have medium or long scalp hair that is drastically different in type, texture, and density from your beard, consider using a specialized conditioner for your hair.
HOW BEARDBRAND UTILITY SOFTENER IS BUILT DIFFERENTLY
When we formulated Beardbrand Utility Softener, we focused on creating a conditioner that, above all else, was great for beards. To do that, we selected oils, butters, and fatty alcohols that are widely considered the best conditioners for coarse and curly hair since most facial hair tends to fall into those categories.
Here’s the kicker — If your scalp hair isn’t coarse or curly, Utility Softener is still a powerful conditioner for medium, thick, wavy, and even straight hair. All you need to do is use a smaller amount on your hair. If conditioning tends to weigh your hair down, you can play around with conditioning your hair before shampooing.
Here’s what the formula looks like this:
Beardbrand Utility Softener Ingredients
Water (Aqua, Eau), Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Fragrance (Parfum), Behentrimonium Chloride, Coco-Glucoside, Coconut Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, Benzoic acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Glycereth-2 Cocoate, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Xanthan Gum, Glycolic Acid, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Disodium EDTA, Panthenol, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Leaf Extract, Sodium Hydroxide
Beardbrand uses vegetable-based glycerin. Glycerin is one of the best ingredients for hair that’s curly, thick, or frizzy hair, and it’s been known to help prevent hair from breaking. It’s also a natural humectant, pulling moisture from the air into your hair.
In place of silicones, we use natural oils and butters — coconut oil and shea butter. Both coat the hair and provide protection from external elements while lubricating and detangling hair.
The result is a versatile conditioner that hydrates, nourishes, and protects beard and scalp hair.
Conditioners are intended to be used directly on the hair shafts, making hair type, texture, and density the most important factors to consider.
If your beard and scalp hair are similar in type, texture, and density — or your scalp hair is short — you can use the same conditioner for both. Suppose you have medium or long scalp hair drastically different in type, texture, and density from your beard. In that case, you’ll likely benefit from using a specialized conditioner for your scalp hair.
Have questions about conditioning your beard and hair? Text “STYLE” to 512-879-3297. Our resident beard and style expert will text you back with personalized advice—for free.
Keep on Growing.
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