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  5. Shampoo Vs Conditioner: The Difference In Ingredients, Usage & More

Have you ever questioned why shampoo and conditioner have a particular order of application? This is because both shampoo and conditioner are made with unique ingredients, characteristics and functions. But, did you know wrong usage could lead to hair damage?

This article elaborates about the differences between shampoo and conditioner, and the perfect way to use them.

Shampoo Vs Conditioner: What Are They?


Technically speaking, shampoo is a liquid cleaning agent for your scalp and hair. It removes the excess oil from your scalp, and cleans the dirty and dead skin cells. The word shampoo originated from a Hindi word “Champo” which means massaging your scalp.

Earlier women used to apply soap on their hair to clean it, but traditional soaps were difficult to rinse off due to lack of lathering capability. Later in the 1930s, modern shampoos were introduced specifically for hair care usage. [1]


A conditioner is a hair care product which also comes in liquid form. It is applied after a hair-wash, and helps to finish your regular hair care process. Conditioning agents used in a conditioner can be considered as additives which influence the appearance, thickness and general manageability of your hair.

Shampoos tend to remove the sebum oil from your hair along with the dirt and dust. However, sebum is needed to condition your hair. Production of synthetic sebum started for this reason, and hair conditioners came into existence.[2]

How Do Shampoo & Conditioner Help Your Hair?


Your scalp produces sebum oil that protects your hair follicles and keeps them healthy. But when the production of sebum oil increases, it accumulates in your hair follicles. This makes your hair strands greasy and extremely dull in appearance.

Pollutants like dust, dirt and harmful bacteria get easily attracted to the sebum oil. This makes your scalp dirty and exposed to many pathogens. Removing sebum oil from your hair cannot be done just with water. Shampoos help to clean off the extra sebum oil.

But many shampoos with harmful chemicals may take away the natural oil and make your hair dry. It’s important to choose a shampoo that suits your hair. You will get gender-specific shampoos as well as shampoos dedicated to children. Also, modern shampoos are made to treat different hair types and hair conditions. For example, if you have dandruff issues, you will choose a shampoo that specializes in treating dandruff.


Hair conditioners have cationic surfactants that provide a positive electric charge. Your hair contains a negative electric charge which attracts the positive electric charge of the conditioner. This allows the conditioner to get into your hair follicles.

When the positive charge of the conditioners and the negatively charged hair meets, it reduces the static electricity of your hair. The conditioner also helps to flatten your cuticle scales over the hair shaft. It reduces the friction between your hair fibres and increases the reflectance of light. Conditioners can prevent split ends as well. Your hair turns smooth, shiny and glowing.

shampoo bottle wrapped in lock of hair

Shampoo Vs Conditioner: Ingredients & Usage


In general, shampoos contain 10 to 30 ingredients. They have cleansing agents, preservatives, thickeners and other natural ingredients. [3] There are different kinds of shampoos to suit different usage patterns. These are:

1. Everyday shampoo :

These are mild and don’t dry out your scalp even after regular usage. This is the option to choose if you like to wash your hair everyday.

2. Volumizing shampoo :

If you have thin hair and want to add volume to it, volumizing shampoo is your answer.

3. Sulfate-free shampoo :

While sulfates are used as cleansing agents in your shampoo, these also strip the natural oil from your scalp making it extremely dry. If you already have a dry scalp you may want to opt for a sulfate free shampoo.

4. Shampoo for oily hair :

This shampoo is specific for people with oily hair, as it removes the excess sebum oil produced on your scalp.

5. Dry shampoo :

If you don’t want to wash your hair but still want it as fresh as washed hair, then dry shampoo is the best option. Dry shampoos are hair sprays that not only clean your hair but give a nice fragrance as well.

6. Colour-protection shampoo :

If you have recently got your hair coloured and do not want your hair to get affected by it, a colour protection hair shampoo can help. It will protect your hair from getting dry and dull.

Common ingredients usually include:

1. Surfactants :

Surfactant is the cleansing agent used to clean the pollutants from your scalp and hair follicles. Surfactants used in shampoos are:

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
  • Sodium lauryl sarcosinate
  • Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

2. Preservatives :

Preservatives are used to prevent bacteria from affecting your hair’s health. These include - [4]

  • Sorbic acid
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Tetrasodium EDTA
  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Dehydroacetic acid
  • Potassium sorbate

3. Thickeners :

Thickeners are used to increase the viscosity of the shampoo.

  • Stearyl alcohol
  • Xanthan gum
  • Gelatin
  • Carnauba wax
  • Stearic acid
  • Cetyl alcohol

4. Natural Ingredients :

Many shampoos also use natural ingredients for cleansing hair. These are:

  • Jojoba oil/Argan oil
  • Olive
  • Green tea
  • Chamomile
  • Aloe Vera
  • Coconut oil
  • Honey
  • Essential oils
  • Fruit extract
  • Root extract


There are five kinds of conditioners available in the market - moisturizing conditioner, deep conditioner, acidifying conditioner, colour protecting conditioner and those which give thermal protection. [5]

1. Moisturizing Conditioner

Moisturizing conditioners help to retain the moisture in your hair. The ingredients include:

2. Deep Conditioners

Deep conditioners have a high amount of proteins and amino acids that go deep into your cuticles, making your hair soft and smooth. It also improves the elasticity of your hair. Ingredients used in deep conditioners are:

  • Proteins
  • Amino acids
  • Plant oils
  • Mineral oil
  • Fatty acids
  • Silicones

3. Acidifying Conditioner

Acidifying conditioners have a lower pH range (3.0 – 4.0) than other conditioners which makes them slightly acidic. Ingredients include:

  • Stearalkonium chloride
  • Behentrimonium chloride
  • Citric acid
  • Amine oxides
  • Ascorbates
  • Cetrimonium chloride
  • Citrus extracts

4. Colour Protecting

Color protection conditioners usually contain moisturizing agents and proteins to fill in the gaps caused by colouring your hair. Ingredients used in a colour protecting conditioner are:

  • Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate
  • Salicylates
  • PABA
  • Benzophenone
  • Polymers

5. Thermal Protection Conditioner

Few conditioners are formulated to protect your hair from heat damage. Ingredients in these thermal protection conditioners include:

  • Cyclomethicone
  • Amodimethicone
  • Dimethicone
  • Dimethiconol

How To Use Shampoo Vs Conditioner?

  • Wet your hair with lukewarm water. Do not use hot water on your hair.
  • Take a sufficient amount of shampoo into your palm and apply it thoroughly on your hair.
  • Gently massage your scalp and hair using your fingertips.
  • Once you are satisfied with the massaging, rinse off the shampoo with lukewarm water.
  • Take a small amount of conditioner into your palm.
  • Massage the conditioner from the top to the end of your hair strands. Do not apply conditioner on your scalp.
  • Let the conditioner stay on your hair for three minutes.
  • Rinse your hair with water.
  • Towel your hair dry.

Similarities & Differences Between Shampoo & Conditioner

While shampoos help to clean your hair, conditioners work by making hair smooth, soft and shiny. The two products are different in usage and need to be chosen as per your hair type.

However, there may be some similarity in the ingredients used in both. For example, both moisturizing shampoos and conditioners may have common ingredients like sodium PCA, aloe vera and other ingredients.



A shampoo is a liquid substance that is used to wash your scalp and hair follicles.

Conditioner is a thick creamy substance applied on your hair shaft after you are finished washing it.

Shampoo cleanses the dirt, dust, bacteria that resides on your scalp. It also removes the dead skin cells and extra sebum oil.

Conditioner moisturizes your hair and nourishes it. It makes your hair soft and healthy.

Shampoos have cleansing ingredients like Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium lauryl sarcosinate, sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

Conditioners on the other hand contain hydrating and moisturizing components such as propylene glycol, sodium PCA, and erythritol.

Frequently Asked Questions on Shampoo Vs Conditioner

1. Can You Use A Conditioner Before Shampoo?

Few people follow reverse hair washing where they use a conditioner before shampoo. But these methods do not have any scientific support to support their effectiveness.


  • Apply the conditioner on your hair and leave it for a few minutes.
  • Do not rinse the conditioner and apply the shampoo.
  • Clean both conditioner and shampoo at the same time.

2. Can You Use A Conditioner Without Shampoo?

Co-Washing method allows you to use a conditioner without shampoo.Co-washing is when you wash your hair only after applying the conditioner. You basically skip the shampoo.

3. Who Should Opt For Reverse & Co-washing?

  • People who have extremely dry hair.
  • People who are going through severe hair damage.
  • People with breakage-prone hair.
  • People with textured hair.

4. Which One Is Better - Shampoo or Conditioner?

Shampoo and conditioner go hand in hand. Shampoos cleanse your hair and conditioners moisturize it. To keep your hair healthy and strong, it is always better to use both.

Wrapping Up

Shampoo and conditioners deep clean your hair and moisturize it. Each has its own set of components and uses. Also while conditioners are usually applied after shampooing your hair, reverse and co washing is done by those who have dry, damaged, hair. It is best to know your hair and choose products accordingly.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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