You don’t have to read much about Monoi de Tahiti to decide that you must have a bottle—stat—as it is clearly going to transform you into a tropical goddess with the waist-long luscious hair of Disney princesses and the skin of a sun-kissed Victoria’s Secret model. It can be traced back 2000 years to indigenous Polynesians—the Maohi—who used it for skin care, hair care, and religious ceremonies. Monoi is coconut oil that’s been macerated with the petals of the Tahitian gardenia, giving us a beautifully fragrant oil that’ll leave you looking for a mai tai and a Tiki-print sarong. So, it’s everything you already love about coconut oil, plus an intoxicating tropical scent. I love the idea of using it in my hair (Disney caliber locks, here I come!), but straight oil is much too much for my hair, so I decided to incorporate it into this lovely Monoi de Tahiti Hair Conditioner.
In order to be a true conditioner, we must include some conditioning ingredients; that is, ingredients that are cationic. Cationic (or positively charged) ingredients adsorb (creates a very thin film on) our negatively charged hair. In this conditioner, that cationic ingredient is BTMS-50, which also doubles as our emulsifying wax.
The BTMS-50 leaves our hair feeling silky and soft, helping reduce breaking and increase hydration. There is a really noticeable difference between a hair lotion (what you’d get if you made this conditioner using a non-cationic emulsifying wax) and a hair conditioner—my hair feels extra silky and soft—it’s downright indulgent!
Once you’ve got your cationic emulsifier (that’s the BTMS-50), the creamy Monoi de Tahiti Hair Conditioner is basically a lotion. You’ve got your water part, your oil part, your heat and hold, and the blendy-blendy bit at the end. However, because it’s for hair instead of skin, we can choose to include all kinds of lovely-for-hair ingredients. These things are usually pretty good for skin, too, so you can definitely use it as an indulgent body lotion as well 😊
Monoi de Tahiti is the star ingredient of our conditioner. If you’re not keen on the smell of the gardenias or don’t have Monoi, regular virgin coconut oil will also work. I chose coconut oil for a really neat reason—coconut oil is one of very few oils that can penetrate our hair shaft. The research shows that, when it comes to preventing water retention, a pre-wash coconut oil application is best, so if you struggle with frizzy hair you might consider applying the conditioner before you wash your hair, rather than after for the best results.
After the Monoi we’ve got some other great-for-hair goodies: hydrolyzed silk, phytokeratin, glycerin, and panthenol all help hydrate the hair and add shine and bounce. If you don’t have them, I’ve provided a big list of substitution suggestions and information at the end of the recipe. Some other ideas for amping up this conditioner includes swapping out 10–20g of the water for aloe juice, and including a botanical extract like shavegrass root at ~1g for increased shine and detangling. Isn’t making our own stuff awesome?!
Monoi de Tahiti Hair Conditioner
80g | 2.82oz distilled water
2g | 0.07oz hydrolyzed silk (wondering about substitutions?)
2g | 0.07oz vegetable glycerine
2g | 0.07oz plant-derived keratin (look for products with names like phytokeratin or vegekeratin)
0.5g | 10 drops Vitamin E MT-50 (USA / Canada)
2g | 0.07oz panthenol powder (vitamin B5)
0.5g | 0.017oz Liquid Germall Plus™ (USA / Canada) (or other broad spectrum preservative of choice at recommended usage rate [why?])
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan.
Weigh the water, silk, glycerin, and keratin into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Weigh the Monoi, BTMS-50, and cetyl alcohol into a second heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place both measuring cups in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.
After about 20–30 minutes the oil part should be completely melted and the water part should be thoroughly dissolved. Remove the water bath from the heat, and pour the water part into the oil part. Stir with a flexible silicone spatula to incorporate.
Grab your immersion blender and begin blending the conditioner, starting with short bursts so the still-very-liquid conditioner doesn’t whirl up and spray everywhere. Blend for about a minute, leave to cool for ten, blend for another minute or two, and repeat this blend-cool-blend cycle until the outside of the glass measuring cup is barely warm to the touch and the conditioner is thick and creamy.
During one of the cooling phases, weigh the vitamin E, panthenol, and preservative into a small container and set aside.
Once the conditioner is thick, creamy, and cool, scoop a bit of it into your small container with the vitamin E, stir all that together, and then scoop all that back into the rest of the conditioner, and stir all of that together until it’s nice and smooth and lovely. If you want to add some sort of scent/essential oil/fragrance, now would be the time to do it (~15–20 drops is a good place to start), but the Monoi is quite fragrant on its own, so see what you think. I like citrussy scents with Monoi as I find the scent of straight-up Monoi to be very sweet, and the citrus helps counter the very floral/saccharine notes of the Monoi.
That’s it! Transfer your conditioner to a squeeze or pump-top bottle and you’re ready to use it 🙂 Use it after shampooing and your acidic rinse (if you need one); I like to apply my Monoi de Tahiti Hair Conditioner from about the ears down and leave it in while I shave my legs (which I can also do with conditioner—booyah!), and then rinse it out. Voila! Enjoy your oh-so-lovely, conditioned hair.
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this conditioner contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project is likely to eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
- If you don’t have phytokeratin you can replace it with an equal amount of cromoist (hydrolyzed oat protein), sea kelp bioferment, bamboo bioferment, or water
- If you don’t have Monoi de Tahiti you can use coconut oil instead and then scent the conditioner with something else you like
- While you can use a different emulsifying wax than BTMS-50, most other e-waxes are not cationic, which is a vital and core characteristic of a hair conditioner (rather than a hair lotion, which is still nice, but not truly conditioning). BTMS-25 would be the best alternative, but if you can’t get that, either, than you can use something like Polawax, e-wax NF, or emulsimulse/ritamulse. If you’re using a non cationic e-wax I’d recommend swapping out 2g (0.07oz) of the water for a liquid cationic polymer like honeyquat or polyquat to get that cationic conditioning from somewhere else.
- If you don’t have cetyl alcohol, replace it with an equal weight of monoi or stearic acid.
- I’ve provided the vitamin E in both weight and drops as the exact amount isn’t imperative. You might notice the required weight of the preservative and of the vitamin E is the same, and you might be tempted to use the vitamin E drops to measure out the preservative, but do not do this! Using the amount of the preservative is much more important, and the two ingredients have very different densities, meaning the drops-to-gram amount is not the same.
- If you don’t have panthenol, replace it with an equal amount of sodium lactate or water