When I was in university I had the most wonderful roommate in second year. Harriet and I started as roomies and are still fast friends to this day. There were many things that made us fantastic roommates, including our shared appreciation of pizza nights, clean door handles, quiet nights in, and removing our possessions from the shared shower. You see, Harriet’s first year roommate owned approximately thirty different bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, and heavens knows what else, and they all lived in the shower. There was barely room to stand in the middle of the asteroid belt of bottles ringing the perimeter of the shower, like some sort of packaging-themed art installation. Anyhow, the point of this tale is that bottles are sort of silly, thirty of them definitely is, and I really like using shampoo and conditioner bars instead. This Vanilla Spice Conditioner Bar works perfectly with my desire to have next to nothing in my shower.
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If you want to call something a conditioner, it must be cationic. Cationic ingredients are positively charged, while hair (and skin) is negatively charged, so cationic ingredients bond with our hair (and skin). You can include just 1–2% of something like BTMS-50 or honeyquat PF in a concoction and bam—it’s conditioning. After that, you’ve got room to play. If you use BTMS-50 as your emulsifying wax in a lotion, now it’s a conditioning lotion (or creamy hair conditioner). If you add a bit of a quat to a hair mist, now you’ve got a conditioning hair mist. Add BTMS-50 to a body butter bar, voila—conditioning body butter bar. You get the idea. Since the conditioning ingredient is far from the only thing in the concoction, you’ve got room to add other ingredients to round it out, like hydrolyzed proteins, essential oils, nourishing oils, and more.
The “conditioned” feel really is noticeable, and lovely. It is distinctly different from plain ol’ emollience or hydration, and is especially great in hair, where it helps control static, protect your hair, reduce damage caused by friction, and leave your hair silky smooth and lustrous. While you can (and I have) make an emulsified “hair conditioner” without a conditioning ingredient, and it will leave your hair feeling softer and better, you’ll be missing out on the awesomeness of true conditioning, and that’s rather sad.
The first conditioner bar I made was this one, heavily inspired by Point of Interest (Susan is a true expert in this area and her guides are invaluable to anyone wanting to learn more). It is lovely (I’m still using it—conditioner bars last for ages!), but it sure has a lot of ingredients. In the comments section a reader (thanks, Cruz!) mentioned her simple recipe—basically cocoa butter and BTMS—and that got me thinking about something a bit more… naked. A bar that worked, but had less than a dozen ingredients. So, I started working on something from the ground-up back in July, and here we are.
If you want to make a solid conditioner bar, it’s got to have a conditioning ingredient in it, and given that we are aiming for a solid final product, a solid conditioning ingredient is a good choice—I’ll be using BTMS-50. The bar will be mostly that, with added hardeners and some other good-for-hair stuff. We’ll mostly thicken with brittle tucuma butter, stearic acid, and cetyl alcohol; you definitely don’t want to use wax here as that’ll be horridly sticky. Our good-for-hair goodies include hydrating panthenol, film-forming hydrolyzed silk peptides, and detangling cetrimonium chloride.
Once we’ve got everything together it’s a simple melt-stir-add cool down ingredients-pour-chill process that’ll be very familiar if you’ve made lip balm or body butter bars before. When that’s done you’ve got yourself a lovely bar of conditioning goodness!
I’d like to thank Susan at Point of Interest, It’s All in My Hands, and WS at Sciency Hair Blog for the fantastic resources they have provided to help me learn all about this! All three websites are definitely worth visiting and binge-reading.
Want to watch this recipe instead of read it?
Vanilla Spice Conditioner Bar
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
When the heated phase is fully liquid, remove it from the heat, stirring. Quickly stir in your essential oils and preservative, and pour the conditioner bar into a 50mL (1.7fl oz) mold to solidify. I used a single cavity of a silicone muffin pan. Transfer that somewhere cold—I used my porch because it’s winter in Canada, but your freezer will also work.
Once the bar has set up, pop it out of the mold and leave it to fully set up for ~24 hours before use.
To use, glide the bar over wet hair in the shower, and rinse out any excess. Over time you’ll figure out if you’re a short swipe/long swipe/multiple swipe/swipe party kinda person.
- You can use BTMS-25 if you don’t have BTMS-50, though that does have half the amount of conditioning power
- Do not use a different emulsifying wax or you won’t be making hair conditioner—just a sort of solid hair lotion bar
- If you don’t have tucuma butter, you can use cocoa butter instead. I’d recommend unscented if you want all vanilla spice, but vanilla spice + chocolate is also a delicious scent combo!
- I do not recommend substituting out the cetyl alcohol. You could try stearic acid instead, but it isn’t as glossy.
- You can use a different hydrolyzed protein instead of silk
- You can use a liquid oil instead of the centrimonium chloride and/or the panthenol. This isn’t a proper alternative-for-the-function substitution, this is just to keep the recipe in balance.