Conditioner

A Wise Guide to More Sustainable* Conditioner

*While there’s no such thing as “sustainable” conditioner, here’s what to be wise on while cleaning your mane.

The hair conditioner market was valued at a whopping $8.5 billion in 2019. This is no surprise considering that conditioners are everyone’s best friend. They keep our hair lush and moisturized, sometimes even giving us more body or curls. However, not all conditioners are created equal and some are certainly not our, or the planet’s, best friend. Let’s take a look at shampoo’s softer sibling, and learn what to keep an eye out for when locking in moisture in the shower. 

What to Be Wise On: 

Conditioner is a must when it comes to having luscious locks, but some common conditioner ingredients can take us from luscious to lackluster. When looking for conditioners, avoid ingredients like phosphates and sulfates – both can cause harm to aquatic life. 

TLDR

Here are some of our favorite conditioners based on ingredients and certifications. 

The Factors to Consider: 

Ingredients

Sulfates 

Sulfates are a kind of surfactant, which is used to clean and create the foam we know and love. Different surfactants are used in different ratios for different hair types, and each has either a hair conditioning or cleansing quality. Unfortunately, sulfates can also cause irritation and roughness, which is not what we want for our sensitive scalps. When we use a conditioner that contains sulfates, we’re potentially causing that irritation and some unintended consequences on marine life. No, thanks!

Phosphates

Phosphates, like trisodium phosphate, are ingredients that create that luscious lathering effect in our conditioners. Phosphates can also cause eutrophication, which is the mineral over-enrichment of bodies of water. This can be a natural process that develops aquatic ecosystems, but it can also be an indication of nutrient imbalances as a result of pollution. While it might sound beautiful, algal bloom – a result of eutrophication – can be harmful to aquatic life and can contaminate drinking sources. 

Synthetic Fragrances

Certain conditioners contain synthetic fragrances. The manufacturing of synthetic fragrances uses significant amounts of water and creates wastewater pollution that can be harmful to fish and other aquatic plants and wildlife. And, some synthetic fragrances are made from byproducts of the petroleum industry…cough, cough, fossil fuels. 


Certifications

Leaping Bunny Certification

Leaping Bunny and PETA Cruelty-Free Certified

To keep animal welfare in your hair care, look for the Leaping Bunny certification and/or the PETA cruelty-free certification. The Leaping Bunny certification is an internationally recognized symbol that guarantees no new animal tests were conducted on any ingredients in a product. PETA’s Cruelty-Free denotes that a company does not conduct or commission tests on animals.

Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade Certified

The Fair Trade certification ​​works on the ground with suppliers to ensure that people making Fair Trade-Certified products work in safe conditions, protect the environment, and earn additional money to empower their communities. This certification has intersectional impacts, including an emphasis on safe working conditions, environmental protection, sustainable livelihoods, and Community Development Funds. Look for conditioners with the Fair Trade seal of approval and logo so you know that what you’re conditioning with has met these standards.

EWG Verified Certification

EWG Verified

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created a database that aims to be the gold standard in rating personal care products based on their ingredients, ensuring products are free from the chemicals of concern to human health that are outlined in their unacceptable list. Look for the EWG logo to make sure you’re avoiding those pesky ingredients on their no-no list.

A Few Takeaways: 

When it comes to getting a conditioner that meets the needs of your hair and the planet, look out for harmful ingredients. Need some help sussing out which? Look for the Leaping Bunny, PETA Cruelty-Free, Fair Trade, and EWG-certified products. 

Common Questions: 

“What is the most eco-friendly conditioner?”

Products can’t actually be “eco-friendly” because all products rely on the extraction of natural resources and there is no way to guarantee that no harm has been done to those ecosystems as a result. Products can be more or less harmful to the environment, but never completely without impact. 

“Is there a biodegradable conditioner?”

Biodegradable is a very, very broad term, and it’s not federally regulated either. So, brands can slap the B-word on their label with it meaning a whole lot of nothing. Before trusting that your product or packaging is biodegradable or compostable, check to see if the claim is substantiated or regulated, and if so, by what agency.

“What conditioner should I use for healthy hair?”

Healthy is subjective – and everyone’s hair needs different things! However, for planetary health, look for products without sulfates, phosphates, and synthetic fragrances.