Article by: Guest Author

This is a post by Nitesh Rajput

A product is considered to be a conditioner if it improves the quality of the surface to which it is applied, particularly if this improvement involves the correction or prevention of certain aspects associated with surface damage. Conditioning of the hair and skin must be a continuous process, as both substrates are in a constant cycle of shedding and renewal. The main difference between hair and skin is that skin is basically a living organ that replaces its outermost layer on a frequent basis. Hair, in contrast, is basically dead material derived from a few live cells deep within the skin surface.

Modern conditioners

Modern conditioners are designed to provide one or more of the following functions:

• provide ease of wet and dry combing
• smooth, seal and realign damaged areas of the hair shaft
• minimize porosity
• impart sheen and a silken feel to the hair
• provide some protection against thermal and mechanical damage
• moisturize
• add volume and body
• eliminate static electricity

So what is a cationic polymer?
A polymer is “Any of numerous natural and synthetic compounds of usually high molecular weight consisting of up to millions of repeated linked units, each a relatively light and simple molecule.”

So a cationic polymer is a positively charged or cationic polymer that we use in hair and body care products to increase conditioning and film forming. Because it’s cationic, it will be substantive and adsorb to our hair our skin to increase lubricity and moisturizing. In hair care products, cationic polymers will help our cuticle scales resist uplift when stressed, which keeps our hair in better condition.

What is Polyquaternium?
Polyquaternium is the International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients designation for several polycationic polymersthat are used in the personal care industry. Polyquaternium is a neologism used to emphasize the presence of quaternary ammonium centers in the polymer. INCI has approved at least 37 different polymers under the polyquaternium designation. Different polymers are distinguished by the numerical value that follows the word “polyquaternium”. Polyquaternium-5, polyquaternium-7, and polyquaternium-47 are three examples, each a chemically different type of polymer. The numbers are assigned in the order in which they are registered rather than because of their chemical structure.

Polyquaternium-4:  Provides excellent combability, holding, gloss and antistat properties. This cellulosic polymer substantive to skin and hair and exhibits outstanding properties in hair care products. It is a tan powder that is water-soluble. (suggested use: 0.5 to 1%)

Polyquaternium-7 :  Leaves hair feeling soft. It is a thick viscous liquid with low odor. (suggested use: 2 to 5%)

Polyquaternium-10:   This is a cationic, water-soluble substantive conditioner for hair care. It provides film formation on hair and moisturization. It is non-irritating and compatible with a wide range of surfactants. It enables the formulation of clear products.   (suggested use:0.25-0.5%)

Polyquaternium-44:  This is a very efficient, multinational polymer for use in a variety of cleansing products to improve the wet combability of the hair and prevent electrostatic charging when the hair is dry. It also protects the hair by forming a shield around each hair so that its surface is less readily attacked. It conditions and provides a smooth silky feel to the hair. The lather creaminess is significantly improved. There are no drawbacks with fine hair regarding volume, accumulation and build-up when used at recommended use levels. It is a viscous clear amber liquid with low odor. (suggested use:0.1-0.5%)

How does it work hair?
Since they are positively charged, they neutralize the negative charges of most shampoos, relaxers, hair proteins etc. helping the hair to lay flat. Their positive charge, ionically bond to the hair. It is particularly useful to use cationic polymers on hair exposed to high alkalinity relaxers to decrease damage to hair. They attach to the hair and provide conditioning benefits such as ease of combing, hair alignment, elasticity and shine. Polyquaternium also helps to reduce flyaways & static.

As always, choose your products carefully, get samples when you can, and see what works for your hair.

Conditioner formulations

Typical formulations for hair conditioners using polyquats.

1. Rinse-off Hair conditioner

Screenshot 2015-02-19 15.10.56

Process – Phase A In a vessel, add water at room temperature and ingredients of Phase A one at a time in proper sequence under stirring with the help of an overhead stirrer at 400 rpm.
Phase B -Add ingredients of Phase B one at a time while stirring. Homogenize for 3 minutes.
Turn off the homogenizer and switch to stirring under overhead stirrer at 400 rpm. Slowly add sodium hydroxide 10% solution while mixing. Stir for 5 minutes or until uniform.
Add Remaining Ingredients one by one

2.Leave on conditioners

Screenshot 2015-02-19 15.10.56(2)

Process- Phase A In a vessel, add water at room temperature and ingredients of Phase A one at a time in proper sequence under stirring with the help of an overhead stirrer at 400 rpm.
Phase B Add ingredients of Phase B one at a time while stirring. Homogenize for 3 minutes.
Turn off the homogenizer and switch to stirring under overhead stirrer at 400 rpm. Slowly add sodium hydroxide 10% solution while mixing. Stir for 5 minutes or until uniform.
Add Remaining Ingredients one by one

3. Conditioning Shampoo

Screenshot 2015-02-19 15.10.56(3)

Prepare a premix solution by dispersing Polyquat 10 in water with agitation. Begin heating to 50-60°C. Add the PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate to the premix solution, stirring until dissolved. Remove heat. Combine the surfactants. Add the premix solution to the surfactant mixture. Add the remaining ingredients one at a time, waiting for each ingredient to dissolve before adding the next one. Adjust the pH to 6.0 with the citric acid.

Other polyquat systems

Other conditioning systems and how polyquats compare to them.

Conditioning polymers are common in hair care, typically used to provide hair with a well-defined set of benefits including improved deposition of silicone and better feel through a slippery nature that eases combability.

Products are typically considered as “conditioning” when they improve the surface of skin or hair. In hair care, “conditioning” is typically understood to denote an improvement in the “condition” or appearance and manageability of hair alongside quality characteristics including combability, flyaway, body, curl retention, slip, and other well-defined facets.

Cationic conditioning polymers
Many conditioning polymers achieve substantivity through a cationic charge that promotes binding to the innate anionic charge of hair and skin under normal physiological pH levels. Past studies conducted using neonatal rat stratum corneum membranes have demonstrated that cationic polymer deposition efficacy on skin can parallel results obtained using hair fibres Depending on the nature of the material, substantivity of the polymer onto skin could provide a film or barrier function. Other benefits from improved substantitivity could also include enhanced deposition of ingredients and improved feel, both pertinent to skin care & Hair care.
Cationic and amphoteric polymers, such as polyquaternium-6, polyquaternium-7, and polyquaternium-39, added to hair formulations, mitigate this degradation of the hair structure. Also, the inclusion of high molecular-weight (>106 g/mole) copolymers of acrylamide and diallyldimethylammonium chloride, acryloyloxytrimethylammoniumchloride, or acryloyloxyethyldimethylbenzylammonium chloride in the Hair care formula results in significant reduction in the hair structural damage caused by alkaline relaxation.

Examples of cationic conditioning polymers

Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Collagen
Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Hair Keratin
Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Keratin
Cationic hydroxyethylcellulose
polyquaternium-10, and

Silicone Conditioners

Silicone quaternaries have long been known as hair conditioning compounds. Leave-on silicone conditioners specifically targeted to nonshampoo applications confer enhanced and relatively durable conditioning. These contain emulsified vinyl-terminated silicones applied in combination with a conventional cationic conditioner. A preferred product type is a mousse. These silicone block copolymers can achieve excellent conditioning at relatively high viscosities (100 Kpa/s-1).

The advantages of silicone in your hair are the shiny look, frizz free hair and the smooth feeling you get when you wash your hair.

Names of silicones

Water Soluble Silicones
Dimethicone Copolyol
Lauryl Methicone Copolyol
Hydrolyzed wheat protein (Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane)
Any Silicone with PEG as a prefix

Oil soluble Silicones

Phenyl Trimethicone
Cetearyl Methicone
Stearyl Dimethicone
Cetyl Dimethicone
Behenoxy Dimethicone
Stearoxy Dimethicone

Hopefully, this overview gives you a good idea of the versatility of the Polyquaternium ingredients.  Happy formulating.


  1. Beau Hoyer

    Hello. Do you have any info on polyquaternium 16? What is it. What’s the difference between polyquaternium 16 and the others

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It’s a cationic polymer but I don’t have more information than that. I’d suggest you post your question in our forum.

  2. Skinci

    What is your take on Polymers and cationic surfactants in Skincare products? Aren’t they hard to remove from skin? Can they form insoluble substances with anionic surfactants, like cationic surfactants do?

  3. Mohini Lakhapati

    Thanks Nitesh and Perry for providing such a good information

  4. sandra brown

    Hi Perry
    Can I use Poly 10 in my all natural ingredients conditioner which contain no parabens or sulfate what I want to know will this change from being all natural ingredients

    1. Perry Romanowski

      There is nothing natural about Polyquaternium 10.



  6. odeh

    thanks Nitesh,helpfull post

  7. Arpita Radke

    Good Job Nitesh!

  8. Arpita Radke

    Very well described Nitesh! Good job.

  9. Kavya

    Nice article Perry! Some polyquats are know for creating build up on hair and very hard to remove. Could you please let me know how this build up affects hair in long term. And do all polyquats create build and hard to remove from hair?

  10. zohre khosravi

    thanks a lot
    please, I want a formulation for leave on conditioner with silicons
    best regards

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Search for our post on finding free cosmetic formulas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.