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By Christina of The Mane Objective

Let’s be honest here — there is big money in the haircare industry. And at one time or another, we all fall prey to the alluring claims of “hair is 873% stronger after just one use!”, and fancy packaging touting super-ingredients and exotic oils. Many times, those dazzling products come with a hefty price tag. As a recovering product junkie, I am always looking for ways to recession-proof my haircare arsenal, and save a few bucks. I have never personally been a big believer in dropping major dough on haircare products, but I know there are many naturals who will spend upwards of $40 on a small bottle of conditioner and not bat an eyelash. Sometimes, the purchases are justified (for people who believe in utilizing exclusive, exotic, organic, silicone-free, paraben free products). Other times, we have to just concede and admit that the shampoo has been squirted in our eyes.

I’m not sure about you all, but I am a conditioner freak. Hands down, it is the product that I buy most frequently, and in the largest quantities. My hair soaks it up like crazy. Suffice it to say, conditioner is my staple product for everything — from co-washes, to leave-ins, to detangling, to deep conditioning treatments and even styling. Since I use so much, I literally cannot afford to spend $30 every two weeks on an 8oz bottle of the creamy concoction. While some of my staple products are bargain basement cheap by nature (Aussie Moist), others require me to do a little more work to get them to a desirable price point. For more information on getting expensive products for less money, click here.

Before I get started, please know that this article is guided by the following parameters:
–I live in LA. Therefore, all price points are guided by what’s available to me. Prices are based on my findings at Ulta Beauty and Target, and refer specifically to conditioners only.
–For purposes of comparison, I am basing everything on Jc’s findings on the importance of the first five ingredients in a conditioner. Sure, many of the more expensive products contain the complex chemical concoctions, exotic and arbitrary oils and extracts, but read the article here and understand why they’re more of a marketing ploy than a miracle ingredient.
–I am not suggesting that the cheaper products work better — rather that for less money, you may be able to acquire a product with a similar effect.
–The example products used are not necessarily silicone or anything else-free. But for what it’s worth, none of the products have silicones or parabens in their first 5 ingredients.

Now that we’ve gotten that out the way, let’s get down to business. For most naturals, repairing/restoring, moisture, and curl definition are some of the most highly sought performance points for conditioners and hair products. In my journey to Ulta Beauty and Target, I sought out popular expensive brands and potential, more cost-effective alternatives:

Reparative Conditioner

CAROL’S DAUGHTER Monoi Repairing Conditioner vs. L’OREAL Eversleek Sulfate-Free Reparative Smoothing Conditioner

Price Point: Carol’s Daughter will cost you $20.00 for an 8.5oz bottle, while the same size of L’Oreal product is only $5.99.

Carol’s Daughter First 5: Water (Aqua), Cetearyl Alcohol, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Glycerin, Isododecane

L’Oreal First 5: Aqua (Water), Cetearyl Alcohol, Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil (Sunflower Seed Oil), Behentrimonium Chloride, Glycerin

Ingredient Breakdown:
–50 – 80% of any given conditioner is water alone.
–Cetearyl Alcohol is a blend composed mainly of Cetyl and Stearyl Alcohols — waxy/creamy fatty alcohols that act as emulsifiers and thickeners.
–Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine is a surfectant and slip-adding alternative to silicones derived from rapeseeds (read: canola oil).
Glycerin is a humectant (absorbs and helps retain moisture)
–Isododecane is a hydrocarbon ingredient and emollient, added to products to promote spreadability.
Sunflower Seed Oil acts as an emollient, softening agent, and contains valuable fatty acids that help prevent hair breakage.
–Behentrimonium Chloride is a surfectant/cleansing, anti-static and conditioning agent.

Why L’Oreal Wins: The Carol’s Daughter Monoi line focuses on “The rejuvenating Monoi Oil – an age-old nourishing blend of Tahitian Tiare Gardenia Flower and Coprah Coconut Oil – plus replenishing Bamboo Water and Pro-vitamin B5 [to] help fortify distressed hair against breaks and snaps“. Unfortunately, the oil blend ingredients don’t appear until 9th and 10th on the list. The Bamboo Water? 14th. Pro-vitamin B5? 20th. By the way, Carol’s Daughter has Sunflower Seed too — but listed at 19th. L’Oreal on the other hand, puts much of its advertising stock in Sunflower Seed oil, and lists the product at 3rd.

Moisturizing Conditioner

OJON Dry Recovery Hydrating Conditioner vs. SHEA MOISTURE Organic Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner

Price Point: Ojon’s product will set you back $23.00 for 8.5oz, while $9.99 gets you 12oz of Shea Moisture.

Ojon’s First 5: Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Shea Butter, Palm Oil, Behentrimonium Chloride

Shea Moisture’s First 5: Deionized Water, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Argan Oil, Coconut Oil, Behentrimonium Chloride

Ingredient Breakdown:
Shea Butter: Emollient fat from the nut of the East or West African shea nut tree used to moisturize and soften hair.
Palm Oil: Plant oil derived from the flesh of the palm fruit. It is an anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant oil rich in vitamins A, E, D and K.
Argan Oil: Plant oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree. It is a Vitamin A, E and anti-oxidant rich oil that nourishes and protects hair.
Coconut Oil: Oil extracted from the meat of coconuts. It is unique in the sense that it is one of the few oils that can penetrate the hair shaft to provide moisture. It also reduces protein loss when used as a pre-poo treatment.

Why Shea Moisture Wins: Although the first five ingredients for both products are pretty similar, Shea Moisture gets you the better deal. Ojon’s packaging states, “This rich and rapid daily moisture-proofing system with the hair-repairing power of nature’s golden elixir [Ojon oil] plus Blue Agave, Shea Butter, Jojoba Oil and Babassu Oil instantly quenches parched strands and surrounds them in an invisible aura of protection“. With the exception of shea butter and ojon (alm), all the other oils are present in negligible amounts. In fact, on a list of ingredients 14 rows long, agave doesn’t appear until the 11th row. Shea Moisture’s product gets you more bang for your buck; after water, the next three ingredients are oils.

Curl Defining Conditioner

DEVACURL One Condition vs. HERBAL ESSENCES Totally Twisted Curls

Price Point: For $18.95, you can have 12oz of DevaCurl. Or, you can get the same amount of Herbal Essences for $2.99.

DevaCurl’s First 5: Water (Aqua, Eau), Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride, Glycerin, Glycol Distearate

Herbal Essences‘ First 5: Water, Stearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methylsulfate, Prunus Serotina Fruit Extract (Wild Cherry), Orchid Extract

Ingredient Breakdown:
–Glycol Distearate: Fatty acid compound that acts as an emollient and controls viscosity (read: thickener)
–Behentrimonium Methosulfate: Ammonium salt that acts as a conditioning agent and surfectant
Wild Cherry Fruit Extract: Fragrant, moisturizing and conditioning extract of dried wild cherry
–Orchid Extract: Conditioning extract known for fragrant and soothing properties

Why Herbal Essences Wins: DevaCurl is “Calling all curls” with their product line, focusing solely on the niche market of textured and curly hair. With curly hair needing much more moisture and TLC than straighter hair, this line appeals to naturals as a no-brainer. But with the first 5 ingredients constituting the vast majority of any product, I am hard pressed to find a reason why this particular product stands apart from the rest and warrants a nearly $20 price tag. In fact, you may be better off with the Herbal Essences. At least some herbal-esque ingredients made it into the top 5.

The Bottom Line

Maybe you tried the less expensive products, and didn’t like the results they gave. Maybe you used them incorrectly (yes, even though you know it’s conditioner…reading the instructions on the bottle gives you the best insight into a product’s intended use). Or maybe you’re like most of us, and assumed that because a product is expensive, it contains expensive ingredients and must work well. If you discover that you’re expensive products work best for you, then keep doing what you’re doing. At the end of the day, the mantra of doing what works best for you still holds true. I am by no means suggesting that you raid your product stash, and toss out your $50 conditioner that a salesperson convinced you to buy. I just encourage everyone to do their own research — understand that sometimes, we are the victim of our own illusions. We deceive ourselves into believing that some things work, or are better because they cost more….and that isn’t always the case.

Ladies, what are your favorite cheap alternatives to expensive conditioners? And which expensive conditioners are worth the cash?

Christina Patrice

Born, raised, and living in Los Angeles, Christina is BGLH's resident transitioning expert and product junkie. In addition to loving all things hair, she is a fitness novice and advocate of wearing sandals year-round. For more information on transitioning, natural hair, and her own hair journey, visit maneobjective.com. Or, if you like pictures follow Christina on Instagram @maneobjective.

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80 Comments on "3 Cheap Alternatives to Expensive Natural Hair Conditioners"

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Shawna

Informative article, thanks. The Shea Moisture restorative conditioner is the business. It’s definitely my go to conditioner since it is a rinse-out or leave in. If I’m between washes, a little water/aloe/infusium 23 spritz followed by this conditioner makes my 4b
hair soft and springy. <3

Carla

Exactly. I was getting ready to say that I live by the Shea Moisture Restorative conditioner. My hair loves th entire line so I stick with it.

Krystal

I love Deva Curl One Condition. It is expensive, but it does to my hair what I want it to do. I tried Herbal Essence products four years ago when I first went natural, and I hate the perfumey-ness of that brand. The fragrance is so strong, it burns my nose. I’ll stick with One Condition for now.

Eve

Excellent article – really enjoying the additional tips in the comments. Going to try the tip about adding oil to my conditioner

Curly Queen

Great article. I really like how you broke down the comparison.

Kye

This was a good article, I like how they broke down all the ingredients. Luckily I’ve been pretty thrifty anyway and have been using the cheaper versions on my hair for the last few years 🙂

ashes

I usually just by a big bottle of Cheapie conditioner and split it in half and add my own oils. Lasts me months, and I know for a fact what oils are in there.

Yaasha
I do the same thing. I use an empty prescription medication bottle and fill it with my current cheap conditioner, which is Tresseme’s split-end conditioner and pour a tablespoon of olive oil in it. I shake it up, and I use it to co-wash between bi-weekly shampoos or clarifying. It leaves my hair feeling like magic! I think the proof of this lies with the fact that I no longer need to use gel of any kind to maintain curl definition. My hair is so effectively moisturized that I only need to apply coconut oil or castor oil while wet… Read more »
LISA

TKS I DON’T LIKE USING GEL ON MY HAIR. WILL TRY THIS.

lacquerholic

Great Article! I think on some level I’ll always be a product junkie but it’s nice to know when I can’t afford the high end stuff, I can get alternatives. I love Devacurl One Condition so I’m excited to try the Herbal Essenses!

JenniD
Ah the joy of no longer being a product junkie. This was a good article though Just goes to show you how important it is to read your ingredients list. Another good tip is to look for reoccuring ingredients in your favorite products. Example: My hair loves castor oil and I use to look for it on the ingredients list when purchasing a hair product. Now I don’t bother. I just bought a bottle of the stuff(castor oil) and add it to my conditioners as needed. I’ve done the same with coconut oil, aloe vera and even shea butter. I… Read more »
Kech

Great post. Thanks loads

Andrea

great article! I never spend more than ten bucks on a conditioner and this just proves why

merry

very good post.

*Muffin*

Enjoyed this post. Very informative.

Thick Nigerian Hair
The most expensive conditioner I bought was the $20 Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Smoothie. It was okay but not fantastic and the quantity was so minute that I was done with that jar in about 2 uses. The worst cheap conditioner I’ve used is the Queen Helene Cholesterol; it did nothing for my hair and it smells (and I never complain about fragrances). Now, I just mix some Yes To Carrots Pampering and Tresemme Smooth & Silky conditioners and add some coconut oil, Ojon Restorative Treatment, and CD Lisa’s Elixir. It stretches my penny. The second the YTC runs out,… Read more »
Beth

Herbal Essences Hello Hydration is my conditioner, detangler, leave-in, styler, moisturizer, and shaving cream for a measly $6 for the big bottle with a pump.

Tia

I LIVE for that conditionner!!…lol I thought I was the only one who also used it as a shaving cream,it has so much slip!!

Netta

I agree. It’s an all in one with a super cheap price tag that gave me better slip than when I tried my friend’s bottle of Wen.

DeeNsD

Just wanted to say my fav inexpensive conditioner/masque is neutrogena triple moisture deep recovery hair mask. About $5 per jar. I always have some handy.

regina s

i but using the cheap stuff not knowing was that it was good products anyway.

J

Very helpful article.I too follow JC’s tips for picking out a good conditioner.I have really saved money that way.

My tip is to buy the sample or travel size.It works for me and if i do like it then i buy the big size.Majority of brands whether online or drugstore do offer samples.

LaQu

I really appreciate this information. Do you know of any inexpensive alternatives to WEN. I really love this conditioning shampoo brand but it is really expensive.

pp

Hey there! Sally Beauty Supply has a generic version of WEN called Hair One.

Angela

I like WEN but I found the Hair One didn’t work as well. I was really disappointed. Would like to try the Lisa Rinaldi version

cher

Loreal has a conditioning cleanser out that I like better than Wen! It’s the Ever Sleek line.

Prieta

Lisa Ridal also has a Wen substitute….works very well. I found it in a beauty supply store.

Lvflg

if the truth be told: there are lots of very cheap hair care products out there that work – just as well if not better than the more expensive ones.

Tyler

Right? My go to conditioner actually comes from Dollar Tree. That means its $1!! It has glycerin, olive oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, and aloe vera juice in it!! Makes my hair shiny and curly 🙂

Joan B. in S. C.

Yes, @Tyler, please provide the name. These ingredients seem like everything I’ve been wanting to try!

LISA

THANKS FOR THIS POST. I DON’T LIKE USING GEL ON MY HAIR, WILL TRY THE OLIVE OIL AND CONDITIONER.

LISA

SORRY, WRONG COMMENT. I AM GOING TO CHECK THE DOLLAR STORE, TKS FOR THE TIP. WHAT IS THE NAME OF THE PRODUCT?

J

+1

Jasmine

I really liked this post cause though I think I am fairly conscience about reading labels the comparison aspect of this article is what really opened my eyes. I don’t think I spend that much money on hair products but the most expensive thing would have to be my $12 darcy’s botanicals pumpkin seed conditioner which is something I do not see myself giving up anytime soon!

DeeNsD

Love DB pumpkin seed condr!

pp

I know right! I love my Darcy’s Botanicals. The Cocoa Bean one is awesome too.

But generally, I have found that expensive,mass produced, commercial products rarely have the ingredients to support their packaging claims. I’d never have realized this had I not gone natural and taken an interest in ingredients.

Angela

I have found that switching to more affordable products has actually worked better for me in the end. I use Nutress Instant conditioner as my pre-poo/ detangler. Nutress is really affordable. I just use the Stop Break spray and then put my EVCO after it to seal. This simple routine has grown my hair like crazy.

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