A leave-in detangler is a specialized moisturizer. Some moisturizers are very good at softening hair whilst others are far better at detangling; calling a moisturizer a detangler just makes it clear that the moisturizer in question is designed to help remove tangles in hair. As such, you can expect a detangler to have a higher concentration of ingredients known to detangle hair.
How Do Detanglers Work?
Detanglers work by smoothing the hair cuticle down. This is done by other filling in gaps in damaged hair or by lowering the pH - a low pH cause the shingle-like layers of the hair cuticle to lie flat and in this position they are less likely to get caught onto neighboring hair to create a tangle.
Ingredients in hair detanglers also lubricate the surface of hair. The more lubricated the hair is the easier it is to separate already tangled strands.
Which Ingredients Detangle?
Silicones (e.g., dimethicone or cyclomethicone)
Silicones bind to the surface of hair and lubricate the hair cuticle to help with detangling.
Acidifier (e.g. citric acid)
Acidic ingredients lower the pH of a detangler. The lower pH strengthens the hydrogen bonds between keratin molecules in hair, smoothing the hair cuticle and making it easier to separate hair strands from each other.
Hydrolyzed Proteins (e.g. oat protein)
Proteins helps to repair damaged keratin by filling in any damage along the hair cuticle. This creates a smoother hair cuticle that is less prone to tangling.
Cationic compounds and polymers, e.g. BTMS
Cationic compounds also lubricate and smooth out the hair cuticle.
Oils lubricate our hair and help to fill in any gaps in dry or damaged hair. This creates softer, more pliable hair that is less likely to tangle.
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By Heather Katsonga-Woodward