Do I Need a Conditioner With Homemade Shampoo?

One large and two small bottles of homemade hair conditioner.

Venturing into the world of homemade personal care products can definitely become a hobby in and of itself.

As with any skill, a learning curve is to be expected, and some trial and error is completely normal as you learn what works best for you. 

With homemade shampoo, it’s hard to predict how your hair will respond at first, as there will be a period of adjustment when transitioning from store-bought products that strip your hair to more natural shampoos that cleanse without harshly removing beneficial oils.

Do I need a conditioner with homemade shampoo? Most people will benefit from using some type of conditioner or rinse after using a homemade shampoo to close and smooth the hair cuticles; restore proper pH level; reduce tangles, breakage, frizz, and split ends; lock in nutrients; and strengthen each hair shaft.

A quick search for homemade shampoos will produce literally hundreds of results with a dizzying array of different ingredients.

They all, however, are designed to serve the same purpose: to gently cleanse your hair. Is cleansing enough, though, or does hair need more than this to stay healthy, shiny, and strong? 

It Depends on Your Shampoo Recipe

Everyone’s scalp produces oil (sebum) naturally, which is a good thing. Sebum lubricates the scalp and keeps the hair moisturized, strong, and healthy. 

Too much sebum, though, can clog pores, weigh down the hair, and cause that greasy, unwashed look.

Too little sebum, on the other hand, can lead to a dry, itchy scalp and dry, brittle, hard-to-manage hair.

This is where the importance of shampoo ingredients comes into play. 

good homemade shampoo will gently remove excess oil, dirt, dust, buildup of sweat and hair products like hair sprays, dead skin cells, and environmental pollutants and leave the hair soft and manageable.

Clarifying Recipes

Most homemade clarifying recipes contain baking soda as the main working ingredient.

Mildly abrasive by nature, baking soda acts as a gentle exfoliant for your scalp and is effective at removing buildups and residues from hair care products and minerals found in water. 

It is, however, not recommended for frequent use as it is alkaline (pH of 9), while a healthy scalp is acidic (pH of around 4.5).

It will also leave the hair cuticles (the scaly outer layer) open and prone to dryness and damage.

A pH restoring, moisturizing conditioner or rinse is highly recommended following the use of a clarifying shampoo.

For more tips on how and when to clarify, read this.

Cleansing Recipes

Many basic DIY shampoo recipes have castile soap and coconut milk as the main ingredients.

The soap, a natural surfactant, works to remove dirt, grease, dead skin cells, etc. from your scalp and hair, and the coconut milk counters the drying effect of cleansing with moisturizing properties.

If your recipe contains castile soap, coconut milk, or similar ingredients, you may be able to get by without using a conditioner, depending on your hair type and length.

Those with very short hair or hair that tends to be more on the oily side may find that this type of shampoo works just right without any added conditioners. 

(Head over to my article on best DIY shampoos for oily hair.)

Long and typically dry hair, though, may benefit from the moisturizing, detangling, and strengthening properties of a conditioner.

Moisturizing Recipes

It’s fairly simple to transform a basic homemade shampoo into one packed with moisturizing properties. Some people will add a few drops of oil to a basic recipe.

Popular oils include:

Essential oils are also popular homemade shampoo additions.

Commonly used essential oils are:

  • Chamomile.
  • Lavender.
  • Lemongrass.
  • Peppermint.
  • Rosemary.
  • Tea tree.
  • Ylang-ylang.

All-natural humectants such as honey, agave nectar, glycerin, and aloe vera gel or juice (this aloe juice is also a healthy drink) can be superb additions to a basic shampoo.

They attract moisture from the air to the hair where some will be absorbed. This can help hair feel softer, bouncier, and less dry.

Be aware that in conditions of high humidity, humectants can lead to frizz and a sticky feeling if the humectant contains natural sugars and isn’t rinsed out well enough.

Even if a moisturizing recipe is used and humectants are added, many people will still benefit from a follow-up conditioner to close the hair cuticles and smooth the hair, making it easier to comb and manage.

What Does Shampoo Do to Your Hair?

Store-Bought Shampoo

Store-bought shampoos do indeed clean the hair and scalp as promised, but most completely strip the nourishing, protective oils.

With regular use, your scalp learns to compensate by increasing the production of sebum. 

This leads to your hair becoming greasy and dirty faster, which in turn leads to more frequent shampooing – it becomes a vicious cycle that’s hard on your scalp and hair.

Commercial shampoos also contain some questionable ingredients, such as:

  • Sulfates.
  • Parabens. 
  • Synthetic dyes and fragrances.
  • Polysorbate 20 and 80.
  • Ammonium chloride.
  • Methylisothiazolinone.
  • A variety of other difficult-to-pronounce additives. 

Many shampoos leave the cuticles open, resulting in hair that is hard to comb, refuses to smooth, and is prone to breakage. 

Homemade Shampoos

Homemade shampoos also effectively cleanse the scalp and hair, but without the use of harsh chemicals.

They also tend to not remove all of the sebum from the scalp (except for clarifying shampoos).

Rather, they clean sufficiently without being overly drying and leaving behind residue.

Whether or not the shampoo effectively smooths down the cuticles will depend on the ingredients you choose to use.

Allow for an Adjustment Period

When you first start using a homemade shampoo, you may notice that for the first week or so your hair gets greasier faster than usual.

This is because although the scalp and hair are no longer being stripped of all oil routinely, your scalp takes a while to realize that overproduction mode is no longer necessary.

It will figure things out though, and your hair will soon feel normal again.

What Does a Conditioner Do?

A hair conditioner is any product that efficiently closes the hair cuticles to smooth and soften the hair, replenishes moisture, eliminates tangles, and reduces frizz and damage.

Because shampoos tend to make the hair too alkaline, most conditioners are acidic to bring the pH of the scalp back to levels between 4 and 5, the normal range for healthy hair. 

Like shampoos, store-bought conditioners are often packed with ingredients that may make you think twice before applying. Are there any other options? You bet.

Can I Make a Homemade Conditioner?

Yes! While store-bought conditioners do a fine job conditioning and revitalizing freshly washed hair, homemade products can be just as effective.

By far, the most recommended conditioner by those who use homemade shampoo is a simple vinegar rinse.

Either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar will work, but most people prefer ACV.

To use, dilute the vinegar with an equal amount of water (some prefer to dilute more than this), pour over clean hair, and rinse.

Don’t worry – the smell will dissipate quickly.

In addition to gently removing residue buildup from hair products, benefits of ACV include:

  • Brings the pH level of the scalp and hair back down to an ideal range.
  • Restores shine.
  • Fights bacteria and fungi.
  • Helps prevent and treat dandruff. 
  • Seals the cuticles to lock in nutrients and smooth hair.
  • Hydrates hair.
  • Contains nutrients such as vitamins B and C and antioxidants.

As with homemade shampoo, a quick search will yield a multitude of recipes for DIY conditioners.

You’ll find that many contain hydrating, nourishing ingredients that you likely have around the house already. Humectant additions are pretty popular too.

Common ingredients include:

  • Olive, argan, coconut, vitamin E, and jojoba oil.
  • Mashed bananas.
  • Eggs, mayonnaise, milk, and yogurt.  
  • Lemon juice.
  • Aloe vera gel or juice. 
  • Honey or agave nectar.
  • Shea butter.

Note: Some of these ingredients have a very short shelf life and should be used right away or refrigerated promptly.

There’s no right or wrong recipe.

Some people even incorporate a few of these conditioning agents into their homemade shampoo to get everything done in one step. 

Everyone’s hair is unique and will respond differently to various ingredients.

You’ll want to experiment with several combinations to find the right version that works best for your hair.