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Conditioning polymers in today’s shampoo formulations – efficacy, mechanism and test methods

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Today’s shampoo formulations are beyond the stage of pure cleansing of the hair. Additional benefits are expected, e.g. conditioning, smoothing of the hair surface, improvement of combability and lather creaminess. Cationic polymers play an important role in providing many of those features. Therefore, within the last few years their use in shampoos has increased greatly.

In the only last two decades, shampoo designation has gradually changed from ‘2-in-1’ to ‘3-in-1’ and then to ‘multifunctional’, as at present. The consumer demands products which live up to their promises. Modern shampoos contain a wide variety of ingredients such as co-surfactants, vitamins and pro-vitamins, protein derivatives, silicones, natural-based plant extracts and other ‘active ingredients’, but there is still a need for conditioning polymers.

The specific objective of this study is to assess the conditioning efficacy of cationic polymers and to investigate their mechanisms in a shampoo system.

The investigations were carried out on formulations that contained sodium lauryl ether sulphate and different cationic polymers, e.g. Polyquaternium 7, 10, 11, cationic guar gum and Luviquat Care (Polyquaternium 44), a new branched copolymer of vinylpyrrolidone (VP) and quaternized vinylimidazolium salts (QVI).

We used test methods relevant to the applications in question, such as combing force measurements, the feel of the hair and the creaminess of the lather, to assess the efficacy. Atomic force microscopy and electrokinetics (streaming potential) were used to detect polymer residues on treated hair.

All the polymers under investigation improved the overall performance of the shampoo formulations. This was demonstrated by means of combing force measurements, sensorial tests and analytical methods, namely zeta potential measurement and atomic force microscopy.

Polyquaternium 44 exhibited the best conditioning properties on wet hair without sacrificing removability or absence of build-up. The latter are the most striking weaknesses of cationic Guar Gum-based polymers.

Polyquaternium 10 can also be removed from the hair after rinsing with anionic surfactant but it does not perform as well as Polyquaternium 44 in the fields of wet combability and sensorial criteria such as lather creaminess and feel of the hair.

We postulate that the outstanding properties of Polyquaternium 44 as a conditioning agent for shampoos are due to its tailor-made ‘branched’ structure.

There is a clear correlation between the molecular weight and the efficacy of the new copolymers of VP and QVI. Only cationic polymers with a very high molecular weight are effective as conditioners in shampoos based on anionic surfactants. Surprisingly, they do not have to have a high cationic charge.

On the basis of all our results, our postulation is that the polymer residue which is responsible for conditioning does not form a flat layer on the hair. Rather, the polymer residue adsorbs with the few cationic moieties, while the uncharged part of the polymer forms loops, which are orientated away from the hair and which are responsible for the reduced friction between hairs.
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Keywords: atomic force microscopy; cationic polymers; conditioning shampoos; polyquaternium 44

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: BASF Aktiengesellschaft, Ludwigshafen, Germany

Publication date: February 1, 2000

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