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Hair Slip: What You Seriously Need to Know

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Learn what hair slip is and what ingredients are commonly used in hair care products

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For anyone with curly hair, hair slip is an essential commodity. Without it, our hair would be a tangled mess!

Essentially, anything that gives our hair some extra slip is hair slip. And trust me, we need all the help we can get!

Curly hair is notorious for tangling and matting, so hair slip is a godsend. It keeps our hair healthy, manageable, and most importantly, looking good!

So if you have curly hair, make sure you invest in some good hair slip. Your curls will thank you for it!

What is Hair Slip?

Hair slip is a technical term that refers to the quality of hair surface. “Slip” means smoothness of hair surface. In other words, it means ease of combing and brushing.

This mainly depends upon the quality of the hair’s upper surface which is made up of cuticles.

Simply put, it’s a substance that helps our hair to glide smoothly against itself and other surfaces. This can be anything from conditioner to oil to hair serum.

Healthy and smooth cuticles are vital for good quality slip. Cuticles are the outermost layer of keratin proteins lying like brick tiles on the roof.1

They define the surface properties of the hair fiber, its smoothness, shine and detangling. They are also the first site of interaction of cosmetics products and their ingredients.

So, what undermines the slip or damages the cuticle’s health? What ingredients are required in a formulation to give hair good slip?

In this article, we go through these scientific details. We will also discuss a formulator’s preferred choice of ingredients, with the aim of delivering outstanding slip-on hair fibers.

What Are Hair Slip Challenges?

The cuticle is the outermost layer and is thus particularly vulnerable to external assaults.

Hair cuticles are permeable to everything and anything that wants to enter the hair fiber. They come in direct contact with harsh chemicals during hair bleaching, oxidation coloring, perms, and other acidic or alkaline hair care treatments.

UV radiation from the sun has a negative impact on hair cuticles by deteriorating their protein content. These factors all point to the fact that the cuticle layers have been damaged.2

The gradual removal of cuticles from the hair surface exposes the inner core of hair fibers. The result is that this leaves hair fragile, weak, and highly porous that eventually can break during combing/brushing.

The erosion of cuticles makes the hair surface rough and rigid, and its natural slip is severely hampered.

Natural Hair Slip

Hair contains lipids secreted mainly by sebaceous glands. These lipids are composed of a wide range of fatty acids and waxes.

They lubricate hair’s outer layer providing a natural protective layer to the cuticles and working as a natural defense against environmental insults and UV radiations. They provide ease of combing, shine, and sleekness to hair fibers.3

However, hair loses these natural lipids during oxidation treatments and UV exposure. They become water-soluble and are subsequently rinsed off during washing. As a result, hair loses its natural slip.

How to restore slip for compromised hair fibers

Hair care formulas work to repair and restore the hair fiber’s surface properties. It must recover lipid content and improve cuticle health.

To achieve this, the formulation aims to make deposits of active ingredients over the cuticle layer. This deposition should be a sort of bonding between the active ingredient and cuticle proteins.

Also, it should be a delicate and fine coating to avoid any heaviness or droop effect in the hair’s natural curl body.

Cationic Conditioning Agents

Cationic ingredients are an effective remedy to restore the hair surface quality.

They are positively charged molecules and can bind to negatively charged protein sites of hair via an electrostatic chemical bonding (positive attracts negative).

Furthermore, their molecular structure is delicate, with a positive charge at one end and a long hydrophobic carbon chain at the other.

These cationic conditioning agents bind hair fiber with its positively charged end, while its hydrophobic carbon chain provides lubricity, slip, and detangling to hair fibers. 4-5

Cationic surfactants

Cationic surfactants are among the most commonly used in conditioning shampoos, conditioners, and conditioning treatments.

They are multifunctional actives making hair soft, and superior for slip and detangling.

The positively charged head of the surfactant allows it to adhere strongly to the hair surface, while its long hydrophobic chain makes it slippery.

A conditioning product may contain multiple ingredients of this category, and they are often listed (among the first five) in the INCI listing on the product label because of their high concentrations content in the formulation.

Therefore, they are the backbone of the formulation structure and responsible for the slip benefit.

Examples are listed below.

Cationic polymers

Other ingredients often added in conditioning formulations are cationic polymers. They are high molecular weight polymers carrying positive charges.

These polymers demonstrate a high deposition rate on the hair shaft and significantly improve the hair surface quality.

However, they are known for their drawback. Repeated application and deposits cause build up on the hair shaft, leaving hair with a heavy feel and dull appearance.

That’s why these cationic polymers are not preferred for fine and curly hair.

Examples are listed below.

Natural oils and butter

Oils and butter can lubricate the outer layer of hair fibers. This mimics natural hair lipid from sebum secretions.

This surface lubrication improves hair slip, detangles the curls, and hence prevents the formation of curls knots. They also boost hair shine and protect hair fiber against UV-induced damage.

However, all oils are not the same!

Oils and butter vary in their chemical composition which affects their lubricity and conditioning performance.

Light textured oil offers a fine coating and does not cause any greasiness, while other oils may form a thicker coating and cause a heavy greasy feel.

For example, Coconut and Argan oils are known for lighter results, while castor oil offers a sticky and heavy feel.

Synthetic oils, especially silicones, are also added due to their high lubricity and shine benefits.

List Of Ingredients For Hair Slip

Cationic surfactants / Softeners

  • Cetrimonium Chloride
  • Steartrimonium Chloride
  • Stearalkonium Chloride
  • Behentrimonium Chloride
  • Dicetyldimonium Chloride
  • Distearyldimonium chloride
  • Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine
  • Behenamidopropyl dimethylamine

Cationic Polymers

·      Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride (guar bean-derived cationic polymer, frequently used in 2N1 shampoos)

·      Polyquaternium – 6 (contains a high degree of positive charges, preferred for extremely damaged hairs)

·      Polyquaternium – 7 (high molecular weight synthetic polymer known for its slip, however, not ideal for natural, fine, and curly hairs).

·      Polyquaternium – 10 (cellulose-derived cationic polymer known for high deposition, commonly found in conditioning shampoos)

·      Polyquaternium – 11

·      Polyquaternium – 28, 39, 47, 53 & 73

The list goes on; the formulator chooses the polymer according to the functionality, product nature types of hair, and desired results.

Final Words

The majority of individuals want their hair to appear healthy and lustrous, and hair slip is at the top of everyone’s list.

In terms of hair type, texture, and condition, it is mostly determined by the quality of the hair surface. Cuticle health is the key to superior slip because they are the first site of interaction.

Cationic ingredients are the remedy to restore hair surface properties. Among them, cationic surfactants are preferred due to their higher adhesion to the hair fiber and superior results.

Natural oils are also used to boost hair slip.


  1. Zviak, C., The Science of Hair Care. Taylor & Francis: 2005.
  2. Swift, J. A., Fine details on the surface of human hair. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 1991, 13 (3), 143-159.
  3. Cruz, C. F.; Fernandes, M. M.; Gomes, A. C.; Coderch, L.; Martí, M.; Méndez, S.; Gales, L.; Azoia, N. G.; Shimanovich, U.; Cavaco-Paulo, A., Keratins and lipids in ethnic hair. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 2013, 35 (3), 244-249.
  4. Schueller, R.; Romanowski, P., Conditioning Agents for Hair and Skin. Taylor & Francis: 1999.
  5. Jordan Susan, L.; Kreeger, R. L.; Zhang, X.; Drovetskaya Tatiana, V.; Davis Calvin, B.; Amos Jennifer, L.; Gabelnick Stephanie, E.; Zhou, S.; Li, W.; DiAntonio Edward, F.; Protonentis Anita, A., Effect of Hydrophobic Substitution on Cationic Conditioning Polymers. In Cosmetic Nanotechnology, American Chemical Society: 2007; Vol. 961, pp 59-71.


I’m just a girl who transformed her severely damaged hair into healthy hair. I adore the simplicity of a simple hair care routine, the richness of diverse textures, and the joy of sharing my journey from the comfort of my space.

My mission? To empower others with the tools to restore, and maintain healthy hair, and celebrate the hair they were born with!

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Great hair goes beyond using shampoos, conditioners, and styling products. Shop my favorite must-haves.

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