We know that our bodies build up a "tolerance" to certain things over time — caffeine, antibiotics, and alcohol, for example — rendering them less effective unless the dosage is increased. So, does the same thing happen with our beauty products? If we're using something every single day, does our body eventually need more or something different to get the same results as at the start?
As a haircare professional, I'm constantly asked why shampoo and conditioner seems to stop functioning after a few weeks or months. The questions I always get is, "Can my shampoo and conditioner ever really stop doing its job?"
Maybe you’ve been using the same shampoo and conditioner for a while now. It started off incredible, like a new romance. Your hair was full, bouncy, voluminous, soft, and conditioned. You were having amazing hair days every single day. People stopped you on the street to ask what you were using to make your hair so shiny, and you wanted to shout the name of your products from the rooftops. You were in love (with your hair care)!
But then one day you woke up and your hair was suddenly flat, dull, dry, and prone to breakage. What was going on?! Was your shampoo boyfriend ghosting?
You decided to play the field, changing up your shampoo and conditioner because the original must have stopped working. You try a few different brands and nothing really changes, so you settle for something that kind of makes your hair feel good. After all, the stuff you loved so much at first has obviously become ineffective, so this new product must be better than nothing, right?
The idea that you need to change your shampoo and conditioner every so often because they stop working is funny to me. What “works” doesn’t stop benefiting your hair if it truly worked in the first place.
Synthetic chemical products can very much appear to change hair for the better, but only short term. When using synthetic chemical shampoos and conditioners, the results can be wonderful at first because they're great at "tricking" the hair for a period of time. Temporarily smoothing and coating with silicones makes the hair appear shiny and healthy, but the miraculous effects are misleading and don't contribute to long-term hair and scalp health.
Over time, silicone (watch out for common silicone derivatives like dimethicone and other ingredients ending in -cone) builds up on hair and actually causes breakage. The very thing that gives it allure — making hair appear shiny and smooth — is actually what damages the hair in the end.
Silicones smother hair, making it impossible for your strands to absorb proper moisture. Just like your body, when adequate moisture isn't available, your hair becomes dehydrated and, coupled with the buildup of chemicals ... SNAP! The hair that once looked so lush and shiny starts to break.
The scalp has also been stripped of its natural oils from harsh foaming agents like sulfates and is no longer responding to the synthetic softeners for replenishment.
What is a silicone, you ask? And where does it come from? It’s a man-made oil created in a laboratory. Most are water insoluble, so they build up on the hair, forming a plastic-like barrier because you can't wash 'em out. Is it starting to make sense now?
And it's not just silicones. Artificial fragrance, synthetic penetration enhancers, synthetic chemical softeners and emulsifiers leave chemical residue on your hair and scalp that can lead to countless issues. Your hair can't breathe or absorb moisture or get its shine on because it's literally suffocating underneath chemical agents.
Now, listen, I'm not going to preach about how "bad" silicones and other synthetic chemicals are for your hair. If you've found a shampoo and conditioner that's really working for you, do your thing. Following your instincts when it comes to self-care is healthy.
But it's also healthy to consider not only how everything works or doesn't, but also how it can affect your body, animals, marine life, and the planet. In addition to being water insoluble, silicones aren't biodegradable, which means they wash down your drain and into the water supply, oceans, lakes, and rivers.
Well-formulated, natural shampoos and conditioners work differently from synthetic chemical formulations (and are better for the planet). Natural ingredients are gentle and intelligent. Pure, clean, skillfully formulated products don’t rely on synthetic chemical softening and absorption. They work in natural alignment with the body; it’s a "bio-match."
Plant oils and essences have distinct molecular similarities to the oils of the body, allowing them to work together naturally, and whole plants have an incredible ability to adapt to the body’s needs at any specific time. So if you asked me, I'd say go natural over synthetic any day when it comes to hair care .
And to answer the initial question: Yes, your shampoo and condition can stop "working," but it's only because they weren't really working in the first place.