Can You Use Conditioner Instead of Lotion?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So when you run out of body lotion, you might think you can get away with using conditioner. I mean, if something can condition your hair, it should be able to condition your body, right?

I wish things were that simple. But they’re not.

Read on to learn more.

What is Lotion Made Of?

Before we talk about conditioners, let’s briefly talk about lotions. 

Basically, there are three things that make lotions moisturizing:

  • Emollients, like oils and lipids, smooth and soften skin by filling-in the space between your skin cells. 
  • Humectants hold water onto the surface of your skin. Really good humectants (like hyaluronic acid) can even elicit a plumping effect, temporarily reducing the the look of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Occlusives form a protective layer on top of your skin to prevent moisture loss. Arguably, petroleum jelly products make for the best occlusives. (Check out my comparison between Aquaphor and Vaseline here for more info about the two most popular occlusives.)

Even though there’s a decent chance that you’ll find these types of ingredients in your conditioner, lotions don’t make for good hair products.

What is Conditioner Made Of?

Quaternium ammonium compounds (commonly referred to as “quats”) are the backbone of any good conditioner.

Scientifically speaking, they’re positively-charged ammonium salts that have strong anti-microbial properties.

In regards to conditioners, they’re antistatic agents that help combat frizz and improve shine.

If you want to know if your conditioners contain it, look out for the following quats:

  • Behentrimonium Methosulfate 
  • Behentrimonium Chloride
  • Cetrimonium Chloride
  • Cetrimonium Bromide
  • Dicetyldimonium Chloride
  • Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride
  • Polyquaternium-37

Can You Use Conditioner Instead of Lotion?

Compared to lotions, conditioners contain higher concentrations of quats. In low concentrations, quats are perfectly fine to use—a lot of skincare companies do in fact use them in their lotions and moisturizers. But in high concentrations, they’re not.

The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) actually recommends different quat concentrations for different products (source).

This might be hard to visualize in the abstract.

So let’s look at an example.

For Behentrimonium chloride (a quat found in Garnier Fructis and Tresemme conditioners), the SCCS recommends these concentrations for rinse-off and leave-on products:

  • Rinse-off hair care products: up to 5.0%
  • Leave on hair care and facial cream products: up to 3.0%

Although there’s conflicting data, one study found that applying 3.52% cetrimonium chloride to skin caused slight to moderate irritation (source).

So I think the SCSS wants to err on the side of caution when they’re advocating for skincare safety.

Want to know if your conditioner (and/or lotion) contains quats?

I haven’t looked into it, but I’m sure that different concentrations are recommended for a lot of haircare VS skincare ingredients. 

Side note: According to an article on Business Insider, you should never use conditioner during a nuclear apocalypse because quats can attract and hold onto radioactive particles (source). Which can absolutely decimate your hair, not to mention your body if you decide to use it as lotion. 

Quats and concentrations aside, there’s another reason why you shouldn’t use conditioner as lotion. 

Some haircare ingredients are downright comedogenic (meaning they can clog your pores).

Coconut oil for one has a comedogenicity rating of 4, which is pretty high considering that 5 is the top number of the scale. 

Although it’s not as bad as coconut oil, jojoba oil has a comedogenicity rating of 2. In other words, it’s moderately irritating.

Since these two products are trending right now, you might want to keep a lookout for them if you’re experiencing shoulder breakouts. And naturally, you shouldn’t purposefully use them on your skin.

FYI: In ingredients’ lists, coconut oil is often referred to as “Cocos Nucifera Oil” and jojoba oil as “Simmondsia Chinensis Seed Oil.”

Can You Use Lotion in Your Hair?

Now that you know why you shouldn’t use conditioner as lotion, you might want to know if you can use lotion as a conditioner. 

Since your hair doesn’t have pores, you don’t have to worry about getting anything clogged. 

But since lotions are often heavier than conditioners, they can weigh down your hair. 

On a personal note, my hair naturally looks like Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so I’ve definitely used this hack when I was in a pinch. Although it wasn’t the best thing I’ve done to my hair, putting lotion in my hair reduced my frizz and added a nice shine. The bad part was that, by the end of the day, I looked like a greaseball. 

It’s definitely not a sustainable solution—it’s more of a one-off fix.    

Summary

Here are the two reasons why you shouldn’t use conditioner as lotion:

  1. Conditioners contain higher concentrations of certain ingredients that are not deemed as safe for use on skin
  2. Conditioners often contain comedogenic ingredients like coconut oil and jojoba oil

If you want a body lotion recommendation, I suggest using either Cerave Moisturizing Cream or Vanicream Moisturizing Cream. They’re my all-time favorites. Learn more about their similarities and differences by reading this article.

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