If you’re like a lot of guys, you’re probably trying to keep the number of products on your bathroom shelves to a minimum. After all, why buy shampoo and conditioner when so many products say they can do the same job with only one bottle?

We’re all about affordability, so we get why you’d want to minimize your spending on hair care products. But using shampoo without conditioner is like asking for dull, lifeless hair. And for guys with male pattern baldness or thinning hair, the right conditioner offers even more bang for your buck.

How? Allow us to explain.

What does thickening conditioner actually do?

First, let’s back up and talk about why you’d want to use any conditioner at all. The purpose of shampoo, as you might’ve guessed, is to clean your hair, and most shampoos do a great job of that—so good, in fact, that they strip your hair of the natural oils it needs to look its best. A quality conditioner replaces those nutrients to counteract the drying effects of shampoo and all the other stress you put your hair through by just living your life (think: brushing, blow drying, and excessive exposure to sun, wind, and other elements).

Ready to dig into the science behind this? Well, every hair follicle on your scalp is surrounded by cuticles, which look like tiny fish scales. The cuticles work like shields that protect your hair from damage, but they get worn down as you expose your hair to stressors like styling and weather. When your hair starts to frizz out or look limp, that’s your cuticle layer crying out for help.

After shampoo removes any dirt and oil clogging your follicles, conditioner works to shore up the cuticle layer and add additional protection, keeping your hair smooth, healthy-looking, and manageable. That’s why using shampoo without following up with a conditioner can lead to dryness, flaking, and even dandruff.

A thickening conditioner (also called “volumizing conditioner”) does more than just moisturize your hair. It includes specific ingredients that maximize the fullness of your existing hair and encourage healthy new growth, meaning you get even more out of that extra few minutes in the shower.

Do thickening conditioners actually work?

The answer depends on which conditioner you’re using. While every conditioner will moisturize your hair and keep it looking healthy, only certain ingredients will make your hair look fuller.

There’s research that indicates ingredients like biotin, caffeine, green tea, and saw palmetto can help make hair look healthier.

Are there any other ingredients I should look out for?

Yup! Here are a few ingredients to keep in mind the next time you’re skimming the back of a conditioner bottle.

Carrier oils

A carrier oil is any oil that effectively mimics sebum oil, which is what your body produces to moisturize your hair and skin. (If you want to get specific, sebum oil is excreted by the sebaceous glands, which surround the roots of your hair follicles.) Because these oils work like your body’s natural moisturizer, they’re the best way to keep your hair looking great. That makes carrier oils a popular addition to many grooming products for men and women, especially natural shampoo and conditioner.

Any carrier oil will help your conditioner get the job done, but if you’re looking for a scent that won’t turn heads, you might want to stick with jojoba or argan oil. They have a mild, nutty scent that usually isn’t noticeable once all the other ingredients have been added.

Cetearyl Alcohol

If you know anything about alcohol, you know that it can really dry out your skin (and make a tiny cut feel like a forest fire). But cetearyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol, so it works as a natural emollient. That means it softens hair and skin instead of stripping them.

Vitamin B5

Like carrier oils, vitamin B5 is a nearly ubiquitous ingredient in conditioners. That’s because it can penetrate hair shafts and repair damage. If you have thinning hair, you’ll really want to keep an eye out for this volume-booster. It’s sometimes included in its alcohol form, which is called panthenol.

How do I know if I need a thickening conditioner?

Choosing a conditioner is tougher than you might think. On top of ingredients, you also need to consider your hair type, your styling goals, and any issues you’re trying to address. And given that there are so many different types of conditioners, how do you know a thickening conditioner is what you need?

It helps to narrow your focus to a few key factors.

Is your hair thinning?

This one’s pretty obvious, but it’s also pretty important. If you’re losing hair or seeing signs of male pattern baldness (such as a changing hairline), then you’re exactly who thickening conditioners are made for. Combined with effective treatments, a thickening conditioner can help make your hair look as full as possible.

Is your hair healthy?

Since hair thickening conditioners are made for men with male pattern baldness, they’re great at restoring your follicles and protecting them from future damage. If you want stronger, healthier hair, a thickening conditioner can help you get there, even if your hair isn’t technically thinning. Great news for guys who are a little too friendly with their blow dryers.

Are your products high-quality?

We’re not saying you should break the bank to buy shampoo, but consistently using cheap, low-quality hair products can actually damage your hair over time, depending on the ingredients. If you absolutely insist on using the cheapest shampoo in the store, you can counteract some of that damage by using a higher-quality conditioner like a thickening one.

How often should I use thickening conditioner?

This one’s easy—just use it at least as often as you use shampoo. That way your hair will never have to go without the moisture it needs to look its best.


The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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