Sunday, August 5, 2018

Conditioning Technique: Squish to Condish, How it Works

Science-y Hair Blog © 2011 by  Wendy M.S. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

First of all - this is not my technique. It was named by Melissa Stites, hairstylist and owner of There Once Was A Curl salon in Southgate, Michigan. Squish to Condish is a conditioner-rinsing method. This technique is meant to leave some conditioner in the hair and achieve excellent hydration and lubrication. I often recommend this technique, so I've had to think quite a lot about why it works so well. You can find videos on YouTube demonstrating the technique. ©Science-y Hair Blog

I use un-glamorous words like hydration and lubrication for hair. Because they seem most literal and accurate to me.©Science-y Hair Blog

When hair is hydrated - meaning it contains a certain percentage of water - it is flexible. Dehydrated hair becomes inflexible, which is part of what we mean when we say hair feels dry or, "like straw." Flexible hair is more pliable. It can be shaped when wet. It has some weight or heft when dry. It will group more readily with neighboring hairs into waves or curls during styling. If your hair is straight - hydrated hair is less likely to spread out at the ends (like the end of a broom) if it is well-hydrated.

When hair is lubricated, hairs can settle in snugly next to neighboring hairs. Lubrication reduces friction - and friction creates frizz.©Science-y Hair Blog

Squish to Condish: This method enhances 4 important elements to conditioner-use.
  1. Adding water to conditioner once in the hair to take advantage of conditioner's action as a "wetting agent." Wetting agents like surfactants (and conditioners contain cationic surfactants) help a conditioner overcome hair's resistance to water absorption. This is a little counter-intuitive because conditioners also help hair repel water once adsorbed to the hair. But don't over-think it - instead try it yourself. You'll find that if your hair tends to repel water and be slow to wet, applying conditioner to it first helps it become wet more quickly. Shampoos are even more effective wetting agents than conditioners.
  2. The physical manipulation used - scrunching, gliding, pressing hairs together, gentle squeezing, finger-combing, helps saturate hair evenly. Like kneading bread just enough - there will be no little bits of dry flour here and bits of wetter dough there after you've done this. The hair is more evenly saturated with water, and evenly coated with more-fluid conditioner.
  3. Better contact with all hair surfaces means conditioner can bond to more bonding-sites on the hair, and with it, water for more thorough saturation.©Science-y Hair Blog
  4. More of the hair-penetrating ingredients can find their way into the hair because of better coverage, and more thorough saturation. That includes ingredients like Glycerin, Panthenol, Amino acids, Cetrimonium chloride (or bromide).
This is not a technique for smoothing down cuticles. As far as cuticles are involved - between cuticle edges is where water can seep past, and with it, some of the humectants and conditioning ingredients and oils in conditioners. Conditioners also bond to cuticles and their edges. But conditioner and Squish to Condish doesn't change the cuticle-condition, nor the cuticle position. This technique alters elements of flexibility, hydration and lubrication to change the behavior of the hair strands.

I admit it took me a long time to get to writing this post because I was having trouble with the visual aids. I wanted to use real hair, but imaging hair with conditioner on it is difficult. I decided on silver hair for its translucence, and I added blue dye to the conditioner for visibility. The dark lines in the center are medullas. The conditioner appears as some blobs or irregularities on the sides of the hair. In the end, I had to "enhance" the final images a little to show you what seems so helpful about this method to me. 

Above: Hair with conditioner smoothed over the surface. The conditioner is blue. This seemed like good coverage to the naked eye and to the fingers. The blue dye worked fairly well If you *click to enlarge* the photo, you can see some blurry areas of non-blue conditioner which did not retain the dye. Conditioner coverage is not very continuous when just smoothed over the hair!

Close-up of hair with conditioner smoothed over the surface. Coverage is patchy.

Now the Squish to Condish hair. ©Science-y Hair Blog

Hair using Squish To Condish - water added to conditioner on the hair, squeezed together, but has not has the excess water removed - a little more water/conditioner removal would be the next step. Blue coloring is spread more evenly over more of the hair, meaning more conditioner has contact with the hair, and the hair is better-hydrated from having "kneaded" the water and conditioner into the hair.

Squish to Condish hair close-up - blue-colored conditioner covers most of the hair surface.

Keep in mind - this is a dramatization to help you visualize and understand how this technique works. I did work with real hair and real conditioner - it's a conditioner with a little protein and oil, so this is very close to what happens in your hair.©Science-y Hair Blog

By "kneading" the water and conditioner into your hair, you create a more-hydrated, better-lubricated, more malleable result. Just like kneading bread or mixing muffin or brownie batter to assure every bit of dough/batter is properly prepared.
Even if you need to rinse out your conditioner after conditioning due to sensitive skin, or hair that tends to become limp or develop an oily or coated appearance, this technique still provides much better conditioning that combing conditioner through your hair and hoping for the best.


  1. This is amazing!! Thank you so much!!

  2. this is the best technique i have ever come across. it is so good.

  3. Thank you for this post. Your entire blog is fantastic. I'm curious to know if this particular technique is necessary, or will it make much of a difference on porous hair?

  4. Thanks for this. I never really understood why this technique works until now.