Yikes, this is pretty bad stuff. It's typically in the cheaper conditioners. I noticed in a vague kind of way that when I used VO5 Tea Therapy conditioner to co-wash (that means "conditioner wash", by the way) that my hair had a little of that pouffiness I remember from childhood or something. Didn't think too much about it -- knew that drugstore conditioners are sometimes cheap because they use more chemicals but I figured for co-washing, I didn't care that much.
Then somebody on NaturallyCurly.com mentioned that she noticed conditioners with stearylkonium chloride gave her pouffiness. Sure enough, I checked my VO5 bottle, and there is was -- and high up on the list, too. I checked all my other conditioners but they didn't have it.
Today, somebody posted something about it again and provided a link to this interesting list. Here's what it says about stearylkonium chloride:
A chemical used in hair conditioners and creams. Causes allergic reactions. Stearalkonium chloride was developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, and is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbals, which do help hair health. Toxic.
Fabric softener! Wow. I also realize, however, that this is one of those lists that contains items that, when used infrequently and in very small doses, cause little to no harm. Sort of an alarmist list designed to make you afraid of everything so you'll buy the natural products being promoted on that site. (Funny coming from me, Miss Organic/Natural/Unprocessed, but really, a person has to live in this modern world and I would rather use a product with a touch of preservative in it than risk an overgrowth of bacteria that would otherwise result.)
So, anyway, I think I'll continue to avoid this ingredient.