For centuries, natural oils have been used to condition human hair. These natural products are still used today, including essential oils such as tea tree oil and carrier oils such as jojoba oil. A conditioner popular with men in the late Victorian era was Macassar oil, but this product was quite greasy and required pinning a small cloth, known as an antimacassar, to chairs and sofas to keep the upholstery from being damaged by the Macassar oil.
Modern hair conditioner was created at the turn of the 20th century when well-known perfumer Ed. Pinaud presented a product he called brilliantine at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. His product was intended to soften men's hair, including beards and mustaches. Since the invention of Pinaud's early products, modern science has advanced the hair conditioner industry to include those made with silicone, fatty alcohols, and quaternary ammonium compounds. These chemical products allow the benefits of hair conditioner without feeling greasy or heavy.
Hair conditioner is different from creme rinse (sometimes spelled "cream rinse"). A creme rinse is simply a detangler and, as its name implies, has a thinner consistency than conditioner. Hair conditioner is a thicker substance which coats the cuticle of the hair itself.