Whenever a person is starting their hair journey, the first place they go to get advice besides their stylist is Youtube. At some point in time we all have spent time watching countless videos on building regimens and reviews of hair products. However, a product that may work for one person might not work for the other.
In the same way that that same product may be filled with ingredients that aren’t beneficial to both persons at all. In building your regimen or when getting familiar with products during your journey, knowing what each product contains is essential because as a healthy hair grower it is important to avoid products that can prevent your hair from growing. Some of these ingredients include but are not limited too:
Word on the Street: It comes from petroleum. It blocks out moisture from the hair causing it to dry out. It is used as a cheap filler in products.
Science: It is from fossil fuel and therefore considered natural in origin. All oils (including coconut, castor or mineral oil) form a barrier on the hair delaying water’s entry or exit to the hair. No oil can fully prevent water’s entry or exit. Mineral oil is colorless and odorless and therefore is able to be combined easily in products. Given the widespread use of fossil fuels, it is also one of the easiest to source consistently.
Best use: Mineral oil is useful when hair needs to be kept dry. For example, for straight styling or styling in high humidity
Mineral oil and petrolatum are both derivatives of crude oil (petroleum). They coat the hair and skin preventing moisture and oxygen from getting in or out. Like the rest of your body, your hair has to have access to air and moisture. In essence these two chemicals is suffocating your hair. Using these two products is like covering yourself in Vaseline then trying to moisturize your skin. It is impossible because the Vaseline blocks all moisture. In addition, these two block the hair follicle inhibiting growth as well.
Cautions: Mineral oil forms one of the best barriers as far as oils go; therefore, if hair is damaged or prone to dryness it should be used sparingly.
Word on the street: Silicone builds up on hair and blocks out moisture. It is artificial.
Science: Silicone is a lab-created product. It is also an oil and, therefore, is also supposed to form a barrier. Silicone oil does not spread as easily as other oils, therefore, it does not form the best barrier. It is one of the best conditioning ingredients in shampoo, helping to reduce hair damage while washing. In conditioners it creates slip, which allows easy combing of hair—especially wet combing.
Best use: Silicones are useful in shampoos and conditioners as they mitigate hair damage. They are also useful in heat styling as they offer some thermal protection to hair.
Cautions: Some silicones are water soluble while others are not. Non-water soluble silicones can accumulate on hair if a no-poo (no shampoo) routine is used.
Word on the street: Sulfate containing shampoos are harsh, strip hair of natural oils, and dry out hair.
Science: The purpose of shampoo is to strip oil. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a common surfactant in hair products and is one of—if not the most—effective cleanser. It can be very irritating to skin on its own, but it is often mixed with less harsh cleansers such as SLES or ALES.
Best use: Clarifying hair, excellent for getting rid of build up.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
The sodium salt of lauryl sulfate. SLS and SLES are commonly used in shampoos because it is an inexpensive detergent and foaming agent. However, shampoos do not need to lather in order to clean your hair. Foaming agents are added to shampoos simply because people expect shampoos to lather. In addition to this SLS and SLES are extremely drying to the scalp, hair and skin not to mention being and skin and eye irritant. Research has indicated that SLS and SLES may cause skin to separate and inflame due to its protein denaturing properties. This is a huge negative when it comes to the scalp since a healthy scalp is the foundation of healthy hair care. In addition to scalp damage SLS and SLES can cause direct damage to hair follicles and are overall toxic to the body. These products are also used in car wash soaps, garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers. Lastly, these products can cause hair thinning due to their acidity.
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS)
The ammonium salt of lauryl sulfate derived from natural coconut alcohols: it is a mild anionic surfactant widely used at acidic (mild) pH values. ALS is a detergent and foaming agent used in shampoos and cleansers as well. See Sodium Lauryl Sulfate for the affects of ALS.
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
This ingredient is an ammonium salt of ethoxylated lauryl sulfate, a surfactant that contains PEG (polyethylene glycol) in its structure. Ammonium Laureth Sulfate is a detergent and foaming agent used in shampoos and cleansers. See Sodium Lauryl Sulfate for the affects of ammonium laureth sulfate.
Ammonium Xylene Sulfonate
This ingredient makes it easier for other molecules to dissolve in water. It is added as a thickener and as a marketing affect including fragrances. Ammonium Xylene Sulfonate, while usually at the end of the ingredient list (meaning it is in minimum quantities), is very drying to your hair. In the case of relaxed hair, it contributes to the drying out of your hair when it really needs moisture.
Cautions: Some shampoos with SLS are likely to irritate skin (meaning dryness, itchiness and redness). Equally, some shampoos without SLS can also provoke a similar reaction. If a shampoo irritates, it is best to switch to something different.
Word on the street: Parabens cause cancer and mimic human hormones (estrogen).
Science: Parabens are preservatives used in cosmetics to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. Parabens do have a similar structure to estrogen but are not known to cause cancer. They were found in breast cancer tissue but are also thought to be present in undiseased tissue as they can travel through the skin. In terms of mimicking hormones, parabens present a significantly low risk compared to hormonal contraception.
Best Use: An unpreserved hair product is a serious potential health risk. Parabens are not the only available preservative, but you should always pick a product with some type of preservative.
Word on the street: Glycerin dries hair out especially in winter. It can draw moisture from hair.
Science: Glycerin is a humectant, meaning that it binds to, and holds onto, water. Therefore, it is a moisturizing ingredient. It is also known to strengthen natural hair (unfortunately not so for relaxed hair). It is usually mixed with water prior to use and therefore in theory should not draw water from hair.
Best Use: One natural hair company (Oyin) suggests applying glycerin-containing products on hair prior to a bath and shower. The steam could provide glycerin with additional water.
Cautions: Not everyone likes glycerin as a humectant. Some have more success with aloe vera or honey.
Is used in personal care shampoos and conditioners as a wetting and emulsifier (Emulsifying agents are used to aid in the mixing of oil and water). DEA when mixed with other chemicals, like within hair products, is known to form carcinogens. These chemical compounds are called nitrosodiethanolamine (ndea). Studies have shown that when NDEA is absorbed through the skin it can be damaging and carcinogenic to the stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder.
Ethanol & Isopropyl Alcohol
Isopropyl alcohol is a solvent and denaturant. A denaturant is a substance that changes another substance’s natural qualities. Alcohol leaves the hair dry and brittle. Anything that leaves relaxed hair dry is an unacceptable ingredient, as relaxed hair requires moisture to stay strong and maintain elasticity!
Seeing “fragrance” as an ingredient means that you have any combination of up to 4000 chemicals making up said fragrance. Fragrances are known to cause headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation. Also some fragrance compounds are known carcinogens. Make sure that “fragrance” is towards the end of the ingredients list. That means that the product contains very little of the fragrance. If “fragrance” is in the top five or ten ingredients in the product, be very wary of the product.
Polyethylene Glycol & Propylene Glycol
These are petroleum products used in commercial cleaners such as oven cleaners and vehicle antifreeze. They are used as thickening agents and because the can quickly penetrate the skin and hair shaft. In part, this is the problem with these chemicals since they are both toxic substances, and propylene glycol breaks down proteins and cellular structures (which is what hair, skin and nails are made of!). In addition, over time, polyethylene glycol can cause premature aging of the skin.
So, whenever you go to your local beauty supply store or a CVS, Duane Reade or Walgreens, stop and take the time to identify the products that can do more harm than good as well as checking the placement of each ingredient. The closer to the top an ingredient is, the more of that ingredient the product contains.
Happy Hair Growing,