There are a host of websites proposing and condemning certain ingredients in hair products. Scientists spend a lot of time and money investigating the formulation of products. For example the imaging instrument to 'see' if a product is on the surface of hair or within the hair costs upwards of several million dollars initially and then tens of thousands to maintain on a yearly basis.
I do not wish to trivialize the work of these scientists by suggesting only one ingredient is good. Formulation means people are paid to mix the ingredients, decide what size is suitable, which emulsion works best, which ingredients work well together etc. Good products will also change formulations as they recognize that products can always get better!
Today I'll highlight some ingredients (this is just a guide) which can be very beneficial for natural hair. I have chosen to go with conditioner as this is of course the number one product for naturals.
1. Ingredients to clean hair
Many of us use conditioner to wash hair. Conditioners contain positively charged particles which can help do this. These are known as cationic (positively charged) surfactants (detergent). This is a very gentle way of cleaning hair which cannot remove build up. If you do not regularly apply oil or hair dressing creams to your hair, this is ok. If you do, then you will need to shampoo every so often to remove build up.
Examples - Stearalkonium chloride, cetrimonium chloride, dicetyldimonium chloride, behentrimonium methosulfate, behentrimonium chloride, stearamidopropyl dimethylamine
Sophisticated stuff - Good combinations of 2 or more of these ingredients.
What works for one person's hair may not work for yours. If your hair is uncoloured it may not react in the same way coloured hair would. For example henna deposits onto the cuticle, bleach will raise the cuticle surface while untreated hair will be relatively unchanged. Conditioner tends to deposit better on damaged hair so someone may be raving about one product and you may find that it actually isn't that great.
2. Ingredients to add moisture to hair
The number one need concern for naturals is moisture. Many of us interpret this as a product which will penetrate into the hair shaft. Conditioners by and large work on the outside of the hair shaft and do not really penetrate into hair (there are exceptions). Conditioners can use humectants to draw water to the hair from the outside though. Here are some ingredients for moisture.
Water, the number one product in hair conditioner.
Humectants to maintain moisture to the hair such as honey and glycerin.
Penetrating oils such as coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil.
Some small size compounds can penetrate into the shaft such as cetrimonium bromide (and possibly its cousin cetrimonium chloride) as well as panthothenic acid.
Sophisticated stuff - Humectants are most useful as a leave-in product (not washed out) and penetrating oils can be used as a pre-treatment.
3. Ingredients to soften hair
Conditioner is packed full of softening agents that act mainly by depositing on the outer surface of hair. These smooth the cuticle and give hair the softness that we so desire
Fatty alcohols derived from coconut oil such as stearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol and their sister cetearyl alcohol.
Many of the cationic surfactants can also deposit and soften hair - for example behentrimonium chloride.
Polyquaterniums (PQ) are also used for this purpose and scientists have their preferred combinations. Some of the most talked about are PQ 7,10,11 and 18.
Sophisticated Stuff - Combining fatty alcohols with cationic surfactants to create conditioners which clean and condition well. The right combination of PQs can create a powerful conditioner for soft feeling hair.
4. Ingredients for sealing in moisture.
Natural hair demands moisture and many of us would like to keep this moisture in for as long as possible. I don't really think this need is looked at or fulfilled by one product.
Humectants such as glycerin keep the hair from drying out by maintaining water content at the surface.
Jojoba oil and shea butter contain fats that are larger in size and therefore more likely to stay on the cuticle rather than penetrate the hair creating a sealing effect.
Sophisticated stuff - The 'seal' should be the last step of your moisture routine.
5. Ingredients for hair management
I made up this category for lack of a better word! I am talking about anti-static, anti-frizz, hair appearance and strength. There are a host of ingredients that claim to do this type of thing. I am a little bit skeptical but I will report what I found
Anti-frizz - PQ70 may be useful (Journal of Cosmetic Science, pp 393-404, 2007)
Mending split ends temporarily - PQ 28 may be useful (Journal of Cosmetic Science, pp 451-76, 2007)
Ceramide from L'Oreal claims to deposit on hair and act as a 'cement' improving the appearance of hair. It is clearly marked 'do not rinse off' which makes me believe the claim that it stays on the hair. If it is really beneficial, I don't know - Would it be more useful than just plain conditioner which also has lipids? I don't know
I did intentionally omit silicones, they are one of the most useful products in the hair industry and I'll do a separate post on them later. I also haven't talked about SLS/SDS as this is a shampoo ingredient. If you have it in your conditioner, your choice!
If you have tried a conditioner once and it didn't work as expected and you are wondering why - Read this
Before you 'deep condition' - Read this
Protein Conditioning is a different topic altogether that merits its own post. Later this week, I will discuss amino acids, proteins and hydrolysed proteins to help you make sense of it all.
Research for this post from
Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology by Paye, Barel and Maibach
Hair and Scalp Diseases: Medical, Surgical, and Cosmetic Treatments by McMichael and Hordinsky
Hair and hair care by Dale H. Johnson
J Cosmet Sci. 2007 Jul-Aug;58(4):393-404
J Cosmet Sci. 2003 Nov-Dec;54(6):579-88.
Int J Cosmet Sci. 2004 Apr;26(2):47-59.
J Cosmet Sci. 2007 Jul-Aug;58(4):451-76.
J Cosmet Sci. 2004 May-Jun;55(3):265-79.