Getting to Know Your Hair Products: Understanding the Ingredient List

July 20, 2012  |  

You walk into the beauty supply store looking for the magic cure all to all your hair problems. You spot the glosser, moisturizer, soft-hold, magic grow product and go to grab it. Then you turn it over to read the ingredients and it looks like hieroglyphics.  Oh but wait, you see something that closely resembles English…mineral oil. Did you hear somewhere that mineral oil is a no-no. Or was that parabens? Or sulfate? But wait you have relaxed hair, does any of this even matter? With many women trying out a wealth of products to see what works for their texture, it’s important to know what the ingredients are and what they could mean for your hair.

Sulfates

Sulfates come in many forms. The most common type used in shampoos and other cleansing hair products is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). There is no reliable scientific information pointing to sulfates as a harmful chemical, other than those who have a specific allergy. However, sulfates are used in shampoo because they help to create foam and strip oil from the hair. For many black women, we need all the natural oils we can get in our hair, so completely stripping our strands and scalp every time we wash it is counterproductive to what we are actually trying to achieve, moisture. Also, completely stripping the hair changes the pH balance of your hair. If your goal is to grow your hair, then the pH balance is an integral part to retaining the length of your hair, as the pH impacts the texture and strength of your follicles. There are easy alternative methods to using sulfate shampoos and this is one of the easier ingredients to avoid.

On a side note, Behentrimonium Methosulfate (BMS) is often confused with a sulfate, but it is actually a conditioning agent that some folks swear by and can be purchased locally to add to your conditioners.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is in a TON of hair products. Namely because it is a cheap filler, derived from the distillation of petroleum. Since mineral oil is derived from the same substance as Vaseline many believe that mineral oil clogs the pores, however, studies have found that the mineral oil commonly found in cosmetic products is not comedogenic (clogs pores). Personally, I usually avoid it because its just cheap filler that does nothing more than expand a product.

Silicone

Women with relaxers or who frequently straighten their hair will like silicone based products because they coat the hair and add a nice slip to tresses, making the hair feel silky. Largely in the natural hair community women try to avoid anything with -cone. However, all silicones are not created equal and it can be hard to distinguish between the good and bad guys as silicones are found in most conditioners, especially deep conditioners. Silicones can be either water-soluble or water-insoluble. It is the insoluble silicones that you want to avoid, like Dimethicone, as they heavily coat the hair and are difficult to remove. Any silicone product that has “amo”, “amine” or “amino” in it, is also a water-insoluble and chemically altered making it difficult to remove from hair. Cyclomethicone is a water-soluble silicone that easily dissolves from hair is often used to leave the silky feeling to your hair.

Parabens

Parabens offer no benefit to the hair, they are simply cheap preservatives that give products a longer shelf life. On the downside, parabens have been rumored to be linked to breast cancer. The studies are still being debated, but since parabens aren’t much help to the health of your hair, it’s easy to skip out on this ingredient and go for the paraben-free hair products.

Always remember to choose what works for your hair and keep to realistic goals that work for your lifestyle so you won’t put too much faith or too many expectations on a conditioner or butter. Do your research and understand the methods that work for your hair as it’s an ever-evolving experience. If you have any other questions, tweet me @jouelzy.

Jouelzy offers tutorials on all aspects of Black hair care via her YouTube channel, focusing on women with tight budgets. You can also find her daily hair tips and inspirations on Facebook.

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