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The ingredients in hair products for curls: an explanation

If you’ve recently started the Curly Girl Method, you’ve probably read a lot of new terms. For example, it’s recommended to use hair products that don’t contain sulfates, parabens and silicones. Besides that, it’s important to know the difference between mineral and natural oils, and good and bad types of alcohol. And we haven’t even mentioned the illegible names on the ingredient lists of hair products. Curious what all these ingredients in hair products actually mean? We’ll explain them in this article!

Also read: Everything you need to know about curls

In this article:

In this article:

What are parabens?

Parabens is a collective name for a number of chemical substances. They are used in cosmetics due to their ability to limit the amount of bacteria growth, mold, and yeast in products. 

Parabens therefore ensure that cosmetics have a longer shelf life and don’t spoil in the store or immediately after opening. Pretty nice, you’d say. 

But parabens are similar to sulfates, only slightly less aggressive. They also dry out your hair and can cause frizz, irritation and itchiness. 

That’s why it’s not recommended to use products with parabens within the Curly Girl Method.

On the labels of hair products you can recognise parabens easily, because they end in ‘-parabens’. These are the most common ones:

  • Ethyl parabens
  • Propylparabens
  • Methylparabens
  • Butyl parabens

Usually a product contains several parabens. The amount depends on the product. 

For example, a bottle with a spray cap contains less parabens than a jar of gel. This is because a bottle is much more hygienic than a jar, where you take the product out with your hands.

Also read: The truth about parabens

Curly girl in the street

What are silicones?

Silicones are ingredients that are added to hair products to make the hair shine. Think of shampoo, care products and styling sprays. 

It provides shiny and frizz-free hair, which makes it look like silicone products are good for your hair and nourish it. But actually the opposite happens. 

Silicones seal your hair, which means they cover your hair with a thin layer. Good hair products – that do care for your hair – cannot get through here. 

Most silicones are very difficult to wash out of your hair, creating a build up in your hair. Eventually your hair can no longer breathe and nutrients can no longer penetrate. 

That results in heavy and lifeless hair, which dries out slowly and becomes brittle.

You can recognize silicones on the ingredients list by the words ending in ‘-cone’, ‘conol’, ‘-xane’ and ‘-col’:

  • Cetearyl Methicone
  • Cyclopentasiloxane

Also read: The truth about silicones

Water-soluble silicones

But there are also water-soluble silicones, and they work slightly differently. These silicones have many of the desired properties of regular silicones, such as shiny hair and no frizz, but you can easily wash them out of your hair with water. 

So they don’t create a build up.

You can easily identify water-soluble silicones by looking for the letters PEG or PPG. Some common examples are:

  • PEG-8 Dimethicone, and other silicones that start with PEG
  • Dimethicone Copolyol
  • Lauryl Methicone Copolyol
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein (Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane)

What are sulfates?

Sulfates are cleansing ingredients. They can be found in hand soap, dishwashing products, laundry detergents, but also often in shampoo. Sulfates ensure that your shampoo starts to foam when it comes into contact with water. That foaming effect not only gives a great feeling in the shower, it’s useful as well. It helps in removing dirt, oil and dead skin from your scalp and hair. But that cleansing effect is actually too intense for your scalp and hair. They don’t only clean your hair, but also strip it of the natural oils on your scalp. And these oils provide hydration to the hair! As a result, you can suffer from an irritated scalp, hair that quickly becomes greasy, dry and frizzy hair.

You can usually recognize sulfates on hair product labels by words ending in “-ate”:

  • SLS = Sodium Lauryl Sulfate / SDS = Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate
  • SLES = Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate / Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  • ALS = Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate/li>
  • ALES = Ammonium Laureth Sulfate

Also read: The truth about sulfates

cada cuánto tiempo hay que lavarse el pelo

Mineral oil versus natural oil

There are many different types of oils, each with their own effect. The differences between mineral and natural oil are as follows:

  • Mineral oil doesn’t penetrate the hair shaft. The oil coats the hair, without providing extra nutrients. This makes it harder for moisture to enter the hair and, similar to silicones, it’s difficult to wash out. Mineral oil is also known as sealing oil.
  • Natural oil does penetrate the hair strands, and it also nourishes the hair and scalp with vitamins such as vitamin E. Natural oils are extracted from fruits, nuts, kernels and seeds. Think of argan oil, avocado oil and coconut oil. Natural oil is also known as moisturizing oil.

Also read: Oil for your curls: do they moisturize or seal your hair?

Good and bad alcohols

Alcohol can dry out your hair, especially with curly hair because that’s often drier than average. Fortunately, not all types of alcohol are bad for your hair. 

Some are even good for it, and moisturize it! There are good (fatty) and bad (drying or short chain) types of alcohol.

The alcohols that don’t irritate the skin and hair are called ‘fatty alcohols’, because they come from fat (from coconut and palm), and retain moisture. They act as an emulsifier, allowing water and oil to be mixed. 

For example, these types of alcohol also ensure that conditioner makes the hair soft and easy to comb. They coat the hair, which prevents the loss of moisture. 

You can recognize the good alcohols on the ingredient list as follows:

  • Behenyl alcohol
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Cetearyl alcohol
  • Myristyl alcohol
  • Lauryl alcohol
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Stearyl alcohol
  • Isocetyl alcohol
  • Isostearyl alcohol
  • C30-50 Alcohol
  • Lanolin alcohol

Also read: Alcohol for your curls: the good, the fat and the drying

The ingredients list of hair products often contains difficult-to-pronounce terms. But don’t be fooled by this, because those are scientific names for very common products. 

Have a look at the following:

  • Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera)
  • Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter)
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil
  • Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil
  • Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter
  • Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil
  • Panthenol (Pro Vitamin B5)
  • Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil
  • Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil
  • Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E)

Scientific names listed as ingredients


Proteins listed as an ingredients in hair products

If your hair needs protein, it’s helpful to know which products contain protein. The ingredients below are forms of protein that can be an ingredient in a hair product:

  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Hydrolyzed keratin
  • Hydrolyzed silk protein
  • Hydrolyzed oat flour
  • Keratin
  • Variations of hydrolyzed collagen
  • Variations of hydrolyzed soy protein

You can also recognize it by terms such as ‘repairing’, ‘strengthening’ and ‘firming’ on the packaging of hair products.

Also read: What does protein mean for a curly girl?

Do you have any questions about other ingredients in hair products? Let us know in the comments!

1 Comment

  1. This post gave me the information I needed to find affordable products for my curly hair journey. Thank You!!

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