Alcohols in Hair Products Good Or Bad?

Conditioner Ingredient LIstHave you ever wondered what the alcohol found in most of our conditioners and leave in conditioners is used for. We are often told to avoid products that contain alcohol because it can be drying to our tresses and can lead to brittle hair that is prone to breakage.

Why then is alcohol found in our favorite ‘moisturizing’ conditioners and leave in conditioners? The answer is found in the structure of alcohol used in the product.

I was not a chemistry major so I will try to make this simple,….alcohol is a chain comprised of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen bonds the short chain alcohols include ethanol, SD alcohol, and Propanol just to name a few. These can be found in products such as hair spray and some gels.

On hair these alcohols

  • Allow the hair to dry very quickly because there structure allows it to evaporate fast
  • Creates dry frizzy hair
  • Roughens the cuticle of the hair
  • Removes oil and water from the hair

If moisture retention is your ultimate goal products containing these alcohols should be avoided.

(NB: When you have a cut, alcohol is often used to clean the area because despite the burn it really great at removing any dirt or irritants from the wound, it behaves the same way on hair removing any water or oil you may have in your hair)

Long chain alcohols also called fatty alcohols are often found in our favorite conditioners and leave ins. Examples of these alcohols are Cetyl alcohol, Stearyl alcohol and Lauryl alcohol.

These alcohols are created by heating coconut oil or palm oil with sodium hydroxide (lye); after the alcohol is made it is rather harmless but adds some benefit to our products.

The alcohol acts like an emulsifier and gives the product its creamy texture, the problem the alcohol solves is the fact that oil does not mix with water when added to a product. The alcohol binds everything together so that the product can spread effectively over your hair once applied.

On hair these alcohols:

  • Hydrate the hair
  • Do not penetrate the hair shaft
  • Allows for even product spread
  • Makes the hair ‘feel soft’

The moral of the story is, not all alcohols are created equal therefore the next time you look at the ingredients of a product and see alcohol try to determine the type of alcohol before completely dismissing it as bad for your hair.