Decoding Hair Care Ingredients

by Chinea Rodriguez

hair care ingredients


Much like skincare haircare will be packed with ingredients you may or may not know, from simple ingredients like coconut or olive oil to more complicated like sulfates. 


Decode Hair Care Ingredients

To decode these ingredients we reached out to Ona Diaz-Santin, celebrity hairstylist & curl expert. and Gwen Jimmere, CEO and founder of natural hair care brand Naturalicious, who broke down their favorites, their least favorites and the products they recommend. 


Know What You’re Avoiding in Hair Products and Why 

There are a lot of ingredients we’re told to avoid in hair care products, whether directly or indirectly, so many products are touted as sulfate-free or silicone-free so what is it about these ingredients that cause consumers and brands to avoid them? Our experts break it down. Sulfates like SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) are essentially detergents, causing the product to produce a foamy lather and are commonly found in shampoos, soaps, and household detergents because of their ability to remove dirt and buildup. 

However in shampoos, they can have an adverse effect, “These types of ingredients strip your hair of much-needed moisture, thus causing dryness, split ends and breakage.” Gwen explains, “The same ingredients are found in laundry detergent and dish soap. If you wouldn’t wash your hair with Tide, don’t wash your hair with sulfates.” So you may want to opt for products free of sulfates with more hydrating ingredients like cleansing conditioners and products like these are easier to find than ever with retailers like Sephora and Target launching easy to shop clean beauty sections. 

Sulfates have been thought to be linked to healthcare risks but ultimately cause dryness and can in some cases cause irritation and cutting the ingredient from your routine altogether can be easy and beneficial especially to those with dryer hair. Silicones are another ingredient people are quick to cut from their beauty routine. In haircare, silicones can be found in a lot of conditioners which can be great for detangling and treating curly and coily hair because, “Silicones provide the ‘slip’ most of us love in our hair, along with the smoothness, sleekness, and shine we crave; chemically speaking, they also help significantly reduce the frizz that often occurs in humid temperatures.” Gwen explains.

Like anything, silicones should be used in moderation so be sure to double-check the ingredients list. Gwen notes, “If you see one or two silicones in a product, that’s not necessarily terrible. Generally speaking, it’s going to give you the slip without the buildup that comes from an overabundance of silicones.” You should also pay attention to the types of silicones you’re using Ona explains, “There are two kinds of silicones: Water-soluble like Dimethicone Copolyol and Lauryl Methicone Copolyol that are safe and wash out.” These will provide that slip that makes post-wash detangling so easy and help prevent frizz and create a barrier against humidity, which we all need in the summer. “Non-soluble silicones like Cyclomethicone, Amodimethicone and Phenyl Trimethicone are damaging overtime on the hair because they are highly resistant and trap water in the hair.” These are the silicones you may want to avoid altogether or use in extreme moderation. 

Gwen notes a few more ingredients we should look out for, mineral oil which is derived from crude oil and can block moisture cause damage and there are of course certain alcohols. She lists Isopropyl Alcohol, Alcohol Denat., and SD Alcohol, as ones to avoid because of their drying properties. 


Ingredient Order Matters

“So the verdict is out, order does matter and the first 5 ingredients have the most influence on the hair,” Ona says. So the next time you find yourself in the hair care aisle intensely reading the block of ingredients on a bottle of shampoo or conditioner pay the most attention to the first five listed. Water is one of the ingredients that should be in that top five, especially if you’re interested in hydrating and moisturizing your hair but you should also be wary of where the rest of the ingredients like silicones and alcohols fall on the list. “[…] Your silicones should not be at the top of the ingredients list, as the most prevalent ingredients are always listed first.” Gwen explains, ”You want the moisturizing properties (water, glycerine, etc.) to be displayed first so that your hair is getting the maximum possible moisture; the silicones to be near the middle or end of the list so that you get the slip and softness without the buildup.”


Ingredients You Should Look For

Ona suggests a few natural ingredients you should look out for in your hair care products: “Wheat Germ protein is great for high porosity hair and will restore, strengthen and help with the elasticity of the hair.” Another buzzy ingredient you may see in more hair products is baobab oil derived from baobab fruit trees, she explains, “baobab oil is what I like to call a super oil because it contains vitamins A, C, D, E, and F and will penetrate low porosity hair to add moisture.” 

Ona recommends Botanika Beauty where the ingredient list is heavy on “bay leaf, cinnamon, sage and even egg protein which help with hair” and Honey Baby Naturals a brand she notes has “has ‘honey’ as their main ingredient which helps with overall hair and scalp health. Honey can also reduce breakage.”

Gwen recommends humectants that attract and retain moisture for dry hair, “Dry hair needs all the moisture it can get, so this is a very, very good thing to look for. Examples of humectants are vegetable glycerine; and cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl alcohols.” Also on her list of ingredients to look for: “Water as the first ingredient in any product that says it’s moisturizing, Superfoods (like quinoa and chia seed oil), Aloe or aloe juice, Natural oils (such as extra virgin olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil)” She explains in more detail, “My absolute favorites are superfoods, like quinoa and chia seed oil. These ingredients do for your hair exactly what they do for your body: they fortify your hair with protein, nutrients, and minerals it can’t get anywhere else — all of which our hair desperately needs in order to grow long and strong. I adore moisture natural, moisture-rich clays that infused vital nutrients like silica and magnesium into your hair.”

Aloe is great for all hair types but it’s especially excellent for oily hair. it’s a fantastic astringent that helps to reduce the overproduction of oil, leading to less greasy hair that has more bounce. Tea Tree Oil has similar properties, as well. Dry shampoos are also often good for naturally oily hair. 

Gwen’s brand Naturalicious was born from the idea of simplifying a natural hair care routine which also includes simplifying the ingredients. From the line she recommends, “The Naturalicious Dramatic Definition Gel is chock full of nutrient-dense quinoa and chia seed oil, that strengthen your hair with every use; and aloe juice that infuses tons of hydration. I’m also a big fan of Rhassoul Clay, what can be found the Naturalicious Moroccan Rhassoul 5-in-1 Clay Treatment”.


 Image via Skin Store


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