Extracts in Hair Care Products

In my IG story a few weeks ago, I showed a couple of hair care products that seemed to have different formulas. A biochemist reached out to me to help explain the confusion with the ingredients and labeling as some can be nonspecific. I will discuss that at the end of this blog.

If you pay attention to product marketing, you will notice a major change in the way products are sold to consumers. as people become more informed, due to accessibility of knowledge online, the trend has moved towards including science and research claims to appeal to those who actively take an interest in their care rather than celebrity endorsements.

The shift has been towards more plant-based, chemical free and natural products although some of these terms leave more to be desired and plant extract is readily becoming one of the buzzwords.

When a new product is being sold, it is often highlighted that it contains many beneficial plant extracts that will do X,Y and Z for your hair and skin.

More people are trying to go deeper than the slogans and fancy graphics to find out what these ingredients do and if they are actually safe.


 What is a Plant Extract? 

A plant extract is the substance which has been removed from the main plant tissue with the hopes of providing a more active ingredient for use in food stuffs, pharmaceutical or cosmetic products.



How are They Made?

Extracts can be derived from different areas of the plant including but not limited to the root, stem, bark, leaves and seeds. This means that a single plant can yield several different extracts.

The process of extraction varies depending on the plant and use. Most extracts are obtained by using a solvent such as water, ethanol or hexane.

It can be conducted at home using a pestle and mortar or under strict lab conditions. The quality and efficacy of the extraction is dependent of the initial plant, processing and storage.



Common Extracts and Uses

Achillea Millefolium (Yarrow) Extract - is added to a product to reduce the appearance of dry or damaged hair by reducing flaking and restoring suppleness. It is effective for treating dandruff, itchiness, scalp irritation and oily scalp. It has also been shown to help counteract hair loss. Regular use of a strong yarrow tea will lighten hair. 

Aloe extract (Aloe Vera Extract). Aloe is a favourite ingredient among girls crazy about hair. It delivers incredible moisture, gloss and volume. Aloe makes a perfect match with natural oils and you should include it in your hair care routine (e.g. add it to a blend of oils). Aloe is a stunning hair conditioner because it includes lots of vitamins and protein. Remember that using aloe too often can make your hair dull and frizzy.

Amla, Phyllanthus emblica, also known as the Indian Gooseberry, is an excellent hair conditioning herb, provides nourishment that penetrates the scalp and strengthens hair at its root to promote stronger, healthier new growth and helps with hair loss by normalizing blood supply.

Aritha, Sapindus mukorrosi, also known as Soapnuts, is an excellent hair tonic, long known for its benefits for healthy hair and scalp. Used for centuries as an anti hair loss shampoo, the natural antifungal, and antibacterial properties may help with dandruff. The natural saponins not only cleanse hair, they add body and sheen and make hair feel thicker, silky and smooth.

Bamboo shoot extract (Bambus Vulgaris Extract). Bamboo extract is a high concentration of minerals and vitamins. It shields hair stem and reinforces strands, stopping hair loss and ageing. Bamboo is a rich source of flavonoids that have great power for destroying free radicals.

Betula Alba Extract - made from the bark, this extract works as a mild astringent, which is crucial to wound healing.  It is completely natural and protects your hair from the harmful chemicals. It exfoliates your scalp and has anti-inflammatory properties which prevent your scalp from bacterial and fungal infections.

You might have an oily scalp due to the presence of sebum. Willow bark effectively clears the skin pores which produces excess oil. It eliminates dandruff and makes your scalp healthier by unclogging the hair follicles.

Birch extract (Betula Alba Extract). Birch has a healthful power for both your hair and the whole body. It is the source of vitamin C, group B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, calcium and copper. It also contains lots of mineral salts. Birch perfectly strengthens hair and protects from damage. Birch extract works best for damaged hair that needs an intensified care and protection.

Black Tea, as a hair rinse is good for premature grayness and darkening hair. It also helps decrease shedding.

BhringrajEclipta alba (or prostrata) is an ancient Ayurvedic herbal remedy for hair loss, premature graying and skin allergies, which helps rejuvenate skin and hair. Considered the "king of herbs" for hair growth, it adds deep moisture and acts like a multivitamin for hair to help strengthen the hair shaft, provide natural shine and may also help with dandruff.

Brahmi (Bacopa Monnieri). People in India call it the herb of grace. Brahmi nourishes both hair and scalp, stimulating bulbs and preventing excessive falling out.

Burdock, Arctium lappa, strengthens hair follicles, to promote healthy hair growth and improve the overall condition of hair. The silica and phytosterols in burdock help soothe irritated scalp conditions like dandruff, decrease breakage and repair hair while adding sheen, hydration & luster. The mucilage in Burdock Root also helps add “slip” to your hair to make detangling easier.

Calendula, Calendula officinalis, soothing to sensitive scalps, is rich in plant minerals that protect the hair from free radicals, and the scalp from bacterial growth. A calendula hair rinse conditions, adds shine and can be used to create warm highlights.

Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract - reduces inflammation and increases smoothness. Provides some antioxidant protection and can be used to soothe, moisturize and inhibit the growth of bacteria. Chamomile also strengthens the hair roots. The main constituents of the flowers include phenolic compounds, primarily the flavonoids apigenin, quercetin, patuletin, luteolin, and their glucosides, all of which function as antioxidants.

Coffee extract, caffeine (Caffeine). Coffee stimulates micro-circulation in skin cells thus boosts hair growth. Caffeine works well for thinning hair because it hinders hair loss.

Comfrey, Symphytum officinale, soothes and stimulates the scalp, and enriches lifeless hair. Comfrey tea, made from root or leaves, poured over hair as a rinse, makes hair soft as silk.

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, a root rich in iron, helps treat dandruff and dry hair issues. Dandelion leaves are loaded with minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin A, that help balance sebum. Dandelion infusions have been used to add sheen and light highlights to hair.

Elder Flowers, Sambucus nigra, are mildly astringent and help soothe a dry, irritated scalp. Hair-softening elder flower also helps dry damaged hair.

FenugreekTrigonella foenum-graecum, or Methi, provides natural proteins for the nourishment and health of hair, stimulates blood flow to the root of the hair, and was used to combat hair loss. Used as a treatment for dandruff, thinning hair, and damaged hair, it is said to preserve hair's natural color and keep hair silky.

Flaxseed or linseedLinum usitatissimum, comes from the flax plant, an annual herb. It is rich in mucilage, a complex mixture of polysaccharides that form a soothing gelatinous substance when water is added. The mucilage provides slip like a conditioner that helps detangle hair. Flaxseed, very rich in Omega-3 essential fatty acids, strengthens the hair shaft and may help with hair loss.  

Ginger Root, Zingiber officinale, helps increase scalp circulation which stimulates hair follicles and encourages growth. The fatty acids composition of ginger root is great for thinning hair. Ginger also has antiseptic properties that work to help with dandruff.

Ginseng extract (Panax Ginseng Root Extract). Ginseng brings amazing hair benefits as it enhances the synthesis of protein, makes hair more resistant to damage and beautifies, increasing body. Ginseng extract has antioxidant properties and improves blood flow in the scalp (therefore, it strengthens hair matrix).

Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract - a rich source of amino acids. It will help to repair the structure of hair and skin and promote elastin and collagen synthesis.

Green Tea, Camellia sinensis, has antioxidants which benefit the hair and scalp by decreasing hair loss and soothing hair conditions like dandruff and psoriasis. It contains natural vitamin C which helps guards against damage from UV rays, vitamin E which helps dry or damaged hair and panthenol which helps strengthen and soften hair and prevents split ends.

Hibiscus, Hibiscus sabdariffa, or Javakusuma, is used to lessen gray hair and promote hair growth. The flowers and leaves contain mucilage and plant proteins that help in the treatment of dandruff and hair loss. Hibiscus infusions are great as a final herbal rinse, add warm red hues, provide excellent slip and help detangle naturally curly hair.

Horsetail, Equisetum arvense, is nourishing and hydrating, stimulates blood vessels in the scalp and has been used for centuries as a hair growth herb. The silica in horsetail helps to keep hair strong and adds shine and luster to hair.

Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Extract- The hop plant is a perennial herb that grows in vines. Native to Europe, Western Asia, and North America, it is known for the speed and persistence of its growth. Most people are familiar with hops because of its role in beer-making. Hops extract inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria (J Cosmet Dermatol. 2009, 8: 197-204). 

Licorice Root or Yashtimadhu, Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a traditional herbal remedy used in India and around the world. The root is good for improving hair growth and is often used in products to help with hair loss. It helps keep the scalp moist and hydrated and helps strengthen the hair shaft.

Malva Sylvestris (Mallow) Extract - usually extracted as a gel used to combat inflammation. It can also improve the texture of the skin. It hydrates and supports moisture balance within the shaft of the hair.

Marigold extract (Calendula Officinalis Extract). Marigold is mostly recommended for damaged, over-processed and extremely dry hair. Marigold extract moisturises the scalp, delivers hair shine and boosts epidermis repair. What is more, marigold has anti-inflammatory and anti-fungus qualities, therefore people bothered by dandruff or psoriasis should choose it.

Marsh MallowAlthaea officinalis, soothes and provides relief from scalp irritation. A great alternative to store bought conditioners, it contains mucilage, which provides "slip" to help detangle thick naturally curly, wavy and Afro type hair. High in plant proteins, it nourishes, conditions and promotes hair growth and luster.

Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, rich in mucilage, has been used as a soothing emollient for inflammatory scalp conditions and dry hair and scalp. Mullein can be used as a floral rinse to add golden highlights and brighten hair.

Rose Hips, Rosa spp, packed full of Vitamin C, strengthens the hair shaft and brightens red hair. 

Rose Petals, Rosa spp, has healing properties that are useful in treating mild scalp inflammation, moisturizing and nourishing qualities that promote shine and stimulating properties that increase the blood supply in the scalp to promote hair growth. Rose petals also brighten red hair.

Seaweed or Kelp, mineral rich, adds protection to the surface of the hair, reducing moisture loss and infusing it with vitamins. Seaweed proteins strengthen roots, add body and shine and condition the scalp and hair. The nutrients in seaweed a great way to help limp and lifeless hair.

Shikakai, Acacia concinna, is referred to as "fruit for the hair." It has a naturally mild pH, and it gently cleans hair and increases bounciness and silkiness of hair without stripping it of natural oils. As a natural hair conditioner, Shikakai is said to promote hair growth, strengthen hair roots and clear dandruff. 

Common soapwort extract (Saponaria Officinalis Extract). Common soapwort is very common in natural hair products, especially in shampoos, due to saponins (natural and mild detergents) that gently wash the dirt off. Soapwort is a perfect choice for oily hair and dandruff.

Soy sprout extract (Glycine Soya Germ Extract). Soy is the source of nutrients that penetrate hair follicles, nourishing, repairing and forcing them to work. Young soy shoots increase the level of energy in mitochondria. As a result, hair growth is faster whereas the anagen phase – extended.

Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Extract - it has numerous documented antiseptic and healing properties. is known for its pronounced restorative properties. It has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Thyme extract is rich in acetic acid, malic acid and tannins. It also contains thymol which provides the distinctive flavor of thyme and has antiseptic properties. Thyme extract makes the hair stronger and repairs its structure damaged by coloring, bleaching or perm. It also restores your hair's natural shine.

Tulsi, Ocimum sanctum, or Holy Basil, is helpful in conditioning the scalp by improving blood circulation thereby helping cells receive the nutrients and oxygen. It is also useful for dandruff and general hair care.

Tussilago Farfara (Coltsfoot) Flower Extract- is often used for soothing properties in shampoos and astringents. It has anti bacterial properties. The high mucilage content in it helps fight dandruff, both dry and oily types.

Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Extract- stimulates the scalp, improves circulation, and helps promote fuller, more radiant hair. Nettles have a long-standing reputation for preventing hair loss and making the hair soft and shiny. Nettle, an excellent hair conditioner, is rich in minerals and plant hormones, is tonic and astringent and gives a healthy gloss to hair. Nettle is said to be a remedy for oily hair, dandruff, and hair shaft breakage.

Wheat sprout extract (Wheat Triticum Vulgare Germ Extract). The extract works both on hair surface (protects and increases shine) and from within (repairs and strengthens from bulbs to tips). Wheat sprout extract offers a high concentration of vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B3, D, E, K, PP – a strong and effective weapon in the battle for a healthy and beautiful hairdo. Moreover, it works as an antioxidant, smooths hair surface, speeds up growth and gently lifts roots, without weighing down.

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, leaves and bark are astringent and help deep clean oily hair.

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is effective for treating dandruff, itchiness, scalp irritation and oily scalp. It has also been shown to help counteract hair loss. Regular use of a strong yarrow tea will lighten hair. 

Yucca Root- Yucca schidigera, an emollient that contains natural saponins, a natural cleansing and foaming agent, making it an ideal ingredient in shampoo and other hair care products. It soothes and nourishes the scalp. Navajos swear by yucca root to prevent hair loss and to cure dandruff.

*Herbs and herbal infusions have been used for centuries to naturally soften hair, increase manageability, and restore luster, body, and bounce. Herbs rely on the natural components stored inside to promote healthy hair and scalp, rather than the synthetic ingredients and chemicals that can damage hair and cause build-up.


Do They Contain Protein?

When making extractions, the plants is broken down and will release and make different cells more available. Some extracts will definitely contain protein or amino acids such as soy. While the processes used may render the proteins inactive due to denaturing, it is hard to know for certain. If a hydrolyzed plant is listed, then for sure protein is present. Hydrolysis is a series of enzymatic reactions used specifically to liberate proteins and make them more bio active. If you are avoiding protein do not be put of by plant extracts as the amount of protein, if any may be negligible. It is best to check with the manufacturer as only they will know the method of extraction used as that greatly affects the yield.


Here are the two products I mentioned at the beginning:

Curls Blueberry Bliss Jelly: There is no dispute that these are two completely different formulas. My guess is that the formula has been changed or the website hasn’t updated the information. Another thought the biochemist mentioned is that some companies will have just abbreviated ingredients listed online, so that can explain the difference between products.

Giovanni Direct Leave in Conditioner: These are almost identical formulas with different descriptors from what the biochemist explained to me. The FDA requires scientific names. Also, there are different requirements for online mail order items. It’s the same plant extracts in both (for example, yarrow is the common name for Achilles millefolium). Pretty much any “extract” is going to contain protein unless it specifies that it’s an oil extract. 

But as I mentioned above, it’s best to check with the manufacturer as only they will know the method of extraction used as that greatly affects the yield.

The biochemist also explained to me that, “As far as the proteins in general, there’s a lot of misinformation in the curly community. Proteins are actually super complicated and each protein has its own set of physio chemical properties that influence its behaviors. Some are extremely resistant to denaturing. Even with high, acidity, high heat, etc Most are in the form of “hydrolyzed” proteins- broken down into amino acids. Our hair is essentially dead and smaller protein components can fill in breaks in the hair shaft. That’s why it doesn’t last indefinitely though. They bond with the hair but aren’t a part of it, so eventually you need more when it washes away. So people with high porosity or damaged hair may respond more to low levels of protein in daily products like the Giovanni leave in”.

For more information on ingredient names, check out this site: https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/Labeling/IngredientNames/default.htm

For more information on how to read labels, check out this site: https://www.schoolofnaturalskincare.com/how-to-read-a-cosmetic-label/


Source: Hair Care Herbs. Hair Teacher/Trichologist. Biochemist (@ashleyunt)