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The Curly Girl Method: The Misinformation About Ingredients

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

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Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of curls, where our hair seems to have a personality of its own! If you’ve ever experienced the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with curly hair, you’ve probably stumbled upon the infamous Curly Girl Method.

Ah, the savior of curly hair enthusiasts, or so they say! But hold on to your hairbrush, folks, because I’ve collaborated with my hair scientist friend who is an expert and R & D chemist to help us untangle the web of misinformation about ingredients that’s been floating around faster than rumors at a celebrity hair salon.

This article aims to present a scientific perspective on why singling out one or two ingredients is not the most effective approach in hair care. A product’s efficacy and potential positive or negative impact depend on the synergy of its entire formulation. We will also explore how online misinformation can lead to unscientific hair care practices by examining specific examples.

The Curly Girl Method: My Experience

Vector image of the dos and dont's of using the curly girl method.

I stumbled upon the Curly Girl Method in my quest for healthier hair and undoing years of self-inflicted damage. I followed its techniques with dedication, crafting a personalized hair care routine tailored to my unique curls. The results were remarkable at first, but they didn’t last.

After six months, I noticed significant changes in my hair: it felt weaker, excessively soft, limp, and lost its defined curls. Despite trying various remedies, nothing seemed to work. Amid my search for answers, I stumbled upon an article discussing ‘Hygral Fatigue,’ which resonated with my experience.

As I delved deeper into my hair concerns, I realized I was simultaneously dealing with multiple issues, including over-conditioning, product build-up, and hygral fatigue. While the Curly Girl Method laid a solid foundation, we must acknowledge that our understanding of hair care evolves over time, and our approach should evolve with it.

As I always say, let your hair guide you on your journey to healthier curls!

Decoding Hair Care Formulations

Image of cosmetic chemist working with formulation for product.

A formulation represents a carefully crafted fusion of multiple ingredients to produce a hair care product. These ingredients work in synergy to elevate the quality and appearance of hair fibers.

For example, a cleansing formulation is engineered to clean and condition hair fibers, whereas a conditioner is formulated to detangle strands, eliminate knots, and enhance overall hair texture and shine. Achieving these outcomes necessitates blending various ingredients rather than relying on one ingredient.

Formulation science entails the art of combining various elements and leveraging their intrinsic chemistry to achieve targeted results. It’s similar to a football team, where each player’s contribution is vital for securing victory.

Regardless of individual skill levels, success is only attained through the winning combination of talents. Likewise, in hair care, success hinges on blending different ingredients in precise ratios to create a synergistic and efficacious blend.

Singling Out One or Two Ingredients Vs. A Formulation

A hair care formulation is a blend of multiple chemical ingredients meticulously crafted to work together to enhance the quality of hair fibers. Each ingredient within the formulation contributes significantly to achieving the promised results.

However, a concerning trend has emerged in the cosmetics market, reminiscent of the Curly Girl Method, where specific ingredients are singled out for scrutiny, instigating unwarranted fear about their impact on hair and scalp health. This has led some within the curly hair community to avoid or dismiss products without concrete scientific backing.

An example is sulfate surfactants found in hair and skin cleansing products, which have been linked to hair dryness and scalp issues. However, it’s crucial to note that online content often lacks a scientifically-grounded explanation. Sulfate surfactants come in various types, each with distinct properties and effects. Therefore, a thorough understanding of the facts is essential for making informed choices in hair care.

Synergy of Ingredients

The synergy of ingredients in hair care formulations illustrates how each component interacts harmoniously, amplifying the product’s effectiveness and functionalities. Take, for example, a shampoo: while anionic surfactants cleanse hair fibers, adding a co-surfactant enhances the liquid’s viscosity, ensuring the desired texture.

Consider sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) in a shampoo. Alone, its water solution lacks viscosity, necessitating the incorporation of alkanolamide (e.g., Cocamide MEA, MIPA, or DIPA) to achieve the desired consistency. This thickening agent is essential; without it, the SLES shampoo would lack the intended texture.

Moreover, co-surfactants are crucial in boosting foam volume in shampoo formulations. While SLES produces sufficient foam, adding small amounts of co-surfactant, such as cocamidopropyl betaine, enhances both volume and stability. This collaboration lowers water surface tension, resulting in improved foam quality.

Similarly, conditioning ingredients rely on the right medium for effective detangling and conditioning. Adjusting the pH of a conditioner to 4.00 – 4.50 optimizes hair’s anionic sites, fostering stronger electrostatic bonding with cationic conditioning ingredients. Thus, the inclusion of citric acid or lactic acid to lower the product’s pH is paramount for achieving the desired conditioning effect.

Attributing a product’s success or failure to one or two ingredients oversimplifies the formulation process. Cosmetic products thrive on the collective effort of ingredients working in synergy. Ultimately, the true efficacy of a product can only be discerned through personal experience. Remember, the art of formulation is the cornerstone of cosmetic success.

Navigating Misinformation Online

Online platforms are rich sources of information, providing access to the latest scientific discoveries across various fields, from innovative technologies to regulatory updates. However, amidst this wealth of knowledge, some online content makes bold claims without citing scientific sources, raising concerns about the reliability of certain assertions.

A prime example is the proliferation of “Free” from products, such as sulfate-free, silicone-free, paraben-free, and alcohol-free formulations. Consumers are often misled about the supposed harmful effects of certain ingredients, particularly sulfates and silicones. Despite widespread claims, many online sources lack substantial scientific evidence to support these claims.

In reality, sulfates and silicones encompass a broad spectrum of compounds, each with unique properties and effects on hair fibers. Notably, not all sulfates or silicones pose risks to hair health, and their impact varies significantly depending on their specific chemical structures.

Similarly, the Curly Girl Method categorizes ingredients as either beneficial or harmful for curly hair, yet the scientific basis behind such classifications is often lacking. It is imperative to approach ingredient evaluations with precision and rely on scientific evidence to inform hair care decisions accurately.

In summary, while online platforms offer valuable insights into hair care trends and practices, critical evaluation and reliance on reputable sources backed by scientific research are essential to navigate through potentially misleading information.

Understanding Sulfates in Curly Hair Care

Image of someone looking through a magnifying glass at the word, "Sodium Lauryl Sulfate".

The debate over sulfates and their effects on curly hair has sparked much discussion. Sulfates, a sulfate-based anionic surfactant commonly found in shampoos, are often singled out as detrimental to curly hair health. However, delving deeper into this topic reveals a more nuanced understanding.

At the forefront of sulfates is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), known for its potent cleansing abilities but also associated with skin and scalp dryness. Additionally, it can dissolve protein components from the hair shaft during washing and may have a high irritation potential.1,2 The pioneering compound in this group is manufactured through the sulfonation of lauryl alcohol and is predominantly sourced from coconut oil.

Its sister molecule, sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), differs significantly, offering enhanced cleansing power with milder effects on the skin and hair. It is also a sulfate but markedly different. SLES is derived by esterifying SLS with ethylene oxide molecules, resulting in altered physical and chemical properties.

Compared to its parent molecule, SLES has a lower critical micelle concentration, providing enhanced cleansing power and improved foam stability. Importantly, it is exceptionally mild on the skin and hair.3

Beyond SLS and SLES, the sulfate class encompasses various surfactants, including sodium dodecyl sulfate and sodium coco-sulfate. Within the SLES group, different variants with varying numbers of ethylene oxide (EO) molecules further diversify the cleansing properties.

Some examples include:

  • Sodium Laureth-1 Sulfate (1 mole of EO)
  • Sodium Laureth-2 Sulfate (2 moles of EO)
  • Sodium Laureth-3 Sulfate (3 moles of EO)

It’s crucial to move beyond blanket statements about sulfates and consider their unique molecular structures and properties. The key is understanding the distinctions among these sulfate surfactants to make informed decisions about their suitability for curly hair care.

Understanding Silicones in Curly Hair Care

Image of someone holding up a product containing the word"Dimethicone" on the product.

The notion that “Silicones are bad for curly hair” warrants a closer examination. It’s crucial to discern the specific type of silicone being referenced to accurately assess its impact. Contrary to blanket statements, many curly hair products containing silicones have proven effective in delivering remarkable results.

Silicones, belonging to the family of silicone-derived polymers, come in diverse forms, each with unique properties. These oils, ranging in viscosities and lipophilicity, are insoluble in water. Examples include cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and dimethicone.

Modern amino silicones, featuring cationic groups, exhibit heightened affinity with hair fibers, offering enhanced solubility in water and superior outcomes, exemplified by Amodimethicone. Furthermore, ethoxylated silicones, functioning as silicone-based emulsifiers, possess water solubility and distinctive physical and chemical attributes, as observed with PEG-12-Dimethicone.4,5,6

Dow USA stands as a renowned global leader in silicone ingredients for the cosmetic industry, providing various grades of silicone ingredients with diverse benefits and applications. Thus, discussions regarding silicone ingredients’ impact on hair fibers necessitate specificity and a nuanced understanding, avoiding generalizations that attribute adverse effects to the entire spectrum of silicone chemistry. Different silicone types boast distinct characteristics and effects, warranting individual evaluation.

Reliable Sources for Hair and Skin Care Ingredients

Image of magnifying glass with "FDA" written in the center of it.

For those in search of credible and science-backed insights into hair and skin care ingredients, several reputable sources are readily accessible.

One such authority is the Food and Drug Authority (FDA), offering a wealth of comprehensive information online. Similarly, the EU Cosmetics portal serves as a reliable resource, providing regulatory specifics on permissible ingredients, banned substances, and precise dosage regulations for hair and skin care formulations. This portal also furnishes detailed dosage guidelines for rinse-off and leave-on products, alongside a comprehensive list of preservatives, including those prohibited, aimed at guiding consumers.

Furthermore, a dedicated datasheet is available for fragrance allergens. These national regulatory bodies boast dedicated teams of researchers tasked with conducting regular safety evaluations for each ingredient. The outcomes of their research are disseminated for public awareness and benefit, serving both consumer education and the scientific community. It is highly advisable to consult these authoritative sources for any desired information pertaining to specific ingredients.

Rethinking Hair Care Evaluation

When scrutinizing hair care products, fixating on one or two ingredients is inadequate. The efficacy of a product hinges on the collaboration of its entire formulation, where numerous ingredients synergize to fulfill promised outcomes. Nonetheless, navigating online misinformation is crucial, as it can lead consumers astray.

To genuinely gauge a product’s compatibility, experimentation is key. Test the formulation and observe how your hair responds. Avoid attributing adverse effects solely to a single ingredient; instead, seek insights from trustworthy sources like national regulatory bodies, ingredient manufacturers, or reputable industry organizations.

Ultimately, let your hair be your guide!


  1.  Myers, D., Surfactant Science and Technology. Wiley: 2020. ↩︎
  2. Dykes, P., Surfactants and the skin. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 1998, 20 (1), 53-61. ↩︎
  3. Löffler, H.; Happle, R., Profile of irritant patch testing with detergents: sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and alkyl polyglucoside. Contact Dermatitis 2003, 48 (1), 26-32. ↩︎
  4. Yahagi, K., Silicones as conditioning agents in shampoos. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 1992, 43 (5), 275-284. ↩︎
  5. O’Lenick, A. J., Silicones for personal care. Allured Pub. Carol Stream, IL: 2008. ↩︎
  6. Rojas Wahl Roy, U.; Nicholson, J. R.; Kerschner Judith, L., Silicones in Personal Care Applications. In Cosmetic Nanotechnology, American Chemical Society: 2007; Vol. 961, pp 177-189. ↩︎


I’m just a girl who transformed her severely damaged hair into healthy hair. I adore the simplicity of a simple hair care routine, the richness of diverse textures, and the joy of sharing my journey from the comfort of my space.

My mission? To empower others with the tools to restore, and maintain healthy hair, and celebrate the hair they were born with!

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