August 1, 2023
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Last Updated on August 1, 2023 by Verna Meachum
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.
In this article, we aim to present a scientific perspective on why singling out one or two ingredients is not the most effective approach in hair care. The efficacy and potential positive or negative impact of a product depends on the synergy of its entire formulation. Through examining specific examples, we will also explore how online misinformation can inadvertently lead to unscientific hair care practices.
Let’s embark on a journey that’s part science, part myth-busting, and all about embracing your fabulous curls without losing your sanity. So fasten your seatbelt – we’re about to debunk, delight, and dazzle your curly world!
In the pursuit of achieving optimal hair health and attempting to recover from the years of self-inflicted damage, I found the realm of the Curly Girl Method.
Over the course of several months, I adhered diligently to the prescribed techniques, carefully curating a hair care routine tailored to my unique curl pattern. To my astonishment, the results were truly transformative, but it was short-lived.
After six months, I observed considerable changes in my hair, which included increased weakness, a mushy and overly soft texture, limpness, and the absence of a defined curl pattern. Despite trying various solutions, none seemed to produce positive results.
During my frantic search for an answer, I came across an article discussing Hygral Fatigue, which shed light on the issue I was facing. As I delved deeper into my hair concerns, I realized that I had multiple issues simultaneously, ranging from over-conditioned hair and product build-up to hygral fatigue.
In the beginning, the Curly Girl Method provided an excellent foundation for my hair care journey. However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that as our knowledge and scientific understanding continue to advance, our approach to hair care should also adapt and evolve accordingly.
As I always say, “let your hair be your guide.”
A formulation is a meticulously crafted blend of multiple ingredients designed to create a hair care product. These ingredients work in synergy to enhance the quality and appearance of hair fibers.
For instance, a cleansing formulation aims to clean and condition hair fibers, while a conditioner is intended to detangle hair, eliminate knots, and improve the hair’s overall feel and shine. These desired outcomes cannot be accomplished by relying on a single ingredient alone.
Formulation science revolves around the art of combining various elements and leveraging their inherent chemistry to achieve specific results. It’s analogous to a football team, where every player must contribute to secure a victory.
No matter how skilled an individual player may be, success is only attained through a winning combination of talents. Similarly, in the market, a successful product is the result of blending different ingredients in precise dosage ratios, creating a harmonious and effective blend.
A hair care formulation comprises a blend of multiple chemical ingredients that work together harmoniously to enhance the quality of hair fibers. Each ingredient within the formulation plays a crucial role in achieving the desired and promised results.
However, in recent times, the cosmetics market has witnessed a concerning trend (as with the Curly Girl Method) where one or two specific ingredients of a product are singled out, leading to unwarranted fears about their potential to harm hair and scalp health. This has resulted in the curly hair community avoiding or dismissing products altogether without substantial scientific evidence to support such claims.
An example of this is the case of sulfate surfactants found in hair and skin cleansing products, which have been linked to hair dryness and scalp issues. Yet, it is important to note that online content often lacks a scientifically-grounded explanation.
For instance, sulfate surfactants come in various types, each with distinct properties and effects. A comprehensive understanding of the facts is crucial in navigating through the noise and making informed choices for optimal hair care.
The synergy of ingredients refers to how the components within a formulation interact, complement each other, and collectively enhance the product’s efficacy and functionalities. For instance, in a shampoo, anionic surfactants serve to cleanse hair fibers, but to increase the liquid’s viscosity, a co-surfactant is added.
In the case of sodium Laureth sulfate (SLES) in a shampoo, its water solution lacks sufficient viscosity, prompting the addition of alkanolamide (e.g. Cocamide MEA, MIPA, or DIPA) at a small dosage to achieve the desired texture. Without this thickening agent, the SLES shampoo would lack the desired consistency.
Similarly, co-surfactants in a shampoo formulation contribute to a foam-boosting effect. Although SLES shampoo produces good foam volume, incorporating small amounts of co-surfactant, such as Cocamidopropyl Betaine, enhances the foam’s volume and stability. This co-surfactant collaborates with SLES to lower water surface tension, resulting in improved flash foam volume and foam bubble stabilization.
Likewise, conditioning ingredients require the right medium and support to effectively detangle hair fibers and deliver conditioning effects. To achieve this, the pH of a conditioner is typically adjusted to 4.00 – 4.50. At this pH level, hair possesses more anionic sites, which facilitates stronger electrostatic chemical bonding with cationic conditioning ingredients. Hence, the addition of citric acid or lactic acid is crucial to lower the product’s pH and deliver the desired conditioning effect.
In summary, attributing the amazing results or performance of a product to a single ingredient or two would be misleading. Likewise, placing blame on specific ingredients for any adverse or unexpected results is oversimplifying the formulation process.
Cosmetic products are a collaboration of ingredients working together in a team-like manner. Ultimately, the efficacy of the product can only be truly appreciated by trying it and observing its effects on your hair. Remember, cosmetic products owe their success to the intricate art of formulation.
Online blogs, web content, and digital information serve as valuable resources for accessing the latest scientific discoveries in various fields, including innovative technologies, new raw materials, and updated regulatory requirements. However, it is unfortunate that some online content makes strong assertions without providing references to scientific journals, researchers, or manufacturer bulletins.
One prominent example is the obsession with “Free” from products, such as sulfate-free, silicone-free, paraben-free, and alcohol-free formulations. Consumers are often misled about certain ingredients, raising questions about the validity of claims against sulfates and silicones. Many online sources assert that sulfates and silicones are inherently harmful to hair without providing substantial scientific evidence to support these claims.
In reality, sulfates encompass a wide range of compounds, each exhibiting distinct physical and chemical properties. Similarly, silicones form a diverse family of thousands of silicone-based ingredients, each belonging to different sub-classes with unique chemical structures and properties. Consequently, their effects on hair fibers vary significantly, and not all sulfates or silicones are detrimental to hair health.
Moreover, the Curly Girl Method is another instance where ingredients are classified as either good or bad for curly hair, but the information often lacks robust scientific backing. It is essential to be specific and grounded in scientific evidence when evaluating the impact of an ingredient on hair care formulations.
In conclusion, while online resources offer valuable insights into the latest developments in hair care, it is crucial to approach such information critically and seek reputable sources supported by scientific findings to make informed decisions about hair care ingredients and methods.
You’ve heard it said that “Sulfates are bad for curly hair.” Let’s dive deeper into the topic of sulfates and their impact on curly hair.
The term “sulfates” refers to a group of sulfate-based anionic surfactants commonly found in hair shampoos. Among these surfactants is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), the pioneering compound in this group, manufactured through the sulfonation of lauryl alcohol, predominantly sourced from coconut oil.
SLS is known for its effective cleansing properties, but it has been associated with causing dryness to the skin and scalp. Additionally, during washing, it can dissolve protein components from the hair shaft and may have a high irritation potential. 1–2
However, it’s important to distinguish SLS from its sister molecule, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), which 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 SLES and SLS, the “sulfate” class includes an extensive list of similarly composed sulfate surfactants. For example, Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate and Sodium Coco-Sulfate fall under this category.
Furthermore, within the SLES group, there are several variants with varying numbers of ethylene oxide (EO) molecules blended with SLS. Each variant differs in cleansing properties.
Some examples include:
It’s essential to be specific when discussing sulfates’ impact on curly hair rather than making generalizations. Blaming all sulfates without considering their unique molecular structures and properties is not a scientific approach. The key is to understand the distinctions among these sulfate surfactants to make informed decisions about their suitability for curly hair care.
The statement that “Silicones are bad for curly hair” is not entirely true. It is crucial to be specific about the type of silicone being referred to. In reality, there are many curly hair care products containing silicones that deliver outstanding results.
Silicones belong to the family of silicone-derived polymers and come in various types. These are essentially oils with different viscosities and lipophilicity, rendering them insoluble in water. Examples include Cyclomethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, and Dimethicone.
New-generation amino silicones have cationic groups attached to enhance their affinity with hair fibers. These are relatively more soluble in water and yield superior results, as seen with Amodimethicone. Additionally, ethoxylated silicones function as silicone-based emulsifiers, being water-soluble with distinct physical and chemical properties, as observed with PEG-12-Dimethicone. 4,5,6
Dow USA is a well-known global pioneer in silicone ingredients for the cosmetic industry, offering several grades of silicone ingredients with diverse benefits and applications. Therefore, when discussing silicone ingredients and their impact on hair fibers, it is essential to be specific and avoid blaming the entire family of silicone ingredients or silicone chemistry for any potential adverse effects. Different silicone types have different characteristics and effects, and they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
For those seeking scientific, authentic, and reliable information about hair and skin care ingredients, there are reputable sources readily available.
One such source is the Food and Drug Authority (FDA), which provides comprehensive information online. Similarly, the EU Cosmetics portal offers regulatory details concerning ingredients allowed for use, those banned, and specific dosage limits for hair and skin care formulations. The portal also offers specific dosage information for rinse-off and leave-on products, and a list of preservatives, including banned ones, to guide consumers.
Additionally, a separate datasheet is available on fragrance allergens. These national regulatory bodies employ teams of researchers who conduct periodic safety assessments for each ingredient. The findings from their research are published for both public awareness and the scientific community. You are strongly encouraged to refer to these authentic sources for any information they require about specific ingredients.
Focusing solely on one or two ingredients is not the right approach when evaluating hair care products. The effectiveness of a product relies on the synergy of its entire formulation, where multiple ingredients work together to deliver the promised results. However, it’s important to be cautious of misleading information found online, which can lead consumers to incorrect conclusions.
To truly assess the suitability of a product, it is recommended to try it and observe how the hair responds to the formulation. Avoid placing blame on a single ingredient for any adverse effects or unfavorable outcomes. Instead, seek information from authentic sources, such as national regulatory authorities, ingredient manufacturers, or reputable industrial groups, for reliable guidance.
And remember, always 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.
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I read books and tried doing things because "that's what I'm supposed to do," but it didn't always work and I didn't understand why. I'm so grateful for Verna and her blog. Her info. actually helped me understand more of the science of why some methods helped and what products or ingredients to use and why. Anyone that compliments my hair and wants to start a curly journey, I tell them to start here. My hair is so much healthier and I'm so happy with it.
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