If you care about hair as much as we do, chances are good you’ve heard all of the horror stories about alcohol in your hair products. You’ve heard alcohol dries out your strands—which could lead tosplit ends and breakage—but is everything you’ve listened to true?
We sat down with Jacqueline Lusignan, Pureology director of education, to find out everything we need to know about alcohol in hair products—once and for all. If you think getting rid of all alcohol in hair products is the key to healthy-looking dark brown hair or ash blonde hair, you’re going to want to keep reading.
What kind of alcohol is typically found in hair products?
Lusignan says there are two types of alcohol typically found in hair products: fatty alcohols and primary alcohols. Contrary to popular belief, not all alcohols are drying. In fact, fatty alcohols are often used to make products feel silkier.
Fatty alcohols are found in some hair products to help create slip, like conditioners or leave-in sprays. They often come from naturally based plant extracts and are actually good for the hair. Some of these are Cetearyl alcohol, Cetyl alcohol, and Stearyl alcohol.
Primary alcohols, on the other hand, can create a drying effect—but that doesn’t always mean they’re a bad thing.
“These alcohols can repel humidity and evaporate quickly, allowing the ‘hold factor’ of a product to take effect almost immediately—think like an old-fashioned hairspray,” Lusignan says.
But for many hair types—dry hair in particular—these types of alcohols can have a negative drying effect especially if overused.
Does alcohol damage your hair?
This answer is a little tricky because not all alcohols are created equal. As Lusignan explains above, primary alcohols can cause your hair to look and feel dry.
“Primary alcohols, especially when used heavily, can have a negative effect on the hair,” Lusignan says. “The ‘bad’ alcohol will begin to break down the lipid layer of the hair, which offers protection to the cuticle and the structure of the hair as well as creating that soft, supple’ feeling.”
Primary alcohols don’t just make your strands look and feel dry. They can also leave your mane more prone to damage.
“By breaking down that lipid layer, you are leaving the cuticle and structure of the hair more susceptible to damage and outside factors like free radicals,” she explains.
If you want to avoid using hair products with primary alcohols, look for the telltale ingredients on labels. Alcohol denat, Ethanol, SD alcohol 40, Propanol, Isopropyl, and Propyl, are some of the most common primary alcohols found in hair products.
Who should use alcohol-free hair products?
Whether or not you should use alcohol-free products depends on the alcohol in the formula and your hair type. If you have dry or fine hair, Lusignan says you should probably avoid hair products with primary alcohol. If you don’t have fine or dry hair, hair products with primary alcohol are generally acceptable to use in moderation.
“But fatty alcohols do the exact opposite! They do not need to be avoided,” she explains. “Fatty alcohols are good for the hair and are often found in naturally-derived plant extracts, like vegetable and plant oils!”
Now that you can properly identify the types of alcohol in your hair products, you are that much closer to having the best hair care routine for your mane.
Interested in personalized advice about the best products for your hair? Use our salon locator to book an appointment with a stylist near you.