Hair Ever: The 13 Ingredients to Look for in Your Products
While it may be second nature to you to read nutrition labels on foods before you buy them, you probably donâ€™t scrutinize your hair product labels too closely. But it's not hard â€” just a few key ingredients can take your hair from so-so to head-turning. Here, top cosmetic chemists share advice on what to look for in your favorite hair products.
Shampoos usually contain a surfactant, which helps create foam and emulsifies the dirt and grime in your hair. In most products, the surfactant is sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, both of which have gotten a bad rap in the past decade because of concerns about irritation.
Those who want to avoid sulfates should look for the detergent lauryl glucoside. â€œItâ€™s gentle but still effective in removing dirt from you hair,â€ says Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist in Chicago.
The best nourishing ingredient in these multitaskers is polyquaternium-7 or polyquaternium-10. These conditioning polymers have a positive charge, which balances the negative charges and harsh effects of the detergent in the formula. Polyquaternium-7, in particular, â€œhelps with comb-ability and detangling, and softens the hair,â€ says Niâ€™Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist in Englewood, New Jersey.
Coconut oil is the gold standard for conditioners. It satisfies lovers of natural ingredients as well as those looking for ingredients that are effective. Says Romanowski, â€œCoconut oil has been demonstrated to help with flexibility of the hair by penetrating the hair and improving hair strength.â€
Other oils that nurture hair and give it shine and moisture are palm oil, jojoba oil, and olive oil. While each works well individually, together they provide greatly improved results, according to Wilson. â€œEach of these natural oils has constituents of sebum, the oil produced by our bodies,â€ she says. â€œSo these oils are compatible with the hair, and theyâ€™re reinforcing something thatâ€™s already there.â€
Hydrolyzed keratin, a protein found in hair and skin, nourishes hair by supporting the hair shaft and preventing breakage. â€œItâ€™s useful for treating hair thatâ€™s damaged by permanent waves and bleaching,â€ says Romanowski, â€œbut it also works as a filler to smooth out chipped cuticles.â€
At-Home Hair Color
While mango, shea, and coconut butters are often found in conditioners and some styling products, they are especially beneficial in at-home hair color, which can strip strands of their moisture.
â€œButters provide a protective barrier around the hair strands to lessen the impact of harsh treatments,â€ says Wilson. â€œShea butter, like mango butter, locks down the cuticle, sealing moisture in, and coconut oil can actually get into the hair strand to provide additional conditioning.â€
Silicones help boost shine and buffer hair from the damaging effects of heat. â€œSilicones create a stable barrier that wonâ€™t let anything pass through your hair,â€ says Wilson. â€œThey have a higher heat tolerance than natural oils, which can dry out the hair when used as a thermal protectant.â€ Wilsonâ€™s favorite silicone is dimethicone, which sits on the hair and â€œseals the cuticles really well,â€ she says, to lock in moisture.
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