We all know that most modern beauty products contain a fair few ingredients, from the latest powerful synthetics to the purest natural ingredients. With more and more of us taking an interest in what goes into our favourite products, we’ve put together a beginners guide to the most common haircare ingredients and what they do for your hair.
There is a lot of back and forth on what ingredients are good and bad, with a lot of concerns often without scientific basis. The fundamentals are that all ingredients have a specific purpose and how your hair and skin react to them will be very personal. Even the most natural ingredients like Lavender Oil can cause irritation on some people.
To decide which ones you do or don’t want in your haircare regime, discover what they all do so you can work out if they’re right for you.
Common Ingredients in Shampoo, Conditioner and Styling Products
Alcohols mix with water well and help products distribute evenly in your hair; this is why you’ll often see them in styling products.
Short-Chain Alcohols like Ethanol, Propanol and Alcohol Denat tend to evaporate quickly so are great for helping to speed up drying time. However they can dry out hair and often aren’t ideal for weak or curly hair.
Fatty Alcohols like Cetyl and Stearyl Alcohol on the other hand help to smooth the hair shaft and also work as stabilisers in haircare products. These can leave fine hair feeling a little heavy but work well on curly hair.
Ceramides are a lipid that is naturally found on the hair. Ceramides help to smooth and strengthen the hair cuticle.
This in turn helps ensure that your hair is protected against damage and looks smoother, with greater strength.
You can find both natural and synthetic Ceramides but there doesn’t appear to be any differences in how these interact with your hair.
Glycerin, also known as Glycerol or Glycerine works as a humectant, attracting moisture.
This means it can help trap moisture into the hair, but in very dry air it can actually pull out moisture, so this is one ingredient where your environment can affect its efficacy quite substantially.
Glycerin is water soluble, so it mixes well into products, giving a rich and nourishing feel.
Keratin is a protein that forms a fundamental part of the hair, making up about 90% of it.
Keratin is what helps give your hair elasticity and strength but it can be broken down by things like heat styling and environmental agressors.
Haircare and styling products with Keratin help to reinforce your hair, helping it become more supple and easier to style.
Oils like Coconut, Argan, Olive and Jojoba Oil are all very common in haircare ingredients lists and for good reason.
They work to help replace lost lipids in the hair, nourishing and hydrating so it looks and feels healthier and less prone to breakage; hair with lipid loss becomes brittle and more likely to split.
There is an oil that works for every hair type, so try them out to find your match.
You might have seen Panthenol, also known as Vitamin B5, in the ingredients of your shampoo.
It is used in a whole host of haircare products and is known for its ability to help hair look thicker and feel more bouncy.
It works by helping the hair retain moisture, which makes it perfect for if you have dry or brittle hair.
Silicones are fairly easy to identify in ingredient lists; they nearly always end in -cone.
Silicones are brilliant at helping to smooth hair and fight frizz. As a result you tend to see it in conditioners and hair styling products.
However, some silicones can build up and feel heavy in the hair. To avoid that, look for Cyclomethicone and Dimethicone copolyol. The first evaporates and the second is water soluble, so you get the benefits without the risk.
Derived from silk worms, Silk Protein helps hair become more manageable and add beautiful shine.
You’ll often see it listed as Hydrolised Silk Protein in the ingredients, which means the proteins are small enough to bind to the hair.
It is powerfully hygroscopic, holding up to 10,000 times its own weight, and it helps form a protective layer on the hair/
Sulphates are probably one of the most talked about haircare ingredients; there are a lot of sulphate-free options now on the market.
Sulphates are surfactants, usually found in shampoo. This means they help attract dirt and oil so they rinse off and they are what are responsible for your shampoo lathering up.
The most common ones you’ll see are Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or Ammonium Laureth Sulfate.
Whilst they leave your hair super clean, they can strip colour and moisture so aren’t ideal for treated or very dry hair.
Like all proteins, Wheat Protein helps to rebuild the hair structure, leaving it stronger.
Hydrolysed Wheat Protein is the best form, as it is split into a smaller molecular size so that it can penetrate your hair and work its magic.
It also helps leave your hair more hydrated, as it helps the hair retain water. You’ll find it everywhere from shampoos and conditioners to styling products.
This is one of those ingredients you’ll spot in anti-dandruff haircare.
Zinc Pyrithione has anti-bacterial properties, which means that it helps protect the condition of your scalp.
This makes it especially helpful for those who suffer from issues like dandruff or Dermatitis.