UK blogger, Scientist Dr. Ruby Majani aka Jc of The Natural Hair Haven—Science and Natural Hair blog, has a BSc and PhD in Material Science. On her blog, Jc states that she is not pro-natural nor anti-natural. “I think we can benefit from both natural and synthetic products,” she adds.
Jc’s blog, The Natural Hair Haven, has followers who are both natural and relaxed hair wearers, but Jc is passionate and driven about educating “fellow curlies” regarding the fact that our hair is normal and can be cared for in its natural state.
With that in mind, Jc compiled the following list of the top 5 most talked about ingredients and the science behind them.
Word on the Street: It comes from petroleum. It blocks out moisture from the hair causing it to dry out. It is used as a cheap filler in products.
Science: It is from fossil fuel and therefore considered natural in origin. All oils (including coconut, castor or mineral oil) form a barrier on the hair delaying water’s entry or exit to the hair. No oil can fully prevent water’s entry or exit. Mineral oil is colorless and odorless and therefore is able to be combined easily in products. Given the widespread use of fossil fuels, it is also one of the easiest to source consistently.
Best use: Mineral oil is useful when hair needs to be kept dry. For example, for straight styling or styling in high humidity.
Cautions: Mineral oil forms one of the best barriers as far as oils go; therefore, if hair is damaged or prone to dryness it should be used sparingly.
Word on the street: Silicone builds up on hair and blocks out moisture. It is artificial.
Science: Silicone is a lab-created product. It is also an oil and, therefore, is also supposed to form a barrier. Silicone oil does not spread as easily as other oils, therefore, it does not form the best barrier. It is one of the best conditioning ingredients in shampoo, helping to reduce hair damage while washing. In conditioners it creates slip, which allows easy combing of hair—especially wet combing.
Best use: Silicones are useful in shampoos and conditioners as they mitigate hair damage. They are also useful in heat styling as they offer some thermal protection to hair.
Cautions: Some silicones are water soluble while others are not. Non-water soluble silicones can accumulate on hair if a no-poo (no shampoo) routine is used.
Sulfates (or SLS)
Word on the street: Sulfate containing shampoos are harsh, strip hair of natural oils, and dry out hair.
Science: The purpose of shampoo is to strip oil. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a common surfactant in hair products and is one of—if not the most—effective cleanser. It can be very irritating to skin on its own, but it is often mixed with less harsh cleansers such as SLES or ALES.
Best use: Clarifying hair, excellent for getting rid of build up.
Cautions: Some shampoos with SLS are likely to irritate skin (meaning dryness, itchiness and redness). Equally, some shampoos without SLS can also provoke a similar reaction. If a shampoo irritates, it is best to switch to something different.
Word on the street: Parabens cause cancer and mimic human hormones (estrogen).
Science: Parabens are preservatives used in cosmetics to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. Parabens do have a similar structure to estrogen but are not known to cause cancer. They were found in breast cancer tissue but are also thought to be present in undiseased tissue as they can travel through the skin. In terms of mimicking hormones, parabens present a significantly low risk compared to hormonal contraception.
Best Use: An unpreserved hair product is a serious potential health risk. Parabens are not the only available preservative, but you should always pick a product with some type of preservative.
Word on the street: Glycerin dries hair out especially in winter. It can draw moisture from hair.
Science: Glycerin is a humectant, meaning that it binds to, and holds onto, water. Therefore, it is a moisturizing ingredient. It is also known to strengthen natural hair (unfortunately not so for relaxed hair). It is usually mixed with water prior to use and therefore in theory should not draw water from hair.
Best Use: One natural hair company (Oyin) suggests applying glycerin-containing products on hair prior to a bath and shower. The steam could provide glycerin with additional water.
Cautions: Not everyone likes glycerin as a humectant. Some have more success with aloe vera or honey.
Now that you have the science behind the above ingredients, you can make your own informed decision regarding when/if to use them. Remember, it’s best to “know” your hair—what it thrives on and what it dislikes. What works for some may not work at all for you.
– Laquita Thomas – Banks