Which Alcohols are Drying to Your Natural Hair?

Black Girl Natural Hair

The Great Alcohol Debate

Even when I wore my hair relaxed I would get advice about keeping "alcohol" out of my hair. Certain alcohols tend to dry out the hair especially for hair that is tightly coiled. Drying alcohols could cause your hair to become brittle, frizzy and eventually lead to breakage.
But there are actually good alcohols that do the complete opposite and can condition the hair. Apparently, this has something to do with the actual structure of alcohol. Alcohols are defined by their characteristics and vary in classes. Let's take a look!

Short Chain Alcohols

These alcohols evaporate very quickly and are often used as an additive to help decrease the time it takes for hair to dry. However, this can create dry, frizzy hair as it may cause the cuticle to be roughened and/or oil and water to be removed from the hair along with the alcohol (remember, these are often use as astringents for our skin for just this reason). Another function of these lower molecular-weight alcohols, particularly ethanol (SD alcohol, SD alcohol 40, Alcohol Denat) is to ensure the proper, even spreading of styling products onto the hair.

Fatty Alcohols

These larger alcohols are typically derived from natural sources. These alcohols tend to be a bit oilier (also referred to as ‘fatty’). For this reason, they are often used as an emollient in skin and haircare products and are often used in shampoos and conditioners as thickeners . They give a smooth, soft feeling to the hair shaft by helping the cuticle to lie flat on the surface of the hair. However, if used in excess, fatty alcohols can combine with the natural sebum (oil) found on the scalp and form a sticky substance that makes the hair look greasy. These alcohols actually help conditin the hair and makes it softer and more manageable. (Source)

Alcohols that Are Drying to the Hair:

  • Menthanol
  • Ethanol
  • Propanol
  • SDA40
  • Alcohol Denat
  • Specialty Denatutated Alcohol
  • Isopropyl Alcohol

Alcohols that Are Not Drying to the Hair:

  • Cetyl Alcohol  (derived from coconut and palm oils used as an emollient)
  • Acetyl Alcohol
  • Sterol Alcohol
  • Lauryl Alcohol
  • Lanolin Alcohol
  • Stearic Acid (also a fatty alcohol that is often used as an emollient)

Not all alcohols will have the same effect on every hair type. It is best to determine what is best for you and what your curly-kinky-coily head adapts to best. 

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