April 04, 2011

Actual Science Behind Some Notorious Ingredients

Here is some great info from one of my favorite bloggers Jc of The Natural Hair Haven.

This UK blogger, is actually a ‘real-life’ 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 says.

Jc compiled the following list of the top 5 most talked about ingredients and the science behind them.

Mineral Oil

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 entry or exit to the hair. No oil can fully prevent water entry or exit.

Mineral oil is colorless and odorless 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 being dry then 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 does not form the best barrier.

It is one of the best conditioning ingredients in shampoo helping to reduce hair damage when washing. In conditioners it creates slip allowing 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 or 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. Ideally if a shampoo irritates, 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 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 it binds to water and holds onto it. It therefore 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 now make your own informed decision on when/if to use them.

Remember, it’s best to ‘know’ your hair - what it strives on and what it dislikes. What works for some may not work at all for you :o)

Peace and Blessings...


Jc said...

Thanks for the repost :) I appreciate the compliments!

Laquita said...

Thank you Jc :o)

Keianna Johnson (KeeKeeAllNatural) said...

This post has educated more than anything I have ever read. I aways (when reading about topics such as this) have to read 3 or 4 pages just to try to figure out what is being said. Thanks for sharing this info.

Laquita said...

@KeeKee - I know Jc is great with making the science simple to understand. You should check out her blog as well.

Green Afro Diva said...

I am currently writing a blog post similar to this entitled, "May, Could and Might Contain stuf to Scare Me". I believe that there is a lot of misinformation out there on ingredients, perhaps either due to public safety concerns, or special interest groups agenda. I make mostly natural products, but it's always good to be informed on what's really out there.

Laquita said...

@Green Afro Diva Hey :o) I just sent you an email. But I agree about the misinformation. I'm going over to check out your site now ;o)

Emily Bazemore said...

I am Emily Bazemore, Owner and Chief Formulator for Ayari Cosmetics,LLC. I have been developing products for major companies for over 17 years. I do have my own product line for natural hair care. I would like to comment/add to this particular blog. Mineral Oil is one of the most fantastic oils for skin and hair creams. Yes it has gotten a lot of flack as myth describes it as an "acne causing" oil. It is far from the truth. This oil is considered an occlusive agent which it provides a barrier to skin and hair. It prevents water (Transepidermal water loss-TEWL) from evaporating from skin. As we age, we tend to lose water content in our skin and the same goes for the hair. As hair ages (The longest part of your hair) it needs to retain moisture to keep it healthy. As long as you are getting this Mineral oil from a reputable source (clean specs) then there is no problem. I always specify the cleanest when developing any of my products. Also, Surfactants (agents that clean & remove debris from hair) also, in my opinion have been getting a bad rap. I believe certain information have been misleading when reading certain documents such as the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets). It can be used incorrectly by those that do not understand that it is meant for those who handle large quantities of this particular material as is and not in a finished product. Yes, it can be dangerous if it is ingested, prolonged skin contact which could happen while making large batches (14,000 lbs or more) for major companies. However, when we get the finished product, it only contains a fraction of the material (8-25%) and very much diluted with other balanced ingredients, namely water (60-80%). So the harm here is very insignificant to the end user. I could go on about this, but I do want to add that I agree with the UK Chemist that all surfactants, synthetics or natural does only one thing and that is to remove debris from the hair. It has been noted that some natural surfactants can strip the hair just as harsh as synthetics. It is up to the bench chemist to find the right balance of other materials in the formula to offset that feel. As a formulator and Chemist, I have always formulated in a balanced way. We have used the primary surfactant (SLS) in conjunction with a secondary and tertiary surfactant (SLES) with naturally derived amphoterics that gives good foam boosting or healthy foam. Even if this very mild surfactant is used in higher concentrations will actually strip the hair but not to the degree of a primary surfactant (SLS). With this balance, a good shampoo can be developed to litigate any scalp irritations (especially from a chemical). It works the same for natural shampoos. There has to be a balance.