What are the Good Alcohols and Bad Alcohols For Your Hair?

Depending on the type, acohol in hair products can be good or bad. 

Depending on the type, acohol in hair products can be good or bad. 

Have you ever heard that there are good fats and bad fats?  For example, fast food restaurants have a lot of bad fats, but avocados give you good fats.  Hair products have the same conundrum when we talk about alcohol -- there are good alcohols and there are bad alcohols for your hair.  Don't be fooled by the word 'alcohol' and just run away because some of the alcohol found in hair products can keep your hair looking soft and shiny.

  • The Bad.  Alcohols that are "short-chain" alcohols have three or less carbons in the tail.  While they're great at helping hair to dry quickly, they often help the hair dry too quickly.  The super quick chemical dry can leave your hair frizzy
  • because the cuticle becomes rough as the water and moisture is removed from it.

The "bad alcohols" are generally friendly when they play with water and oil-based ingredients, so they can be great for dissolving polymers or other additives, but they're not great at functioning as any sort of conditioning source.

Particularly prone to the backlash of The Bads are girls with curly hair.  Since curly hair tends to already need tons of moisture, the bad alcohols can zap all of the life out of curly-headed girls and guys with it's quick-evaporating tendencies and drying-out qualities.

What kinds of alcohols are short-chained? In this "bad group", you'll find ethanol, SD alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat, alcohol 40, propyl alcohol, and propanol.

  • The Good.  Contrary to popular belief, there are alcohols that are good for your hair.  These alcohols are fatty, generally come from natural sources, and they come many carbons strong (usually between twelve and twenty). The fattiness is caused by the much higher carbon content, and the molecules become oily.  When the molecules are oily, they lay flat on the surface of the hair cuticle with a little bit of heaviness, which causes the hair to have a shiny and vibrant look and feel.  Be careful not to use too much because, like anything else, too much of a good thing can backfire.  In the case of "good fats" on your hair, too much can mean too oily, and your hair can easily end up with a greasy texture if it's overdone.

You'll often find these types of "good alcohols" in higher quality shampoos and conditioners as well as thickeners, non-ionic surfactants, and emulsion stabilizers.  These fatty alcohols help keep the price down in products as they replace more expensive polymers.

The Goods are great for your hair when you keep them at bay and use them as they're meant to be used.  Don't go overboard, and your hair will look beautiful, shiny, and happy.

Which alcohols are included in the category of "good alcohols"? Lauryl alcohol, Cetyl alcohol, Myristyl alcohol, Stearyl alcohol, Cetearyl alcohol, and Behenyl alcohols are among this group of fat and happy chemicals.

Remember that there are good and bad products for nearly everything you can imagine.  While your first inclination may be to think that alcohol in hair products is bad and you should stay away, a little research and diligence when it comes to your purchases can go a long way for the life of your locks.