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Is Alcohol Bad For My Hair?

Instead of asking "Is alcohol bad for my hair?", it's probably better to ask "Are alcohols bad for my hair?" Alcohol is not one chemical but a whole family of chemicals with very different properties and very different effects on your hair. You might have heard that alcohol is bad for your hair.  As with so many other things, it's not so simple.

Some forms of alcohol are good for your hair

It depends on what type of alcohol we are talking about.  An alcohol that would be used in a holding spray is probably not going to be great for your hair. However, even these alcohols serve a purpose. Some alcohols are completely the opposite. They are actually "fatty" alcohols that add moisture to the hair by pulling in moisture from the air (they're called hygroscopic). They also help to thicken products are are not harmful to  your hair. They, in fact, are the opposite. They improve the health of your hair.

Short chain alcohols are generally the ones African-Americans are going to want to avoid. They are generally used in styling/finishing products. The reason they are used is, because of the way they are structured, they evaporate quickly. Because they evaporate quickly they wick moisture away from the hair which can leave it dry and frizzy- usually the very thing black women are trying to avoid.

Examples of alcohols to avoid using on your hair

Some examples are SD Alcohol 40, Ethanol or Ethyl Alchohol, Propyl Alocohol and Isopropyl.  When many people think of alcohol, they think of rubbing alcohol  (isopropyl alcohol), which we all know evaporates quickly.  And, it's true that using these types of alcohols on the hair over and over and not properly replacing the moisture is going to cause damage. In this sense "alcohol" (these alcohols) is bad for your hair.

Examples of alcohols that are good for your hair

However, there is a completely different class of alcohols. These are large molecule, long chain alcohols that are as different from the short chain alcohols as night is from day. They tend to be "fatty", clump together, and do not evaporate quickly. They draw moisture into the hair, thicken products, and are used in some of the best products available for your hair. Examples include Stearyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol and Myristyl alcohol.  You want to see these alcohols in your products.

So, the next time you see the word alcohol on the label of a product you're checking out, do some research on the type of alcohol it is.  The type of product will give you a good clue. If it's a product designed to be used on dry hair as a finishing product, it's probably a short chain alcohol and will be drying to your hair. That doesn't mean you can't use the product.  Just understand what it's doing.  If it's a conditioner, the alcohol is most likely a long chain alcohol and it's being used to benefit your hair. Feel comfortable knowing you're doing something good for your hair by using it.


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