Alcohol: The Bad and the Good

hairgelWe’re talking hair products now, not your preferred pub beverage or dinner accompaniment!

If you check the ingredients in your hair-care arsenal, chances are alcohol of some type is lurking in there.

Alcohol is used in hair products for a number of reasons: to thicken them, to keep them from foaming, to help keep them fresher longer.

Alcohol is used to help hair dry faster but the side effect is that is also dries hair out.

This is because when you apply a product that contains ethyl alcohol, the alcohol content evaporates quickly, taking some of your hair’s natural moisture with it. Some people then have a tendency to add more of the product to gain back the lost moisture, but this just causes even more moisture to evaporate, leading to even drier hair!

What is a curly to do?

First, understand there are different types of alcohols used in hair products, and they have different jobs. Products that tend to dry hair (the ones that have a long shelf life and dry quickly once applied) contain these ingredients:

  • ethanol
  • isopropyl alcohol
  • propanol
  • propyl alcohol
  • SD alcohol
  • SD alcohol 40

But it’s not all bad news for alcohol. It’s a beauty myth that all alcohols dry out your hair and skin, because not all alcohols are the same.

Some alcohols are derived from natural sources and are considered “fatty.” These are great for curly girls wanting to hydrate their hair.

Fatty alcohols help lock in moisture and give your hair a soft, smooth feeling.

Say yes to these popular fatty alcohols:

  • lauryl alcohol
  • cetyl alcohol
  • myristyl alcohol
  • stearyl alcohol
  • cetearyl alcohol
  • behenyl alcohol

When using products with these ingredients, be mindful not to apply too close to the root as they can make the scalp appear and feel greasy.

For those of you wanting to avoid alcohol (in your hair care routine) there are products promoted as being alcohol-free. However, a close read of the ingredient list might show the addition of fatty alcohols because the term “alcohol free” might refer only to “ethanol alcohol, which is the one that causes frizz and dryness, especially for those with wavy and curly hair. So even if you discover your favorite hair product contains, for instance, cetyl alcohol, it is, in fact, free of the “bad” alcohol but contains a beneficial substance.

So don’t be afraid of a little alcohol in your hair-care diet!


You can make your own hair spray by using an alcohol-free gel diluted with a little water (try 3⁄4 ounce gel and 1⁄4 ounce water). Put it in a little spray bottle and spritz in spots when you want to control frizz or have a smoother hairstyle. ♥



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