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. 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.
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. But, they also tend to
wick moisture away from the hair which can leave it dry and frizzy-
usually the very thing black women are trying to avoid. 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
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.
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
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