Sometimes, reading the ingredient list of a natural hair product seems more like a sci-fi marathon, or a trip back to 10th grade chemistry. Maybe it's a little bit of both.
While there are some controversial ingredients to be wary of, there are a few that sound absolutely terrible but in fact, are innocuous. Or even better, they turn out to be great for your hair. Here are 4 ingredients you don't need to fear:
Polyquaternium 11, 57, 10, 37....the list goes on.
If you've ever picked up an anti-frizz or styling product, there's a high probability that it contains at least one of the quaternary ammonium polymers, affectionately known as "polyquats."
ARE THEY SILICONES?
Although some like to lump these polymers into the same category of silicones, they serve quite a different role on the hair. Polyquats are film-forming by nature, which means they will effectively coat the hair - blocking humidity, preventing frizz, and providing curl defining/retention.
WHAT DO THEY DO?
Polyquats are also known conditioning agents. Because they are positively charged, they stick to the most damaged areas of the hair, smoothing them out and helping cuticles lie flat. Along with conditioning the hair, they promote shine, ease of combing, and improved elasticity. Just make sure to clarify your hair according to your individual schedule, because some polyquats can cause buildup. Too much of a good thing can be bad for you!
Get your polyquat fix with products like TIGI Catwalk Curls Rock Amplifier, and even DevaCurl No Poo.
*Fun fact: the numbers behind each polyquat isn't related to anything scientific. It is simply indicates the order in which the polyquat was registered with the International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients.
2. Cetrimonium Chloride
I'm sure cetrimonium chloride sounds like nothing positive. But I assure you, it is.
WHAT IS IT?
Like most scary sounding ingredients, it is actually a cationic compound and conditioning agent designed to stick to the hair and improve softness, manageability, reduce frizz, and static.
It also helps soften the cuticle layer, and helps the cuticles lie flat. Cetrimonium chloride can also act as a gentle surfactant - meaning if your conditioner contains this ingredient, it will make a pretty snazzy cowash product. Where cetrimonium chloride really won me over is how it stands up to heat.
STRENGTHENS & PROTECTS
According to the Journal of Cosmetic Science, when products containing cetrimonium chloride are used in the hair (the low molecular weight allows it to penetrate the hair shaft) and heat is supplied via curling iron, flat iron, or blow dryer, it actually strengthens the hair and helps protect from heat damage.The protein chains in the hair crosslink with the cetrimonium chloride, making hair even stronger.
To reap these benefits, look for conditioners and heat protectants that contain cetrimonium chloride like: L'Oreal Total Repair 5 Damage Erasing Balm, Tresemme Heat Tamer Spray, and AG Fast Food Leave On Conditioner.
3. Behentrimonium Methosulfate
Whether you ascribe to the Curly Girl Method, or some other variation of natural hair-ism, you've probably made it a general practice to be alarmed by anything that contains the word "sulfate."
I understand, considering the fact that sodium, ammonium, and other lauryl and laureth sulfates are incredibly harsh detergents with a propensity for drying, frizzing, and wreaking havoc on natural hair. However, behentrimonium methosulfate is not one of the bad guys.
THE MILDEST DETANGLER
In fact, behentrimonium methosulfate (if you're feeling friendly, BTMS for short) is an incredibly gentle, surfactant made from non-GMO rapeseed aka canola oil. It is actually one of the mildest detangling ingredients around, and helps provide slip in some of your favorite conditioners.
Behentrimonium methosulfate does not cause buildup, and is non-irritating to the scalp. It is a great cowashing ingredient, conditioner, and is actually derived from something you probably have in your kitchen.
Not so bad, right?
Get your BTMS fix with products like Curls Curl Ecstasy Hair Tea Conditioner, and AG Recoil Curl Care Conditioner.
4. Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine
I dare you to say that three times fast! I'm kidding, I can barely say it once and even then, I'm sure I'm mispronouncing it.
Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine sounds scary for two reasons: one, the -propyl ending is reiminiscent of isopropyl alcohol, that naughty drying alcohol that lends itself to snapping damaging and breaking natural hair.
Two, the dimeth- shares the same first 6 letters as dimethicone, a common silicone used in hair products. Anti-cone naturals may mistakenly associate this ingredient with a cone, when in fact, it is not.
In actuality, stearamidopropyl dimethylamine is touted as a silicone replacement, often used in place of or in conjunction with silicones in many conditioners. It is a cationic surfactant (positively charged) made from the rapeseed (more canola!).
WHAT DOES IT DO
Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine binds to the hair, helps correct the negative charge of shampooing (like most conditioners), helps detangle, reduce flyaways and static, and helps smooth the cuticle. Unlike some silicones, it does not cause buildup.
Products like Suave Professionals Almond and Shea Butter Conditioner, and tgin Triple Moisture Replenishing Conditioner contain this ingredient.