Fatty and Short-Chain Alcohols

There is widespread concern about the use of alcohols in hair and skin products; common perception is that alcohol is drying to the skin and hair, so many individuals seek to use products that are alcohol-free.

What is not commonly known, however, is that there are two types of alcohols: fatty and short-chain alcohols. There are important differences between the two and it is important to be able to tell them apart, as fatty alcohols can be quite beneficial to curly hair care.

Because the molecules in fatty alcohols are more oily in nature than those of other
alcohol molecules, fatty alcohols are used as emollients in hair care products and
contribute a smooth, soft feel to the hair. Excessive use of them can make the hair greasy, but a judicious amount of fatty alcohols in hair care products can add beneficial moisturizers.

Fatty alcohols should not be confused with what are known as “short-chain
alcohols,” which are effective in aiding the dissolution of product ingredients not soluble
in water, but can be drying to the hair when used in large amounts. They evaporate quickly, but can still ruffle the cuticle and strip moisture from the hair.

As long as a short-chain alcohol is close to the bottom of a product ingredient label, you can be reasonably certain it is only included in the formulation to aid in creating a stable emulsion and will most likely not contribute any drying effects to your hair. And individuals with fine hair should be cautious about using any product with heavy amounts of fatty alcohols, as an overabundance of this product ingredient type may over-moisturize and weigh down fine strands.

Next: Proteins

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A list of Fatty Alcohols