So, how do you actually identify sulfates and non-water soluble silicones on product labels? The list of formal ingredient names below will help you to stay on track and avoid purchasing products that are not suitable for optimal curly hair health.
Please note that professional salon products especially formulated for curly hair will always give the best results; however, drugstore products containing no sulfates or non-water soluble silicones are always preferable to any product brand containing those ingredients.
My clients will tell you I am not in the least bit concerned about what “brand” you use. I care more that you commit to following the no-sulfate, no non-water soluble silicones guidelines than I do about what brand you buy, so always feel free to experiment and use the products that are best for you and your particular curls. I still experiment with different products myself, as I suspect almost every girl with curls will do for the rest of her life!
A surfactant—sometimes referred to as a detergent—is a substance that, when dissolved in water, gives a product the ability to remove dirt from surfaces such as the human skin, textiles, and other solids. There are several different types of surfactants, ranging from harsh to mild, with sulfates belonging to the class that is the most harsh.
Common sulfates as found on hair product ingredient bottles include:
- Alkylbenzene Sulfonate
- Ammonium Laureth or Lauryl Sulfate
- Ammonium or Sodium Xylenesulfonate
- Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate
- Ethyl PEG-15 Cocamine Sulfate
- Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
- Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate
- Sodium Laureth, Myreth, or Lauryl Sulfate
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
Some milder surfactants—less drying and recommended in lieu of sulfates—include:
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine
- Coco Betaine
- Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate or Cocoamphodipropionate
- Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
Silicones generally end in -cone, -conol, -col, or -xane and are found in many hair products. If any silicone name has the abbreviation “PEG” or “PPG” in front of it, however, it is water-soluble and will not build up.
Silicones that are not soluble in water, will consistently build up on the hair and will require a surfactant-based shampoo to remove include:
- Cetearyl Methicone
- Cetyl Dimethicone
- Stearyl Dimethicone
Silicones that are not soluble in water, but whose chemical properties allow it to repel further deposit, helping to prevent buildup (although they will still lock moisture out of the hair and require a surfactant to remove):
A note about amodimethicone: if you do an Internet search on amodimethicone, you will find quite a few sites that list amodimethicone as a silicone that is “slightly” soluble in water as long as two additional ingredients are included in the formulation:
Amodimethicone (and) Trideceth-12 (and) Cetrimonium Chloride (as a mixture in the bottle)
The assumption has always been that the inclusion of Trideceth-12 (a nonionic surfactant) and cetrimonium chloride (a cationic surfactant) render the amodimethicone, non-water soluble on its own, slightly soluble in water and it could be considered okay to use. Turns out that has been a completely incorrect assumption. What the Trideceth-12 and cetrimonium chloride do is render the amodimethicone dispersible in water. Once the amodimethicone is deposited onto the hair shaft and dries to a film, however, it is not water-soluble, will prevent moisture from getting into the hair shaft and will require a surfactant to remove.
Silicones that are slightly soluble in water, but can possibly build up on some types of curly hair over time, include:
- Behenoxy Dimethicone
- Stearoxy Dimethicone
Silicones that are soluble in water and can generally be considered safe to use (in addition to those listed with “PEG” or “PPG” in front of them) include:
- Dimethicone Copolyol
- Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane
- Lauryl Methicone Copolyol
An additional note about proteins: some curly hair types, especially those with a coarse hair texture, are also sensitive to proteins, which can cause some curly hair to become dry and brittle. They are best avoided if any adverse effects are noted.
Common protein ingredients include:
- Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein
- Hydrolyzed Silk Protein
- Hydrolyzed Soy Protein
- Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
- Keratin Amino Acids
- Silk Amino Acids
- Silk Protein
- Soy Protein
- Wheat Amino Acids
- Wheat Protein