When was the last time you went to the store & cruised through the shampoo aisle? If you haven’t you should. If you have, it was mind boggling wasn’t it? So many bottles so many brands, what is the difference in them all? From an ingredient quality stand point the differences could be as vast as the grand canyon. However, the categories of ingredients are relatively similar. That’s what I want to share with you today. What exactly is shampoo made up of? All shampoos have these categories of ingredients. How they are sourced, where they come from, & how they actually work is quite varied.
Hair care is a generalized term for the hygiene of hair. You’ve got three basic components for daily care. There are shampoos, conditioners, & stylers. Sure there are treatments & chemicals to alter the structure, but I want to focus on the products that are repetitively used to maintain the appearance of your hair.
Shampoos clean. That's why we use them, but to make shampooing an enjoyable experience, there is more than just cleansers. They contain detergents that remove dirt, oils, styling products, environmental pollutants, skin cells & residues. Also included are foaming agents because we equate lather with cleaning ability, but there isn’t any real connection there. Suds do help evenly disperse the detergents & other ingredients though your hair. Conditioners are often in shampoo formulations to replace the oils that the detergents remove. Some detergents are very aggressive & can dry out your tresses. There are also thickeners & opacifiers in there. These are added because we seem to think a thick, opaque shampoo works better. It's a belief, not a fact. Shampoos also have sequestering agents added to keep ‘soap scum’ from forming on the hair & scalp. These are especially important with hard water. Fragrance is often added to make it smell pretty, and preservatives keep your shampoo free of microbial growth, creating shelf stability. Your shower is a great place for mold & fungus to grow. With out preservatives, you’d essentially need to keep your shampoo refrigerated. Who wants to do that! Sometimes treatment additives are added but aren’t related to cleansing.
Shampoos come in a wide variety of types, aromas, strengths, & have just as many variable of ingredients. All shampoos are not created equal. Some have cleansers & detergents that are harsh, can irritate skin, strip our natural oils, causing dryness, leave heavy ingredients or chemicals that cover & suffocate the strands & scalp. While I can’t get into all the different types of ingredients in this post, I can touch on some of the things to avoid.
Detergents are designed to draw oils & water to them, attracting dirt & grime suspended in the water as you’re washing. Excess oils are attracted too, so they can be washed away when you rinse the shampoo out. There are several types or categories of detergents & each does something different. Some attract dirt, some attract oils, some leave oils alone, some work better in hard water, or higher or lower ph, others are designed to leave conditioners behind.
Sulfates, SLS, SLES, sulfites are cleansers that are very effective & harsh, even corrosive. They’ve been linked to irritating tissues & drying out hair fibers, pulling cosmetic color out of the hair causing fadage, & damaging hair strands. I recommend avoiding these types of cleansers. Especially on chemically treated or fragile hair.
All hair is a natural fiber, and is as different as the individual it is attached to. Cleansing regimens are as diverse, as well. There are many types of shampoos. The frequency of your shampoo regimen is an important factor to keep in mind, as is the type of hair you have. Your hair goals will direct you to the kinds of cleansers you need to use. Some will be mild & care for cosmetic color, some will do a better job of removing oils & sebum, others will not remove sebum & only attract dirt & grime. If you shampoo everyday, a milder cleanser should be used. If you allow sebum to build up & layer on styling products for days, a stronger cleanser that attracts dirt & oil should be used. If your hair is excessively oily, a good lipophilic cleanser is needed, & you may not need added conditioners in the shampoo. Shampoos will typically state what they are designed to do.
On to conditioner! Conditioners are substances that enhance the look & feel of your hair. They can add fullness, increase control (or hold down your hair), make hair easier to comb or brush by making it more slippery, releasing tangles. Everyone of us produces the ideal conditioner for hair naturally. It is called sebum. Our bodies produce it to protect & seal our hair, thus keeping dirt & other undesirable things on the surface. Depending on frequency of shampooing & the strength of detergent, more or less sebum is removed & needs to be replaced. Chemical treatments & how we handle our hair (heat styling, recreational activities, blow drying) also create a need for more conditioning.
What conditioners do is provide a sebum replacement so to speak. The components in conditioners are attracted to the hair by having an opposite electrical charge, & then cling to the hair. The drier or more damaged the hair is, the higher the attraction. Conditioner reduces static electricity, & flattens the cuticle either by chemical reaction or a mechanical coating. This reduces friction, increases shine, & makes hair easier to comb or detangle. Conditioners may also temporarily seal split ends or areas where the hair is susceptible to breakage.
Conditioners are made up of several substances. Surfactants that attach to hair by electrical charge, mono & poly peptides which are amino acids & collagen elements, Fatty alcohols, waxes , or gums and salt that thicken or add body to the product, emollients which are natural or synthetic oils that produce films & create shine Natural oils could be jojoba, olive, grape, abbyssinian oils. Synthetics are typically a silicone. I prefer natural over synthetic because natural is often easier to remove than silicone, & long term film coatings on the hair cause a whole host of problems. All oils are not created equal, some have large molecules that lay on the surface acting like silicone, & others like abbysinnian oil are able to absorb into the strand offering longer term healthier benefits. There have been studies conducted showing the benefits of oils like abyssinian oil on hair. There are also other emollients that keep the mixture from separating in the bottle.
Conditioners are used in several ways. Some are applied directly after shampooing, these are the most commonly used, contact time is important to allow the good stuff time to work. These conditioner are ideal for hair that isn’t damaged or dry. We have deep conditioners that are more concentrated, & are used less frequently & are excellent for hair that is more dry or damaged. I always do a deep conditioning treatment in the salon after a color service. Leave in or blow dry conditioners are left in the hair to dry, or are blow dried in. These can be great for people with oily hair.
There are also glazes & thickening conditioners, designed to place a coating on the hair to increase the diameter making it appear thicker & have more volume. Your type of hair will often determine the type of conditioner you want to use. I personally prefer a rinse out conditioner for my clients because there is less concern of over conditioning. Leave in conditioners used in moderation, or small amounts are often great at fighting frizz & static electricity. I’m enjoying the newer conditioners the aren’t using silicones. These use small molecule oils that penetrate the hair offering lasting condition & shine with out the build up concerns. These types of conditioners allow for milder detergent shampoos keeping your hair healthier in general.
Styling product is the 3rd hair care component. Styling products are designed to create shape & hold along with appearance of texture or shine. Stylers range from soft supple ‘memory’ products to hard hold sculpting. They are important factors in creating looks in hair. Effects like soft & billowy, to very sculpted designs are achieved with stylers of different types. Resins & waxes are typically in styling products. Polymers, aka resins, give structure to styles by creating films that hold hair in place & a given shape.
Styling products do a great job of making your hair look perfect, but can dry hair because of the alcohols many contain to aid in quick drying time. They are also big culprits of build up on hair strands due to the synthetic ingredients included in them. Silicone, waxes & resins are notoriously hard to remove unless you are using a strong potentially damaging cleanser. These build ups keep conditioners from doing their job effectively, adding to the drying out of the strand.
As the use of synthetic ingredients have increased & made more powerful, heat from styling tools have increased over time to combat the added difficulty in reshaping these elements. I'm seeing an increase in styling damage as a result. Hair is a natural fiber, & is as susceptible to scorching as cashmere, linen, silk, or any other fine textile fiber. Would you crank your clothes iron to high & then allow it to sit in 1 place on your silk blouse for 5 or 10 seconds? It would ruin it, right? The same danger is present when iron curling or straightening your hair. Silicone does disperse heat, but everything has its limits.
I choose to help my clients find more natural styling products without the heavy potentially hazardous chemicals that require high heat apparatuses. This one thing has allowed me to keep my irons in the medium range & I’ve educated my client to to the same at home. A more natural approach is good for us, our hair, & our planet. Everybody wins!
I pride myself on offering new & unique products, that make having more great hair days super simple for the modern, busy woman who wants to look their absolute best with the least amount of effort. This allows you to focus on being a total boss babe without having to worry about your appearance, or the adverse effects of harsh, heavy chemicals on you, your hair, or the environment.
I'd love to talk with you about what your regimen is & help you have effortlessly gorgeous hair.