Curly Hair Product Ingredients, Why They Matter & How To Shop W/ Confidence

Curly Hair Product Ingredients, Why They Matter & How To Shop W/ Confidence

Are you confused about which curly hair products to purchase? Do you know what is in your curly hair products? Learn why the ingredients in your curly hair products matter and how to shop with confidence.

The FDA requires that all hair care products list ingredients in order from highest to lowest concentration. Most of the time, water is listed as the first ingredient because it makes up 50%-80% of the total product. (HINT: This is why water is the base product to our curls and the best moisturizer). Water hydrates our hair and comprises most of our shampoos, conditioners, as well as our bodies! With that being said, it’s crucial to read the first 5-6 ingredients of every product you purchase.

The first 5-6 are the main properties of the product and the most relevant. Ingredients that are listed near the end of the product typically only use 2% or less, which is more than likely not enough to supplement/benefit your curls. Therefore, to know if the advertised ingredient that’s on the front of the product label is true, it’s crucial to whole-heartedly read the ingredients on the back, instead of trusting marketing claims. The effectiveness of the product is listed (truly) on the back and your advantage as a buyer is the basic understanding of the first five-six ingredients and what works best for you and your curly hair! 

After you’re identified which hair porosity type you have, this insight to ingredients will give you full insight to what your curly hair wants and needs! If you are still unsure of your porosity after taking tests, start by reading the basic characteristics of each porosity type and see which one you relate to the most. If that’s not helpful enough, start with medium porosity and go from there. Following the regimen and technique for your porosity type is key to figuring out what products will give you the best results. It’s easy to make almost any product work, as long as you know the regimen and technique!    

Now, let's learn how to shop with confidence and know what your curly hair desires! 


At some point in your life, during “hair talk”, it’s been more than common to hear that you should avoid any and all products that contain alcohol because it “dries your hair out”. This statement alone has been holding some of us curlies back for far too long and it’s imperative to know that not all alcohol is created equal and not all are considered “bad alcohols”. Although there are some alcohols that can increase frizz, there are also some that can help prevent it. In fact, some are great for your curls, by providing more slip in the product, allowing for a better detangling experience and moisturized curls. However, there are some that just need to be used less often or sparingly, depending on your hair needs. Different alcohols can be grouped and categorized by the structure of materials it carries, and defined by certain characteristics, like carbon and non-carbon properties, and how many chains it contains. There is an extensive scientific level pertaining to alcohol and we can go very in depth about it, but we won't dive in that deep. Instead, we will review two main types (or structures) of alcohol to help you get clarification and to overall allow you to make tailored hair product decisions based off ingredients, rather than the marketing claims on the front:

1. Short Chain Alcohols “small alcohols” - Great for medium porosity strands and hair that is prone to buildup. These short chains are capable of penetrating the hair follicle because of their low molecular weight, and known to evaporate quickly, which speeds up the drying process and causes dryness to your tresses and roughening of the hair cuticle. They are commonly found in our shampoos and conditioners, benefiting in the distribution of substances throughout our strands. They can also be found in hair dyes (hence why hair becomes so dry after color treatment and why deep conditioning becomes a top priority). Some common short chain alcohols are:

  • Ethanol
  • Propanol
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Propyl alcohol 
  • SD alcohol 
  • Alcohol denat
2. Long Chain Alcohols “fatty alcohols”  - Great for High and Low porosity dry strands. Long chains are derived from natural oils and fats that originate from plants and animals, such as palm or coconut oil. The long chains are too big to actually penetrate the hair follicle because they are mostly composed of oil, with the ability to give a product more “slip”, which can be beneficial for detangling and adding moisture. They are also known as “emulsifiers” and can be found in your “top five ingredients” as “emollients” that help keep oil and water mixed together in your hair products. They are commonly found in leave-in conditioners and deep conditioners, and are responsible for closing the cuticles, allowing curls to have a softer, smoother feel. However, using too much can cause “greasiness”, so it is beneficial to know “a little goes a long way”. Some common long chain “fatty alcohols” are: 

  • Cetyl alcohol 
  • Lauryl alcohol 
  • Cetearyl alcohol 
  • Stearyl alcohol 
  • Behenyl alcohol




1. Hair Cuticle: The flexible, scaly, outer layer of a hair strand that determines how easy (or hard) moisture AKA water & products can enter and exit each individual hair strand. 

2. Glycerin: Acts as a humectant, which allows the hair to retain moisture. It relieves dryness, increases hydration and refreshes. It’s also an emollient, which is known for its softening capabilities. If you find a product with it listed in the first six ingredients and your hair loves glycerin, it’s a keeper! This ingredient can be most beneficial to low and medium porosity.

3. Emollient: An anti-humectant and a sealant. Helps to form a smooth, soft finish of the hair shaft, without leaving a greasy, sticky texture, that can help ease the detangling process. They are known to include hydrophobic oils that can aid in sealing the hair shaft. Examples of emollients include ingredients such as, cyclomethicone, dimethicone, amodimethicone, proteins, fruit/vegetable-derived oils and butters, fatty alcohols, mineral oil, and petrolatums. This ingredient can be most beneficial to high porosity and humidity exposed strands.  

4. Silicones: A non-water soluble (does not dissolve in water) that can form a protective barrier around the hair shaft and prevent moisture from entering or exiting. This highly loved and hated ingredient has caused so much confusion to us curlies. While it’s known to “sit” on top of low porosity hair, it adds great slip, shine and helps to lock in moisture for high porosity strands. They can prevent frizz, by closing the hair shaft in high humidity. While it may work wonders for high porosity, it may be havoc for low to medium porous’ tresses. A silicone is best used in high humidity environments to help close and seal in moisture.

5. Humectants: A true moisturizer. Will add moisture to your tresses if they are dry and dull.  They are substances used in products like creams, butters and moisturizers that aid in attracting moisture for dry and/or damaged hair. Humectants have the ability to absorb water molecules from the natural climate and bind to the hair shaft. This will help tame frizz, reduce breakage, and improve elasticity. However, if you live in a climate where the humidity and dew point are consistently high (HOT temperature, creating more water aka moisture in the atmosphere), humectants can have the exact opposite effect, such as absorbing too much moisture in the air, which creates more frizz and breakage. Just remember, Humidity and Humectants don't go together. Use less when it is too hot. It’s more beneficial during the colder stages of the year. Overall, it’s beneficial to be aware of your outdoor living conditions and your hair porosity before applying a “Humectant”. Examples of humectants are Honey, Aloe, Agave Nectar, Fructose, Flaxseed Gel, Glycerin, Keratin, Sorbitol, Panthenol, Vitamin E, and plenty more to name a few.

6.  Mechanical Manipulation: Refers to the damaging effects caused by the tension from certain detangling techniques, braids, extensions, weaves, and tight ponytails. While “protective styles” can be beneficial in more ways than one, it is crucial to reduce the amount of mechanical manipulation that our delicate tresses cannot handle. 

Check out our other blogs for recommended products. For even more info and all things curls, download our curl care ebook today and shop our curly hair products

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