We have discussed the most commonly used surfactants; we know that usually anionic surfactants are the ones which perform the best on the hair because of their negative charge which makes them feel more “conditioning” (it actually increases their “wetting ability”) and at the same time, for the same reason, they tend to be more aggressive on our skin/scalp; we have also talked about the most commonly used eco-friendly and delicate surfactants (the glucosides); I know I am very far from having covered all the possible combination of surfactants, but that was not my intent from the beginning, as it would be an impossible task: surfactant combinations can be infinite! 😉
A while ago I tried a shampoo which had, as main surfactant, the Cocamidopropyl Betaine, followed by Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate. I bought it because this was a combination of surfactants which I had already used to make face wash (betaine and sarcosinate, in a good formulation, give a very mild detergent) but I never liked the effect of Sarcosinate in the hair because it made my hair feel very dry and tangled while I was washing them and it also didn’t make my hair feel very clean after washing them (a shampoo should be mild but not TOO mild… 😀 ), so in my opinion finding this combination in a commercial shampoo was quite a curious find. 🙂
Well: I have been liking the results! It is not my overall favorite shampoo so far (nothing beats, imo, sles+betaine), but I haven’t had any problem! 🙂
So what is the conclusion?
Simply that the ingredients “around” our water and surfactants can make a very big difference! 😀
WARNING: I have been asked more than once to publish a list of good and bad ingredients (and explain why) but this really cannot be done. I don’t see things in black and it is very rare when a substance can be really considered 100% safe or 100% dangerous.
Obviously I do have ingredients which I avoid and I don’t like, but I don’t want to be the one who says “you should avoid this too!!!”. There is already so much scaremongering about ingredients and it is not something I appreciate in general.
What I am trying to do, here, is to give you the tools so you can choose your preferences by yourself! 🙂
Here we go!
The main “contour” ingredients which we can find in a shampoo are:
– HYDROLYZED PROTEINS – inside of the INCI you will read “hydrolyzed wheat/silk/milk/oat proteins“ (or any other kind 😀 ). It is true that the best for the hair would be “hydrolyzed keratin” BUT since we are talking about a shampoo (which means that we are going to rinse everything off very soon after we apply it), the aim of adding proteins inside a shampoo is mainly to protect the hair more than to reconstruct it. The aminoacids, in fact, somehow “reach” the hair before of the surfactants therefore mechanically protecting the hair. In order to protect the hair, you should find these proteins quite high in the INCI. 🙂
– CONDITIONING AGENTS – We are talking about a shampoo and not a hair conditioner, however often a small amount of conditioner is needed in order to make the shampoo feel good. You will find this kind of ingredients mostly in shampoos intended for long hair (and indeed, if you have short hair, you definitely don’t need to look for these ingredients). There are, however, many different kinds of conditioning agents. I will report here few of them:
– Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride – it helps detangle the hair because of its antistatic property (it also helps the shampoo to be a little more thick). Usually used around 0.2% there are two “cousins” of this substance but I have never tried them and I don’t know enough to tell if they behave similarly enough to this ingredient: one is “hydroxypropyl guar” (which is still described as the first, but it is eco-friendly) and “hydroxypropyl guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride” (which should still do the job but, apparently, it is even less eco-friendly than the first).
– Hydroxypropyltrimonium hydrolyzed wheat protein/soy protein/collagen/keratin (and so on) – Since people are reading the INCI more and more, the cosmetic companies have come up with these ingredients which could almost cheat an unprepared reader: you may be tempted to think these are simply hydrolyzed wheat proteins but they are not. Not particularly eco-friendly. The good news, once again, is that these are found at very low concentration in a shampoo and their effect is actually good on the hair. The choice is yours 😉
– Inulin – this is a good and “natural” ingredient which has conditioning properties. Up to 2% it is used to make the hair more straight. However, on thin hair which need a bit of volume it can have the bad effect of making the hair look even more heavy and powerless. So buy a shampoo according to your needs!
– Polyquaternium family – There are a big number of Polyquat (0 to 42) but their chemical structure is very different from one another. What is common to all these ingredients is that they are conditioning agents, they create a light film on the hair making your head look shiny and smooth. They are easily washed off and they are great ingredients if we are talking about the “result” point of view. Shampoos which contain Polyquaterniums should contain a maximum of 1.5% of them. I personally like them and I use them 🙂
– SILICONS – I will treat this argument very very briefly because this is not a post about them. Their main use in shampoos is because they are conditioning, they make the hair shine and they keep the hair all soft and smooth. It is also true that they are difficult to wash off and they tend to build up on the hair.
My personal opinion (and therefore you are free to have your own 😉 ) is that silicons, on the hair and used in a small amount (the technical amount necessary to make them do their job) are fine.
However when I say “small amount” I do mean it: one thing is to use a shampoo or a hair conditioner which contains a little bit of Quaternium-80 (even I add it sometimes at 0.5-1% in my recipes), another thing is to apply on the hair pure silicon (like “liquid crystals”). Therefore, when reading the INCI of a product, check in which position they are! If they are at the beginning, it is very possible that after few applications they will make your hair look heavy and without life (which is the truth, actually 😀 ).
The most common silicons found in hair products are: Amodimethicone, Dimethicone, Quanternium-80 (or other numbers, but not all are silicons) and 😀 I even found one which has this name “Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane” 😀
– EMULSIFYING AGENTS/FOAM BOOSTERS – They are often added to keep the shampoo composition more stable (often there are also a lot of oils in the formula and therefore they are needed), they also usually thicken the product and help making a very good foam.
– Cocamide/Lauramide/Lanolinamide/Myristamide DEA, MEA or TEA They are very aggressive surfactants, used at a low percentage (shouldn’t get over 2% in a shampoo), usually they are there to make the shampoo more stable but mostly they end up making it too aggressive. However, the greatest problem is that, because of their chemical composition, they might react with the preservatives and create bad molecules 😀 (yes, I made it very simple but this is a biiig subject 😀 ) [you can look up these ingredients on the internet]
Ps. they are not eco-friendly
– PEG-10/PEG-200/PEG-150 (or actually PEG-whatever 😀 ) These are emulsifiers, thickeners and often also surfactants. They are considered not eco-friendly. They are often found in oil-based shampoos because they are powerful 😀 they don’t make much foam but they clean quite well.
– NATURAL OILS, SYNTHETIC OILS – Oils are added to make the shampoo be milder on the skin because the grease “occupies” part of the washing ability of the surfactants, they also bring emolliency to the product. Therefore if you find a shampoo with oils in the first positions of its INCI, you can be quite reassured that it shouldn’t be an aggressive shampoo, however, I believe that a good balance of surfactants should still be there! Buying a shampoo made of water, SLES, olive oil and preservative doesn’t sound a good enough 😀 . You could find coconut oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, argan oil… as well as synthetic esters.
– pH ADJUSTERS
The pH of the hair is around 4.5, therefore often we find citric acid or ascorbic acid which are added to lower the pH.
There are many different kinds and happily nowadays there are some which are not so eco-unfriendly. Preservatives, when you read the INCI of a product, very rarely are just one ingredient but most commonly they consist of a combination of more ingredients. Therefore, here I talk about the preservatives writing their chemical name one next to the other, but inside of the INCI these ingredients might be separated by other ingredients (just so you know 😀 )
– Benzyl alcohol, Dehydroacetic acid (this is commercially known as Cosgard, but on the INCI you will obviously read its chemical composition) T It is the one I use for most of my homemade cosmetics but I have learnt that it is not broad spectrum so I have substituted it now. It is considered eco-almost-friendly ( 😀 ) even though it cannot be considered like “fresh water” 😀 The % needed inside a cosmetic is around 0.5%-1%. It is not commonly found in cosmetics, but if you find a shampoo with this preservative combination, I would say it is fine.
– Parabens (Butyl/Ethyl/Methyl/Isobutyl… Paraben) I guess I don’t need to say anything against Parabens since nowadays they are rarely found in cosmetics anymore (once again, because of the huge scaremongering about them). Personally I don’t believe they are so bad as they seem to be (at least in a shampoo, which is a product which you rinse right after), but since now we can have a choice to pick something better, why not.
– Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate – These two ingredients make a food-grade preservative. They are good, in the way that they are considered eco-friendly. However they might cause allergies if used too much. Therefore: if you have an itchy scalp and you have been using a shampoo with this kind of preserving system, try using a shampoo which has another preserving system just to be sure that you haven’t become sensitive to these ingredients 🙂
There are obviously much more preserving systems but I will write a post about them separately.
The next post will be the last one of the kind and I will talk about the “good” ingredients we can find in a shampoo 🙂
Those which are supposed to give good results!
Hope you liked this post and you found it interesting 😀
Is there anything unclear or anything you would like to know? 😀