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Hair health and science

Is Alcohol Bad for Hair?

7 minutes

Alcohol is known in general to be drying, and while fun to have a few drinks on a night out, it isn’t generally regarded as great for your hair. As we’ve become more sophisticated and selective in the products we eat, drink and wear on our bodies, we’ve also grown more educated about the ingredients contained in our grooming and haircare products.

If you’ve struggled with dry or damaged hair, chances are you’ve come across a common bit of advice: avoid products that contain alcohol. The general perception is that all alcohols are drying to our locks just as much as they are to our bodies, but not all alcohol is created equal when it comes to haircare. While it has a reputation for drying, there’s more than one type of alcohol (in fact, there are many) not all of them are bad and there are some that are actually beneficial to the health of hair.

Are all alcohols bad for hair?

No, they are not, though the subtleties are a bit scientific; there is alcohol in hair products for a variety of reasons, and not all of them are damaging. We tend to get confused about alcohol because it’s pretty much a generic term, and almost always seen as negative. Plus, most ingredient lists contain several different types of alcohols with different, admittedly rather confusing, names. It’s no wonder we think it’s the devil in disguise when it comes to our haircare. The first thing it’s important to know is that alcohol is not a single chemical but a family of chemicals with differing properties. There are two major types of alcohols that are used within hair and skin care products: short-chain or drying alcohols and long-chain fatty or emulsifying alcohols.

The good and bad alcohols

Get ready for a mini science lesson, but one with major plus points for your tresses. Short-chained alcohols are considered ‘bad’ because they can have limited benefits for most hair types as they have very few carbon atoms, which mean they’re generally used in hair products that need a quick drying effect, aka traditional hair sprays. They evaporate quickly, so the styling agents attach faster and work better, but the flip side is that your hair is literally getting sucked dry. With prolonged use hair this causes the cuticle to roughen, leaving the hair dry, brittle and frizzy, and on the fast track to breakage. Some of the most common short-chain alcohols that you will find in hair care products are ethanol, SD alcohol, denatured alcohol, propanol, propyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol - these are the ones it’s best to avoid.

Alcohol-free hair products – the holy grail?

But what do we do if we need products that maintain hold and shape to our style? Most of us guard our best-loved beauty products with a fearsome love, so what are we to do if they could actually be damaging our hair? Most quick-acting products and aerosol hairsprays rely on the wrong type of alcohol to maintain hold, but Pantene has been working hard to formulate one without any alcohol at all. Contrary to traditional hairsprays, Never Stray No Crunch Alcohol Free HairSpray is alcohol-free and therefore doesn’t dry the hair out in the same way. Not only does it not contain alcohol but is enriched with Pro-V complex, bamboo and silk extracts that locks in your look with a flexible, soft light-as-air look with a crunch-free finish.

The same is true for Pantene Cheat Day Alcohol Free Dry Shampoo Foam, contrary to many dry shampoos in market, it’s completely alcohol-free, refreshing the hair from the root to tip in 60 seconds flat. Instead it uses natural tapioca to whip your back to life without washing, and without the drying effects of short-chain alcohols.

Are there any good alcohols in hair products?

Although many hair products have alcohol-named ingredients, there are some that deliver the opposite of the drying effects of short chain alcohols: meet the long chain fatty alcohols. These are the good guys to their bad short chain cousins and one of the ultimate nourishing ingredients. Fatty alcohols tend to come from plants and oils and add to the smooth touch and texture of creams and lotions. They’re added to as thickeners and emulsifiers (aka ingredients that keep oil and water in formulas mixed together so it doesn’t separate) but they’re also super hydrating and highly beneficial to your hair. When looking on the back of your bottle for the ingredients of your products, the most common fatty alcohols that you will find are: lauryl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, myristyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, behenyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol.

Is cetearyl alcohol bad for hair?

One of the most common long chain fatty alcohols is this last ingredient, cetearyl alcohol and it’s vastly different from “regular” alcohols, like ethanol. Found in most products for hair that’s dry or prone to frizz, it has incredible smoothing and moisturising properties. Added to formulations for its luxurious slip and glide, it makes hair easier to detangle and keeps the hair hydrated and soft. Think of it as your hair’s favourite alcoholic treat, a double shot of soothing and softening goodness.

Is all alcohol bad for hair?

Just as heavy drinking can lead to damage to the health of your hair, so can the wrong types of alcohol product usage. Alcohol intake internally and externally through products leads to dehydration, which makes it difficult for long, healthy hair to thrive. Does alcohol increase hair growth? Sadly, the complete opposite is true. The more your body ingests, the more your hair weakens, and once it is weak, growth is almost impossible. Thinning hair is also a by-product of too much alcohol in the system because the body relies on the minerals zinc and iron for healthy hair growth that is reduced with excessive consumption. In short, as with everything, enjoy both your drinks and your not-so good alcohol hair products in moderation. However, with Pantene’s Waterless Collection which features Cheat Day Alcohol Free Dry Shampoo Foam, Never Stray No Crunch Hair Spray and Curl Affair Curl (Re)Shaping Cream, you can get all the benefits of clean, fresh and perfectly styled hair, without the negative effects of alcohol. Win, win. Craving more haircare tips to keep those tresses in top shape? We’ve put together a helpful guide answering the long-asked question: how often should you wash your hair? The answer’s a click away!

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