Saturday, December 13, 2008
Cationic polymers (or: Why I didn't major in chemistry in college)
Yikes. Looking pretty is a hell of a lot easier than learning how products do what they do.
I spent about 30 minutes researching this cationic polymer issue that was the subject of my previous post. And yes, it's amazing what you can find online, but I didn't understand most of it because they talked in terms of molecule chains. I'm the girl who took nutrition classes to get out of taking chemistry back in college. Get what I'm saying? 95% of it was over my curly head.
But fortunately, Tonya -- the Curl Chemist at NaturallyCurly.com -- had written a column a while back that I think tells those of us with inquiring minds what we need to know. I'll try to sum it up in a paragraph. Here goes.
Cationic polymers are most often identified by Polyquarternium and some number. Polyquat-4 is water-soluble and does not result in build-up. Polyquat-10 is more prone to build-up than Polyquat-4, and Tonya says that guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride performs in a very similar manner. Polyquat-11, which I personally avoid because it kills my curls and makes my hair feel unnatural, does indeed build up. Furthermore, Tonya says that many polyquats can be resistant to removal even by clarifying shampoos. I don't know if she means sulfates when she refers to clarifying shampoos.
Most of her article is too scientific for me, but if you love molecular talk, check it out at the link I provided earlier. At least what she wrote was a bit more accessible than what I found elsewhere on the Web.
Bottom line is that the Beauty Brains were correct in expressing real concern about cationic polymers (although to say that all of them are problematic may not be correct). And I must emphasize here that they are only problematic for those of us who want to avoid sulfates, which strip the hair. If you use a shampoo that contains sulfates, go ahead and use silicones and polyquats.
(Why do cationic polymers, silicones, and polyquats exist? Two reasons: they smooth out hair and make it easier to comb, and they also protect hair that is exposed to heat styling. With cationic polymers, there is also the added benefit of the substance going to the most damaged part of the hair and filing it in -- kind of like spackle. This remarkable chemical reaction can help hair look and feel smoother. Again, if you don't mind using sulfate shampoos to remove it, this effect could be beneficial to you.)