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Sunday, September 27, 2009
Silicones, polyquats, and soap
Who doesn't have questions about silicones, polyquats and soap?
To get some answers, I assembled the stellar roundtable group I consulted for the aloe vera discussion a few weeks ago: Marsha Coulton, the owner of Curl Junkie, who concocts her own products and was a stylist before that. She's got definite opinions about curly hair. Next, we have JC, whose blog I wrote about a few months ago. She is a curly-hair scientist in the UK who backs up her findings and determinations about hair by quoting from specific scientific studies. Jessica McGuinty, founder of Jessicurl, shies away from silicones, soaps, and polyquats in her product formulations, and as she stated in a recent interview, does a lot of testing of these products and how they perform. Tiffany Anderson-Taylor, aka StruttsWife on the NaturallyCurly.com discussion boards, has been a hair stylist in Florida for several years, and recently wrote a book about caring for curly hair. Her site, Live Curly Live Free, is a fantastic resource for people curious about curls' unique needs. She is not a fan of silicones. And finally, we have Perry Romanowski, an independent cosmetic formulator who is associated with one of my favorite blogs, The Beauty Brains as well as a site for cosmetic chemists called Chemists Corner. He's written a book titled Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry, and he has been a senior project leader at Alberto Culver.
Here's what these experts had to say....
1. Followers of the "Curly Girl" method avoid products with silicone because although they coat the hair to smooth it and reduce frizz, they also are believed to block moisture, which curly hair desperately needs. Have new silicones been developed since that book came out in 2002 that are "lighter" or attach themselves less to hair? And are curlies unnecessarily avoiding silicones, in your opinion?
PERRY: Silicones are not all the same. Some like Dimethicone are substantive (will stick to hair) and others like Dimethicone Copolyol are not substantive (will not stick to hair). Companies can modify Dimethicone Copolyol to make it more substantive. There is also Cyclomethicone which is substantive but will slowly evaporate off the hair just like water. These different types have been around for decades.
Silicones work by coating the hair. They do not penetrate significantly. This means there is some potential for build-up of substantive silicones so avoiding them is not unreasonable. However, they do not affect the amount of moisture in the hair. If silicones on hair did significantly block moisture, curly hair would never dry! The water from your shower wouldn't be able to leave your hair and that just isn't what happens.
There really is no reason for curlies to completely avoid all silicones. Dimethicone Copolyol & Cyclomethicones are perfectly fine to use and will not build up. And occasional use of Dimethicone will not hurt either.
JESS: I agree that most things in moderation won't cause too much trouble. The trouble starts when a heavy cone like Dimethicone is used daily and is not being washed regularly. (as we all know we're not supposed to wash our hair every day for fear of the dreaded poof.) At that point a harsher shampoo is necessary to remove the silicone, thus drying out the hair and causing the curly to believe only more silicone will solve the problem. So the cycle continues. For this reason I avoid all cones in Jessicurl products and use gentle surfactants in the cleansers to that users don't have to face the problem of the rebound cycle. Occasional use of silicones shouldn't be a problem though.
MARSHA: For me, if you can find a gentle shampoo that can remove silicones, then it doesn't seem to matter. I had just been revisiting the silicones issue again to see if they are really worth avoiding. I found that at first, they give me the feeling that everything is okay. It's not that my hair looks any better, but it feels better with the silicones in the beginning. But then, after I shampoo to get them out, I realize they just seem to mask my hair's real condition. In other words, they don't help improve or add to the hair's condition. But let's face it: your hair's not gonna fall off your head if you use silicones. The trick is finding the right shampoo -- many are so rough. For the look I like, I need a lot of product, so I do like to use my gentle cleansing shampoo on my hair. The co-wash method doesn't work for me, and I have witnessed that it doesn't work for everyone.
I am not a fan of Cyclomethicone or Cyclosiloxane. They apparently evaporate off the hair, but for me something in doing so makes my hair frizz. If you must use silicones, I prefer the PEGs and dimethicone copolyol since they have some degree of water solubility. As far as new types of silicones, I haven't seen anything new. The industry seems to be happy with what it has.
JC: I'm certain that there have been new silicones developed but I do think the existing silicones are perfectly fine. Frankly silicones were being abused by curlies circa 2002, especially with people using serums on their hair every day, so the book was necessary for people to rethink this habit. I do think that fast forwarding to today, many curlies are unnecessarily scared of silicones . I personally do NOT think that silicones are bad. In fact, I would even go as far as to say they are good in certain cases.There is a huge difference between using a styling serum with 80% silicone and a shampoo with under 5%. The shampoo with silicone actually offers protection in terms of keeping your hair on your head (preventing breakage) and maintaining the internal moisture. The styling serum is useful for protecting from heat damage therefore necessary in my book for heat styling but perhaps if the serum is used daily, then problems will arise. Some people really do well with silicone containing conditioners (especially bleached/coloured hair) and in this case the silicone offers some protection from moisture loss and helps temporarily seal damaged portions of the hair. Hair is a very personal thing, one person's experience is rarely completely reflective of all hair.
TIFFANY: I believe anything that forms an impenetrable barrier on the hair shaft, like non-water soluble silicones such as dimethicone, is often problematic in the long run. The cuticle of our hair strand is formed like roof tiles to allow penetration of moisture and oxygen into the hair shaft for a reason. Continually coating and sealing the cuticle to prevent it from performing its proper function for a long period of time is not the best route to optimum hair health in the long run.
I do not believe all silicones are "evil"; however, I do counsel my clients to stick to those that are water soluble, such as dimethicone copolyol or PEG/PPG-manufactured silicones, whenever possible to avoid any potential issues.
2. Polyquaterniums seem to behave much like silicones -- they bind to hair and in some cases, aren't even fully removed even by sulfate-laden shampoos. Should curlies be mindful of polyquats, and if so, which ones? Are we worrying about silicones when polyquats are really much harder to remove? And do polyquats block moisture like silicones do?
PERRY: Curlies should be much more concerned about Polyquats than silicones. Polyquats are positively charged polymers that effectively stick to the damaged sites on hair. They make the hair feel smooth and soft but they can also build up with repeated use resulting in flatter, less lively curls. They can even be more difficult to remove than even Dimethicone. The most problematic polyquat is Polyquaternium-10. While it is the most effective at conditioning hair, it is also the most likely to build-up. Better choices include Polyquaternium-7 or Guar Hydroxpropyltrimonium Chloride.
Neither silicones nor polyquats significantly block moisture. The negative to using them is that they build up on hair and weigh it down.
JESS: When researching what ingredients to put in our Confident Coils Styling Solution, it because obvious that many curlies have an aversion to polyquats. For this reason I left it out and thus haven't done much further research on it as I don't intend to use them in any future products. So I guess I don't have an emotional opinion on them one way or the other.
MARSHA: Polyquat 7 and 11 seem to be the most substantive and hardest to remove if you do not shampoo. I do not find that Polyquat 10 is not as hard to remove. Chlorides seem to do a good job at removing it. Guar Hydroxpropyltrimonium Chloride is an interesting ingredient -- it's a great conditioner but you have to be careful as too much seems to over condition the hair and cause frizz. I've used it in small amounts in some of my products and have had no complaints, but it's easy to overuse and I've seen other products that use too much. Polyquats 4 and 44 are not very difficult to remove. Polyquats 37 and 72 are supposed to provide good curl retention and I suspect would be harder to remove, although I haven't actually used them in my products (although I've tried them out in other products I've tested). And interestingly, Polyquat 72 hasn't been picked up by the industry as much as I would have expected, which probably also says something about its performance record. I believe most shampoos will remove any kind of polyquat, though. When you see some of these ingredients before they go into a formulation, you get a sense of how they behave. For instance, Polyquats 10 and 4 and Guar Hydroxpropyltrimonium Chloride are powder and dissolve instantly in water. For me, this gives you some clue about how they'll behave on hair (in terms of water solubility), especially when you contrast them with Polyquats 7 and 11, which are gluey.
JC: As a surface scientist, I can say that there are quite a few things that cannot be completely removed by SLS; to completely remove, a proper solvent (like chloroform) is needed. We need to redefine this idea of 'complete' removal and why we feel it is necessary because in order to do so, extreme measures have to be taken.
As Perry says, polyquats stick to hair as they have a positive charge. This is similar to other conditioning agents that curlies have no problem with such as such as stearalkonium chloride or behentrimonium chloride. Now people will like different types of conditioning agents. The general trend I have noticed in literature is that polyquats tend to be more useful for damaged hair (bleached). I really have to emphasize and say not all hair will react in the same way to a given product. Some people will swear by polyquats, others won't.
Even more unique, a seemingly similar combination of ingredients from two different companies can yield different results. It really is about how well the product was formulated, so I'm with Marsha on this one, test it first and see how it behaves.
TIFFANY: "Polyquaterniums" is an extremely general category and it is difficult to make a sweeping assumption and say whether or not they are "good" or "bad" across the board. From a cosmetology perspective, however, allergic contact dermatitis, or a hypersensitivity reaction, is not uncommon among some individuals after exposure to certain polyquaterniums.
Most surfactants seem to be effective in removing polyquat build-up; however, I would more cautious about their use from a health perspective rather than a beauty perspective if an individual is prone to any type of skin sensitivities.
3. For people who don't want to use shampoo of any kind, what methods of hair cleansing do you recommend? Are there some ingredients that people should look for that do the job without stripping the hair? Or is it really the friction rather than the ingredients that ensure cleanliness? (I realizes cleanliness is a relative term, so feel free to comment on that, as well.)
PERRY: If you want to avoid shampoo, you have a variety of options. You can was your hair with a basic conditioner. Look for products that contain Cetrimonium Chloride or Stearalkonium Chloride. Avoid Dimethicone & polyquats since these will not be removed by the surfactants in the basic conditioners. However, it is ok to use conditioners that contain Dimethicone Copolyol. This ingredient is barely substantive and build up will not be a problem. An excellent conditioner wash is VO5 Hot Oil formula. The name is actually misleading because there is no oil in the formula. It contains an ingredient called Cocotrimonium Chloride which is both a great conditioner and a good detergent.
Other options are to use dry powder shampoos like Oscar Blondi or a No-Rinse shampoo. Both of these products do not require water to rinse out but many people are dissatisfied with how they leave the hair feeling. You'll have to try them to see if you like them.
JESS: Personally, I never found a conditioner-only system to work for me, but I know lots of curlies like it. I've had luck with mild apple cider vinegar rinses but even that can be drying over time. I know some poo-less curlies use baking soda and my experience with that was that it was FAR more drying than even a sulfate shampoo. For that reason, I think a mild cleanser using gentle surfactants should allow for good cleansing without stripping. I understand that this is basically my own personal opinion though, and that many people have great success with conditioner-only washing. It just never worked for me personally.
MARSHA: For me, co-washing doesn't work very well although I know that there are many people who use this method effectively. I try to formulate my products so that those on a CG regimen can use them without worry as well. That being said, if I were to look for an ingredient for sulfate free cleansing, I would look for a formulation with coco betaine but you should be careful if it's your only surfactant, as it can be harsh (especially at higher PH levels). I have found that it's meant to work best in synergy with other surfactants to be most effective and gentle. Shampoo formulation is a difficult process because shampoo ideally needs to be more alkaline to have the cleansers be the most effective, but it best in general for a product to be more acidic to be more gentle on the hair. Ideally a pH of 5-6 should provide a good balance between cleansing and conditioning. But do consumers know the pH of products when they buy them? Of course not. So, it's challenging to find one that works for you. Some people use baking soda to clean their hair, but I think can really rough up the cuticle so you might as well use a gentle shampoo. If you don't want to use shampoo, you need to avoid some of the stronger silicones and polyquats. Other ingredients that you could look for if you are conditioner washing are PEG ingredients as most seem to suds up and can help with cleansing. Another thing curlies who co-wash need to remember is that friction as well as ingredients matter when cleansing. The scalp really benefits from friction as this really helps to dislodge product residue and dirt/oil.
JC: Scientifically the evidence that we have is that there is nothing wrong with shampoo. Friction is not needed for shampoo to work. This is about solubility of oils. Here is a simple chemistry experiment you can do at home. Take a plate of greasy bacon, eat the bacon (if you wish). Place the plate under a cold water tap and scrub with your hands, would this plate feel/look clean? Next place a little dishwashing liquid and mix with water, do not scrub. Leave for 5 minutes and rinse - would this plate feel/look clean? Try it, scrubbing is not necessary because the oil is dissolved by the detergent. Yes scrubbing will quicken the process and help distribute the product which is why hair is washed with scrubbing.
In short, shampoo is an extremely mild version of dishwashing liquid (which is why shampoo does not wash dishes well). It does contain detergents such as SLS which dissolve oils, something that plain water doesn't do. The idea behind shampoo is to remove grease and the dirt that grease attracts in low temperature water (you do not have the luxury of using hot water on your head as you would with dishes).
It is perfectly understandable that many curlies are not looking for that squeaky clean feel which shampoo is designed to give. It is also perfectly understable that for very curly hair, we would probably even add oil to hair (I do). There is a whole range of shampoos to pick from. I would recommend a visit to the beautybrains site if you are looking for the nitty gritty on what you should expect from shampoo.
TIFFANY: You do not need a harsh, detergent-based product to wash your hair; movement and agitation are extremely effective in and of themselves. Think of a washing machine: that agitator in the middle that swishes your clothes back and forth is there for a reason. Without it, your laundry detergent would be fairly ineffective, no matter how many "mountain-fresh" chemicals and surfactants are loaded in there.
If you use a decent cleansing agent once a week, even one without a surfactant of any kind, and give yourself a really good, brisk scalp massage while cleansing—using your fingertips and rubbing your scalp with a firm, energetic circular motion—you are massaging the excess sebum, dirt and debris out of your hair follicles while stimulating your sebaceous glands to maintain their proper function. The cleansing agent acts as an agent to carry that oil and debris away without damaging and drying out your hair shaft. A good cleanser should never strip your hair of the moisture and oils that keep it healthy.
I haven't used shampoo on my hair since April 2002; my hair is extremely clean and not in the least bit oily or dirty. If sulfates and the like were that mandatory to clean the hair effectively, I would not have been able to maintain not just good, but extraordinary hair health over the past 7-1/2 years.
4. Do you ever recommend soaps of any kind for use on the hair?
PERRY: No. You should not use soap on your hair. Soap can combine with naturally occurring ions in your water (Calcium and Magnesium) and form insoluble salts the will stick to your hair. These salts feel waxy, make hair look dull, and are extremely difficult to remove. When you see a ring around someone's bath tub, that's what it is, insoluble salts from their soap. You don't want that in your hair.
Now, it might be ok to use synthetic soaps for your hair but that's really no different than using shampoo.
JESS: I agree with Perry, a gentle surfactant cleanser will be better for the hair than a bar of soap.
MARSHA: I agree with Perry and Jess as well, I do not really like to use soap bars as I always feel the film (residue)! The pH of a natural soap bar tends to be alkaline and that can be hard on the cuticle. I like gentle cleansers. Some people like soaps and they should use them, but I'm not in that group.
JC: I think people will do what works best for them. I think scientifically shampoo is your best bet for cleaning hair provided there is a follow up - conditioner. However, I have seen many natural haired ladies who thoroughly advocate for castile soap and shampoo bars (many with great looking hair). There is also always the good old conditioner washing of hair. This works well for some but others can experience problems as Jess said earlier. Also some surfactants in conditioner can actually end up forming a complex with shampoo instead of being washed off and this can create build up (Yes, really I don't make this stuff up - Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pg 205-214,1989).
TIFFANY: I know shampoo bars are all the rage these days, but I do have a few concerns about them.
Shampoo bars typically range from 8 to 10 on the pH scale, meaning they are quite alkaline. Alkaline substances will open up the hair shaft, allowing the cleansers to penetrate within the hair shaft to remove build-up. That, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing: however, it is important to remember that you are stripping your acid mantle every time you cleanse with these bars.
The acid mantle is the very fine, slightly acidic film on the scalp that acts as a barrier to keep bacteria, viruses and other contaminants or chemicals from penetrating the scalp. As an example: one of the reasons that you are instructed to color your hair when it is "dirty" instead of freshly washed is not because the color will take better on the hair shaft—it is so your acid mantle is intact and will prevent the chemical color from penetrating your scalp.
If you are cleansing with shampoo bars, you are interfering with the natural acid mantle function and leaving a very vulnerable part of yourself exposed. Your acid mantle is there for a reason and it needs to remain undisturbed as much as possible so it can do its job to keep you healthy.
Thank you, experts, for your opinions! I think we've all learned a lot from these insights.
After discovering that curls can be nurtured into fabulousness instead of frizz, I began my quest to cultivate healthy, moisturized hair. I don't use anything with sulfates or silicones, and like my hair at last! This blog is one way I am indulging my obsession.