The Myth of Natural Commercial Hair Products

natural hair products that arent natural

As a scientist, I am actually very liberal with the word natural and my view is that everything has a natural origin. However, I am deeply aware that for most consumers when purchasing a product from a company using the words for curly hair, botanical, natural or organic, there is an expectation of many natural unadulterated ingredients.
However I would urge you not to trust labels as they are often about marketing rather than genuine differences. In this article,  I am taking many firm natural favorites to task. This does NOT mean that they are not good products or do not work well. My aim is to get us all to question what is the definition of natural and does it really matter or do certain products just work well because of their key ingredients?

Consumer Trickery – Listing extracts first

I really deeply dislike it when extracts, which typically are not more than 1% in content within the product are listed at the top. I have learned to completely ignore the extract list and just read it as water. Many extracts are leaf, bark and fruit-based and if they were present in high amounts, you should expect the product to have a green or brown tinge to it but often hair products are in the white to cream spectrum. Many companies list extracts first as they give the product a perception of being more natural – it is much more attractive to read ‘organic peppermint extract, organic chamomile’ than it is to read ‘C14-C16 olefin sulfonate’ yet it is the latter that is actually the key ingredient and that you should really know about to assess whether the product works.
Examples of products that list extracts predominantlyAveda (generally across the range), Kinky Curly Knot Today, Jessicurl Deep Treatment (website makes an effort to list extracts below the full ingredient list but the label on the product itself has the extracts listed first), older versions of Trader Joe Nourish Spa shampoos.

Not fully listing ingredients

Repeat after me – Water must always be the first ingredient in a water based conditioner – let this be your mantra. Ages ago now, a reader wrote to me to say how Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose was a very concentrated conditioner without water which was wholly wrong in my opinion. I then went into investigation mode and found that the company was using coconut fatty base as an ingredient which ended up being made up of several ingredients including the missing water at the top of the list and even alcohol when the company changed the label to comply with listing regulations. Some people thought this was a formulation change but it was not at all, they just expanded ‘coconut fatty base’ into the individual ingredients. Another recent example that I have found is Kinky Curly Knot Today where the ingredient list excludes water and makes you believe that the greatest component are extracts. It makes me wonder, what really is in the product?

What you can do: Learn to Read Labels

Here are the key notes to reading ingredients labels especially for water based products:

-Water must be first
-Delete all extracts that appear in the top 5
-Delete all flowery descriptions (e.g coconut derived/organic etc)
-Pay attention to the top 5 Ingredients (read the rest later if you are avoiding certain ingredients or are sensitive)

Examples using popular natural products (SPOILER ALERT: Many products have the same ingredients!)

-Aubrey Honeysuckle Rose

(Ingredient list clarity rating 5/5)

As you should read it: Aqua, Cetyl Alcohol, Alcohol Denat. (38B, Lavender), Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Fragrance

As Listed: Aqua, Cetyl Alcohol (From Coconut), Alcohol Denat. (38B, Lavender), Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter*, Fragrance, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice*, Glycerin, Rosa Rubiginosa (Rosa Mosqueta®) Seed Oil*, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil*, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil*, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Nut Oil*, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Extract, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Calendula Officinalis Extract*, Chamomilla Recutita (Chamomile) Flower Extract*, Melissa Officinalis (Balm Mint) Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Chrysanthemum Sinense Flower Extract, Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Flower Extract, Magnolia Biondii Bud/Flower Extract, Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract, Angelica Archangelica Root Extract, Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel) Seed Extract

Kinky Curly Knot Today

kinky-curly knot today

(Ingredient list clarity rating 0/5)

As you should read it: Cetyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate
NOTE: List is unclear, no water listed, extracts listed first. Question the listing!
As listed: Organic mango fruit extract, organic slippery elm, organic marshmallow root, organic lemon grass, cetyl alcohol, behentrimonium methosulfate, citric acid, phenoxyethanol and natural fragrances

Beemine BEEUTiFUL Moisturizing Deep Conditioner

(Ingredient list clarity rating 4/5)

As you should read it : Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium methosulfate,  Shea Butter , Coconut Oil

As Listed: Distilled water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium methosulfate, Organic Unrefined Shea Butter , Organic Coconut Oil, Cupuacu Butter, Calendula Extract, Chamomile Extract, Organic Raw Honey, Paraben and Formaldehyde Free Preservative, Fragrance (Phthalate Free)
Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Conditioner

Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Conditioner

(Ingredient list clarity rating 3/5)

As you should read it: Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearalkonium Chloride, Behentrimonium Chloride

As listed: Aqueous (Water, Aqua Purificata, Purified) Extracts: Hippophae Rhamnoides Extract, Medicago Sativa (Alfalfa) Leaf Powder, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Extract, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearalkonium Chloride, Behentrimonium Chloride, Phenyl Trimethicone,, Quaternium-80, Glycerin, Stearyl Alcohol, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Fusanus Spicatus Wood Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Hippophae Rhamnoides Oil, Chenopodium Quinoa Seed Extract, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Hordeum Distichon (Barley) Extract, Phellodendron Amurense Bark Extract, Tocopherol, Babassuamidopropyltrimonium Methosulfate, Dimethicone, Dimethiconol, Behenamidopropyltrimonium Methosulfate, Dicaprylyl Maleeate, Dimethiconol Meadowfoamate, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Polyquaternium-10, Fragrance (Parfum), Limonene, Linalool, Citronellol, Citric Acid, Sodium Gluconate, Methylcholroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

Jessicurl Deep Conditioning Treatment

jessicurl deep conditioning

(Ingredient list clarity rating 3.5/5)

As you should read it: Water, Behentrimonium Methosulfate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil,

As Listed: Water
infused with Equisetum Maximum Lam (Horsetail), Mentha Piperita (Peppermint), Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary), Laurus Nobilis (Bay Leaf), Ocimum Basilicum (Basil), Arctium Lappa (Burdock Root), Althaea Officinalis (Marshmallow Root), Origanum Vulgare (Oregano),
Cymbopogon Flexuosus (Lemongrass), Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme), Salvia Officinalis (Sage) and Urtica Dioica (Nettle),Behentrimonium Methosulfate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil,
Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice Powder, Soy Lecithin, Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate

For arguments sake , here is what is considered a non natural product

Herbal Essences Hello Hydration Moisturizing Conditioner


(Ingredient list clarity rating 5/5)

As you should read it: Water , Stearyl Alcohol , Behentrimonium Chloride , Cetyl Alcohol , Bis Aminopropyl Dimethicone

As Listed: Water , Stearyl Alcohol , Behentrimonium Chloride , Cetyl Alcohol , Bis Aminopropyl Dimethicone , Zea Mays (Corn) Silk Extract , Orchis Mascula Flower Extract , Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract , Fragrance , Benzyl Alcohol , Disodium EDTA , Sodium Hydroxide , Methylchloroisothiazolinone , Methylisothiazolinone , Blue 1

Moral of the story:

If you go through the shorter 5 key ingredients list, a common pattern appears.
Water, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Cetearyl alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride/methosulfate are highly common ingredients whether the product is labelled natural, organic, for curly hair or not! Some products have high levels of shea butter.
For the 100% Naturals

If you want to go down the 100% unadulterated natural route, It really is possible

1. Shampoo – Bentonite/rhassoul clay, soap nuts, oats/beans.,

2. Conditioner – Sometimes not necessary as cleansers may not affect hair as traditional shampoo, but yogurt (base), banana (base), avocado (base), gelatin (protein), honey (humectant), glycerin (humectant), oils, coconut milk are popular in natural mixes

3. Stylers and leave ins – Aloe vera gel, flax seed gel, oils

Have you found yourself duped by certain natural products?

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