A Curly Girl’s Guide to Product Ingredients

A scene every curl gal can relate to: you’re shopping for new hair products (because, duh) and you walk over to the hair section and pick up a product from a seemingly reliable brand. You proceed to purchase said product and after using it for the first time, you come to realize you’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake.

Perhaps you’ve been duped, your silicone-free styler contains dimethicone, or Phenyl trimethicone, or a host of other ingredients that end in “cone” that you didn’t even know exist.

Let’s be honest, reading through ingredient lists isn’t easy. There’s a thousand names for everything. Cocos nucifera sounds like something crazy but really, it just means coconut.

While the process is anything but simple, familiarizing yourself with a few key ingredients (and their many identities) can help you make a better choice for your curly hair.

Better ingredients = better hair.

Doesn’t that sound magical?!

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Yeah, it definitely does.

Here, we break down which ingredients you should run from, as well as curly-girl approved ingredients you’re going to love.

Ingredients to Avoid:

Before knowing what’s good for your hair, it’s (arguably) even more crucial to know what to not put in it.

  • Silicones: Silicone in it’s pure form is literally a form of plastic. Think your silicone kitchen spatula. Any product containing this should immediately trigger red flags in your brain. Is silicone good for curly hair? No, definitely not. So why is it in so many products? Well, it provides a lot of perceived slip and shine, but what it actually does is coat the hair and repels moisture. When left on strands, it can cause serious product build-up – no one wants any of that. What’s the best way to spot a silicone? Look for ingredients that end in “cone”, “xane”, and “col”. Avoid these guys at all costs.
  • Sulfates: For curly gals, most sulfates dry out the scalp and hair which can leave locks dull, brittle, and possibly lead to breakage. Typically, sulfates end in “-ate”, so they’re pretty easy to pick out of an ingredient lineup.
  • Harsh Alcohols: Bad alcohols like ethyl and ethanol tend to lack moisture and therefore can easily dry the hair out and make it look drab. But don’t confuse them with fatty alcohols – these guys are your friends. Certain fatty alcohols (such as Cetearyl) actually help condition and soften the hair. (Yes we know, it can get confusing).
  • Parabens: While parabens aren’t the worst of the worst for curly hair, they often dry out the hair and cause frizz. So like, no thanks.

Ingredients to Look For:

I know I know, enough with the bad, you want to hear about the good stuff. What should you be putting in your hair?!

  • Fatty Alcohol: Here we go again with the alcohols. Now this is the important thing to understand, certain types of alcohols can actually soften and nourish strands. Most of these fatty alcohols are naturally derived, so your hair can feel soft without the guilt. Look for products with cetyl, isocetyl, and cetearyl alcohols. These are the good guys and you’ll find them in products like Melt Into Moisture and Deep Sea Repair.
  • Glycerin: Glycerin is a humectant – which means that it retains moisture, trapping it into the hair. But if your hair is dry, and you just lather it up with a glycerin-rich product – it isn’t going to do much of anything. Step one is to coat your hair with an emollient-rich, moisturizing product (like Styling Cream), then lock in that moisture with your glycerin product (hey B’Leave-In).
  • Protein: This. Is. Major. Protein is super important for any of my curly haired humans out there with damaged locks. It helps with strength and elasticity which can be a life-saver for damage. It’s amazing to cleanse and condition with protein-rich products like No-Poo Original and One Condition Decadence. But be careful, if your hair is protein sensitive you can easily over-do it. Check in with your stylist to see if a protein rich product is the right choice for your curly hair.
  • Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is an emollient (read: moisturizing ingredient) that provides intense hydration, as well as added shine. Hence why it’s a popular additive in curly hair products (*cough* SuperCream and Leave-In Decadence *cough*).
  • Pracaxi Oil: This Brazilian tree oil is loaded with moisturizing agents to help keep the hair hydrated and healthy. Wash Day Wonder is formulated with it to make it easy to detangle and moisturize at the same time.
  • Butters: Rich butter ingredients like matcha butter and murumuru butter are great for hair that needs intense moisture. Which is why we include them in our masks – like Melt into Moisture and Deep Sea Repair.

Do you look at the ingredients before you buy? What’s your favorite curly hair ingredient to look for? Let us know in the comments below!