How to Read Hair Product Ingredients Like A Pro!

Monday, September 14, 2020

How to Read Hair Product Ingredients Like A Pro! | Relaxed Hair |

On my Instagram page, I've been talking about how important is it to create a habit of reading the ingredient labels on your hair products. As a fun challenge, I encouraged my followers to research the top 5-10 ingredients in their favourite hair products to master the benefits of each ingredient for their hair.

This is crucial in any hair journey! Knowing how a product performs, and how your hair may react to it, is necessary in order to keep and repeat what's successful and/or omit what doesn't work.

Early on in my hair journey, I became obsessed with learning the benefits in the ingredients of my favourite hair products. This curiosity led me to understand my hair better and successfully pick products that agree with my hair. 

How to Read Hair Product Ingredients Like A Pro! | Relaxed Hair |

Recently, I've noticed an incline in messages from ladies who are using products incorrectly i.e. using a protein based conditioner when they thought it was moisture based or using a clarifying shampoo weekly when they should have been using a sulfate free shampoo. Unfortunately, this confusion and misuse of product usage led to unwanted dryness, breakage and shedding all because they were unaware of what their products contained.

I get it, reading a product label can be intimidating and confusing. Trying to pronounce these long everlasting words can be overwhelming...whew!

But at the same time, it's crucial to learn the job of each ingredient. Some strengthen the hair, while others provide moisture and slip. Today, I'm breaking this down for you.

Below, I'm going to share ingredients most associated within each hair care category so that you can easily spot them when browsing ingredients in your products at home or when you go shopping. I will be breaking ingredients down by category: Cleansers/Clarifying, Detangling, Protein/Strength, Moisture/Hydration, Shine/Penetrating Oils.

How to Read Hair Product Ingredients Like A Pro! | Relaxed Hair |

Let's get started!

For cleansers, we have clarifying shampoos and sulfate free shampoos. We keep these in rotation within our hair regimens. However, it's important to know and understand the difference between the two. 

Clarifying shampoos strip the hair of product build up, dirt, oils etc. It is formulated to deep clean the hair an scalp. It's highly recommended to use a sulfate-free shampoo after using a clarifying shampoo to restore the softness and moisture back into the hair. Clarifying shampoos should be used once a month to reset the hair and enhance the absorption of products. These shampoos have the following ingredients:

  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Sodium Stearate
  • Alpha-olefin Sulfonate
Product suggestions: ORS Creamy Aloe Shampoo, Ion Clarifying Shampoo

On to Sulfate free shampoos! These are really easy to spot out nowadays. Quick tip, as long as it doesn't have the ingredients listed above for a clarifying shampoo - you're good! It's all about using mild detergents that will cleanse the hair and scalp without stripping the hair. Here are a few cleansing ingredients to look out for:

  • Disodium Cocoamphodipropionate
  • Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
  • Cocamindopropyl Betain
  • Trideceth-7 Carboxylic Acid
  • Cocamide DEA, MEA, MIPA
Product suggestions: Keracare Hydrating and Detangling Shampoo, Mielle Rosemary Mint Strengthening Shampoo, Creme of Nature Sulfate Free Moisture & Shine Shampoo, ORS Olive Oil Sulfate Free Shampoo

Having detangling "slip" abilities in your hair products is essential in removing tangles. That slippy smooth feeling is like no other and truly makes your hair journey a breeze. Products with the following ingredients are typically found in your favourite conditioners, moisturizers, etc. as they help to detangle and smooth the hair cuticle.

  • Fatty Alcohols (Cetyl alcohol, Stearyl alcohol, Cetearyl alcohol, Benzyl, Myristyl alcohol)
  • Slippery Elm
  • Marshmallow Root
  • Behentrimonium Methosulfate
  • Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Polyquaternium-11, 32
Product suggestions: Aussie 3 Minute Miracle Moist Deep Conditioner, Shea Moisture Sugarcane Extract & Meadowfoam Seed Leave-in Treatment, TGIN Honey Miracle Hair Mask

Strengthening your hair is vital! It's equally important to identify what ingredients fortify and build the hair so you are wise in knowing when to use them. Protein tends to be hidden in a lot of hair products on the market today and as a result we sometimes overuse protein based products without even knowing. Depending on the state of your hair, density, porosity, etc. the misuse of protein can cause dryness, breakage and overall brittle hair. Don't let this discourage you from using protein - it tends to get a bad rep. Protein is essential for healthy hair as it fills in the cracks along the hair shaft, provides strength, and gives fullness and thickness to the hair. But it needs to be balanced! Here are a few common proteins you'll find your hair care products:

  • Hydrolyzed Oat, Soy, Silk, Wheat protein
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
  • Hydrolyzed Keratin
  • Hydrolyzed Collagen
  • Silk Amino Acids
Product suggestions: ORS Replenishing Conditioner, Aphogee 2 Minute Reconstructor, Cantu Shea Butter Leave-in Conditioner


Many ask, "How do you know if a conditioner is moisturizing?" 

For me, the easiest way to quickly identify a moisture based conditioner or product is to see if it's "protein-free". So, if it doesn't have the list of proteins I mentioned above, it's a moisture based product! Ensuring that you are getting a sufficient amount of moisture is required in any successful hair regimen. Moisture helps to condition the hair, improve hydration levels, increase the hair's softness and fullness. Too, it helps prevent breakage! Check out these moisturizing/conditioning ingredients:

  • Behentrimonium Chloride
  • Panthenol 
  • Glycerin
  • Aloe Vera Leaf Juice
  • Stearalkonium Chloride
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Centrimonium Chloride
  • Polyquaternium-7, 37
Product suggestions: Keracare Humecto Creme Conditioner, Mielle Mongongo Oil Hydrating Conditioner, As I Am So Much Moisture Hair Lotion, Creme of Nature Moisture Recovery Leave-in 

Now, I'm all about natural oils that truly penetrate the hair shaft and provide nourishment, shine, lubrication and strength to the hair. I believe that oils should be used in some capacity in a hair regimen to maximize the benefits they offer whether it be a hot oil treatment, prepoo, added to a deep conditioner or just naturally in the products you use. Here are a few to keep your eye on:

  • Olive Oil - Improves elasticity
  • Coconut Oil - Prevents the loss of protein in the hair
  • Avocado Oil - Natural humectant, moisturizes brittle hair

That's it! 

I feel like this is a great starter list for anyone who is looking to better understand the ingredients in their hair products - broken down by category. This is just the beginning. There's so much more to explore when it comes to ingredients and their benefit for hair. Feel free to go beyond this list. But, I figured this would be a quick reference that you can easily refer to. 

As I mentioned before, it's vital to grasp the particular job of each ingredient in your hair care products and as a result you will know how your hair may react. When you know what's in your products, you know how to use it in your regimen to serve you and your hair better!

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