While there’s no denying the benefits of alcohol on first dates and girls’ nights out, should it really have a place in your hair products? To get to the bottom of it, we reviewed all the conflicting advice, got into the specifics, and chatted to the experts (call us Sher “locks” Holmes). Whether you’re wondering where to buy alcohol free shampoos, or concerned about the effects of stearyl alcohol on your hair, we have the answers!
In this article we discuss the following:
- Why do Hair Products Contain Alcohol?
- Alcohol in Hair Products: Are they Good or Bad?
- Isopropyl Alcohol in Shampoo
- Cetyl Alcohol in Shampoo
- Benzyl Alcohol in Shampoo
- Stearyl Alcohol on Hair
- Is Cetearyl Alcohol Good or Bad for Your Hair?
- Benefits of Alcohol Free Shampoo
- Where to Buy Alcohol Free Shampoo
- Best Alcohol Free Shampoo Brands
Why do Hair Products Contain Alcohol?
Reading through the list of ingredients on your shampoo bottle, the word “alcohol” might make you do a double take. What function does alcohol really serve in keeping your gorgeous hair healthy and clean? Ultimately, it comes down to evaporation. Now, there are a variety of alcohols used in hair products, but generally, they have a drying quality that rids your tresses of excess oils and moisture. Short chain alcohols, which are known for being particularly dehydrating, have a bad reputation for attacking and extracting much-needed moisture. Long chain alcohols, or fatty alcohols, are manufactured using natural, hydrating ingredients. Hair products containing short chain alcohols have quicker drying results, which makes them so popular. However, long chain alcohols will clean your hair of excess moisture without causing long-term damage.
Alcohol in Hair Products: Are they Good or Bad?
Is alcohol bad for hair? Or is it actually good? If only life were so simple! Hair products containing alcohol have stopped many a bad hair day in its tracks due to its ability to combat oily scalps. But (yes, there’s a but), it can also strip the hair of natural oils and lead to long-term frizz and damage. Still, before you ban alcohol from your bathroom cupboard, take note that the ingredient comes in many forms and can have a variety of effects on your hair – some very good, some very, very bad. Long story short, you’ll want to avoid short chain (fast-drying) alcohols in your shampoo. These mainly include ethanol, denatured alcohol, propanol, SD alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, and propyl alcohol.
However, long chain (natural, fatty) alcohols are much healthier and keep your hair moisturized and dirt-free. These alcohols are mostly comprised of stearyl alcohol, behenyl alcohol, lauryl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, and myristyl alcohol. We’ll discuss some of the more common alcohols in-depth. Overall, certain alcohol-containing shampoos can be very damaging, but there’s no need to exclusively buy shampoos without alcohol when you know how to look out for shampoos with healthy, long chain alcohols.
Isopropyl Alcohol in Shampoo
Isopropyl alcohol is a short chain (drying) alcohol obtained from petroleum. Like most short chain alcohols, it cleans the hair thoroughly. As fast as it removes dirt, however, it likewise removes moisture. Using shampoo containing isopropyl alcohol will have you running your fingers through glossy, clean hair all day. But at the end of the month, you might find that your locks are duller and more damaged than they were before.
Is Isopropyl Alcohol Good or Bad for Hair?
Is isopropyl alcohol safe for hair? Let’s think about isopropyl alcohol the same way we think about tequila shots. They’re great every once in a while. But if you’re downing tequila every evening, you’re going to start feeling dehydrated and pretty miserable when you wake up. If you struggle with oily hair, an occasional use of shampoo containing isopropyl alcohol can’t hurt. However, everyday use will lead to dry hair follicles. Even worse, the resulting dryness can lead to dandruff and might even cause hair loss.
Cetyl Alcohol in Shampoo
Cetyl alcohol, which is not to be confused with cetearyl alcohol, is commonly used in a variety of beauty products – from body lotion to hair conditioner. In hair products, cetyl alcohol serves to thicken the product and allow it to spread through hair effortlessly. Because cetyl alcohol is a long chain (natural and fatty) alcohol, it behaves very differently from short chain alcohols like isopropyl alcohol. Cetyl alcohol was originally sourced from whales, but nowadays, it’s made from vegetable, coconut, and palm oils.
Is Cetyl Alcohol Good or Bad for Your Hair?
So, now you know what cetyl alcohol is. But should you be using products that contain it? The short answer – absolutely. Cetyl alcohol is a multi-purpose hair product gem. Don’t expect it to clean your hair, though, as the ingredient doesn’t have the ability to strip the dirt and excess oils away. It works as a combining agent, merging water-based and oil-based ingredients, and it helps keep your hair feeling silky. Plus, it’s the reason your conditioner looks so smooth and creamy. Score!
Benzyl Alcohol in Shampoo
Moving along swiftly to benzyl alcohol! At this point, we’ve established that cetyl alcohol helps lock in moisture, while isopropyl alcohol dehydrates hair over time. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, is benzyl alcohol drying or hydrating? The substance is actually most commonly used to treat head lice. As a result, it can cause a number of side effects including – you guessed it – dehydration of the hair and drying of the scalp. Typically, you won’t find benzyl alcohol in your shampoo unless you’re looking to get rid of unwanted visitors on your scalp (urgh!).
Is Benzyl Alcohol Good or Bad for Hair?
Some side effects of using benzyl alcohol hair products include:
- Scalp rashes
- Reddened skin
Yikes, it isn’t sounding great so far! Keep an open mind, however, because hair products containing benzyl alcohol are usually your fastest option to becoming lice-free. Plus, shampoo brands will often counter the negative effects of benzyl alcohol by mixing it with tea tree oil, which also does a stellar job of banning pests from your gorgeous mane.
Stearyl Alcohol on Hair
Stearyl alcohol is another great example of a long chain alcohol frequently used in hair products. These fatty, natural alcohols are incredibly beneficial to maintaining beautiful locks of any texture. We chatted to Abby Hau, head of marketing at Wellpcb, to clear up the confusion around alcohols in shampoo and other hair products.
“The first thing to know is that there is bad and good alcohol in shampoos. While alcohol in shampoo is used to blend the ingredients, thicken the shampoo, and soften and moisturize the hair, some specific types of alcohol in your shampoo can remove moisture from your hair scalp, causing your hair to dry out.
The bottom line is, not all alcohols are bad for your hair. You have to know what to look out for. If you are not all about the specifics, it might be smart to use alcohol-free shampoo exclusively.”
Luckily for us, stearyl alcohol falls into the category of good alcohols, and won’t damage your precious locks one bit!
Is Stearyl Alcohol Safe for Hair?
Products containing stearyl alcohol lead to healthy, happy hair. There isn’t anything to worry about when you see this ingredient on the back of your shampoo bottle, as it keeps your hair hydrated and soft. As a long chain, fatty alcohol, it falls into the healthy category of shampoo ingredients alongside other alcohols such as cetyl alcohol and behenyl alcohol. You won’t have to “mission impossible” your way around using this ingredient on your hair because no harm will come from daily use.
Is Cetearyl Alcohol Good or Bad for Your Hair?
Cetearyl alcohol is a waxy combination of cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol, making it a long chain, fatty alcohol. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll instantly recognize this alcohol’s components as healthy and hydrating. Cetearyl alcohol is made up of natural ingredients such as palm and coconut oils. On top of softening the hair and skin, cetearyl alcohol is a thickening and combining agent, allowing it to give your hair products that creamy quality we all know and love.
Is Denatured Alcohol Good or Bad for Hair?
So, you’re wondering about denatured alcohol in hair products.. Ethyl alcohol is mixed with toxic additives to form denatured alcohol, meaning it’s yet another example of a short-chain (drying) alcohol. Unlike the previously mentioned short chain alcohols, denatured alcohol is more of an umbrella term for a group of liquids unfit for human consumption. These include methanol, gasoline, pyridine, benzol and ether. Products containing denatured alcohol won’t cause immediate harm, but they can mess with your skin barrier and cause extreme dehydration. Long story, short – if you pick up a shampoo bottle containing denatured alcohol, it would be best to put it back where you found it.
Benefits of Alcohol Free Shampoo
To alcohol shampoo, or not to alcohol shampoo? That is the question. To answer it, we spoke to Emilia Wong at Progress ABMS. She had a lot to say!
“Using alcohol-free shampoos can be a good idea for people with damaged or naturally dry and frizzy hair. Such shampoos are usually gentle on your hair and scalp and provide you with the moisture your hair needs. It may also be ideal to opt for alcohol-free shampoos if you’re unsure of the difference between the types of alcohol as not all types are the same.
The shampoos that you should avoid contain short-chain alcohol that steals moisture away from your hair and skin. On the other hand, shampoos containing natural or fatty alcohol such as cetyl and benzyl alcohols are great for keeping your hair nourished and moisturized. With some knowledge about good and bad alcohol shampoos, you can better weigh your options and choose a shampoo that doesn’t damage your hair.”
To sum up what Emilia had to share with us, a no alcohol shampoo could be the answer to your prayers if your hair is already damaged. Plus, if you’re only human, and you’re tired of trying to remember which alcohol is healthy or damaging for your hair, it might just be easiest to switch to alcohol-free.
Alcohol Free Shampoo for Curly Hair
We also had the pleasure of speaking to Evelyn Light – makeup artist, beautician, hairdresser, and founder of Quick Beauty HQ. As someone who is “always in favor of products that are clean and environmentally friendly”, Evelyn believes that buying alcohol-free shampoo is an intelligent way to avoid harsh chemicals that can strip the hair from its natural oils. Does that apply to curly hair-ed shoppers? Of course! Curly hair tends to experience more dehydration as natural oils take more time to work down through the strands, so it’s very important for curls to receive adequate hydration. The best way to ensure smooth, luscious curls is to keep away from short chain (drying) alcohols and sulfates, which can lead to frizz and damage. Don’t know where to start when it comes to buying the right shampoo for you? We’ve got you covered.
Sulfate and Alcohol Free Shampoo List
- Shea Moisture Shampoo
- Ogx Nourishing Coconut Milk Shampoo
- Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Sulfate Free Shampoo
- Reverie Shampoo
- DermaChange Organic Hair Growth Shampoo
- Herbal Essences, Sulfate Free Shampoo
- Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk Curl Care Shampoo
- Carol’s Daughter Curl Crème Shampoo
- Garnier Fructis Curl Nourish Shampoo
Alcohol Free Shampoo for Color Treated Hair
Hair dyes and color treatment can leave hair feeling excessively dry and damaged, especially after multiple treatments. So, using alcohol free shampoo might seem like the wisest choice for preserving your cool, new look. It’s helpful to remember that, while certain alcohols worsen hair damage and dryness over time, there are some alcohols that are mega-hydrating and supportive of smooth, healthy hair. If you’re looking to combat damage after a hair dye, you’re going to want to avoid short chain (drying) alcohols. However, you’re definitely going to benefit from using shampoos containing long chain (fatty) alcohols such as cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol. If you’re on the go and you don’t have time to constantly discern between long chain and short chain alcohols, then buying alcohol-free shampoo is your best bet to upholding your ‘do. Check out the list above for some nourishing, alcohol-free shampoo options!
Alcohol Free Shampoo for Natural Hair
There seems to be a general understanding in the beauty community that alcohol and natural hair products do not go hand in hand. While non-alcoholic organic natural hair products can be ideal for keeping natural hair healthy and hydrated, using products that contain long chain (fatty, natural) alcohols can also do wonders for natural locks. Yes, it’s best to avoid isopropyl alcohol in your hair products, but cetyl alcohol can add shine to your hair while keeping it hydrated long-term. At the end of the day, it comes down to what works for you. If your hair prefers alcohol-free shampoo, then stick with it. But, don’t undermine the power of long chain alcohols!
Alcohol Free Shampoo for Dandruff
Oh, the curse of the dry, flaky scalp.. Don’t stress, we’re here to help you out. Certain short chain (drying) alcohols such as isopropyl and ethanol can certainly wreak havoc on your head and worsen dandruff. They can lead to increased itchiness of the scalp, dermatitis, and even drinking alcohol excessively can worsen or even cause dandruff over time. While sticking to shampoos containing long chain (fatty, natural) alcohols will help combat a dry, itchy scalp, alcohol-free shampoos are certainly another way to go about it. Some superb alcohol-free shampoos for dandruff include Free & Clear Shampoo, Maple Holistics Hydrate Shampoo, and Sebclair Shampoo.
Where to Buy Alcohol Free Shampoo
So you’ve decided to make the switch to alcohol-free? Next step – you’ll need to know where to find the right products. Let’s go shopping together.
Alcohol Free Shampoo at Walmart
You’re walking through the shampoo aisle at Walmart, and bottle after bottle, you keep checking the ingredients. You still can’t find a single alcohol-free shampoo! We’re here to let you know that you can grab a whole array of sulfate-free, alcohol-free hair products at Walmart. In fact, here’s a list:
- Aveeno Apple Cider Vinegar Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Balance & Shine
- WOW Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo – Sulfate and Paraben Free for All Hair Types
- Cleanlife Products No-Rinse Shampoo
- UR Curly Free of Alcohol Soya Shampoo
- Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Sulfate Free Shampoo for Curly Hair
- AG Hair Natural Balance Apple Cider Vinegar Sulfate-Free Shampoo
While these examples are the more popular alcohol-free shampoos at Walmart, you’ll be pleased to know that there are even more options available in-store. Keep an open mind, and you’ll be surprised at what you can find!
Alcohol Free Shampoo at CVS
If there’s a will, there’s a way. Yes, you can purchase alcohol-free shampoo at CVS! We’ll skip the list this time and direct you to our personal favorite – Shea Moisture Power Greens Shampoo. This miracle hair product was created for one purpose and one purpose only – hydration. Whether you have dry, damaged hair, recently-dyed hair, or just want to maintain sparkling, healthy tresses, Shea Moisture Power Greens Shampoo will keep your locks moisturized and silky.
Alcohol Free Shampoo at Walgreens
Who knew Walgreens was the jackpot for alcohol-free shampoos? In fact, Walgreens has something for everyone in this section, with alcohol-free products specializing in dandruff control, hydration, and color protection. Here are a few top-tier shampoo options from Walgreens that contain zero alcohol:
- Hask Keratin Protein Shampoo
- Hask Argan Oil Shampoo
- Marc Anthony True Professional Instantly Thick Volume Sulfate Free Hair Thickening Shampoo
- Neutrogena Extra Strength Therapeutic Dandruff Shampoo
- Not Your Mother’s Smooth Moves Anti Frizz Shampoo Berry Vanilla Fragrance
- Almond Avocado Moisturizing Shampoo
Best Alcohol Free Shampoo Brands
Is Dove Shampoo Alcohol Free?
When searching for alcohol free products for hair, you might want to turn to a well-known, familiar brand such as Dove. While a number of Dove products are, in fact, alcohol-free, the brand doesn’t advertise many of their hair products as alcohol-free. There are a few alcohol-free options from Dove, including the Dove Nourishing Secrets Shampoo Cool Moisture. While the presence of alcohol in most other Dove hair products doesn’t necessarily make them unhealthy or bad for hair, it means that they don’t fit into the “alcohol-free” category.
Is Suave Shampoo Alcohol Free?
Suave has developed a number of hair products over the years, and alcohol content differs from product to product. However, Suave has certainly produced a few alcohol-free products. One example includes its Ocean Breeze Shampoo, a gentle and refreshing cleanser that aims to enhance your hair’s natural beauty. The Suave Professionals Almond and Shea Butter Moisturizing Shampoo is another popular alcohol-free option from the brand.
Is Tresemme Shampoo Alcohol Free?
So, you love the salon feeling that Tresemmé has to offer? We do, too. Tresemmé has produced a small number of alcohol-free products. If you adore the brand and you’re steering clear of alcohol, the Tres Two Ultra Firm Alcohol-Free Hair Gel For Frizz Control is for you. While it’s not a shampoo, it’ll give you that je ne sais quoi that only Tresemmé can provide.
Cheap Alcohol Free Shampoo
On a tight budget? Let’s work within the constraints. Here’s a list of alcohol-free shampoos that’ll keep your hair – and your wallet – in check:
- Suave Professionals Almond and Shea Butter Moisturizing Shampoo – $4
- Garnier Whole Blends Repairing Shampoo Honey Treasures, For Damaged Hair – $4
- OGX Hydrating + Tea Tree Mint Shampoo, Nourishing & Invigorating – $6
- Dove Nourishing Secrets Shampoo Cool Moisture – $7
- Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor oil Strengthen & Restore Shampoo – $9
- Pharmaceutical Specialties Free and Clear Shampoo – $8
- Handmade Heroes Drop Dead Gorgeous Dry Shampoo – $13
So, now you’re all clued up, and we wish you the best of luck. Hopefully, you’ve learned a little more about the various types of alcohols used in hair products and figured out what works for your unique and beautiful hair. We’re so glad we could be part of your hair journey!