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The Myth of Natural Commercial Hair Products

Avatar • Sep 20, 2014

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

aubrey organics honeysuckle
(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

bee-mine-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

hello
(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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About The Natural Haven

Scientist on a hairy mission!

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lala
lala
6 years ago

kinky curly is ridiculously expensive for a product line that doesnt even have all the necessary ingredients for healthy hair. Its always assumed the most expensive is the best but thats not always the case. I mean water is pretty inexpensive but its damn important in life.

Taina
Taina
6 years ago

Very interesting article!

Darlyn
Darlyn
6 years ago

Very informative article. Before I went natural, I was duped by LOTS of products that are sold in a lot of Korean owned beauty supply stores.

Jo
Jo
6 years ago

Thank-you for addressing this!
My mom recently bought aloe vera hand soap with a huge image of the aloe plant on the front. The “aloe vera” used happened to be the very tiny 2nd to last ingredient overpowered by fragrances, very many chemical compounds, and coloring. Companies (cleverly) do this, so it’s good to know how to scope out key ingredients.

luminous
luminous
6 years ago

Great advice. I always have trouble reading the ingredients on hair products. I usually just look for things I don’t want when reading the ingredients. This helps break it down even further.

TeamNaturalMKE
TeamNaturalMKE
6 years ago

REALLY good article! I noticed a lot of the same ingredients as well. Only thing I wonder is why some products (who have the same ingredients as others) work better than others? Still trying to figure that one out.

Azula
Azula
6 years ago
Reply to  TeamNaturalMKE

I am guessing that if they have the same ingredients then it is differing ratios and possibly quality of said ingredients that causes the difference in performance.

Nickey
Nickey
6 years ago

Thanks for the info. I’ve been wondering this for years. Especially with the recent increase in products marketed to Natural hair.

Panda
Panda
6 years ago

i used your guidelines on Giovanni Direct Moisture Leave in: The top ingredients are Water, cetyl alcohol, tocopherol (vitamin E), panthenol (pro-vitamin B5), citric acid, this one doesn’t seem to list unimportant ingredients in the beginning. Aqua (purified water), cetyl alcohol, tocopherol (vitamin E), panthenol (pro-vitamin B5), citric acid, phenoxyethanol, natural fragrance, citrus grandis (grapefruit) extract, *aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) leaf juice, *helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, *glycine soja (soybean) seed extract, *betula alba extract, *malva sylvestris (mallow) extract, *achillea millefolium extract, *chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract, *equisetum arvense extract, *lavandula angustifolia (lavender) extract, *rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, *salvia sclarea… Read more »

Lola Oye
Lola Oye
6 years ago

No, but that is because I have a background in Chemistry. I am curious though about how to make the shampoos from soap nuts and the oats/beans you mentioned?

Dananana
Dananana
6 years ago
Reply to  Lola Oye

I think Jc has an article on her blog that explains how to use soapnuts, but for the natural oat shampoo, I just boil steel cut organic oats for 3–5 minutes then strain the water into a pitcher, cool it for an hour in the fridge, put some in a color appplicator bottle, and use it as is or add a tablespoon of honey. It’s great for when I feel like my hair needs protein and cleansing, because I can do it all in one step 🙂

Sandi
Sandi
6 years ago

I would love to know how to cleanse my hair with soapnuts. Does anyone know a 100% natural recipe?

Ms. Vyk
Ms. Vyk
6 years ago
Reply to  Sandi

Chagrin Valley Company has 100% soap bars. I love ’em!!

Jacky
Jacky
6 years ago

Nice article! I dislike buying natural hair products because I suspect that they aren’t actually 100% natural. This confirms my suspicion. I’ll stick to my bentonite clay and my numerous oils.

Joan B. in S. C.
Joan B. in S. C.
6 years ago
Reply to  Jacky

Hi Jacky! I would love to see your recipe with the bentonite clay and oils.

Athorn23
Athorn23
6 years ago

Very interesting. I just assumed hair product ingredients had to be listed the way food products list their ingredients, with the most prominent ingredients listed first. I have been enlightened.

Nessa
Nessa
6 years ago

Very interesting article. As a chemist and a budding product formulator I found it super helpful. Thanks

Grace
Grace
6 years ago

True. But I need natural leave in conditions and instant conditioner. Right now, I use black soap or dr bronners as my shampoos. I shampoo once a month but I cowash twice a week. I would really need a natural alternative to Giovanni direct leavein and my rinse out instant conditioners. Can somebody help qith this? Thanks

April
April
6 years ago

Wow! Aubrey Organics honeysuckle and kinky curly leave in conditioner are staples for me. I figured none of this stuff is 100% natural but those products do wonders for my hair.

Charise
Charise
6 years ago

Thanks!

anastasia
anastasia
6 years ago

Very helpful. Thanks a mega!

VJ
VJ
6 years ago

Well.… This is informative yet depressing.

bennie
bennie
6 years ago

nice article. my new definition of natural products for hair is , if you can eat it, then use it.

Edens Sahara
Edens Sahara
6 years ago
Reply to  bennie

I LOVE the Definition. With the exception of Henna & Indigo all of my other hair products are edible.

curlytea
6 years ago

This is a very important article. The only thing I would add is if you have any allergies to specific herbs, you have to pay attention to the listed extracts. (I found that out the hard way) Yes products are listed from most prominent to least prominent, but the companies get around that. If they say “botanical infusion of… blah blah blah”, it’s probably just water with a few squirts of extract… or a tea mix made from steeping herbs. Since, technically, most of the product is made up of that water/aloe + extracts, they feel like they can list it first. 😛… Read more »

Edens Sahara
Edens Sahara
6 years ago

Now that black women have gone natural these money-hungry companies are making MORE profit from black women than before. These bogus natural products are NOT NEEDED by us. The list for 100% Naturals is natural, simple and cheap… and yet black women are still running after these companies for their overpriced gunk and feeling flattered by the attention they’re getting. WAKE UP… these companies don’t care about our hair, they only care about getting our money. I wonder when black women will finally come to their senses and stop supporting their exploitation.

Purplebutterfly
Purplebutterfly
4 years ago
Reply to  Edens Sahara

Yes. Also it is a known fact that blacks are #1 in spending hard owned dollars on hair products and wigs and weaves. Not knocking it, I did it too, but I’ve had enough of lining the pockets of these companies. You know what I’m taking about. I make my own homemade stuff — so easy,

amor.
amor.
6 years ago

SUPER helpful.

Trietha
Trietha
6 years ago

I’ve never heard of using beans to clean your hair. I’ve tried strained oatmeal (it worked like a weak cowash), but never beans. Has anyone tried this? If so, how did you do it? How did it work out?

Penny Jane
Penny Jane
6 years ago

You can try to diss some of these companies if you want, but ingredients simply aren’t needed in higher concentrations to have an effect. I feel like this article is a tad deceptive because it doesn’t make that clear. Sure I’ve run into some bum natural hair products that didn’t live up to expectations, but the first were not the usual suspects. A lot of times it was one of the lesser ingredients that my hair was sensitive to. Bee Mine is the best natural DC I’ve ever used…mostly because of the smaller amount of honey (too much would be… Read more »

Ingela
Ingela
6 years ago
Reply to  Penny Jane

Hello penny jane,

You are absolutly right!

SOME INGREDIENTS ARENT NEEDED TO BE IN HIGH CONCENTRATION TO HAVE AN EFFECT!

this article is so wrong and totaly misleading!!

TheDiva
TheDiva
4 years ago
Reply to  Penny Jane

I don’t think you ladies read the intro well, if at all. From what I read she stated that her issue is with ingredients listed at the TOP of the list that are clearly less than 1% (by law ingredients are supposed to be listed from most to least). Also, the fact that these brands are touted as natural and better when the main ingredients that make up the majority are the same as commercial products. She also stated she is not saying these aren’t good products or that they don’t work. She didn’t dismiss anything! She just illustrated the… Read more »

Lizzy Fowles
Lizzy Fowles
6 years ago

That’s why I always wonder what if they lying saying its all natural but really in it its a whole bunch of artificial ingredients Im stick of tried of these money hungry company’s I’m about to make my own natural hair product seem as people don’t no how to be real now these days. And question do you think cautu Shea leave in its fake ???

BlueCornMoon
BlueCornMoon
5 years ago

I’ve noticed over the years that most of these products have very similar ingredients.& that the best thing to do is to just try & find what works best for my hair. I even went back to grease during the harsh cold snowy winter of 2013–2014. because the new products I was trying & using just didn’t hold the moisture & my hair stayed extremely dry. I did the same thing this past winter. Grease„esp Blue Magic ‘s Super Sure Gro & Bergamot , & Dax USED SPARINGLY ON DAMP HAIR, seals in moisture wonderfully. So I would spray my… Read more »

Purplebutterfly
Purplebutterfly
4 years ago
Reply to  BlueCornMoon

Thank you. Same here. And I always wondered about this. All of the other products take out my hair,

TheDiva
TheDiva
4 years ago
Reply to  BlueCornMoon

This is so true. I had to re-evaluate my hair care so I started looking into views from people with more scientific backgrounds and/or neutral reporting styles (like JC). The blatant copy and paste reporting and misinterpretation of studies I’ve seen on a lot of blogs is scary! I’m still trying to figure out how an oil can contain a water soluble vitamin ‑_- . Regular co-washing and Dr. Bronners were TERRIBLE for my hair and scalp as was embracing my shrinkage (worst advice ever for someone who had BSL, super shrinking, fine but dense 4c hair). I’m still learning… Read more »

Kelly
Kelly
5 years ago

This article has changed my hair world — thank you!

trackback

[…] the “greenwashing” so prevalent among “natural” beauty brands nowadays: The Myth of Natural Commercial Hair Products. This was truly enlightening, and has helped me put all of the products above into perspective. […]

trackback

[…] Natural Haven in this post on hair care products on the website BGLH […]

helen black
helen black
4 years ago

Is this website owned by Black people? It seems that you want to bring down Black businesses. Compare to the harsh cheicals of perms, the natural products are fantastic.

BGLHRinny
BGLHRinny
4 years ago
Reply to  helen black

Yes we are very much black-owned. Furthermore, we regularly boost black-owned businesses. Feel free to check out our Black-Owned Business tab. http://bglh-marketplace.com/category/black-owned-business/

TheDiva
TheDiva
4 years ago
Reply to  helen black

Wow what an ignorant comment!! Can people not be provided information on reading labels for a better understanding of what they are purchasing?? What does race have to do with it??

Roselane
Roselane
4 years ago

Hello, I really appreciate the informative article re. hair care products and the overuse of the word “natural.” It is a good idea to read labels of any product before purchasing. I formulate and sell only natural body care and hair care products. Style and Shine Hair Serum is formulated with only plant based ingredients, no chemicals or toxic preservatives. Ingredients: Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Macadamia Oil, Organic Almond Oil, Organic Castor Oil, Abyssinian Oil, Broccoli Seed Oil, Moringa Oil, Sandalwood Essential OIl, Vitamin E. There are indeed companies today that do formulate and sell natural products… Read more »

Michael Forde
Michael Forde
3 years ago

Hi there, This is an interest article and I totally agree with you on the “mass produced naturals”. However there are folks which use more than a fraction of a percent of an active in their product. I am launching a new brand soon but suffice to say we use 3% shea butter + 4% oils (jojoba, coconut, sweet almond) in our hair conditioner and 5% standardised botanical extracts. Of course our price point won’t allow us to make say 300% per bottle but we want to give folks the best for what they spend. When we engaged a raw… Read more »

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[…] deal in determining whether an ingredient list is an honest reflection of what is in the bottle. Black Girl with Long Hair breaks down exactly how various commercial brands are not entirely honest about what makes up their […]

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