Beginner’s Guide to Ingredients In Natural Hair Products

black owned beauty supply store

Ingredients in natural hair products has become so overwhelming. Paraben free. Sulfate free. Silicone free. Yes, we’ve all seen these words plastered across a lot of products but what does this stuff really mean? What’s really inside natural hair products and how does it affect your hair?

Often, we gravitate to what sounds great on the front of a label.  But the proof is in the pudding aka the ingredients. Brands are required to list the scientific name of ingredients on the labels, therefore; you may think an ingredient is harmful simply because you can not pronounce the word.

I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true.  Here’s how to understand the ingredients in natural hair products the next time you’re about to spend your coins on the latest product.

Understanding Ingredients In Natural Hair Products

What is a sulfate?

A sulfate in the most general form is detergent. Sulfates are found in hand soaps, dish-washing products, laundry detergents and yes shampoos.

Sulfates have grown to get a very bad reputation because they completely strip the hair and leave behind a rough, brassy-like feeling to your stands.

Although this could work in your favor to remove extreme product build up, there are moisturizing sulfate free options that will still allow you to have a great cleanse like the tgin Moisture Rich Sulfate-free Shampoo or the Obia Naturals Neem & Tea Tree Shampoo Bar.

If you do choose to use a shampoo that contains sulfates, following with an intense deep conditioning treatment is definitely a must do.

What is a paraben?

Parabens, in simple terms, are a class of preservatives widely used in the cosmetics industry due to their ability to limit the amount of bacteria growth, mold, and yeast in products.  Due to this reason, it is common to find parabens in moisturizers, lipsticks, and shampoos as parabens are also odorless, tasteless and colorless.  But the list does not stop there.

Parabens are one of the most widely approved and used preservatives also found in our daily consumer goods such as lotions, deodorants, and hand soap.  So what is the big deal?

According to an article by Sister Scientist, in 2004 the Journal of Applied Toxicology was the first to report the appearance of parabens in breast cancer tumors.  Since then and due to other reports curly women have been avoiding parabens like the plague; however, further research is definitely needed.

As of today, there has been no definitive link of parabens to breast cancer, just claims in multiple studies.  This does not mean you should not avoid parabens if you feel strongly about this issue.  As with any other health claim, do your research before making a definitive decision.  The good news is there are tons of amazing hair care brands to choose from now formulated without parabens.

Silicones & Natural Hair: What’s OK and What to Avoid:

Silicone is an ingredient that has received a bad reputation in the curly hair community, however; this key ingredient could actually work in your favor.  Commonly used in hair care products due to their ability to make the hair feel silky, smooth and provide amazing slip, this powerful ingredient is also found in some of my favorite brands.

In addition, they provide a light coating on the hair, which is another reason silicones are a main ingredient in the formulation heat protectants.  

The main thing you should understand is the difference between water-soluble and water insoluble silicones.

Silicones, in general, are known to create product build up and stick to the hair, which is the primary reason it has a bad reputation.  Water-insoluble silicones require a deeper cleansing with a sulfate containing or clarifying shampoo to remove the silicones from the hair after perpetual use. To some women this may or may not be a big deal.

With water-insoluble silicones a clarifying shampoo is best to really open the hair cuticle and immensely cleanse the hair and scalp.

 But, with water-soluble silicones rinsing the hair with water, milder shampoo options, or simply using a cleansing co-wash works just fine.

If you prefer the great slip and prefer to use silicone heavy products often, look for water-soluble silicone ingredients to reduce your risk for product build up.

Here is how to identify the difference between the two:

Examples of Water-Soluble Silicones:

The best way to identify these ingredients is to look for the key letters PEG or PPG.  Some common examples are:

  • Dimethicone copolyol
  • DEA PG-Propyl PEG/PPG-18/21 Dimethicone
  • Dimethicone PEG-8 Phosphate
  • Dimethicone-PG Diethylmonium Chloride
  • Hydrolyzed Silk PG-Propyl Methylsilanediol Crosspolymer
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane
  • PEG/PPG-20/15 Dimethicone

Examples of Water-Insoluble Silicones

  • Dimethicone
  • Dimethiconol
  • Phenly Trimethicone
  • Amodimethicone
  • Cyclomethicone

A beginners guide to ingredients in natural hair products

Mineral Oils vs. Natural Oils

The main drawback with mineral oil is that it does not penetrate the hair shaft. The oil simply coats the hair, without providing any additional nutrients. Due to this coating, it is harder for moisture to enter the hair and similar to silicones a great shampoo session is needed to cleanse the hair after using. Simply co-washing after using mineral oils will only do so much.

Remember products always work best on freshly cleansed and clarified hair.   Natural oils like argan oil, avocado oil and coconut oil with low molecular weight actually penetrate the hair strands while nourishing the hair and scalp key vitamins like vitamin E.

Also Read: Silicones & Natural Hair, What’s OK & What to Avoid

Good Alcohols vs. Bad Alcohols

The word “alcohol” might sound scary but not all alcohols are created equal so don’t run away just yet.  General store-bought, isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), should not be used on the hair as it is too drying so you won’t see that on a label anyway.  Fatty alcohols are considered “good” because they often provide slip to our favorite conditioners. Here are the most common alcohols you will see:

Fatty Alcohols that Provide Slip

  • Behenyl alcohol
  • Cetearyl alcohol
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Isocetyl alcohol
  • Isostearyl alcohol
  • Lauryl alcohol
  • Myristyl alcohol
  • Stearyl alcohol

ingredients in natural hair products

Common Scientific Names Listed as Ingredients in Natural Hair Products

Now on to some of the hard to pronounce ingredients. Don’t be fooled by these scientific names.  Clearly, as you can tell these are some of our favorite oils and butters.

  • Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter)
  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil
  • Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil
  • Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil
  • Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil
  • Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter
  • Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil
  • Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera)
  • Panthenol (Pro Vitamin B5),
  • Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E)

Common Proteins Listed as Ingredients in Natural Hair Products

Understanding which products contain protein is also important to determine what your hair needs. Maybe your hair is protein sensitive and you need a strictly moisturizing option. Check for these ingredients to help in determining which conditioners and masks are best for your hair.

  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Hydrolyzed keratin
  • Hydrolyzed silk protein
  • Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
  • Keratin
  • Variations of hydrolyzed collagen
  • Variations of hydrolyzed soy protein

Have you been intimidated by hard to read ingredients in natural hair products? Let me know in the comments!

Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to never miss a post!


Charlene Walton
Charlene Walton

Charlene Walton McCraney is a Dallas beauty and lifestyle blogger. After years of styling her and several friends’ hair as a hobby, offering advice and tips, she decided to combine two of her favorite things…writing and talking about natural hair! was created to promote healthy hair care for women of all textures and has since evolved into other beauty and lifestyle topics. Charlene loves teaching other aspiring bloggers on how to take their passion and turn it into amazing content to provide value.

Charlene is a previous beauty contributor to,, and

When she’s not blogging she is probably crunching numbers as a Senior Financial Analyst, dancing or figuring a way to meet Beyonce in person. :)

Find me on: Twitter/X | Instagram | Facebook

1 Comment

  1. January 18, 2018 / 7:14 pm

    Hello, I am getting ready to start making my own products for hair which means I’m doing research on healthy ingredients for hair care .I already make my own DIY, but I’m looking for ingredients that I can put on shelves for sales purposes. I would like to know if it’s possible for me to be able to obtain some advice? Thank you for your time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.