If you’re putting it on your face, you may as well be putting it in your hair. That’s the current line of reasoning from cosmetics manufacturers and retailers, who are co-opting ingredients traditionally found in your serums, spot treatments, exfoliants, and cleansers, and putting them in your hair products—with similar claims attached. Innovative? Absolutely. Effective? Well...some more so than others. Here are a few of the more popular ingredients your hair products are borrowing from your skincare routine. Plus, which skincare ingredients to embrace (a.k.a., the ones that really work), which skincare ingredients to avoid, and which ones we’re still on the fence about.
- Hyaluronic acid
In some ways, your scalp is no different than the rest of your skin—in that it can get really dehydrated. So let’s give a big round of applause for hyaluronic acid, traditionally used in serums and moisturizers to help hydrate dry skin. Turns out, one molecule of hyaluronic acid can hold up to one thousand times its weight in water—it’s simply one of the most hydrating natural ingredients out there. When your (ideally leave-in) hair products contain hyaluronic acid, it’s like applying your heavy-hitting night cream to your scalp and hair follicles.
Primarily found in cleansers and lotions formulated for sensitive skin, ceramides are breaking into the hair care market in a big way. Like hyaluronic acid, they’re moisture-retaining lipids; specifically, ceramides work to create a protective barrier that helps your skin or hair retain moisture. Ceramides combat split ends and breakage by coating the hair shaft to make it stronger and shinier. (Trust us, this one works—keep an eye out for our ceramide-rich Pro Boost: Shine treatment, coming soon.)
Charcoal’s antibacterial and antifungal properties have made it extremely popular in the world of skincare—you can find it as an active ingredient in many deep-cleansing exfoliating scrubs and purifying detox masks. It’s effective as a hair detox, too, to scrub the hair of excess product buildup or exfoliate a flaky scalp. Look for charcoal on the ingredients list of your next scalp scrub or clarifying shampoo.
First introduced in the fifties, parabens are a family of preservative chemicals that help extend the shelf life of many of your skincare and hair care products. Since beauty products typically contain such a small percentage of parabens, we’re wary of saying they’re bad for us, full stop…but paraben use has been linked to reproductive issues and breast cancer in some studies. Again, your beauty products likely contain only a miniscule amount. But it can’t hurt to avoid using parabens where you can, especially when there are so many “cleaner” options on the market.
Synthetic phthalates are one of the most widely used ingredients in consumer products—you’ll find them in many shampoos and conditioners, hair sprays, mousses, nail polishes, lotions, etc., etc... It’s unclear what effect phthalates have on long term health, but “often, their presence is not noted on labels,” despite being considered endocrine-disrupting chemicals. So yeah, we’ll take a product that’s certifiably “free of phthalates” over a “who knows?” any day.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Frequently found in face washes, shampoos, and conditioners, sodium lauryl sulfate is an anionic surfactant that is (paradoxically) harsh enough to strip artificial color from your hair. Although an effective cleanser, it can actually “increase frizz and friction” and “can cause skin irritation and trigger allergies.” We’ll pass on this one.
Collagen, one of the body’s most abundant proteins, is such a hip ingredient that people are even drinking it in their quest for healthier skin, nails, and hair. In terms of skincare, collagen supplements claim to leave your face glowing, elastic, and youthful in appearance. On the hair side, it allegedly promotes thickening and growth. But as a hair care ingredient, collagen has been a wee bit overhyped...it can plump and soften your strands, but only until your next shampoo. And its ability to thicken hair remains unproven.
Have you heard of caffeinated eye creams? Thanks to its stimulating properties, caffeine can temporarily reduce undereye bags and calm puffiness. Now, caffeinated hair products are getting buzz (had to!) for promoting hair growth by increasing the circulation of blood to your scalp and stimulating your roots. The jury’s still out on its effectiveness, but it couldn’t hurt to try.
- Aloe vera
Hydrating, cooling, and anti-inflammatory aloe vera is a well-known calming ingredient in facial sprays and soothing skin treatments. It’s also gotten rave reviews as an ultra-moisturizing leave-in conditioner and hair mask. Might work, might make your hair super greasy. If you do decide to give it a try, let us know how it worked for you in the comments!