Long-Chain vs Short-Chain Alcohols in Your Hair Products

bad alcohol in hair products

Many naturals shudder at the sight of alcohol on a product’s ingredients list, as it is widely associated with drying out your curls. However, the truth is, not all alcohols react in the same way. While some alcohols have negative effects on hair, there are others that are beneficial.

An alcohol’s impression on hair is due to its structure. The two key structural groups of alcohols are short-chain alcohols and long-chain alcohols.


When it comes to alcohols, those with a short-chain structure are the bad guys. The molecular structure of short-chain alcohols enables it to evaporate quickly, thus decreasing the drying time for products. I know at first glance this sounds like a major plus – who doesn’t want to decrease the time it takes to dry their hair?

However, this innocuous effect comes with its fair share of drawbacks. While short-chain alcohols are evaporative in nature, they strip the hair of moisture, resulting in brittle, rough, frizzy tresses. These alcohols are typically found in styling products, gels, dyes, and hair sprays.

Check out the list below for the most common type short-chain alcohols:

• Isopropyl alcohol
• Isopropanol alcohol
• Ethanol
• Ethyl alcohol
• SD alcohol
• SD alcohol 40
• Propanol
• Propyl alcohol


Unlike short-chain alcohols, long-chain alcohols contain beneficial properties. Long-chain alcohols are also referred to as fatty alcohols. These alcohols are derived from fat and are oily in nature. The long-chain alcohol’s fatty structure equips it with moisturizing properties. When your hair encounters a long-chain alcohol, it will be left feeling hydrated, soft, and smooth.

In addition, fatty alcohols act as thickening agents, thus giving products a rich, creamy consistency. Lastly, fatty alcohols add slip to products, making detangling sessions a breeze! Long-chain alcohols are found in hydrating products, such as moisturizers, conditioners and moisturizing shampoos.

Check out the list below for the most common type long-chain alcohols:

• Behenyl alcohol
• Cetyl alcohol
• Cetearyl alcohol
• Myristly alcohol
• Stearyl alcohol
• Lauryl alcohol

As you can see, alcohols play different roles in hair care depending on its structure. Being able to identify short-chain and long-chain alcohols can make a huge difference in your natural hair care. As with all products, make sure to incorporate a trial test on a small section of hair to see what products work best for you.

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