The majority of hair care products on the market contain two groups of conditioning and smoothing agents known as silicones and quats. In fact you would have a hard time finding a product on our supermarket shelves that doesn’t contain “dimethicone” (silicone) on the ingredient list. Quaterniums, or Quats are sometimes used as alternatives to, or in conjunction with, silicones but are no safer or more sustainable.
What are they? Dimethicone is a silicone-based polymer, that provides smoothness, particularly in conditioners and detanglers. It helps smooth hair and provide better comb-through. Because dimethicone leaves a covering on the hair strands, it can also make hair appear shinier. Quats are chemicals that contain a quaternary ammonium compound and are also used as conditioning agents, giving skin and hair a slippery, smooth feel.
The Concerns Dimethicone (and it’s related silicones) coat the hair. This is often punted as a benefit, but it’s not. Essentially you are applying a thin, rubber-like cover over your hair all day. This means your hair is missing out on truly moisturizing ingredients like natural oils and extracts. Prolonged use creates a build-up of the product making hair dull and lifeless and this creates cycle of dependency on the product. Just like petroleum jelly, dimethicone can actually end up drying out the hair the more you use it because the hair shaft becomes coated by the silicone (for that sleek shiny finish) but the real nutrients and conditioners are prevented from penetrating the hair shaft. There is also an environmental concern as it is non-biodegradable, which means that it can pollute our environment during both the manufacturing process and after it’s used.
Quats have been called the “asthmagens,” which means they can trigger asthma attacks and cause new cases in those who are asthma-free. With more and more children every day affected by asthma, it makes sense to help reduce exposure to this group of chemicals. Quats have also been linked to endocrine disruption, skin irriation and reproductive toxicity. They also pose environmental concerns as they are toxic to aquatic life when entering the water system.
Natural Alternatives? We believe in using a gentle surfactant, which may not foam as much, but doesn’t strip the hair as much. We then supplement the hair with natural plant oils and exracts such as Marula or Mongongo oil. These oils nourish the hair, protecting it from sun and colour leaching. They strengthen the hair and control frizz as well.
Of course the reason Silicones and Quats are popular in such a wide range of products is because they deliver instant feel and immediate conditioning results. Healthy hair, however, is not immediate. It’s a process of removing chemical build up and nourishing the hair with natural oils, vitamins and extracts. Depending on the condition of the hair at the start this may take anything from two weeks to a month. What is apparent though is that once you have completed the “hair detox” period, your hair will be much healthier, stronger and full of life.