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Do You Care What's on Your Hair? - how to read ingredient lists

December 17, 2021

Do You Care What's on Your Hair? - how to read ingredient lists

Below is the ingredient list to an American celebrity-led hair conditioner. This one has a staggering 56 ingredients.

Aqua (Water), Cyclopentasiloxane, Cetearyl Alcohol, Quaternium-91, Parfum (Fragrance), Phenoxyethanol, Adansonia Digitata Seed Oil, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Oil, Tocopheryl Acetate, Hydrolyzed Rhodophyceae Extract, Tamarindus Indica Extract, Panthenol, Cetearamidoethyldiethonium Succinoyl Hydrolyzed Pea Protein, Arginine, Aspartic Acid, PCA, Glycine, Alanine, Serine, Valine, Isoleucine, Proline, Threonine, Sodium Hyaluronate, Histidine, Brassica Campestris/Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer, Cetrimonium Chloride, Glycerin, Dipropylene Glycol, Polysilicone-29, Behentrimonium Chloride, Myristyl Myristate, Silicone Quaternium-16, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Butylene Glycol, Undeceth-11, Butyloctanol, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Undeceth-5, 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, Sodium PCA, Sodium Lactate, Phenylalanine, Disodium EDTA, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid, Citronellol, Geraniol, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Citral, Linalool, Hydroxycitronellal, Limonene

Do many people bother to read them? Sadly not. I don’t like long ingredients lists. I don’t like long addresses either or overly long books. And I apologise now for any of my overly long blogs. But beauty products don’t need to be this complicated.

I’ve spent decades formulating products. When I read the ingredients list of many high street products, I’m attuned to the toxins and the superfluous guff that pads out the formula. Most of it adding nothing to hair health and much more to a marketing story.

In beauty manufacturing they have a mixture called ‘The Marketing Pack’ which is an off-the-shelf blend of maybe a dozen lovely sounding naturals. Put an insignificant 1% of this in the formula and it allows you to virtue-signal wistfully on the packaging about mountain meadows, forest canopies, or the tribe you’re allegedly saving from extinction in the Amazon. We don’t use these marketing packs.

And you may have heard the quip, ‘If I had more time, I’d have written you a shorter letter!’ In writing, succinct communication and brevity takes time. Long and wordy copy is easier to write but often needs mental gymnastics to slog through the turgid prose. It’s similar with creating hair products, and the sustainability movement is now questioning the added carbon footprint created by transporting unnecessary ingredients around the world.

So I’ll show you how to quickly Sherlock Holmes your way through an INCI list so you can better understand what you’re putting on and in your body.

International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredients

By agreeing Latin or scientific names for INCI lists, the ingredients are understood across borders. Firstly, the ingredients must be listed in order of concentration by weight, down to 1% of the formula. Ingredients that account for less than 1% can be reordered around the end of the list.

In the list shown:

  • Water is the main ingredient. Water is the carrier in most beauty products. It dissolves the ingredients and makes them more likely to be absorbed.
  • The second most concentrated ingredient is Cyclopentasiloxane which most people won’t know is a low-cost silicone. There are two further silicones in the list but this being the first ingredient after the water suggests high concentration.
  • Fifth on the list is Fragrance. This is usually at 1% or less so anything listed after the perfume is likely to be at less than 1% of the formula.
  • Sixth is a preservative - Phenoxyethanol, usually in at between 0.5% and 1%. The rest of the list after that will diminish in concentration rapidly and many will be at less than 0.1%.

  • My estimate is that the silicone is at between 20 – 40% of the active ingredients and when a cosmetic varnish like that is being used, the effect of the flowery naturals talked about in the marketing and on the front are unlikely to have much effect when overpowered by high concentration silicone which isn’t mentioned anywhere on the pack except as the law dictates, on the INCI list, and even then by Its scientific name which 95% of readers won’t understand is silicone.
  • It doesn’t have any of the nastier preservatives like parabens that are banned in Europe but still popular in US products like this one, so a tick for that at least.

Read why silicone is bad for your hair


LifeSaver Pre-wash Treatment

Our best-selling silicone-free LifeSaver Pre-wash Treatment has just 12 ingredients. All there for a reason. We try to keep all our formulas clean and neat, avoiding silicones, phthalates, parabens, xenoestrogens, and other known toxins.

We formulate with mostly naturally derived ingredients and are always reviewing ways to improve them.

LifeSaver Deep Sleep - Heavenly
Wow I’m absolutely loving the new Deep Sleep Lifesaver 💙  The smell is insane, my hair feels amazing this morning and I had the best nights sleep ever!! - Kim

LifeSaver Ultra - Incredible
Makes my hair so soft and moisturised. It’s in such better condition and I’ve only been using for a few weeks. I get less hair loss and my hair doesn’t get greasy so quickly. My hair loves it! - Laura

LifeSaver Original - Amazing results
Absolutely love the Lifesaver prewash. It gives amazing results pretty much from first use and then it gets better and better. My hair is so soft and shiny like never before. - Margrieta

 Michael Van Clarke


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