There are many ingredients that damage hair by drying out strands, like silicones and petrochemicals. And, yes, alcohol is another. But this isn’t as cut and dry as your latest trim and blowout because not all alcohols are created equally. Learn which alcohols you want to avoid in hair care products and those that don’t do as much damage to your strands.

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You’ve probably seen articles and social media posts telling you to steer clear of alcohols in hair care. Then you go to the beauty store and tons of products (including some of your favorites that you thought were safe) contain alcohol.

What’s the deal?

As is the case with many types of cosmetic ingredients, there are some alcohols that damage your hair, and those that are more gentle and even offer some benefits. So, no. Not all alcohols in hair products are bad.

When it comes to cosmetic ingredients and deciphering which are best to use on your hair, it’s worth it to take some time and learn more. No, we aren’t recommending you read all the scientific studies you can get your hands on where alcohols in hair care are concerned. Unless you want to, of course. Below we break down the good and bad when it comes to alcohol in hair products.

Good Alcohols vs Bad Alcohols

What do we mean when we say “bad alcohols”? Basically, in terms of hair care, these types of alcohols dry out hair. Why would a product manufacturer add a drying type of alcohol to a product? With certain products, manufacturers add alcohols for their drying effect. Think those dry shampoos and hair volumizers that make hair feel cleaner and fuller by drying out strands.

As for “good alcohols”, those are fatty alcohols. Fatty alcohols are derived from oils and don’t dry strands like the drying alcohols mentioned above. They have emollient properties and are also used to emulsify products, keeping oils and waters from separating in products like shampoos and conditioners.

When shopping for hair care, it helps to know what to look for and how to identify good alcohols from bad alcohols. Below is our list to I.D.-ing the good from the bad.

Good Alcohols vs Bad Alcohols: How to I.D. On Product Labels

Let’s start from the top with the alcohols you do want to find in your hair care:

Cetearyl alcohol—A mixture of cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol, two fatty acids found in plants and animals, often derived from coconut oil. Is cetearyl alcohol bad for hair? This alcohol is an emollient, which creates a moisturizing layer on top of hair strands so hair doesn’t become dried out. Cetyl and stearyl alcohols on their own are also good alcohol options in hair products.

Behenyl alcohol—Another fatty acid alcohol which can be derived from plants, like corn, behenyl alcohol acts as a thickening agent and emulsifier (to keep oil and water from separating) in hair care products. It can also keep hair from becoming dry.

Lauryl alcohol—Derived from coconut or palm kernel oils, lauryl alcohol is another fatty alcohol. It acts as an emollient, maintaining moisture in the hair, and can also be used as a cleansing agent.

Now for those alcohols you want to avoid in your hair products:

Ethyl alcohol—Also seen on ingredient listings as “ethanol”, ethyl alcohol can be naturally produced. But this commonly used alcohol has the tendency to dry out your precious locks.

Isopropyl alcohol—A strong chemical compound, isopropyl alcohol can be very drying and sensitizing to skin and hair.

Denatured alcohol—This alcohol often shows up on ingredient listings as “alcohol denat” and is simply ethanol with additives that render it unsuitable for human consumption. The addition of denatured alcohol in hair care can dry the skin and hair.

Hair Products With Good Alcohols

Now that you know the truth about alcohols in hair care, you can see there’s no need to go alcohol free. We love products that use gentle ingredients that infuse hair with moisture, shine, and body. Here are some of our faves that include alcohols from the good list.

Innersense Hydrating Hair Mask

Innersense Hydrating Hair Mask


This rich treatment mask includes cetearyl alcohol to keep strands hydrated and ward off moisture loss. Use on dry, damaged locks to restore the appearance of glossy, healthy hair.

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O&M Seven Day Miracle Treatment

Fight frizz and provide a feeling of softness to strands with this hair hydrator. Contains cetearyl alcohol to make hair feel hydrated and resilient.

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Innersense Sweet Spirit Leave in


A lightweight leave in moisturizer made with cetearyl alcohol to detangle and hydrate hair. Super gentle and smells divine.

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Olaplex 3


A sublime treatment that includes both cetyl and cetearyl alcohols to prevent the appearance of hair breakage and deliver a feeling of strength to strands. Use weekly for best results.

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Oway Purifying Hair Bath for Dry Scalps


Purifying shampoos can be harsh and drying on hair and scalp. This one is made with lauryl alcohol to be gentle and keep hair and scalp moisturized.

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