THE TALK: Cosmetic Ingredients

Victoria Wurdinger | November 4, 2013 | 1:15 PM


About specific cosmetic ingredients.

THE TALK: Cosmetic Ingredients


Some stylists claim their clients buy whatever they recommend; others say clients only care what a product will do for them, which focuses ingredient talk on benefits. But today’s consumers are highly informed (and misinformed), thanks to the internet. When clients ask you about ingredients, be glad, and be prepared to be their primary information source for all things beauty. Here’s the lowdown on the ingredients most discussed online lately.


1. Ammonia. Hands down, most ingredient questions revolve around ammonia, say pros. Consumers assume ammonia-free is better, when it’s just an alternative.

What to say: Ammonia-free hair color uses an ammonia substitute (usually MEA) that plays the same role as ammonia, but is usually present in higher percentages. Both open the cuticle and react with peroxide. MEA has no odor, but ammonia is more efficient. It’s best to let a professional make the choice, which depends on the goal and the specific product. (Then, explain why you made the choice you did for the client in your chair.)

Keep in Mind: MEA can be seen as either gentler or weaker, depending on your goal. In general, ammonia products perform better for creating very light blondes and for covering high percentages of gray.

THE TALK: Cosmetic Ingredients

2. Sulfates. Most clients now believe all sulfates fade hair color.

What to Say: While sulfates may strip the coating that “keratin”-type treatments leave behind, they do not necessarily fade color—hot water and the sun are the biggest culprits behind color fade, assuming the color was formulated and processed correctly on reasonably healthy hair.

Keep in Mind: There are good, expensive sulfates and there are “bad” cheap sulfates, according to color guru Beth Minardi. “The good ones are natural and derived from coconut,” she says. “They help shampoo burst into a gentle lather, and help the hair to rinse clean. What matters most is which sulfate we choose in conjunction with other top-quality cleansing and conditioning ingredients.”

3. Parabens. Some parabens were banned in Europe, particularly in children’s products, due to the belief they could possibly disrupt the hormonal system. “Safe” levels are still being debated.

What to Say: Tell your clients that any paraben-containing products you use are formulated for levels deemed safe. Without any preservatives, bacteria can grow in products, which is why “100% natural” usually equals a short shelf-life.

Keep in Mind: Established levels are for individual products, not for the expsoure to 10-20 paraben-containing products a day, which is what consumer groups are concerned about. It’s complicated: Different parabens have different concentration levels considered safe.

THE TALK: Cosmetic Ingredients

4. Silicones. Women with curls started avoiding silicones because they can build-up.

What to Say: There are cheap silicones and good ones. Ones like Behenoxy Dimethicone are water soluble; Dimethicone is not, so it can build up—but it also keeps out humidity, so it fights frizz. Any oil should be used minimally.

Keep in Mind: Most of the new oil-infused products contain silicones; pure, natural oils are actually heavier.


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