The Great Sulfate Debate. The No Paraben Trend. It’s clear that we natural hair mavens are particular about what we use on our crown and glory. We’ve read all the blogs and reviews and wanted to share the rare perspective of chemist Falen Smith, creator of Finickey hair products. She shared some hair science along with the good, the bad, and the not so harmful.
How does being a scientist influence what ingredients you include in a product?
I think my most unique viewpoint comes from me being a scientist and a consumer. It allows me an objective and subjective outlook on ingredients. As a scientist I have access to safety reviews and complete studies that a consumer may not have access to, and I am able to decipher what is sound science and how it’s applicable to a real in-use situation.
As a consumer, however, I am still in tune with the perception of risk and I can decide if I would use the ingredient on my own hair or skin. As far as actual aesthetics, science doesn’t always offer the best answer and this is where my consumer experience really comes into play. Science may suggest one thing but there may be a perfect ingredient that already exists in nature. I only want to use science to supplement and enhance what nature already offers, not necessarily replace it.
Which of the common non-natural ingredients in hair products has the worst reputation? Does that ingredient deserve the bad rap?
I think the preservatives collectively get the worst rap in natural products. I have pored over journals and assessments and I do agree that there are certain preservatives that should be avoided, but as a whole they are a necessity. Microorganisms love water just like our hair and skin does, so if your product contains water then it absolutely needs a preservative. There have been so many recalls of contaminated “natural” products because they were not preserved adequately. Remember that bacteria and mold are natural too and would love to multiply all in your “preservative free” products!
What are the biggest misconceptions concerning natural products vs. products with additives?
I think the biggest misconception about a lot of products that claim to be natural is that they are actually all natural and no chemistry is involved. Even in a truly all-natural product there is chemistry taking place. There is little regulation over how the term “natural” can be used, and many companies take advantage of this while misleading the customer and making claims that are not necessarily true. There have also been plenty of incidents where so called natural products contained harmful chemicals that were not listed on the back INCI label but were intentionally added to the product. I never want to be misleading to consumers and tell them that an ingredient is natural when I know how many reaction steps it takes to get that final product.
The biggest misconception about products that are not all natural is that some people generally regard them as “bad”. Some people like to paint “chemicals” in a negative light, but even water is a chemical. (I absolutely hate products that claim to be “chemical free” that’s impossible!!) Actually many natural ingredients contain harmful allergens so in some cases an identical chemical is essentially safer for the consumer.
Lastly, can the use of science and alternate ingredients improve a product?
I believe that in some instances a natural product is completely sufficient but in other instances science can elevate that same product and offer some benefits that could not be achieved without chemistry.