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May 14, 2024 4 min read

My absolute favorite ingredient has the longest and hardest to pronounce name on our entire ingredient list.

Does that mean it's a "bad" ingredient???

No. I don't believe one's ability to pronounce a word has any correlation to how safe the ingredient is for our hair and skin. There are perfectly safe and effective ingredients with super long, chemically sounding names and ingredients with short, phonetic names that I would never include in one of our formulations.

The ingredient we are highlighting today is behentrimonium methosulfate.

You might notice a familiar sounding word at the end of that ingredient name. Sulfate. That's right, behentrimonium methosulfate has the word sulfate at the very end. If this rings alarm bells for you, read on to understand how we use behentrimonium methosulfate in our products while being a sulfate-free, curly hair company.

 

What is a sulfate?

When speaking about ingredients with the general population, characterizations and generalizations are used. This can be helpful for the layperson to have an idea of the types of products that will and won't work for their unique hair and skin situation, but it can also cause a dogmatic approach to label evaluation without actually understanding what things are.

The term sulfate in chemistry is used to denote a specific portion of chemical structure: SO42-. This applies to many compounds both in and out of the cosmetic world.

When we talk about sulfates in the curly hair community, we are talking about the sulfate class of surfactants. A surfactant is an ingredient that provides lather to a formulation. They create surface tension to effectively mix oils and water to cleanse your hair and skin. Not all surfactants are sulfates. Read this article to learn more about surfactants and their varying degrees of harshness and mildness.

The notorious sulfates you want to avoid are SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) and SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate). These are the sulfates everyone is referring to when they tell you to stop using sulfates. There are a few reasons these two sulfates with the sulfate structure, SO42-, are known to be harsh and irritating to the skin.

1. Micelle size: SLS and SLES are tiny molecules that are small enough to penetrate the scalp and cause irritation. The smaller the micelle size, the harsher a surfactant will be.

2. Sulfation: This is the chemical process that SLS and SLES undergo in their creation. These treat an alcohol in the chemical chain with sulfur trioxide gas, leaving the resulting alcohol sulfuric acid unstable due to the sulfat's negative charge. This can leave behind races of doxane, an odorless ether liquid that is irritating to the eyes and respiratory system.

Why Behentrimonium Methosulfate is NOT a sulfate

While the term sulfate in the chemistry world only denotes the presence of the chain SO42-, the classification of "sulfates" in the common language is specifically referring to surfactants that are anionic (have a negative charge).

Behentrimonium Methosulfate does contain the chain SO42-, but it comes with many additional compounds that change its classification completely. 

For one, the chemical structure of methosulfate is very different from a sulfate. Basically, they share the sulfate nomenclature only because they both have one sulfur atom. For example dihydrogen oxide and hydrogen peroxide sound very similar. One is perfectly safe to drink, the other is not. The oxide suffix shows that oxygen is present, but doesn't mean these two compounds have the same properties.

The second big difference is it's charge. Behentrimonium Methosulfate is a cationic ingredient. This means it is a positively charged conditioning agent that does not behave like a surfactant. It does not lather or cleanse, but rather adsorbs to the hair strand to impart amazing conditioning features.

 

Why Behentrimonium Methosulfate is the MAGIC ingredient

If I had to make a conditioner with just one ingredient, I would choose behentrimonium methosulfate. In fact, if I read an ingredient list for a conditioner and it does not contain this ingredient, I know I won't like how it feels.

Behentrimonium methosulfate imparts an amazing slip to any product in which it is included. Since it has a positive charge, it lays along our negatively charged hair shaft leaving it smooth and soft.

In our conditioners, behentrimonium methosulfate is what gives them an amazing slip so you can achieve that squishy, seaweed feel in the shower. It also decreases friction and static, so you can avoid flyaways and have more manageable hair. This slip is crucial for curly hair care so we can avoid friction as much as possible.

In our shampoos, it is used at a much smaller percentage, but blends well with the cleansers to protect your hair from the mechanical friction caused from washing. The ability to add a cationic (positively charged) ingredient with anionic (negatively charged) cleansers is one reason why our solid shampoos are superior to liquid shampoos; those two types of ingredients cannot coexist in a liquid formulation. But in a solid, they blend together just fine and your hair can benefit from being cleansed as often as you'd like without worrying about damaging your hair.

We also use a small percentage of behentrimonium methosulfate in our solid face cleansers and moisturizers. It imparts that creamy, mild feel to the lather of the cleanser and it provides the oil-free emolliency to the moisturizers to lock in hydration without clogging pores. 

Every ingredient we use has a specific purpose and is known to be safe and effective. Despite its long name and scary suffix, behentrimonium methosulfate is truly a magical ingredient that is clean and safe to use. I hope this explanation sheds some light on our ingredients so you can feel confident in what you choose to care for your hair.

 

 


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