The Ingredients That Help My Curls Behave


A fatty alcohol is defined as being derived from natural sources and often used as an emollient in skin and hair care products. It gives a smooth, soft feeling to the hair shaft by helping the cuticle to lie flat on the surface of the hair. Some fatty alcohols include lauryl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, myristyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol and behenyl alcohol.

There’s one in particular that I have coveted throughout my journey since transitioning and big chopping my hair off some years ago to transform my hair health. Cetearyl alcohol has helped my curls behave, lay down flat, and stay defined in even the most humid climates.

Why are fatty alcohols good for naturally curly hair?

According to curly hair polymer scientist and cosmetic chemist Tonya McKay, these alcohols:

  • are typically naturally derived
  • have a higher carbon content, which makes them great emollients
  • give coarse, thick textured hair a smooth, soft feeling
  • flatten the hair shaft cuticle to lay down

My cetearyl alcohol favorites

This magical ingredient can be found in the top 5 ingredient list of some of my favorite curly hair products.


How I avoid the greasy look

  • never apply directly at the roots–start an inch away and work my way down
  • apply per section to 4 large sections of my hair
  • wrap a palmful of product around each section for even–but light–distribution
  • lightly spritz a curl refresher over my halo and fluff with my fingers to enhance the volume

I have a full head of high porosity hair that grasps any bit of moisture in the air, so I can appreciate a rare occasion when a product allows my curls to “lay down” for the day.¬†However, note that if too much of it is used, the hair can start to look greasy and feel weighed down.

To counter the overly greasy look, though, I make sure to only apply once after co-washing and never directly at the roots. I take one section at a time with a thin layer in my palm and wrap my hand around that section down to the ends.

If the product has left me without any shape or volume whatsoever, I will grab a curl refresher, lightly spritz the crown of my head, and fluff my roots with the pads of my fingers.

What ingredient makes your curls behave? Let me know!

Roger Gore

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