While scrolling through Ulta.com last week, a new product threw my internal labeling system for a loop. It was the Hangover Hair Elixir from We Are Paradoxx, and the product description read: “Rich in ellagic acid, whiskey is a very powerful antioxidant and adds strength and shine for glossy, healthy looking hair.” Normally, I would file this under No Good, Very Bad (alcohol is an ingredient I tend to stay away from in beauty products, since it’s notoriously drying). But this one piqued my curiosity. Could alcohol actually be good for your hair? I took my question to the experts, and the answer is yes. And also, no.
“First, it is important to realize that alcohols are a large category of ingredients, each with different and unique characteristics,” Dr. Caroline Robinson, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in hair health, tells The Zoe Report. “Not all alcohols used in hair care products are created equally.” She notes that ethyl alcohol (or ethanol) and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) are two of the most common iterations found in hair care products. They’re also the most dehydrating, and can “potentially lead to dry, stiff hair if the proper moisture is not added” to the product via humectants or other hydrators (like oils and butters). Other offenders include denatured alcohol, SD alcohol 40, and propanol — and the derm generally doesn’t recommend any of the above for those with “color-treated, damaged, drier, or curlier hair.”
However. Some alcohols can actually hydrate hair. (Mind = blown.) “Fatty alcohol ethoxylates, such as cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol, are commonly found in shampoos and conditioners and add body and improve manageability of the hair,” Dr. Robinson says. “These alcohols do not evaporate as quickly, they tend to be oilier and heavier.” So basically, a little alcohol won't necessarily harm your hair — it could even help — but it depends on what type of alcohol, and how much is in the product.
Whiskey, as a form of ethanol, technically falls into the former category of drying alcohols, but here’s the thing: It brings some serious benefits to the table, too. “In a well-formulated hair product, small amounts may help with slip, shine, and removing excess oil,” Dr. Robinson says — which is precisely why We Are Paradoxx incorporates the ingredient into its Hair Hangover Elixir. “The rest of the range is alcohol-free, but we decided to use the whiskey here as it adds strength, shine, and bounce to the hair,” Yolanda Cooper, the brand’s founder and CEO, tells TZR. The Irish-inspired oil features “pure Jamesons whiskey, not an extract” for maximum effect; and the formulation is Dr. Robinson-approved, since it also contains argan oil, coconut oil, and soya oil to replenish moisture.
We Are Paradoxx utilizes another famous Irish alcohol in its range, too: Guinness. “It was an age-old tradition in Ireland that people would wash their hair with beer to make it shiny,” Cooper says. “We wanted to bring a bit of our heritage into our Super Natural Shampoo, so we use the same hops that they use in Guinness to give the hair the ultimate shine.” Hops are much-loved in the hair care space, and can also be found in R+Co’s Balloon Dry Volume Spray and Meow Meow Tweet’s Avocado Rosemary Shampoo Bar.
Some hair care brands use actual beer, too (like BRÖÖ and LUSH Cosmetics) — and Dr. Robinson is fully on board. “Beer generally contains less alcohol by volume, around 4 to 6 percent, and many other things, like malt and yeast,” she says. These other key components of beer — malt, yeast, oils, sugars — are what give it its reputation as moisture- and shine-enhancer (you’ve seen those DIY beer rinse tutorials, right?). It should be noted that Dr. Robinson doesn’t recommend going the at-home route here, since pouring beer directly onto your strands may create “stiffness and dryness.”
If you're after that famed beer-soaked glossiness, it’s best to try a product with the brew built right in, since most of the alcohol content evaporates during the formulation process. BRÖÖ heats its beer in production, and “the heated beer has less alcohol, while still retaining all the beneficial B vitamins and proteins that are brewed into the beer from its main ingredient, malted barley,” Sarah Pearsall, the brand’s co-founder, tells The Zoe Report. “Also, the remaining small amount of alcohol in the beer helps to work with our food-grade preservatives to keep any funky stuff from growing in your shampoo.” I mean, you've got to love a multitasking ingredient.
Ahead, eight products that feature the good kind of alcohol to give you shiny, hydrated hair — without a fried-and-frizzy hangover.
“The B vitamins and proteins in barley are the building blocks of keratin, the heart of your hair and nails — so it makes sense that the vitamins and proteins attach to the hair cuticle to work their magic,” Pearsall says. “And, of course, with our sulfate-, paraben-, phthalate-, and silicone-free formulas, you can always enjoy responsibly while you skip the ‘chemical hangover.’”