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Health & Wellness
January 9, 2024

Hair Washing 101

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Otherwise known as Sister Scientist, Erica Douglas is a cosmetic chemist who has helped develop a number of new beauty and personal care brands. She is also a founding partner and CEO of mSEED group, a product development, manufacturing and brand development company. Here she offers an expert guide to taking care of your hair.
What are pre-washes and what role do they play in a good hair routine? How beneficial are pre-wash products?
To understand the benefits of a pre-wash, you have to understand and appreciate how shampoos work. They are formulated to cleanse the hair and scalp by removing excess oil, dirt and product build-up using a surfactant-based system. During this process, the hair cuticle swells open to help release these foreign substances from the hair. Although this process is normal and necessary for every healthy hair regimen, it is the state in which the hair is most sensitive and prone to breakage because 1) the cuticle is open and exposed, and 2) the hair is most pliable and prone to breakage when the hair is saturated with water.
Pre-washes are treatments that are applied to the hair and scalp before shampooing to help fortify the hair before the cleansing process. They can include oil treatments, hair masques and scalp treatments. A pre-wash helps to strengthen the hair and add extra moisture to the hair/scalp using ingredients such as salicylic acid, vitamins and niacinamide to help prevent a shampoo from robbing it of too much moisture. This is particularly beneficial for hair that is significantly damaged and/or people who are prone to dry scalp.
What are hair masques and why are they beneficial?
A hair masque is formulated to be an enhanced conditioning treatment that provides intensive moisture and nourishment to hair. In most cases, the texture is thicker and creamier, giving the user a luxurious experience that is more substantial to the hair. This type of formulation includes ingredients such as vitamins, proteins, oils and high concentrations of quaternary ammonium conditioning compounds (such as cetrimonium chloride, behentrimonium methosulfate, guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, etc.) to help to make the hair stronger, reduce breakage and promote healthy hair growth.
This type of product is ideal for those with high porosity hair, damaged hair or dry hair/scalp. But it can be beneficial for anybody to incorporate into their hair regimen to be proactive in maintaining healthy hair. Overall, hair masques are a great way to give your hair some extra love and care and can help to keep it looking and feeling healthy and beautiful.
What should we look for in shampoos?
Shampoos are inherently designed to cleanse your scalp and hair by removing dirt, excess oil, build-up and other impurities. However, what makes them different than, let’s say dish detergent, are the conditioning and moisturizing properties that are incorporated to ensure that the hair isn’t stripped too much of its natural oils. A good shampoo will effectively clean the hair and scalp, but leave the hair conditioned enough to prevent severe tangling, breakage and dehydration.
Different types of shampoos achieve a variety of purposes: a clarifying shampoo helps remove large amounts of build-up and excessive oil to give the hair/scalp a “squeaky” clean; moisturizing shampoos clean the hair just enough without stripping it, while leaving behind moisturizing and conditioning properties. Anti-dandruff shampoos use active ingredients like salicylic acid that have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties to specifically target the cause of dandruff.
In addition to surfactants, which are the actual cleansing agents (soap) and create the foaming effect, a quality shampoo will also have conditioners, emollients and moisturizers to ensure that the hair feels soft after rinsing and sets a healthy foundation for conditioning. These ingredients can include natural oils, quaternary ammonium cationic compounds (or conditioning quats for short), polymers, proteins and more. Without these ingredients, you would just be washing your hair with dish soap—and I think we can all agree that your hair is much more precious to take care of than your Tupperware.
What should we look for when using a leave-in conditioner? 
Leave-in conditioners are formulated to keep your hair healthy and hydrated before going into your desired styling process. To choose the right leave-in conditioner for your hair, you must understand your hair type and attributes.
First, consider how thick (or thin) your hair is. If you have fine hair, a lightweight formula will help ensure the conditioner doesn’t weigh your hair down. Thicker hair can benefit from a heavier product consistency to help define the curls. However, you also want to make sure that the conditioner’s consistency absorbs well into your hair. Nobody wants a white, flaky mess sitting on top of their head!
If you have highly porous hair, it probably dries out quickly. So you want a leave-in that has a high concentration of natural oils and butters. One with oils and heavier butters, like shea butter, will help to seal moisture into the hair. It can also help to prevent hair color from fading as fast. Lastly, be sure to look for ingredients like proteins, amino acids, vitamins, extracts in a leave-in because these can be very helpful to aiding in the repair and strengthening of damaged hair.
“Different types of shampoos achieve a variety of purposes.”
This article was originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of WayMaker Journal.