What’s the best shampoo for rainbow hair?
Wish you could keep your beautiful vibrant hair colour from washing out? Or perhaps you’re a hairdresser who struggles with keeping your vivid clients colours from fading? Finding the solution for colour fade is the holy grail for anyone rocking bold colours. Today Katie Siepierski, an educator in cosmetic science, with over 9 years experience, is giving us the lowdown on shampoo and conditioner. Based in the USA, Katie has a passion for education, and in this article she explains the importance of ingredients and the best way to maintain your glorious rainbow mane…
Article by Katie Siepierski.
It is important to be aware of the ingredients in the products you’re using, whether you’re licensed or not, doing your own hair, your kids, clients, this applies to absolutely everyone that uses hair products of any kind, even natural methods. Here we will look at some of the most common ingredients in shampoo and conditioner and the effects they have on your hair, scalp and colour.
Photo above: ‘Technicolor Shower’ by Melissa Methamphetamine
Professional Brands VS Supermarket Products…
So many people blindly back up professional brands and down non professional brands without having a clue of what’s actually in them. Just because something is professional or it costs more doesn’t automatically mean that it’s going to be better for your hair than something non professional. A product isn’t the name stamped on the bottle, nor the claims or promises it makes, it is the ingredients it’s composed of. The same ingredients are used in nearly every brand out there, professional and non. Sure some may have the same name but be derived differently but in the majority of cases, that makes very little difference in the end, particularly when it comes to silicones and sulfates…
A product isn’t the name stamped on the bottle… it’s the ingredients it’s composed of.
What are they? Sulfates may be derived differently, but they are essentially the same surfactants/detergents found in dish soap, laundry detergent, etc. Of course some are harsher/gentler than others.
What do they do? Sulfates strip the hair of its natural protective oils, leach/wash out colour, throw the scalp into protection/oil overproduction mode, fluff up the cuticle, and dry out the scalp and hair. There’s a small group of very, very mild sulfates that are used as conditioning, anti-static and emulsifying agents. Those are primarily in conditioners, 2 in 1’s, treatments, and usually not in actual shampoos.
There are many sulfate like ingredients in most “sulfate free” shampoos that aren’t technically sulfates from a molecular standpoint, they will literally be a molecule or so away from being a technical sulfate, they strip and act just like sulfates, those with allergies to sulfates can still react to these just the same, but because they technically aren’t a sulfate, companies can label a shampoo as being “sulfate free” when really it’s all just a marketing gimmick.
What are they? Silicones, artificial copolymers, waxes, petroleum, ingredients with petroleum derivatives, heavy surface coating oils that don’t absorb… are all coating, film forming ingredients.
What do they do? This coating gives a false appearance of health. It can really, really make the hair look and feel much healthier than it truly is. These ingredients can continue to build up on the hair and scalp, essentially malnourishing and suffocating it for lack of a better term, hindering or completely blocking beneficial ingredients from working properly, if at all.
Most silicones have a melting point of 220, so when you heat style you’re basically baking a silicone film into the hair, in a similar effect to dipping your hand in paraffin wax, how it seeps into every little crack and crevice. There’s water soluble silicones that in theory will rinse out with water alone, but most of the silicones in products are non water soluble, meaning you need sulfates to remove them.
These film forming ingredients can seriously trick you into thinking the hair is in much better condition than it actually is. You’ll think the hair is in fabulous shape, think it should be perfectly capable of bleaching or perming. Then you’re met with a very unpleasant surprise when you do the process and it causes serious damage and you wonder why when the hair looked so good before!
There’s the myths about alcohol in hair products too. The alcohol used in products is not the type of alcohol we are used to, like rubbing alcohol. It’s typically used as an emulsifier and viscosity stabiliser, and oftentimes is plant/vegetable derived. Most “alcohol” ingredients in hair products are not drying at all and safe to use.
This was my hair, the bottom 10 inches were completely and utterly fried a year prior to this photo (thanks to someone using 50 vol on it when I’d told her to use 20 and 30). It was mushy, clumping off, it was a hot mess. But, using silicones regularly and heat styling, basically baking and sealing that coating onto my hair for a year, made my hair look fabulous. In reality though, it was fried. Of course I moisturised, added protein, made sure to clarify these silicones and whatnot out so it wouldn’t exacerbate the problem dramatically, because I was aware of the ingredients I was using. Just because it looks and feels healthy doesn’t mean it is.
This is a classic example of everyday products with silicones or other film forming/coating ingredients masking damaged hair.
If I were to have used lightener on my hair at the time of this photo it surely would have just melted off. So many stylists and at home colourists both run into this nasty surprise and it’s because they aren’t aware of the ingredients in the products they are using. Silicones and other film forming, coating ingredients can fool even the most experienced eye if you’re not aware of the ingredients in the products used on the hair.
There’s also the issue of mineral/metal deposits on the hair/scalp, typically caused by hard water/water treatments/pipes/well water. These can deposit on the hair and scalp and cause a chemical reaction, like excessive heat produced, hot foils/hair/scalp… it can even start smoking. These chemical reaction have nothing to do with the lightener or colour itself, or treatments such as Olaplex or coconut oil. It’s the chemical reaction that happens when metals, minerals deposits on the hair/scalp have something oxidative applied (such as peroxide). Olaplex and coconut oil treatments are chemically incapable of causing a heated chemical reaction to lightener/oxidative colour.
Clarifying and chelating before colour.
The best ways to prevent any unpleasant surprises from happening, be it unexpected damage from silicone masked damage, or chemical reactions from mineral/metal deposits is to fully cleanse the hair before colouring.
Clarifying: This is a deep cleansing, used to remove product and silicone buildup on the hair. To do a clarifying cap, use a simple sulfate based shampoo that’s silicone free, (which most shampoos labeled as “clarifying” are). Suave’s Everlasting Sunshine shampoo is my favourite sulfate based shampoo that I use for clarifying, it’s nowhere near as drying as most sulfate based shampoos. To do a clarifying cap first wet your hair with hot water. Then lather up the clarifying/sulfate based shampoo. Squeeze off excess foam and coat your hair thoroughly with the shampoo. Don’t rinse. Put a shower cap over your soapy hair. If it’s long, clip it up first. Wrap a towel around your shoulders as your hair will drip. Leave for 15-20 minutes. Apply heat/heat your head evenly with a hair dryer. Then rinse hair thoroughly with hot water. If you have a strong build up, repeat this process.
Chelating: While clarifying removes silicone buildup on the surface of the hair, chelating binds with metals and minerals, removing these deposits from the hair. Chelating is ideal for removing the metals, minerals and chemicals from hard water/water treatments/pipes and from chlorine water. Use a chelating treatment, such as Malibu Crystal gel treatments from salons. Chelating swimmers shampoos/treatments applied and warmed under a cap.
Don’t use any film forming ingredients after, let it dry, and that is the true, uncontaminated condition of the hair. I always recommend doing one of these prior to your actual lightening/bleaching or oxidative colour process, as many days beforehand you can go without washing so there’s time for natural oils to build back up, so there’s no buildup in the hair from deposits or silicones, so that you’re able to see the true condition of the hair and avoid any disasters.
So now you have cleansed and removed all the silicones and mineral/metal deposits. You’ve then coloured your hair beautiful bright colours… now how do you keep them that way??
So what’s the best shampoo for rainbow hair? It’s not technically a shampoo…
The Solution: Conditioner Washing (CO Washing)
Also known as conditioner-only washing, co-shampooing or conditioner rinsing, the method is great for rainbow hair because it cleanses without sulfate/almost sulfates stripping out all your colours. Instead of using stripping sulfate based shampoo to clean your hair, use a cleansing sulfate and silicone free conditioning product instead. This method can even be used by those with oily hair, and can actually help to balance out the scalps overproduction of oils.
My recommendations for Conditioner Washing…
Suave Naturals Tropical Coconut conditioner and Everlasting Sunshine conditioner:
These are my number one recommendations. I’ve personally been using the coconut one for years on myself, my family, that’s the one most of my clients use and people I’ve helped into CO washing. I recently tried the Everlasting Sunshine one and I think I love it even more. Both are totally free of any film forming ingredients, and they moisturize and cleanse the hair and scalp fabulously. They also have Disodium EDTA in them, which if you have well water or hard water this is great. It forms a complex with the metals and prevents them from depositing onto the hair, skin or scalp. The Everlasting Sunshine is going to be better for those sensitive to protein, it doesn’t have protein in it like the Coconut conditioner. The Everlasting Sunshine has acai oil in it which has Omega fatty acids in it, there’s Vanilla Fruit extract which conditions, has antibacterial properties, and is great for those with sensitive scalps. It also has passion flower extract which has natural anti-inflammatory properties, so would be a better option for those with certain scalp conditions or imbalances. They are also great for diluting direct dyes. Depending on the moisture retention/porosity of the hair, some people don’t have to use anything besides their conditioner for cleansing, they do everything in one step from cleansing to moisturising, and detangle very well.
Suave’s Aloe and Waterlily is also FANTASTIC, Cherry Blossom, Sun Ripened Strawberry, Clarifying, and Ocean Breeze conditioners are all free of coating ingredients and stripping ingredients.
Biolage Ultra Hydrating Balm and Hydrasource Conditioners:
Biolage’s cleansing conditioners are great for washing the hair, free of silicones, sulfates and film forming ingredients, except the one for coarse hair which has silicones in it.
Sally’s also carries their GVP (Generic Value Product) version of Biolage Ultra Hydrating Balm, it’s literally identical in every way and is much cheaper. The ingredients are identical, the scent, consistency, and results. GVP makes many, many products that are identical to professional, name brand products. They also make their version of Joico Kpak DPR which again is identical, I haven’t bought the name brand in years.
VO5 Strawberries and Cream Conditioner:
It’s cheap, great for CO washing and free of coating and stripping ingredients.
What NOT to use.
These products claim to be designed to used for CO washing, however they still contain striping and film forming ingredients, and so I wouldn’t recommend using them…
✘ Aveda’s Be Curly CO wash still has sulfates and sulfate like ingredients in it, and film forming ingredients.
✘ Wen is not true CO washing, even though it claims and is advertised to be. It has a ridiculous amount of coating oils, artificial copolymers, some products still have silicones, sulfates, sulfate like ingredients, ingredients that increase film forming, its no wonder there’s a class action lawsuit in regards to it leading to hair loss.
✘ Monat Just like Wen, Monat is not true CO washing, and also has a ridiculous amount of coating oils, artificial copolymers and other ingredients that increase film forming.
✘ Pantene CO Wash
✘ Herbal Essences CO Wash
✘ L’Oreal 6 in 1 EverPure Cleansing Balm
✘ Head and Shoulders CO Wash
Learning how to read the labels…
What I personally recommend if you want to be proactive in knowing about product ingredients, is to start researching them. Take your favorite shampoo and conditioner, your least favorite shampoo and conditioner, look up the ingredients and compare them. The main ingredients most people will run into higher up on the ingredients lists are sulfates and silicones, which is an excellent starting point to understanding the short and long term effects of these ingredients. You’ll also get a better understanding of hair in general. Sulfates and silicones are the most common ingredients, they are important to be knowledgeable about. Everything else you learn about after those two groups will make much more sense, and you’ll be able to understand different ingredients better having a knowledge foundation laid of these two groups of ingredients.
Always take the source of your information/research into account. Something my high school history teacher always taught us was to always ask “what’s your source?” Wikipedia? A random blog with no cites or references (remember having to create bibliographies with your school reports?)? Or a cosmetic science journal, a chemist, etc. This doesn’t mean that someone not in a field connected with this doesn’t have accurate information though. Honestly I know more unlicensed people without any official chemistry or cosmetology backgrounds at all that have more knowledge about these things than I do licensed stylists.
So let me help get you started. You can use the following information and ingredients lists as a reference to help you.
Sulfate Ingredients to watch out for:
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – Also known as SLS. One of the most common sulfate ingredients you will see most shampoo. It’s a harsh detergent, also used in thousands of other cleaners such as toothpaste, mouthwash, hand soaps, and laundry detergents.
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
Sodium Laureth Sulfate – Also known as SLES.
Sodium Myreth Sulphate
Almost Sulfate / “sulfate free” Ingredients to watch out for:
When you change one element of an ingredient or formula, you change it’s composition, creating a new ingredient. For example, Sodium Laurel Sulfate becomes Sodium Laurel Sulfonate, simply by changing an O to an X in the ingredient design. Now the product is now considered “sulfate free”. Sometimes these new ingredients are somewhat milder, but they still act like sulfates. Sometimes these new ingredients are even harsher and more toxic than sulfates though, but because it’s not a molecular sulfate, they can label it as “sulfate free!” And make false claims about how it’s so “gentle And safe”.
Some sulfate LIKE ingredients to watch out for in particular are:
Sodium Laurel Sulfonate
Cocamide MEA – Can causes liver/kidney dysfunction, cancer, hormonal disruptions, is illegal in some states and countries yet there’s still products there with this ingredient.
Sodium c14-16 Olefin Sulfonate – Has been classified as having traces of Benzene, a carcinogen or reproductive toxin and also is created using petrochemicals. It also is not readily biodegradable. Ordinary products that use Sodium C 14-16 Olefin Sulfonate (Alpha Olefin Sulfonate) over cleanse to dry your hair and scalp and require heavy ingredients in the shampoo or conditioner to normalise or over condition and cover up damage done. It’s one of the most common cleansing ingredients in things labeled as “sulfate free”. It’s not technically a sulfate from a molecular structure, but varies ever so slightly molecularly, and it acts just like a sulfate, so I would avoid it. Also, it’s always advertised as being derived from coconut, which yes, partially it is, but on average over 50% of it is petroleum derivatives.
Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate – Is a mild, anionic, vegetable oil (coconut oil) based cleansing agent. It has foaming properties and is used to create surfactant systems with dense creamy leather. This cleanser helps lift away dirt and oils, creates foam and lather, and thickens the overall product formulation. So again, it’s not technically a sulfate but still acts like one, and those with sensitivity or allergies to sulfates or sudsing/lathering products should avoid this.
Silicones and Film Forming Ingredients to watch out for:
As far as film forming ingredients, look for ingredients that typically end in “cone,” “conol,” “col,” or “xane,” . The only exceptions here are those ingredients with the abbreviations “PEG” or “PPG” in front of them. This abbreviation will alert you that they were made to be water-soluble. It will still create a film on the hair, but will typically rinse off with water and agitation alone. Though in my opinion, sometimes you still need to use sulfates. For example if you’ve applied multiple “layers” of these water soluble silicones, especially if you are using other ingredients too that can trap these into the hair like waxes, surface oils, artificial copolymers, etc, or if you’ve heat styled with these silicones in the hair.
Water Soluble Silicones:
Lauryl Methicone Copolyol
Any Silicone with PEG as a prefix
Common Non Water Soluble Silicones:
There are a couple very common ingredients that look like silicones but they aren’t, they are preservatives:
Further reading and reference:
There are many further in depth lists of film forming ingredients, especially lists of silicones, online. There’s also many lists of products that are silicone free or sulfate free, but still always look at the ingredients on your particular bottle because the formulations for the same product can vary from country to country sometimes, or companies often reformulate products. You can also search on Google for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for specific ingredients and specific products.
Here are some great sites I would recommend for further reading and reference:
About the Author…
Katie Siepierski is a Cosmetic Science Educator and a Master Colourist, specialising in fashion colours. She has been in the industry for 9 years, is a CO washing expert, and is an Olaplex advocate. She is currently creating a website, a textbook for the cosmetology industry, and plans to open up her own school one day. She is based out of the Metro Detroit area and spends her “free time” (if there is such a thing!) with her fiance and 2 kids, spreading Autism awareness in support of their son and all families touched by Autism.
Find Katie Siepierski online: You can find Katie mostly giving advice in the Facebook groups she is an administrator of. These are: Rainbow Hair Colour and Combs, Clippers, Rants and Raves. However you should also follow Katie’s advice, tips and articles on her social media and other sites. Just click the links below:
HairCrazy | HairDyeForum | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest
Katie Siepierski will be joining the RainbowHairColour.com writers team for this blog.
So watch this space for future articles from Katie!
Want to learn how to create rainbow hair?
Discover Anya’s eBook guide: ‘Any Colour Of The Rainbow – The Ultimate Guide to Alternative Hair Colour‘. This guide covers everything from safe bleaching with ammonia free bleach to creating stunning multi colours with foil. Find out all the best hair dyes, how to do pastel colours, how to maintain vibrant colour, create ombre colour and so much more…