What Are the Ingredients of Shampoo? We Break Them Down for You

Know what each ingredient of your shampoo does, so you can better understand how your shampoo works.

Take a look at the back of your shampoo bottle. What do you see? Aside from the directions for use, you’ll often see the ingredients of your shampoo listed there. Not a lot of us are familiar with what each of those does. They may even sound like science jargon and difficult-sounding words that you might not have heard of. So, we did the research and are breaking down some of the most common ingredients of shampoo to help you know more about what’s inside each bottle.

Check out this list of shampoo ingredients and understand the science behind what makes your hair feel clean, soft, and manageable every day.

Surfactants

Shampoos are made to cleanse hair, and surfactants help get dirt, excess oil, sweat, and pollutants to the surface so they can be washed away. Surfactants make your shampoo lather, and they’re also present in other products that foam up like soap and toothpaste.

When you look at your shampoo ingredients, you’ll see either of these surfactants listed there:

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

This ingredient belongs to the class of lauryl sulfates, primary cleansers that produce rich foam but are easy to rinse. This is often used in shampoos for oily hair because it can remove excess grease more effectively.

2. Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Commonly abbreviated as SLES, this surfactant is a gentle cleanser compared with sodium lauryl sulfate. And because it is gentler, it is used in shampoos for dry and non-oily hair types.

Editor’s tip: Want to cleanse and detoxify your hair? We recommend TRESemmé Detox & Nourish Shampoo. Aside from cleansing agents, it also has green tea extract and Hawaiian ginger root extract which are known for their detoxifying properties, and tea tree oil which has antimicrobial effects. This shampoo gently but deeply cleanses, leaving your hair free from residue, nourished, and with a great clean feel.

Asian woman pouring shampoo onto her palm
What’s in a bottle? Different ingredients work together to give your shampoo its features. Credit: Dennie Ramon

Conditioning Agents

These ingredients make your hair fibers soft and manageable, and they give your hair antistatic properties. Here are commonly used conditioning agents that you may find listed at the back of your shampoo bottle:

1. Dimethiconol

Dimethiconol is a kind of silicone that’s water-soluble and good for your hair. The main goal of dimethiconol is to seal in moisture and keep unwanted elements out. It coats the hair to make it feel sleek and smooth. In a nutshell, this ingredient is what makes your hair feel shiny and silky after washing.

2. Hydrolyzed Keratin

This conditioning agent increases the diameter of your hair fibers, making your hair look fuller. It can easily penetrate the hair cuticle and lets your hair retain moisture to keep it from getting dry and frizzy.

3. Glycerin

It draws moisture to the hair roots and strengthens the hair shaft, reducing breakage. Glycerin is also known to help with the elasticity of your scalp and keeps it hydrated.

Editor’s tip: For soft and silky hair, use Dove Straight & Silky Keratin Tri-Silk Serum Shampoo. It has the power of keratin, fiber actives, and serum ingredients that work to repair damage, deeply nourish and protect your hair, and leave it extra beautiful. This shampoo also has Amino Essence that boosts hair health and nourishes up to the core of your hair fibers. 

Thickeners

Thickeners make the product viscous. They are responsible for how your shampoo looks like when you pour it onto your palms, and they have no role in the way your shampoo cleanses your hair.

Common thickening agents in shampoos include the following:

1. Sodium Chloride

Yup, it’s salt, and it’s responsible for making your shampoo thick so it doesn’t just spill from the bottle when you pour it out.

2. Guar Gum

Guar gum is a thickening agent that is also present in lotions, creams, and ointments. it is also a conditioning ingredient because of its ability to seal in moisture and hydrate the hair. A common guar derivative used in shampoos is guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride.

Opacifiers

These ingredients are responsible for making your shampoo rich, creamy, and pearl-like. They help with the appearance of your shampoo and, like thickeners, have no role in cleansing your hair.

You may find these common opacifiers among your shampoo ingredients:

1. Glycol Distearate 

It gives your shampoo that pearly or opalescent look. It is also a conditioning agent because of its moisturizing properties that help make hair soft and smooth.

2. Titanium Dioxide

This ingredient is known for its white color, so aside from being an opacifier, it is also used as a pigment and as a brightener. Titanium Dioxide is also used in other cosmetic products like creams, sunscreens, and makeup.

Preservatives

They prolong the shelf life of your shampoo by preventing the growth of bacteria that cause spoilage. Shampoos generally have a long shelf life, but always check their expiration date to know when it’s time to throw them out. Shampoos that are past their use-by dates have already undergone a chemical change, and may no longer be as effective as they were.

These are the common preservatives used in shampoos:

1. Sodium Benzoate

This preservative prevents molds from forming in your shampoo bottles. It’s not as effective against bacteria, as it’s more of an anti-fungal agent.

2. Disodium EDTA

EDTA, or ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid, prevents the buildup of minerals and product residue on your hair, allowing them to be washed away as you rinse. It also prevents the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and fungi in your shampoo.

Special Ingredients / Additives

These are the key ingredients in your shampoo, or what distinguishes one shampoo from another. These are the vitamins, oils, and plant extracts that you find among the ingredients of your shampoo.

Editor’s tip: Looking for a shampoo with botanical oils? Try Dove Botanical Silicone Free Shampoo for Damaged Hair Restore. It is made with 100% botanical oil with pink Moroccan rose extract that restores dry and damaged hair. It even has floating petals that dissolve as you lather for more nourishing power! And because it has a gentle, silicone-free formula, you can use it as you transition to a clean beauty routine. 

Now that you’re familiar with the functions of different shampoo ingredients, you can better decide the best one for your hair. So, when you’re out shopping for your next holy-grail shampoo, take the time to read the ingredients printed on the bottle—your hair will thank you.

 

 

 

 

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