Is Alcohol-free Shampoo Best For You?

Is it time to shift to an alcohol-free shampoo? 

Well, each shampoo ingredient affects the quality of our scalp and hair.  This includes alcohol. Yes you read it right. Most shampoos contain alcohol.  Whether you are today years old when you found out about this or you knew this fact long before but you did not bother at all, it is never too late to learn more. 

In this article, we will talk about this ingredient in detail. What is alcohol? What does it do in shampoos? Is it beneficial, say for hair strengthening? Or can it possibly be damaging like sulfates? Are there other alternatives for alcohol in shampoos? Or should you opt for an alcohol-free shampoo like Pura D’OR?

We created this content to help you get to know shampoo products in general and to decide whether it is best to choose an alcohol-free shampoo in particular. Let us start!

Why is alcohol in shampoos?

Before we can assess if alcohol is okay or not for our hair, we have to know first what it is and what it does. 


Alcohol is an organic compound that has at least one hydroxyl function group -OH attached to a saturated carbon. The number of carbon atoms determines the structure and type of alcohol. Most haircare and skin care products generally use two types of alcohol. The short-chain alcohol or the drying alcohol and the long-chain alcohol or the fatty alcohol.

Alcohol is typically used in shampoos to help blend the ingredients together. Unlike water, it has the capacity to dissolve oils in our hair. Thus, it helps cleanse the scalp and hair. It is also used to thicken the shampoo formula, and known to smoothen, soften and moisturize the hair. 

Well, that sounds great! if that is the case, why do we have to bother to consider getting an alcohol-free shampoo? Read on to learn more. 

The Two Types of Alcohol Found in Shampoos

Earlier, we mentioned that there are different types of alcohol and we identified the two most frequently used types in shampoos. These two types of alcohol do not have the same properties and effects on our hair, scalp, skin and eyes. If we do not know the characteristics of the alcohol in our shampoo, we might use products that do more harm than good to our hair and scalp. 

So let us get to know each of the two types of alcohol better, to help us choose the right shampoo product.

The Long-Chain or Fatty Alcohols

The long-chain alcohols or the fatty alcohols are regarded as good alcohols for your hair and scalp. They are named long-chain because they contain greater than 12 carbon atoms, (usually along the 12 to 20 carbon atom range) far more than the carbon atoms in short-chain alcohol. It is also called fatty alcohol because it is typically derived from natural sources and plant-based oils like coconut oil. 

The fatty alcohols are basically oilier. Thus, they are an effective hair lubricant and moisturizer. They create a film outside the hair that locks in moisture. These alcohols also make hair shiny, soft and smooth. As a shampoo ingredient, it helps thicken the formula and mix in together the ingredients. It is great at rinsing off oils and dirt in the scalp and hair.


Examples of fatty alcohols used in shampoos are listed below. 

  • Lauryl alcohol
  • Behenyl alcohol
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Stearyl alcohol
  • Myristyl alcohol
  • Cetearyl alcohol

Based on the information above, is it then safe to assume that as long as shampoos use fatty alcohols then all is well? Sadly, the answer is no.

There are still exceptions to the rule.  Take for example the benzyl alcohol.  It falls under the fatty alcohols but it is also known to be irritating to the scalp. Another one is the cetearyl alcohol. It is known to be an allergen that can lead to severe contact dermatitis.

Aside from these two, another point to consider is where the fatty alcohols were derived. Most came from palm oil which is a highly controversial source. This is often tied with issues like climate change, deforestation and rights of the native populations.

The Short-chain or Drying Alcohols

The other most frequently used type of alcohol in shampoos are the short-chain alcohol or drying alcohols. These alcohols are often referred to as the bad alcohol. It is called short-chain because it only contains three or less carbon atoms. On the other hand, it is also called drying alcohol because they are quick to evaporate and dry. 

Before we talk about why it is called the bad alcohol for shampoos, let us first know why it is used. The drying alcohols provide benefits for shampoo formula. This includes their ability to mix the dissolved oil and other ingredients to water. They distribute the ingredients in the shampoo and to the hair evenly. These alcohols help hair dry easily after washing. Making it easy for those who blow dry their hair often. 

But the downside of short-chain alcohols outweigh the benefits. These alcohols are regarded as bad because of their drying properties. They can strip away not only the excess oils but also the natural oils in our hair. This leaves hair dry, brittle and frizzy. They are also known to irritate the eyes. That is why most children’s shampoo do not use short-chain alcohols as ingredient.


Examples of drying alcohols to watch out for are listed below. 

  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Ethanol
  • Propanol
  • SD alcohol
  • Propyl alcohol
  • SD alcohol 40

After learning about the types of alcohols to avoid in shampoos, let us now proceed with our central concern. Should we shift to an alcohol-free shampoo then?

Is it best to choose an alcohol-free shampoo?

The simple answer is yes. Alcohol-free shampoos do not strip off hair’s natural oils. It reduces chances of drying out hair and making it frizzy. This means that hair can remain healthy, strong and shiny. It is safe to say that you cannot go wrong with an alcohol-free shampoo.

However, choosing alcohol-free shampoo does not necessarily follows that you should abandon shampoos that contain good alcohol. To push the argument further, we do not also advice that you should never ever use shampoos with the so-called bad alcohols. What do we exactly mean by these things?

Everyone has different types of hair. If your hair is dry, brittle and frizzy then an alcohol-free shampoo could do wonders for your hair. You get to retain much of your hair’s natural moisture. If you have curly and wavy hair, then you also need as much natural oil as you can locked in your hair. Thus, alcohol-free shampoos are also a match for you.

Meanwhile, if you have an extremely oily hair to begin with, then it helps to use shampoos with alcohol from time to time. But if you want to avoid shampoos with alcohol, you can also try dry shampoos. They will greatly help in eliminating excessive oils, scalp build up and dirt. Dry and alcohol-based shampoos can help your hair and scalp look and feel clean too. For those who need to dry their hair quick or those who often blow dry their hair, shampoos with alcohol are still okay occasionally.

What are the alcohol alternatives in shampoos?

if you decide to shift to alcohol-free shampoo, you might find the ingredients listed below as alcohol alternatives. 

  • Lecithin: This ingredient is naturally found in eggs, soybeans and corn. It is known to treat hair frizz and dryness.
  • Xanthum Gum: This ingredient can be used as a thickener and stabilizer. It is a type of sugar produced through fermentation of a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris.
  • Gelatin: This ingredient is known to increase the protein content of shampoos. They also thicken and add volume to hair.
  • Stearic Acid: This ingredient is a good emulsifying agent from carbohydrates. It is also known to help moisturize and strengthen hair.

What are the other things to consider in choosing the right shampoo?

To get the best possible results from your shampoo, it is also important to check the other ingredients. Not all alcohol-fee shampoos are made with all-natural and vegan-friendly ingredients. Watch out for sulfates, parabens, fragrance, triclosan and polyethylene glycol. Long-term exposure to these can lead to possible harmful side effects not just for our hair and scalp but also to our overall health.

Another thing to consider is your hair and scalp needs. Aside from a shampoo that keeps hair moisturize, do you have other hair and scalp problems? Do you need an anti-dandruff formula? or an anti-thinning shampoo? Maybe you need a product to reverse grey hair? You should also factor in your these things in choosing the best product for you.


With the vast amount of available information nowadays, it is convenient to mindfully choose healthy and ethically made products like shampoo. We hope that this article helped you understand the pros and cons of alcohol-based and alcohol-free shampoos. Whichever you choose, be sure to bear in mind that what works for many may not work for you. That is why it is still best to go for the products that addresses your hair and scalp needs.

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