Celebrity stylist Chaz Dean professes a passion for ensuring his clients have healthy, beautiful hair. Over the course of his years working in the beauty industry, he developed the opinion that most commercially-available shampoo was counterproductive to this goal, and as a result, has not used it on either himself or clients in over 14 years. However, this doesn’t mean that Chaz prefers dirty hair.

He claims that there is a gentler way to achieve silky, clean tresses using oils, conditioning agents and nonionic surfactants to dissolve and gently remove oils and dirt from the scalp and hair. Using skills honed in a previous product development project, he designed a system of cleansing that his marketing material proclaims to be a “revolutionary new concept.” The result is the highly successful WEN hair care product line, founded upon the concept of a sulfate-free, non-foaming, cleansing and moisturizing conditioner.

This is certainly not a novel concept for those familiar with the “Curly Girl” or no-shampoo methods. Many have been doing this for years with all sorts of products designed specifically to be conditioners rather than cleansers. There are also products by companies such as DevaCurl and Jessicurl that market cleansers that are either no or low-shampoo. What is fairly unique about the WEN products, however, is the sheer amount of mass marketing and mainstream publicity Chaz Dean has been able to garner, particularly through his use of QVC as a publicity and sales tool.

The WEN products are fairly pricey and come with pretty specific instruction for use. In these formulas, nonionic surfactants work together with conditioning agents to help dissolve and remove sebum, product residue and environmental contaminants from the hair.

Dean recommends that a fairly large quantity of the product be applied at the roots and worked down into the hair. The number of squirts he says to use varies with hair length. Once the hair is saturated, he prescribes a dash of water be added followed by gentle hand washing.

For maximum cleansing and moisturizing, he then says the product should remain on the hair for the duration of the shower prior to rinsing. Users are then instructed to apply a final dollop to wet, rinsed hair from the midpoint to the ends for additional conditioning, shine and protection.

So how do Dean’s cleansers stack up against other shampoos, low-poos and no-poos? An examination of the ingredients should reveal a significant amount of information. There are several main categories of ingredients in his cleansing products: emollients and conditioning agents, emulsifiers, humectants, botanical extracts and other additives.

Emollients and Conditioning Agents

An emollient or conditioning agent forms a protective film over the surface of hair or skin, which adds gloss and shine to the hair, protects the hair from water loss to the environment (occlusion”>, and helps adjacent strands slide easily against one another. This all helps to reduce combing forces, facilitates detangling and prevents damage incurred by snarls. Conditioning agents can sometimes also act as humectants, attracting water to the hair.

Some examples of familiar conditioning agents include dimethicone, polyquaternium-10, dimethicone copolyol, amodimethicone, shea butter, jojoba oil, fatty alcohols, many proteins, hydrolyzed proteins, coconut oil, mineral oil, petrolatum, small molecule cationic surfactants and alkyl esters.

Below is a specific list of emollients found in the WEN cleaning products.

  • Cetyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol are fatty alcohols used as emollients that can help smooth the cuticle of the hair.  They also function as viscosity  modifiers, opacifiers and emulsion stabilizers.
  • Plant-derived oils such as shea butter, jojoba oil, coconut oil, sweet almond oil and avocado oil are highly effective and nourishing emollients.
  • Amodimethicone is an amine-functionalized silicone polymer that aids in color retention, smoothes, conditions and adds high gloss to the hair.  This particular silicone polymer, while water insoluble, has been found to resist accumulation via build up on the hair surface, even with repeated use.
  • Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine is a tertiary amine surfactant used as a film former that can smooth the cuticle and reduce friction and combing forces.
  • PEG-60 almond glycerides is a useful emulsifying ingredient that possesses mild conditioning properties.
  • Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride is a cationic polymer that provides excellent moisturization and conditioning properties via adsorption onto the surface of the hair.
  • Dicetyldimonium chloride is a small molecule cationic surfactant that provides mild conditioning to hair via adsorption.
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein can provide protection and conditioning to hair via film formation at the surface and also via penetration into the cortex of the hair.  People with certain hair types enjoy the results of this better than others.
Tonya McKay

Tonya McKay Becker is a curly-haired polymer scientist and cosmetic chemist whose academic and industrial research experience have provided her with expertise in the fundamentals and applications of polymer science and colloid chemistry. She has long had a fascination with the structure-property relationships of the complex solutions used in hair and skin care products, and how they interact with and impact these remarkable biological substrates. Ever curious, Tonya has dedicated herself for more than a decade to honing her expertise on the science of curly hair, how it differs from straight hair, and how product ingredients used on curly hair affect its health and beauty. Her passion for sharing this knowledge with others has led to her current career of educating people from all backgrounds who share an interest in this exciting field.

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