Curl Chemist: Weighing in on Wen

2012-03-06 15:40:21

Curl Chemist: Weighing in on Wen

A look at the science behind Chaz Dean's popular products.


Emulsifying agents (also known as surfactants) are materials, which have amphiphilic character, meaning they are both water-loving (hydrophilic) and oil-loving (lipophilic). This special property enables them to be used to create and stabilize oil-in-water and water-in-oil mixtures known as emulsions. The WEN formulas rely upon nonionic surfactants for this job, and they are effective at dispersing the non-water soluble materials in his products.

  • Ceteareth-20: This is a mixture of ethoxylated fatty acids (cetyl- and stearyl-) that is a nonionic surfactant typically used as an emulsion stabilizer.
  • Polysorbate 60 is an ethoxylated sorbitan derivative that is a nonionic surfactant used as an emulsifier.


Humectants are materials that contain water-attracting elements, typically oxygen in hydroxyl and carbonyl groups. Some of these liquids can also act as solvents for some materials that are less soluble in water.

  • Glycerin is a moisturizing humectant that also imparts a thick, velvety texture to a product.
  • Panthenol is a pro-vitamin that is a highly effective humectant.
  • Butylene glycol is a humectant and also a co-solvent.

The remainder of the ingredients is a mixture of botanical extracts that adds little to the function of the product, fragrance, mild acids or bases for pH adjustment and preservatives.

Mainstream Haircare

The mainstream cosmetics and hair care industry is still mystified by the aversion many are developing to the use of synthetic surfactant-heavy shampoos. However, the success of products such as these might send a message to the larger companies that there is a large sector of the market that desires something different for their hair.

The main criticism of these products from a formulator’s perspective is that the ingredients list does not seem to adhere to INCI labeling standards for hair and skin care products. This makes it difficult at first glance to determine the approximate proportion of each ingredient listed. It is important if one desires credibility in this industry to strive to maintain labels that are clear and follow standard protocol.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Chaz Dean’s conditioning cleansers look to be capable of providing the same level of cleansing as many other conditioners and no-poo products designed for the same purpose. The inclusion of amodimethicone, guar hydroxypropylytrimonium chloride, fatty alcohols and small molecule cationic surfactants indicates that the product should impart a significant amount of conditioning properties to the hair as well, so it should be able to replace the need for multiple products.

The quality of the ingredients seems to be superior to most very inexpensive drug-store conditioners often relied upon for conditioner washing. However, whether WEN cleansing conditioners provide as much benefit as one would hope when considering the price remains to be seen by this curly chemist.

What has your own experience been?


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Tonya McKay

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.

My mom brought me a jug of this stuff when she came to visit - said she liked it and for me to try it. I tried it as instructed and felt so wasteful of the product. I now use it as a basic conditioner with my non-silicone shampoo. I also use it as a leave-in when I get out of the shower, and I put on the frizz smoothing stuff - in the DRY winter air, it is INCREDIBLE. My curls are defined and soft - honestly, they become what I have been searching for for years! The downside is that when it's humid, all bets are off. I am really surprised how impressed I am with this stuff, although I will never probably use it as directed.
My scalp was happy (could go 3 days without an itchy scalp) but my hair was not. It did not improve my 4a/b coils any better than Suave.
WEN made my hair dry! I followed the directions perfectly on the first day I used the WEN products and my hair seemed OK at first. As the day wore on, however, my hair started to feel like straw! Even my husband noticed that some parts were dull and dry. Never again. For such a pricy product I expected miracles! Back to my regular conditioner only method which works wonderfully :)
Wen RUINED my fine, curly hair. It permanently relaxed it and I had to grow my curls out from scratch. Since I was getting married, I couldn't do the 'big chop' for a year and a half. It was awful. Half curly on top, straight on bottom. No idea what was in it for straightening, but I do NOT recommend their products, at least the Cucumber Aloe variety. Now I use Deva Curl products and couldn't be happier with them.
I'm a die hard Wen user, and while I absolutely agree that the products is very expensive, especially with 3 females 2 w/bsl 3cs and 1sl 4a hair in my house, it does add up, but I have to say, nothing makes our hair feel as great as the Pomegranate clsng cndtnr & sixthirteen trtmnt. I just pray I can always afford this product, b/c idk what I'd do if I couldn't.