Acids may not immediately sound like an ingredient that you want to be dousing your hair in, but acids are actually found in many of the moisturizing oils that curlies, coilies, and wavies love to use. Let’s find out about a few acids that help give our hair the moisture it needs, and which oils you can find them in.
Palmitic acid is one of the most common fatty acids that can be found in both animals and plants. It is primarily found in the oil of palm trees and often used in detergents, soaps, and cleaning products as a surfactant. Despite this, it is often used in beauty products and cosmetics because of the variety of properties it holds. The softening properties of palmitic acid are great for spreadability to soften the hair’s surface without a greasy or tacky feeling.
This odorless, colorless, wax-like fatty acid is commonly found in vegetables and animal fats. This waxy solid got its name from the Greek word steatos, which means tallow. Stearic acid is produced from carbohydrates and is ideal as an emulsifying agent and great for hair products to coat, condition, and protect the hair shaft without dulling or weighing it down.
Stearic and palmitic acids were both used by the ancient Egyptians as gels to hold the hair of the Egyptians in elaborate styles. Archaeologists have found this to be true during studies on mummies. Most plants and seeds that are rich in stearic acid were used for medicinal purposes during ancient Egypt and Rome.
This plant-based antioxidant is found in wheat, rice, peanuts, oranges, and even apples. Abundantly found in coffee as well, the name came from the Greek for “the one that does not wither.” Ferulic acid provides antioxidant and sun protective benefits to skin. A 2004 Italian study found that ferulic acid was more powerful of an antioxidant than vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene.
Also known as eicosanoic acid, arachidic acid is a saturated fatty acid containing 20 carbon atoms in a straight chain and found in peanut oil, butter, and other fats. Gössmann first discovered arachidic acid in 1854 in peanuts oil; peanuts are the seed of Arachis hypogea from which its named. It has been used in lubricants, greases, plastics, and waxes.
Scientific consultant Yolanda Anderson, M.Ed. created a simple chart that displays the benefits and differences between these four fatty acids. Usually, simplicity allows us to master what we need for our tresses.
- Found in the palm oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil
- Can be used as a cleansing agent (detergent); but can be drying
- Used as an emollient (softening agent) in moisturizers
- Most common saturated fatty acid
- Found in coconut oil, sweet almond oil, baobab oil, and grapeseed oil but can come from animals as well
- Great cleansing agent
- Has good thickening properties
- Feels soft, waxy on skin
- Can be irritating in high doses
- Found in rice bran oil and other plants
- Promotes collagen production (helps with elasticity of skin)
- Has antioxidant properties (fights free radicals)
- Has “anti-aging” properties
- Found in peanut oil and fish oil
- Used as an emollient, thickener, and emulsifier
- Saturated fatty acid
Knowing the importance of fatty acids and how they can do more than one primary function is essential to finding the perfect ingredients. They can aid in giving your hair the emollients, emulsifiers, surfactants, or antioxidants it needs for any purpose your hair may desire.