Alcohol & Hair

SpongeSponge Member
I know nothing about hair. I mean, I know how to wash it, but that’s about where it stops. 

What kind of damage (if any) does repeated exposure to alcohol (isopropyl, ethanol, etc.) do to hair?

Context: I see a lot of brush cleaners that are nothing but alcohol and fragrance. (Some have solubilizers or a very small amount of emulsifier/surfactant but those are more rare.) I’m sure synthetic bristles hold up well to this but natural hair, naturally, is different. 

What happens when you apply ~100% alcohol to natural hair bristles (goat/squirrel)? What is likely to happen over multiple years of this? Are there effective means to preventing any negative effects?
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Comments

  • It really depends on what type of alcohols. Fatty chain alcohols are a common component of moisturizing hair products. Short chain, low molecular weight alcohols are, as far as I know, damaging to the cuticle and can cause dry scalp/hair strands.

    What this does to brush bristles I'm not sure, as they don't have roots/skin.

  • So the brush 'cleaners' are usually alcohol because it a cheap effective way to sanitize and it evaporates quickly.  100% is actually not as effective at sanitizing as 70%. But just alcohol won't clean any oil buildup off, you would need surfactant for that.  I couldn't find any reputable journal information but the internet consensus seems to be yes IPA and ethanol can damage natural hair brushes, especially if you are letting them soak.  You could try using shampoo  and then spritzing with alcohol after to dry/ sanitize.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    I know of no scientifically controlled evidence to demonstrate alcohol damages hair.
  • I agree.
    Pump hairsprays are 95%+ alcohol and they don't seem to damage hair.
  • I guess, alcohol damages hair and the rest after ingestion. https://addictionresource.com/addiction-and-rehab-hotlines/ here's a good site with lots of info about different addictive stuff, maybe you'll find the answer here.
  • @Perry Anecdotally, do you find these claims of damage credible?

    I did some reading and, perhaps I was looking in the wrong places, but all I could find was around the level of: short chain alcohols are absorbed by the hair and when they evaporate, they take necessary water and oil with them, resulting in drier and frizzier cuticle/hair. None of the articles I read talked about the cortex/medulla and breakage.

    From there various authors vaguely implied that this absorption/evaporation cycle either inherently damages hair or that drier/frizzier hair is more easily damaged. That’s as specific of information that I could find but, again, I don’t know hair. 

    Is this true? Can a roughened cuticle be caused by alcohol? Does that lead to breakage? 
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    Anecdotally, no I don't find these claims credible.

    Evaporating alcohol does not take oils and water with them. That's not how evaporation works.

    No, a roughened cuticle is not caused by alcohol. The vast majority of hair cuticle damage is caused by hair getting wet, swelling, then not lying flat back on the hair when the water evaporates. Alcohol in hair products used after shampooing or conditioning will have no measurable impact on hair damage. 
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