Anyone who’s been on a big night out and had a few cocktails will know that alcohol isn’t great for the body. It’s not too great for the hair either. But how does alcohol affect your hair? And how exactly does alcohol get into the hair in the first place?
Written by Nicola Sloan
The simple answer is that when you drink alcohol, alcohol gets into your hair as your body breaks it down into smaller substances called metabolites. These metabolites enter your bloodstream, where they circulate and are incorporated into the cells of your body, including your scalp and even within the strands of the hair themselves.
Let’s look at this in more detail.
How Does Alcohol Get Into The Hair?
When you drink alcohol, the body breaks the alcohol down into smaller substances called metabolites.
The two metabolites that are used as markers in hair alcohol testing are Fatty Acid Ethyl Esters (FAEEs) and Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG).
These enter your bloodstream, where they are carried to all the cells in your body, including those in your scalp. From your scalp, they can be absorbed into the hair strand.
These metabolites can stay in the hair for a long time – up to 90 days, in fact. This is why hair sample testing can be done in legal cases to determine if an individual has been drinking or taking drugs within a specific timeframe.
What Does Alcohol Do To Your Hair?
As you probably know, alcohol can be very dehydrating for the body. And dehydration is a major cause of a hangover.
That’s why drinking water in between alcoholic drinks can really help to offset a hangover. Hydration is key, and it follows that if your body is dehydrated, so is your hair.
Regular alcohol consumption could lead to your hair looking flat and lifeless. Your hair could become weaker and more prone to breakage and split ends.
This is because regular alcohol consumption can rob your body of essential nutrients such as zinc, copper, protein and folic acid.
These all help to maintain hair’s health, strength, and thickness. If your body doesn’t have enough of these nutrients your hair suffers as a result.
Can You Get Alcohol Out Of Hair?
We’ve covered the question of how alcohol gets into the hair. But how do you get it out?
Although the metabolites themselves can stay in your hair for a long time, these are not problematic for the hair in themselves.
It’s the vitamin deficiencies that can come with regular alcohol consumption that are problematic, as they can make the hair weaker and more prone to breakage.
There are steps you can take, however, to reverse or prevent any alcohol-induced damage to your hair.
Hangover recovery is an important aspect. It’s just as important for your hair as it is for your body (and pounding head)!
Drink water and fruit juice the morning after. Take your vitamins and try to eat something. Your body needs nutrients right now, and so does your hair.
Preventing a hangover, of course, is even better. Try to drink water in between alcoholic drinks or opt for drinks with water-based mixers.
Upon returning from a night out, chug a load of water before you go to bed to help offset dehydration and a headache in the morning.
As part of your morning after beauty regime, use a deep conditioner on your hair to negate the effects of dehydration on the hair.
And remember, it’s best to drink in moderation for the sake of your health, and that includes your hair’s health!
Are Some Types of Alcohol Good For Hair?
There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that a beer or even a vodka rinse is good for the hair.
Benefits touted include stronger, shinier hair and removal of product buildup. You might prefer to ingest your alcohol though rather than put it on your head.
There are also different types of alcohols that are used in hair products. Some are good for your hair, some not so good.
Alcohol in hair products
Some sorts of alcohol are more commonly used for putting on your head; namely the different alcohols that are used in styling products.
There are two major types: short-chain alcohols or drying alcohols and long-chain alcohols or emulsifying alcohols.
These have less than three carbon atoms as part of their structure and have a low molecular weight.
They evaporate quickly, so are often used in hair products such as hairsprays to reduce drying time.
The flip side of this though is they can leech moisture from the hair. This can leave hair dry, brittle and frizzy with excessive use.
The most common short-chain alcohols used in hair products are:
Long-chain alcohols have more than twelve carbons per molecule and are commonly derived from natural sources such as plants.
Unlike their drying, short-chain relatives, long-chain alcohols provide moisture, gloss and lubrication.
They are often used in products designed to give moisture to the hair, and they help to smooth damaged cuticles. The most common long-chain alcohols you’ll find in hair products are:
Just as drinking too much alcohol can damage your hair, so can using too much of the wrong kind of alcohols on your hair.
Bear in mind that short-chain or drying alcohols are fine when used sparingly, but don’t go overboard.
Your hair type will also affect results: hair that is already drier or prone to frizz will be more negatively affected. As with many things in life, moderation is key!
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