Do the words “fatty acids” strike fear into your heart? Alone, the words “fat” and “acid” both sound like things that I wouldn’t want to put on or in my body. As a culture, we are wary of fats of every kind, and are often presented with confusing and conflicting arguments about which are good and which are bad. Choosing whether to use fatty acids in your beauty routine can be scary. But worry not! All kinds of fatty acids can do wonders for unhealthy hair, and each kind has its own strengths.
What is a fatty acid, though? Fatty acids are the building blocks of energy in our bodies, made of a long chain of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogens. They provide a way for the body to store the energy from food and transport it around the body to use it in various places. Many of these crucial molecules can’t be made in the body by itself, and so it’s important to get them from an outside source. Fatty acids come in two flavors: unsaturated and saturated.
Unsaturated fatty acids have less than the maximum number of hydrogen atoms attached. These can be found in oils, including many nut oils or vegetable oils. The primary forms of these in hair products, though, are the omega family of fatty acids, which include omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9.
Omega-3 fatty acids are wonderful for preventing hair loss. Often, a lack of omega-3 creates a dry scalp, resulting in unhealthy hair which can be prone to falling out. The omega-3 group contains several important subgroups, all of which can help promote scalp health and deter hair loss. One of these is alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which can be found in chia seeds, many nuts, and camelina oil. Camelina oil is often used as a carrier oil for essential oils, and is made up of almost 50% ALA. ALA promotes skin health, helping to hydrate and condition dry skin, which is crucial for scalp and hair health.
Similarly, omega-6 fatty acids help with hydrating and conditioning the hair. Linolenic acid, a form of omega-6, can be found in many nut and flower oils, like poppy or sunflower. Other oils, like those from oats, contain 50% linolenic acid, and can be used for deep moisturizing. Omega-6’s and omega-9’s both help to prevent water loss in the hair, keeping it light, moisturized, and well conditioned. However, the human body cannot make linolenic acid, so it is important to get it from an outside source.
Omega-9 fatty acids include oleic acid, which, like omega-3, helps to maintain good scalp health. It also prevents water loss, keeping necessary moisture in the hair and leaving it happy, healthy, and hydrated. Oleic acid can be found in ungurahua oil, which helps prevent frizz. Ungurahua is a very light oil that soaks into the hair shaft itself, keeping each individual strand of hair moisturized and healthy. Ungurahua oil contains more than 75% oleic acid, making it fabulous for maintaining conditioned hair. Similarly, karanja oil is half comprised of oleic acid, and buriti oil contains upwards of 70% oleic acid. It comes from a palm tree native to Brazil, and works wonders to add shine to dull and lifeless hair, and protect it from potentially damaging heat and chemical treatments.
On the other side of the group of fatty acids are the saturated fatty acids. These are fatty acids where all of the carbon atoms have as many hydrogen atom as possible attached to them, “saturating” the molecule with hydrogen ions. Saturated fatty acids can be found in many butters and rich oils, including coconut oil, shea butter, and sapote oil.
In Essentique’s hair products, saturated fatty acids can be found primarily in the form of stearic acid, a wax-like substance that protects the hair, conditions it, and adds a velvety feel without drying it out.
Squalane oil is another example of a saturated fatty acid that is great for both the skin and the hair. You may have heard of its close cousin, squalene, which is a natural component of the skin that helps protect it from environmental stressors. There are two main differences between the two: firstly, squalene is saturated while squalene is not. Squalene is also usually sourced from animals— often shark liver— while squalane has more sustainable sources like olive trees, sugar cane, and amaranth. Because they are so closely related, squalane serves most of the same purposes as squalene while being far more sustainable and earth-friendly. Because it is so similar to squalene, squalane mimics the natural sebum without clogging pores, creating a beautifully soft feel. It is great for all kinds of skin, especially oily skin, because it has the added benefit of fighting bacteria on the skin that could cause inflammation or blemishes. Squalane helps fight aging, too; its addition helps combat the decreasing production of squalene and keeps the skin elastic, soft, and youthful. For hair, it’s a great natural conditioner, coating and smoothing the hair cuticle for a soft and healthy effect. Look for squalane in Essentique’s RevitAçai conditioner, upLift facial cleanser, and the Square1 hand wash.
When it comes to hair products, there is no reason to be confused by fatty acids! All varieties help to nourish the hair and give it vitality, moisture, and health. Look to unsaturated fatty acids like the omega family for scalp health and hydration. Out for something that will condition and protect your hair? Look no further than saturated fatty acids, like stearic acid, for a shiny and soft finish. Leave any prejudices against fats at the door, and embrace the beautiful hair that can come from their proper use.
By Gabrielle Candes