If you’ve ever turned over a bottle of conditioner or cosmetics just to be bombarded with a lengthy list of unpronounceable ingredients, you’re not alone.
From parabens to sulfates, it’s clear that our hair products are doing more than just cleansing and hydrating.
One ingredient you may encounter in personal care products is called polyquaternium-7.
Polyquaternium-7 is just one of the many polyquats used in hair and skin care products. It’s a conditioning polymer, so it’s mainly used to help your hair or skin feel soft. There is some controversy surrounding this ingredient because it’s a derivative of acrylamide, which is a carcinogen and known to cause reproductive harm.
What Is Polyquaternium-7?
Polyquaternium-7 is a hydrophilic synthetic chemical compound and cationic conditioner. It has a stable chemical structure and it’s a quaternary ammonium compound. In its liquid form, the compound is clear or pale yellow in color. At its core, it’s a conditioning ingredient.
What is Polyquaternium-7 Used In?
This ingredient is added to an array of products, including: baby shampoo, bubble baths, conditioners, soaps, personal lubricants, and shaving cream. As a conditioning polymer, it helps detangle hair and keep it soft. It’s film-forming and an antistatic, which means it leaves continuous coverage while preventing frizz.
It loves water, which makes it a great hydrator and additive to skincare products. In some cases, the addition of this compound makes products easier to spread on the skin or hair.
Prose, a popular made-to-order hair care company, lists polyquaternium-7 as one of their favorite ingredients. It’s used in their conditioners to create a film over hair damage and protect the hair from external factors. It also gives hair volume from the roots, which makes it an appealing ingredient for many consumers.
Since the compound has this unique ability to form a cohesive defense against aggressors, it’s safe for color-treated hair because it prevents the color from fading.
Is Polyquaternium-7 Harmful?
There are some gaps in data that make it difficult to discern whether polyquaternium-7 is harmful or not. Here, learn how the individual chemicals used to create the compound may have an impact on its final use.
Polyquaternium-7 and Acrylamide
Since polyquaternium-7 is a copolymer with acrylamide, there is some concern about its safety. Although it is produced with a particular combination of chemicals in a similar way, polyquaternium-7 made by one manufacturer may not match the polyquaternium-7 made from another manufacturer.
The potential imbalance could mean that residual acrylamide is present. The Environmental Working Group gives acrylamide its highest score of a 10 and the ingredient is listed on California’s Prop 65 List because of its carcinogenic nature and ability to cause reproductive harm.
Other sources say that the amount of unreactive acrylamide within polyquaternium-7 is too insignificant to be toxic.
Are quats safe?
Quaternary ammonium compounds or quats are known toxins. These are the disinfectants frequently used in Lysol and other antiviral products. In a study performed on mice, exposure to common quats caused fertility issues. The study, performed in 2014, called for more research to assess human exposure and potential negative outcomes. Using products that contain quats might not only harm our health, they can also kill the many microbes in our home that exist naturally and help build our immune systems.
Polyquaternium-7 and personal use
There have been some reported cases of sensitivity and skin reactions from products containing the compound. A 2001 case study showed that a skincare product containing both polyquaternium-7 and laureth-9 created an adverse reaction, whereas there hadn’t been previous knowledge of them being irritants.
Curly-haired people may not like to use polyquats and specifically polyquaternium-7 because of its film-forming ability. This can lead to build-up that weighs down curls and makes them frizzy.
Safety: the bottom line
Polyquaternium-7 itself has undergone tests to certify its safety for use in consumer goods. A 1995 report reviewed a variety of studies performed on animals to evaluate the toxicity of the chemical. Their review determined that for its uses of dermal application, polyquaternium-7 is safe. Ingestion caused an adverse reaction in highly-dosed rats, but because the compound isn’t eaten, that was not a cause for concern.
The authors concluded that based on available data and when used within its normal use, polyquaternium-7 is safe for personal care products.
How to Avoid Polyquaternium-7
If you’d rather avoid polyquaternium-7, we totally get it. Head to your bathroom and check your bottles for these other names that also refer to polyquaternium-7.
- Polymer with 2-Propenamide and 2-Propen-l-ammonium
- Polymer with 2-Propenamide
- Poly(acrylamide-co-diallyldimethylammonium chloride)
- Dimethyldiallyl ammonium chloride acrylamide copolymer
You may find other polyquats too, like polyquaternium-10. There are more than 40 polyquats that all vary in structure. Some are derivatives of hydroxyethyl cellulose, so they have different properties altogether.
Public Goods’ conditioner doesn’t have polyquats, nor does our shaving cream or wax pomade. It is possible to have the hydrating and volume-boosting qualities of polyquaternium-7 in products without the compound itself.
Alternative Ingredients: Your Best Options
There are many different polymers and controversial ingredients out there in our consumer products. Parabens, phthalates, an anionic surfactant like sodium lauryl sulfate, artificial dyes, fragrances, and even formaldehyde are often found in the products we put on our bodies each day.
To keep your beauty routine a little closer to the natural world, consider using alternative ingredients to polyquaternium-7 and a cruelty free shampoo. Honeyquat or Hydroxypropyltrimonium Honey is a great ingredient that has the same anti-static and conditioning properties as polyquats.
Use a sulfate-free shampoo to avoid irritation and follow up with our most favorite versatile ingredient: coconuts. Coconut milk and coconut oil are wonderfully hydrating beauty products. They can promote hair growth and help a dry scalp get some much-needed moisture, without all the added ingredients.
So next time you’re stocking up on personal care products ask yourself, to quat or not?
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