Saturday, May 4, 2024

Cholesterol In Hair Care

Cholesterol is part of our skin’s sebum - its natural oils. 

An "average" adult person's scalp produces less than 1 ml (less than 1/4 teaspoon) of sebum. Imagine your scalp produces anywhere from 1/16th to 1/8th teaspoon of sebum daily. Maybe less if your head is small or your skin is dry.

Sebum contains fluid oils that are liquid at room temperature or skin temperature (like vegetable or olive oil, for example). Sebum also contains some oils that are more solid at room temperature - like cholesterol. Which is kind of waxy on its own.

Sebum is a complex mix of different oily components - cholesterol is present at between 2 and 5% of the total oily components in sebum. 

We don't have a lot of cholesterol in our sebum - but it's kind of a big deal to have there.

Cholesterol works with ceramides (subject for another post) to prevent water loss from the skin. The upper layer of skin is where the cholesterol is concentrated. Cholesterol is formed from squalene, which is itself a powerful lubricant. That transformation is done by an enzyme in your skin.

And that bit about oils being produced by the oil glands, then modified in the skin is important when we're talking hair. Because skin has a lot of ways it can modify its environment that hair does not have.

While your hair is still growing, cholesterol on your skin matters because it's part of skin-health. Healthy skin produces healthier hair.

Ceramides may be the more important component than cholesterol in regards to hair-health, as part of the "integral hair lipids" (i.e. the epicuticle) that are bound to the hair surface - at least until it is too weathered or damaged.

Cholesterol is concentrated in the cuticle layers, and also in the medulla portion of hair. And if we lose oily things like cholesterol from our hair from shampooing, from chemical treatments, from lots of sun exposure - hair breaks more easily. Hair in people of African descent is more likely to break when its oil concentrations are decreased through those sources of stress. But that's talking about - all components of oils, not just cholesterol.

Cholesterol alone may be a minor player in hair-cosmetic maintenance, like any oil or butter, all the ingredient need to work well together. But you cannot have shopped the hair-care section without seeing "Cholesterol Treatment!" on big bottles of hair product. So what's up with that?

My impression is that "Cholesterol" hair products like Queen Helene, which have been around a while, were on the market before Shea butter appeared in mass-marketed products. And while the former might not contain any waxy/buttery cholesterol, products with shea butter do deliver on the buttery/waxy-oil promise. Shea butter is such a lovely ingredient. At their best, buttery/waxy ingredients impart great flexibility to hair - and I think that concept is what the inclusion of cholesterol (or just the word if not the ingredient😉) is all about. To tell you that this product won't be watery and pathetic! It will be rich, dense and create flexibility.

Ceramides (or ceramides + cholesterol) pack a little punch in hair cosmetics, and a lot in skincare. More about them in an upcoming post.

Science-y Hair Blog © 2024 by  Wendy M.S. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 


  1. Yay I think I requested this but wasn't sure if it went through or not! It seems I should try shea butter products over the cholesterol. What should I do with the remaining Queen Helene I have to get more punch...can I mix it into something? I agree that it doesn't do that much for my hair as a deep conditioner..maybe helps a bit with breakage but not that much, especially now that I'm transitioning from relaxed to natural.

    1. Hi Zee! I wonder if the Queen Helene conditioner might benefit from a little honey (mixed with a bit of warm water first) as a humectant/moisturizer. Honey can penetrate deeply into hair to stabilize the proteins (improve elasticity). The Mineral oil should be very good for slip, and Lanolin adds slip and preserves moisture. I added a post about Ceramides yesterday. But there aren't that many products with ceramides for hair on the market either. There are alternatives indicated in that post (I can't link it here - it's from May 12). Many of the new "hair bonding" products contain ingredients that specifically reduce breakage in hair (there's a tab at the top of the page for those). There might be some good options there, too. Best wishes - W