When we imagine photoshoot-ready hair, it's often voluminous. Every ad for hair products prominently features a healthy, shiny, volume-packed head of hair that inspires envy. But depending on your natural hair type, volume may not come naturally to you. Unsurprisingly, there are products ranging from shampoo to hairspray that promise to help boost the volume of your hair. An ingredient often found in volumizing products is dextrin.
Some ingredients in hair products are only effective while on the hair, while others provide long-term benefits to the hair and scalp. Though dextrin is often found in volumizing products, we wondered what actual benefits (if any) this ingredient has for the hair itself. We asked two hair experts—board-certified dermatologists Ava Shamban, MD, and Joshua Zeichner, MD—for their opinions on the efficacy and long-term benefits of dextrin for hair.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn what our two dermatologists had to say about dextrin.
Dextrin for Hair
Type of ingredient: Emulsifier and thickener
Main benefits: Stabilizes product formulations, improves product texture, and provides a temporary thickening effect
Who should use it: In general, thinner, finer, and more delicate hair will receive the most benefit from dextrin. Those with dry or highly porous hair may also see or feel improvements in moisture and product absorption. Those with corn or gluten allergies may want to avoid this ingredient.
How often can you use it: It’s safe to use dextrin daily as it is often found in shampoos and conditioners.
Works well with: Almost all ingredients; dextrin is an emulsifier that stabilizes formulations.
Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that interact with dextrin negatively.
Benefits of Dextrin for Hair
Dextrin is a carbohydrate that is produced by hydrolyzing glycogen or starch. It is commonly found in hair products as it is an emulsifier. "Dextrin, therefore, functions to help hair care products achieve a more uniform and blended formulation with a smoother texture and an overall more stable and more homogeneous product," explains Shamban. She adds that because of its composition it is thought to not only improve product stability but offer support for the thickness or dense coating on the hair strand as well.
- Stabilizes hair products: Every product sold in stores needs to be able to maintain its formulation until it is purchased and used by the consumer. To do so, cosmetic chemists utilize stabilizers like dextrin to ensure the products maintain their intended properties. Shamban says dextrin helps to ensure a "more stable and more homogeneous product."
- Thickens formulations: Without emulsifiers like dextrin, products would separate into liquids and solids. Dextrin helps hair care products achieve a more uniform and blended formulation with a smoother texture, says Shamban. She explains that because of its composition, it is thought to not only keep products stable but offer support for the thickness or dense coating on the hair strand as well.
- Boosts volume: Dextrin can boost the volume of hair and help to give the appearance of thicker strands. Zeichner explains that it helps coat the hair shaft itself to protect the outer layer of the strand and provide a temporary thickening effect. He adds that dextrin is one of the key ingredients used in volumizing shampoos because of this effect.
- Aids in moisture retention: With its water-soluble effects, dextrin can also help a product achieve higher levels of moisture retention through porous hair strands, says Shamban. This can improve the density or appearance of hair in another way and may also alleviate some effects of dry skin and scalp, she adds.
- Improves the overall appearance of hair: In boosting volume and apparent thickness, dextrin can help to give the appearance of thicker, healthier hair. However, Zeichner cautions that these are temporary benefits. "Unfortunately, dextrin has no effect on the hair follicles themselves. While it gives a temporary thickening effect to hairs that are already there, it has no effect on growing new hairs. So it can improve thickness, but not hair density," Zeichner explains.
Hair Type Considerations
Our experts agree that dextrin is safe for all hair types, but those with thinner, finer, more delicate hair will be best served with this ingredient in their products as it will help to coat the hair, says Shamban. Additionally, Shamban adds that those with dry or highly porous hair may also see or feel improvements in moisture and product absorption. Overall, dextrin should help hair to look fuller and thicker, but these results are temporary.
"The good news is that it can be used on almost anyone, even in people with sensitive skin," shares Zeichner. Though it is not typically irritating, Shamban warns that all ingredients have the potential to cause a reaction. "As with any and every new product or ingredient, we suggest patch testing an area to ensure there is no atopic dermatitis reaction," she says. "That said, consulting your board-certified dermatologist or primary care physician is also advisable before any new treatment." Additionally, those with gluten or corn allergies may want to avoid dextrin, as it is often derived from starch.
How to Use Dextrin for Hair
Despite being found in many product formulations, dextrin is not typically an ingredient that you would seek out on its own for your hair. Instead, you're likely to see it listed as an ingredient in many volumizing or thickening shampoos and conditioners. Zeichner explains that the dextrin typically attaches to the hair until the next wash, and it can be used with every hair wash without issue.
Dextrin can also be found in hair care oral supplements, but Shamban says her research only found studies indicating its benefits as a natural organic form of stabilizer or filler. "Its existence in supplements is to improve the longevity efficacy of the ingredients in the supplement, not as a stand-alone supplement for hair growth or loss prevention." She adds that "dextrin is not recommended as an ingestible supplement for hair growth or regrowth as we have not seen clinical studies that indicate its efficacy or benefits to this end."
- Shampoo: Dextrin is found in many shampoos due to its ability to improve consistency and increase shelf life. It acts as an emulsifier to keep products stable.
- Conditioner: Dextrin helps maintain the thick consistency of conditioners and it aids the hair in moisture retention.
- Hairstyling products: Dextrin can be found in serums and hair treatments to thicken the products, as well as increase shelf life.
The Best Products With Dextrin
Dextrin is found in many hair products, including shampoos, conditioners, hair treatments, and styling serums. From boosting thickness to improving the texture and shelf life, this ingredient is the star of many volumizing formulations.
This deeply cleansing charcoal shampoo is designed for those with black or brown hair. In addition to dextrin, this shampoo is infused with black rice, black walnut extract, quinoa, and mongongo oil. It's also 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free.
This volumizing shampoo is for dry, fine hair and dry scalps. It contains silk proteins and amino acids which add volume and strengthen chemically-processed and color-treated hair.
This vegan conditioner promises moisture and shine. Free from silicones, sulfated surfactants, parabens, mineral oil, gluten, and synthetic dye, it aims to provide lightweight hydration.
This volumizing spray also contains cleansing ingredients to help lift hair and remove the oils that weigh it down. Try this between washes to refresh your roots.
What is dextrin?
Dextrin is a carbohydrate that is produced by hydrolyzing glycogen or starch. It is used in hair products primarily as an emulsifier, but also for its reported ability to thicken the appearance of hair.
Does dextrin provide benefits to the hair?
Dextrin is primarily beneficial to the formulations it is a part of, but it does help to provide moisture and can improve the appearance of hair.
Does dextrin make hair thicker?
No according to Zeichner, who explains that dextrin has no effect on the hair follicles themselves. While it gives a temporary thickening effect to hairs that are already there, it has no effect on growing new hairs. So it can improve thickness, but not hair density.
Barczynska R, Kapusniak J, Litwin M, Slizewska K, Szalecki M. Dextrins from maize starch as substances activating the growth of bacteroidetes and actinobacteria simultaneously inhibiting the growth of firmicutes, responsible for the occurrence of obesity. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2016;71:190-196.
Ewg skin deep | what is dextrin. EWG.