In the world of hair and beauty, there are many ingredients that don't get the credit they deserve. While we hear about buzzworthy components like caviar or rice water, these are often listed way down on ingredient lists due to the small concentration that's actually included. Toward the top of the label, you will often find names reminiscent of your high school chemistry class that are doing more of the heavy lifting in formulations. One name worth learning? Isopropyl myristate.
Meet the Expert
Isopropyl myristate is quite unique in its power to moisturize, boost the efficacy of other ingredients, and then lock in the benefits. It's easy to see why so many products would utilize this 3-in-1 emollient, especially in skincare products where the inclusion of actives can potentially compromise the skin barrier.
Isopropyl Myristate for Hair
Type of ingredient: Hydrator, emollient, and enhancer
Main benefits: Hydrates the hair and scalp, locks in moisture, and enhances the skin penetration of other ingredients
Who should use it: In general, anyone with coarse, curly, or dry, damaged hair. Isopropyl myristate is not recommended for particularly thin hair, as it can make it appear greasy, or an oily scalp or hair, as it can lead to clogged pores.
How often can you use it: It’s safe to use daily, as it is found in many popular haircare products, but if you have thin or greasy hair, you may want to avoid using too many products that contain isopropyl myristate.
Works well with: Almost anything, but use caution. Isopropyl myristate enhances the efficacy of other ingredients by helping them to penetrate deeply into the skin, so it may amplify the reaction you have to other active ingredients.
Don’t use with: Any strong concentration of ingredients that could cause a reaction, as isopropyl myristate will amplify the effects of those components. Those with contact dermatitis may find that avoiding isopropyl myristate makes interactions with other ingredients less irritating.
But does isopropyl myristate offer any benefits to the hair and scalp specifically? Ahead, Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, and Mara C. Weinstein Velez, MD, FAAD, share their thoughts on the benefits isopropyl myristate can bring to hair and scalp health.
What Is Isopropyl Myristate?
Isopropyl myristate is a synthetic oil made from isopropyl alcohol and myristic acid. It is a popular ingredient for skin and hair products because it can both help other ingredients to penetrate the skin's surface and serve as an emollient, locking in the moisture and benefits of its formulated partners.
Benefits of Isopropyl Myristate for Hair
Isopropyl myristate has three main benefits for the scalp and hair. First, it serves as a moisturizer. Engelman says that isopropyl myristate strengthens the skin barrier and softens and smooths hair. Second, it helps other ingredients penetrate more deeply into the skin of the scalp. This can enhance the benefits offered by other ingredients and make them more effective. Third, it acts as an emollient, meaning it locks in all of the benefits and hydration it provides. Emollients are essential to maintaining the skin barrier.
In addition to its ability to enhance the skin penetration of other ingredients, isopropyl myristate also brings other benefits to beauty and haircare formulations. Weinstein Velez says that isopropyl myristate is a great anti-caking agent and binder, while Engelman adds that it can thicken product formulas and make oil-based ingredients feel less greasy. It works exactly the same as it does on the skin of your scalp as it would on your face, and it interacts similarly with hair, though it is unclear if it is able to penetrate hair in the same way it does with skin.
- Hydrates hair and scalp: Isopropyl myristate is a conditioning agent, according to Weinstein Velez, meaning that it provides moisture and hydration to the hair and the skin of the scalp. This is great for those whose hair needs repair, as Engelman says it can moisturize and heal damaged hair.
- Increases the efficacy of scalp treatments: Isopropyl myristate has a research-backed history of being able to increase the skin penetration of other ingredients. As such, it may be helpful to include when using other ingredients intended to treat the skin of the scalp, like rosemary oil. Many ingredients used to stimulate hair growth may benefit from the boost provided by isopropyl myristate.
- Serves as an emollient: Emollients are often the last step in a skincare routine because they lock in all of the other products. Weinstein Velez says isopropyl myristate is good for the scalp because it works as an emollient, helping to maintain the skin’s natural barrier and retain moisture.
- Improves the elasticity of the hair: Hydrated hair is more elastic and therefore less likely to break. Hair elasticity is important, because breakage can occur from everyday activities like brushing your hair and may give the appearance of hair loss.
- Boosts shine: Isopropyl myristate gives great gloss and shine to the hair, according to Weinstein Velez, which is always a plus. The boost in shine is due to the added hydration but also thanks to the emollient factor that smooths the hair overall.
- May help some scalp conditions: Because isopropyl myristate can aid in penetrating the skin of the scalp and provide moisture, it may be beneficial to certain scalp conditions, like eczema. However, depending on the cause of scalp irritation and dryness, Engelman warns that isopropyl myristate may aggravate other issues, like dandruff.
Hair Type Considerations
Both experts agree that isopropyl myristate is safe for all hair types, including color-treated hair. Anyone with coarse, curly, or dry, damaged hair will appreciate the hydration and emollient properties, as these hair types often need both. Weinstein Velez says people will notice increased softness, less frizz, and improved moisture. Engelman agrees, adding that those with damaged hair may notice that it has the ability to provide some healing.
Those with thinner hair or greasy hair and scalp may want to avoid isopropyl myristate. Engelman says it can make hair look even more greasy and clog pores, causing dandruff. Weinstein Velez agrees, adding that any products you put on your hair or scalp tend to seep into your forehead by the end of the day, so those who are acne-prone should avoid isopropyl myristate as it is comedogenic and can clog pores. Similarly, both experts warn against using isopropyl myristate if you have contact dermatitis, as it has been found to compound the irritation caused by other ingredients.
How to Use Isopropyl Myristate for Hair
Similar to other supporting elements on beauty ingredient lists, isopropyl myristate is not an ingredient you would necessarily seek out to use on its own. Instead, you can easily find hair products that include it, such as shampoos, conditioners, serums, and more. In fact, you may find that many of the products you're currently using contain isopropyl myristate.
However, isopropyl myristate is an ingredient you may want to consider avoiding if you are suffering from a sensitive scalp or contact dermatitis. It will amplify anything you apply in addition to it, so take care when combining products that contain isopropyl myristate with those that don't, as its exclusion could have been intentional. It's important to see a dermatologist for any skin or hair concerns to determine their true cause, but avoiding isopropyl myristate may help to calm skin conditions while you wait for your appointment.
What is isopropyl myristate used for?
In cosmetic formulations, isopropyl myristate helps other ingredients work more effectively by assisting their ability to penetrate the skin barrier. It also acts as an emollient, locking in all of the benefits those ingredients provide.
Does isopropyl myristate clog pores?
Both Dr. Engelman and Dr. Weinstein Velez noted that isopropyl myristate is comedogenic, meaning it can clog pores. If you have a naturally greasy scalp or greasy hair, you may want to avoid.