If you've ever lost a chunk of hair to a misfortunate pop of bubble gum, the thought of putting gum of any kind in your strands likely sends shivers down your spine. While the name might inspire a healthy dose of caution, tara gum can be found in many products you already use in your beauty routine and even in your favorite ice cream. Popular for its ability to thicken and stabilize, tara gum is often responsible for the texture of hair products.
Meet the Expert
The ability to improve and stabilize texture is an obvious benefit that tara gum offers for hair products, but what benefits (if any) does it bring to the hair itself? We turned to board-certified dermatologists Jayne Bird, MD, FAAD, and Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, to find out the truth about tara gum. Read on for what they had to say.
Tara Gum for Hair
Type of ingredient: Hydrator, thickener, and emulsifying agent
Main benefits: Thickens formulations, stabilizes hair products, and moisturizes hair and skin.
Who should use it: In general, anyone with dry or damaged hair. It is safe for all hair types and textures, but its hydrating factors may provide additional benefits for curly or frizzy hair.
How often can you use it: Tara gum is found in many products that are intended for daily use, such as shampoo. As long as irritation does not occur, tara gum can be used as often as needed.
Works well with: Xanthan gum, carrageenan, and any hydrating ingredients
Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that interact with tara gum negatively, as it is often used to stabilize mixtures of other ingredients.
Benefits of Tara Gum for Hair
Tara gum is a white to yellowish powder obtained by grinding the seeds of the Caesalpinia spinosa, otherwise known as the Peruvian carob tara tree. Originally found in South America and the northern regions of Africa, tara gum is a naturally odorless and tasteless gelling agent.
While active ingredients are what make products effective, they would be nothing without the support of stabilizing ingredients like tara gum. Bird explains that tara gum helps to regulate the final product's (e.g., shampoo, conditioner, mask, etc.) viscosity, stability, and softness. Imagine reaching for your favorite conditioner only to find it grainy or completely liquified—tara gum makes sure that doesn't happen. For this same reason, tara gum can also be found in high-sugar food products, such as gummy candy and ice cream.
The benefits of tara gum extend beyond the ingredient list and into your hair. "Rich in vitamins C and B and complex sugars, tara gum is reputed for its ability to prevent dehydration while protecting hair’s skin and scalp moisture barrier," Engelman explains. Bird agrees, adding that Its benefits for hair and scalp are improvements in moisturize, texture, and appearance.
- Stabilizes hair products: Tara gum works to maintain the intended viscosity and consistency of hair products. It's used in shampoos, conditioners, gels, creams, and serums to enhance texture and makes products easily spreadable, explains Bird. She adds that it also helps gels to remain smooth without getting stringy.
- Thickens formulations: Though found in powdered form, tara gum quickly hydrates. Bird shares that once it is been hydrated, tara gum will form a medium to thick consistency, which in turn helps to thicken the consistency of the products it's included in.
- Provides moisture to the hair and scalp: Both experts agree that tara gum can provide much-needed moisture to the hair and scalp. Engelman says tara gum infuses and locks moisture into your strands, something that's particularly beneficial to those with dry or damaged hair. Scalp moisture is even more important, as scalp health has the ability to influence new growth.
- Increases the elasticity and strength of the hair: As a direct result of the moisture it provides, tara gum also strengthens hair. "When included in haircare formulations, tara gum moisturizes strands, which in turn increases the elasticity and strength of each hair, making them more difficult to damage and break due to the protective barrier its sugar film provides," Engelman explains.
- Fights frizz: In adding moisture and preventing breakage, tara gum targets two major causes of frizz. Engelman says that the less dehydrated strands are, the less frizz you’ll encounter.
- Prevents scalp itchiness: An itchy scalp can have many causes, including dryness. Bird shares that tara gum may hydrate the scalp to protect against dryness, irritation, cracking, and peeling.
- Improves the overall appearance of the hair: Frizz and breakage can leave hair looking lackluster. Engelman says tara gum increases the hair's ability to fight off external damage from the sun, environmental aggressors, chemical treatments, and heat styling, all of which leave hair dull.
Hair Type Considerations
Our experts agree that tara gum is most beneficial for curly, dry, coarse, frizzy, or damaged hair. Those with dry scalp conditions will also benefit from the nourishment and hydration. When using pre-formulated products, tara gum is safe for all hair types, and its ability to improve elasticity makes it a great option for those with color-treated hair. "All can benefit from this ingredient and there is no downside to using it," shares Engelman. However, Bird cautions that pregnant and nursing women, as well as those with sensitive skin, are advised not to use pure tara gum without the medical advice of a physician. Pure tara gum should always be stored in an area that is inaccessible to children, and patch testing is recommended prior to using raw tara gum on the skin to rule out sensitivity or allergy.
How to Use Tara Gum for Hair
While it is possible to buy and add tara gum to haircare treatments, it's safest to seek out products that already contain it. Raw tara gum has more potential to cause a reaction on your skin or scalp versus a product that contains a properly proportioned amount. You may find that some products you already use contain tara gum, and there are certain haircare lines that emphasize their use of tara gum.
The Best Products With Tara Gum
Engelman recommends Prose Curl Cream: "I love Prose Curl Cream, which uses tara gum as an active ingredient, depending on your specific personalized formula. In this product, tara gum acts as a product stabilizer and hydration booster, locking in moisture and keeping strands hydrated and frizz free," she says.
For shampoo that captures the moisturizing gloss of tara gum, Bird recommends Fekkai Brilliant Gloss Shampoo, as well as the brand's Baby Blonde Multi-Tasker Creme.
Fagioli L, Pavoni L, Logrippo S, et al. Linear viscoelastic properties of selected polysaccharide gums as function of concentration, ph, and temperature. J Food Sci. 2019;84(1):65-72.
Mortensen A, Aguilar F, Crebelli R, et al. Re‐evaluation of tara gum (E 417) as a food additive. EFSA J. 2017;15(6):e04863.