I know it has been a long time since most of us had chemistry so I decided to give ya’ll a pass on this one and skip straight to the re-education. Just because chemicals have similar names DOES NOT mean they do similar things.
The mixture of Carbon (C), Hydrogen (H) and Hydroxide (OH) results in alcohol. The simplest form is CH3OH or Methanol, which is used to make chemicals such as formaldehyde, plastics and paint. Another alcohol (and the greatest IMO) is C2H5OH or Ethanol, which is drinking alcohol. C3H7OH is Isopropyl or Rubbing Alcohol. This is what is found in your medicine cabinet to clean scrapes or cuts and is also in hand sanitizer.
Unlike the previous alcohols which are drying, C16H33OH or Cetyl Alcohol is what is know as a fatty alcohol because it is derived from oil. Back in the day it was produced from whale oil, but now comes from palm or coconut oil. Cetyl, also known as Palmityl, is often found in cosmetics and used as an emollient, emulsifier or humectant. An emollient is something that softens and soothes hair/skin. An emulsifier is something that causes separate ingredients blend together. Egg yolk is used as an emulsifier in the production of mayonnaise to blend oil and vinegar. A humectant is something that draws water from to it. Glycerin is a popular humectant that is an alcohol.
As you can see not all alcohols are alike. There are many hair products like hair spray that use carrier alcohols like SD Alcohol 40, which are drying by nature. These alcohols are not good for the hair. However Cetyl Alcohol as I have explained above is not drying and has positive benefits. So before you go alcohol free educate yourself to know the good, the bad and the ugly. Also don’t believe everything you read on a message board. Do your own research and check the advice that is given (including mine).
Here are a few links about alcohol in hair products:
Naturally Curly’s Curly Suzy http://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/curl-products/curlysuzy-qa-help-me-understand-alcohols
Naturally Curly’s Curl Chemist http://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/curl-products/curlchemist-the-goods-on-glycerin