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What Is It: Methyl Eicosanoic Acid (18-MEA)

June 7, 2008 Reviewed by Marta 27 Comments
When Kathy wrote in to ask me to look at 18-MEA, I embarked on the quest with enthusiasm. 18-MEA is a relatively new discovery that explains healthy, shiny hair (or lack thereof). Unfortunately, my research quickly became an exercise in frustration.

First of all, what is 18-MEA or Methyl eicosanoic acid? Dry hair consists of around 95% proteins and 2% lipids. A substantial amount of the lipids are present as 18-methyl eicosanoic acid at the surface. The rest of the hair is made of 'nuclear' remnants, carbohydrates and inorganic salts. These lipids are on the outside of each cuticle to protect the surface and give hair its smoothness and ‘slip’.

The exciting part about the discovery of 18-MEA is that researchers say it minimizes future damage and actually halts the aging process. It can target and repair each hair, attaching itself to the damaged areas, restoring the surface.

Meanwhile, many of us are doing our best to undo the good work. The ammonia and hydrogen peroxide present in all permanent hair dyes removes this 18-MEA layer from the hair shaft. So can we restore 18-MEA? Is it possible that a shampoo or conditioner could contain this lipid or some kind of analogue? This is where things started to get really frustrating.

I found a grand total of three brands using - or claiming to use - 18-MEA. One is the British company, Trevor Sorbie, who calls it a "breakthrough" ingredient that is in Shampoo for Long Straight Hair and a range for aging hair called rejuvenate. I couldn't find a detailed ingredients list for either of the Sorbie shampoos. Nor could I for the second brand I found called After Tan.

Interestingly, the third (mentioned by Kathy and the only other brand I could find), DHC, does publish a full ingredients list, but 18-MEA is nowhere to be found. I went through each of DHC's Light & Smooth Conditioner ingredients one by one. There is cocamide MEA. However, this is different thing altogether: a coconut derived fatty acid that is in hundreds of hair care products. I also had to check out etidronic acid, which was new to me. It is a cheleating agent that must be rinsed off immediately because it can cause irritation.

Everything else in DHC was positively identified and many of the ingredients are run of the mill surfecants, preservatives (including BHT, which is banned for use in food in Japan and several other countries and from use in baby food in the US) and irritants. Even if Light & Smooth does contain 18-MEA, given all the other junk in it, I wouldn't use it.

By the way, I even took a look at the DHC Light & Smooth that is sold in the UK, in case anything had got lost (or could be found) in translation. Still no 18-MEA.

There is a company that sells 18-MEA as an ingredient for shampoo makers under the name of Incroquat 18-MEA-40. But I couldn't turn it up in any actual products.

So, Kathy, thank you for quest. At this stage, however, all I can suggest is that you live with declining 18-MEA or give up seeing your colorist.
  • June 23, 2016

    by Marta

    Hi Tracey, you could try Briogeo's Rosarco Milk leave in conditioner. You can read the review here and see that our tester seems to have similar hair challenges and this product really helped:

  • June 23, 2016

    by Tracey

    I was really hoping the this 'mea 18' was going to be miracle cure... I am 47, have coloured my hair on and off for 23-24 years and live the sun. Even though I have 'protected' my hair with sprays, oils, masks, mousses, the top layers are soooo dry that after washing it is airdry within a couple of minutes. I ALWAYS air dry my hair, but having shoulder length wavy hair-it looks like the 'hair bear bunch' -just soooo frizzy... I have spent a fortune on products, making my own oils, even had it cut short(but even that had no effect!!!) and can find NOTHING to help.... The 'TREVOR Sorbie' products were to be my next purchase...!!!!
    Is there ANYTHING on the market to help..?????

  • January 5, 2016

    by Josefine

    The Danish company Purely Professional uses 18 MEA in their products.

  • November 18, 2015

    by marianne

    CPR Fortify contains 18 MEA

  • June 9, 2014

    by Marta

    I'm buying The Satinique Shampoo & conditioner with 18 MEA formulas here, in US at It's infused with Enerjuve Complex and botanical blends and nutrients, is not very expensive.

  • May 12, 2014

    by Diana

    The INCI name of 18 MEA ( the name that goes in the lable ) is C10-40 isoalkylamidopropylethyldimonium ethosulfate and yes it is in the DHC product

  • October 29, 2013

    by rebecca

    Framesi is a italian color and product Line they offer a color line that has the 18 MEA lipid in it and thier wet lines do as well. You will see the shine and condition after a color service!

  • October 27, 2013

    by Kieran

    There is a re-formulated launch of a Brand called Satinique, which contains a patented Enerjuve Technology.
    I think it is just about to be released to market here in Australia in a couple of weeks.
    Enerjuve is a positively charged complex of Lipids, Creatine and 18-MEA. I was watching a promo video on it, and googled 18-MEA and found this site...
    I don't know if other products have added 18-MEA since you wrote this, but thought I'd let you know about this.
    Happy to provide any more information if you'd like it.

  • March 1, 2013

    by Marta

    Hi Neera, we have a natural product that helps hair grow for some people and a conditioner to strengthen hair and stop shedding:

  • March 1, 2013

    by Neera

    Hi, I am researching products that can help me grow longer hair. I dye my hair lightening it a couple of shades, naturally ends go split. I never really had very long hair (not below bra line), but I would love to have hair longer than that. Is there really a nature set limit, or perhaps this product could help?

  • January 4, 2013

    by Maria

    Hi, I found 18 MEA at Kérastase Chroma Thermique Thermo-Radiance Protecting Milk.
    Thanks a lot for a good issue, I understand excellent what exactly is 18-MEA.

  • September 9, 2012

    by Donna

    There is a new product out by Eufora, the Beautifying Elixirs, it is amazing, leaves your hair like silk, I was researching the ingredients when I stubbled upon here.

  • July 25, 2012

    by marcy

    18 MEA is in the Eufora Beautifying Elixers Line check it out.

  • December 27, 2011

    by glittergirl

    This is a informative article thanks for bringing it to attention! Just to clarify though when i look for the 18 MEA ingredient in hair shampoos/condioners, does it come under the name: behentrimonium chloride/methosulphate instead?? or do i need tostill look for methyl eicosanic acid ingredient? thx

  • July 24, 2011

    by Eriks

    18 MEA has a different INCI name and it is Behentrimonium Choride and it is present in almost all Trevor Sorbie products as well in some top US brands. I recon it is there in Organix and Giovanni these days as well. I've never seen it under the Methyl Eic..Acid even in US brands, and surely it will never be displayed as 18 MEA as this is not an INCI name and possibly US version as well. But the ingredient exists and it is very good for hair.

  • November 24, 2009

    by Puteri

    They also recently sold Asience in Malaysia. Let me know if you guys need some =)

  • May 9, 2009

    by Kierra

    I use the Asience products and they are amazing. I colour my dark hair red once every 6 weeks and so need an intensive conditioner. The intensive masque in a gold tub is the best product I've found for this.

    They sell the range in Singapore with English language labels if that's any help.

  • February 23, 2009

    by Jules

    I am obsessed with trying to restore my hair back to its original healthiness before dyeing my hair. So when I heard and read more about 18 MEA, I was very intrigued. Have you guys heard about this stuff called Croda? Whenever I type in 18 MEA into Google, Croda always comes up. It seems like it might be a product with it in, but I'm not sure how to get it.

  • June 16, 2008

    by Kathy

    <p>I will be making a trip to Whole Foods soon!!! Like you, I am searching for a great conditioner. Still liking 18-mea, but not sure it's the Holy Gril. Thanks for the tip on the Alaffia. Also, no label on the bottles of Asience stuff, only Japanese characters.....</p>

  • June 15, 2008

    by Marta

    <p>OK, Kathy, its not 18-MEA, but I have found a good conditioner. It is by Alaffia. The post is here: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a></p>

  • June 11, 2008

    by Kathy

    <p>I'll check the bottles. Not sure if there are labels on them or if it's just Japanese characters on the bottle. That would be great if your friend could get more!</p>

  • June 11, 2008

    by Marta

    <p>If you could get me the label (or something), I'll have my very good natured Japanese friend translate. She conveys Japanese charcoal cleanser back from Tokyo for me and I've been trying to persuade her to open up shop on e-bay. Perhaps we can persuade her with 18-MEA.</p>

  • June 11, 2008

    by Kathy

    <p>OK. The Asience stuff arrived last night. It is a shampoo, conditioner and "treatment" which is more concentrated version of the conditioner. The shampoo is a pearly white, thinnish liquid. Very fine lather. Rinses well, hair has lots of slip to it. Put about a quarter's worth of the treatment on and opened the conditioner to see what it looked like and put a pea's worth of it in my palm It's a thinner version of the treatment. Fresh, floral-y scent. Left it on for a few minutes while I finished my shower. Rinsed off. Hair felt good, quite conditioned, lots of "slip" to it. Combed out easily. Blew it dry. Hair is shiny and it feels great. My fingers glide through it. it really FEELS different. It has a silkiness to it that it doesn't always have. You know how in shampoo commercials where the model's hair has silky movement to it? That's what this does. Is my hair the shiniest it's ever been? Not sure about that after just one use. But it does feel amazing. I do like it. Also not sure how I'd go about getting more of this stuff. All the writing on the bottles is Japanese. I bought this stuff on eBay and it was sent from Japan. sigh. Just my luck. To find something I can't get more of. Also don't know if there's any "bad" stuff in the list of ingredients. All Japanese too....</p>

  • June 9, 2008

    by Kathy

    <p>Thanks! </p>

    <p>I wonder why this 18-MEA stuff, if it is so good, isn't in EVERYTHING? I would think that all sorts of shampoo/conditioners could benefit from a bit of this? Oh well. I will report on the product I get and let you know if I can see any difference. I have my fingers crossed!</p>

  • June 9, 2008

    by Marta

    <p>Good sleuthing. Let's hope it makes it to the US soon. </p>

  • June 9, 2008

    by Kathy

    <p>Marta and all gals in search of shiny hair:<br />
    Here's what the Asience hair product say. They're made by a company called KAO. I guess you can tell I'm sooo excited by this 18-MEA thing and really want shiny hair again. I did try Shin Shine by Philp B and I do like it, but it's a different shine from the sort of shine you see on a child's hair. Anyway, here's the info on the Asience stuff:</p>

    <p>Japan : Kao combines hair beautifying technology for Asience brand<br />
    September 13, 2007</p>

    <p><br />
    Kao Corporation will re-launch its global hair care brand Asience Shampoo, Conditioner, Treatment, and Rich and Condensed Hair Mask on October 13, 2007 after achieving a dramatic evolution of the products in its quest to enhance the beauty of Asian hair. </p>

    <p>Since its initial launch in 2003, Asience has helped Kao introduce a new “Asian Beauty” standard to the Japanese hair care market. Asience has already received enormous support from many people, but now it will be dramatically reborn. </p>

    <p>Re-launched Asience uses the technology, developed through Kao’s ongoing intensive study of hair structure, to seriously address hair problems commonly experienced by modern women. The new line helps achieve the supple hair that is an essential characteristic of Asian people. </p>

    <p>The focus of new Asience is 18-MEA, which exists on the hair shaft’s outermost layer, the cuticle. This key component provides a protective coating for the cuticle, drastically affecting the hair’s feel, especially when combed with the fingers. </p>

    <p>While this key component makes up less than 1% of the hair, more than 90% of people tested have been able to identify its presence by touch.</p>

    <p>18-MEA is easily damaged by chemical treatments, such as hair coloring and perming, and by ultraviolet light, and cannot be regenerated naturally by the hair shaft. Damage to 18-MEA, therefore, is thought to be a major cause of the hair problems modern women face.</p>

    <p>With this re-launch, Kaohas succeeded in recreating the smooth feel of undamaged hair by developing an original technology that fixes 18-MEA firmly to the hair. </p>

    <p>By adding this new hair surface treatment to its existing care for the inside of the hair, Kao has succeeded in advancing hair suppleness.</p>

    <p>With “Progressive Asian Beauties” as its new theme, Asience is developing further to become a brand that ensures the user’s beauty evolves in everyday life.<br />
    <br />
    Kao Corporation</p>

  • June 9, 2008

    by Kathy

    <p>Hi Marta,<br />
    As you can probably tell, I am on a quest for shiny hair. I just can't live with dull hair from coloring and highlighting!! Thank you so much for doing research. I'm doing some too.</p>

    <p>I found this on the After Tan site, it's a description for the shampoo, but don't know if it is on the bottle itself:</p>

    <p>Product Description</p>

    <p>After Tan Shampoo - 8 Oz.</p>

    <p>The most advanced moisture shampoo that you will find! We are that confident. Most shampoos can't hold a lot of try moisturizers. But our advanced cream shampoo can hold 4 times as much. And it is natural based which means no harsh or drying surfactants. We include top moisturizers such as hyaluronic moisture and an omega blend! We guarantee extreme moisture without weighing down the hair.</p>

    <p>Great for customers that tan indoors or tan in the sun this shampoo can't be beat! Most shampoos wash away the good and bad oils in the hair and the scalp.</p>

    <p>This Shampoo contains an amazing substance called 18 MEA for hair: 18 MEA is a substance found in the surface of the hair. This substance acts a lipid barrier to hold in moisture to the hair. Heat and sun destroy this lipid barrier which causes moisture loss and a large variety of hair problems including, dry, frizzy, weak, brittle, breaking and even thinning hair.</p>

    <p>That is why after you tan or expose to heat it is vital to add back 18 mea to rebuild the normal lipid barrier in hair! This shampoo is loaded with 18 MEA!</p>


    <p>Also, on the DHC website, I found this:<br />
    Light & Smooth Conditioner</p>

    <p>Moisture boost. If your hair takes a beating from environmental stresses, including UV exposure and chemical treatments, you need a conditioner that hydrates and replenishes. Featuring nano-sized particles of nutritive 18MEA, this luxuriant formula delivers rich moisture from root to tip, as well as refreshing herbal fragrances.The end result is full-bodied hair with a touchable softness you can really feel. For best results, use after Light & Smooth Shampoo. </p>

    <p>And, I found 18-MEA on a site for Asian hair products called Asience. I actually ordered some from eBay. The shipping cost more than the products. sigh. Once they clear customs, I'll let you know if I notice any difference in shine when I use them. <br />
    Thanks again for all your help!!<br />
    Gratefully,<br />

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