Toxic Ingredients to Avoid When Shopping for Hair Care Products

Close-up of a pipette dripping chemicals into a row of glass test tubes.

It’s important to look at the ingredients on your hair care product labels. Just as you would look over food labels to stay healthy, you want to make sure that your hair care items don’t contain toxic ingredients either. You may want to avoid certain ingredients to avoid the potentially negative side effects that you may experience from them. These side effects can include dry scalp or hair loss

If you’re experiencing such symptoms — particularly if you’re a young woman with a receding hairline — your hair care products may be to blame. Here are some ingredients to avoid in your hair care products:

1. Benzene

One of the most common hair product ingredients to avoid is benzene. Benzene is a toxic ingredient that can commonly be found in hair spray. Not only is this product destructive to your hair, but it’s bad for your overall health. It’s a carcinogen that is derived from gasoline, and may also be referred to as toluene. Take care to avoid this ingredients. 

2. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a toxic ingredient that is known to be released from hair smoothing and straightening products when heated. For example, if you use a hair smoothing product and then blow-dry, straighten, or curl your hair using a heat source, formaldehyde is then released into the air as a gas. 

Over time, this can damage your hair. More important than that, repeated exposure to formaldehyde can be dangerous to your health. Look for these ingredients on your hair care label and be sure to avoid them. 

  • Formaldehyde;
  • Formalin;
  • Methylene glycol.

3. Silicone 

While silicone isn’t an overall health issue, it’s still one of our most common bad ingredients in shampoo. Silicone is also commonly found in conditioners, heat protectants, and other hair care products. The purpose of silicone is to help with the texture of hair. However, it commonly causes a dull appearance and dryness due to hard-to-remove buildup. 

If you’re looking to add some shine to your hair, look for natural ingredients like jojoba oil or shea butter. 

Be sure to avoid anything with ingredients ending with a “-cone” – this is usually indicative of a type of silicone. 

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

This is a relatively common ingredient in shampoo – the purpose is to create a lathering effect. Some hair types can be damaged by sulfate. It can be harmful to people who have dry scalp, psoriasis, or rosacea. Sulfate-free hair care products may occasionally cost more, but the investment can be worth it to avoid irritation. 

5. Parabens

Parabens are a type of preservative meant to prevent the growth of mold or other bacteria in hair care products. You will commonly find this ingredient in shampoos and conditioners. Parabens are toxic to the environment and have been commonly found in the bodies of marine mammals. Look for and avoid any ingredient that includes the word “paraben.” This includes: methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. 

6. Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs)

Polyethylene Glycol (or PEG) is made from the same chemical that is used to create antifreeze, hydraulic fluids, and solvents. It’s also commonly found in hair dye products. PEGs can cause extreme irritation to your skin upon contact. Ingredients to look out for are called Deceth-3 and LAURETH-12. Be sure to look at all the ingredients on your hair care label to avoid purchasing a hair dye product with PEGs in it. 

7. Phthalates

While the government currently doesn’t have any hard evidence that phthalates can affect human health, this is another ingredient to avoid in hair care products. Phthalates are used for a few reasons in hair products including fragrance and the ability to break down other ingredients. 

Because companies are not required to list all the ingredients included in the fragrances in their products, they may not be required to list phthalates even when they are present in the product. To avoid potentially purchasing a product with phthalates, don’t purchase any hair product that simply says “fragrance” as this is usually indicative of phthalates being present. 

8. Triethanolamine

Triethanolamine is another common ingredient in hair care products to avoid. It’s commonly found in hair styling products like hair gel and hair dye. This is often used to adjust the pH of a formula. Triethanolamine can cause allergic reactions, including eye itchiness and dryness, dryness of hair and skin, and it can be toxic if absorbed into the body for a long period of time.

Avoid these ingredients:

  • Triethanolamine (TEA); 
  • Diethanolamine (DEA);
  • Ethanolamine.

9. Alcohol

Alcohol in hair care products is known to dry out your hair and skin. Avoid most alcohols in your hair care ingredients. Be sure to check your label for anything with the word alcohol, or any ingredient ending in “yl” – this is usually indicative of the presence of alcohol. 

10. Synthetic Fragrances

Cosmetic companies are not required to list every ingredient that is used to make the fragrances in their products. They could simply list “fragrance” in their ingredient list, but there could be hundreds of ingredients in that one fragrance. 

Many of the ingredients that companies use to make a “fragrance” could include toxic chemicals. To avoid using a product with synthetic fragrances, look for the simple ingredient of “fragrance,” and instead consider using products that contain natural fragrances. Vegan beauty products are generally a safe bet when looking for natural alternatives.

If you have used these ingredients in your hair, it’s not too late to repair any damage that has been caused. Many products have been created especially to repair the damage caused by these common ingredients. You can find treatments that help with hair growth and strengthening. In the future, look for natural ingredients and ingredients that aren’t toxic and damaging. 

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