Toxic Ingredients in Haircare Products To Avoid
Trying to discern what ingredients should and shouldn’t be in your hair care products? With the enormous amount of greenwashing in the beauty industry, it can be quite daunting. I feel like it’s almost become the norm for brands to tout all the “good” ingredients they are using while neglecting to mention the not-so-good ones that are lurking in the products as well.
Plus, SHOCKER, label reading really isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. (I know! I mean, who doesn’t want to spend their precious time deciphering a tiny label on the back of a bottle? Listen, I’m 45 years old and already wearing multi-focal contacts. My middle-aged eyes CANNOT TAKE IT.) And even if you do have the eyes of an eagle, it still can be daunting.
So I’m here to give you a little primer on some of the biggest offenders in terms of toxic ingredients in hair care, as well as some of my tried-and-true favorite products!
Toxic Ingredients in Haircare Products To Avoid
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
SLS and SLES are surfactants and emulsifiers that make your hair products foam and can be found in tons of personal care products. That squeaky-clean, sudsy shampoo you love using? Yeah, it probably contains SLS. The big drawback with SLS is that it can be a skin, lung, and eye irritant for some.
If you are noticing rashes, allergic reactions, and/or hypersensitivity while using some of your hair care and body products, be sure to check the ingredients list for SLS. It could be the culprit! (SLS is a huge offender in terms of Perioral Dermatitis.)
Parabens are widely used preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria and mold in cosmetic products, which doesn’t sound too bad except for the fact that parabens can mimic estrogen properties that could be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, potentially turning on the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.
The parabens used most commonly in hair care products are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben.
Parabens are absorbed through the skin and have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors, as well as other parts of the body. Best to stay away.
Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs)
PEG is commonly used as a thickening agent in hair care products yet tends to strip hair of its moisture. #nothankyou
Additionally, it’s classified as a skin penetrant and irritant and can cause contact dermatitis and skin irritation.
Phthalates are a cluster of chemicals used to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. They can be found in deodorants, perfumes/colognes, hair sprays, and moisturizers. The main phthalate in hair care products is dimethyl phthalate often found in hair spray.
Dimethyl phthalate is a known endocrine disruptor and has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls, and reproductive birth defects in males and females.
Also, phthalates are often present in the ingredient “fragrance,” which means they won’t show up in the ingredient list. Do you know the whole story behind fragrance and trade secret laws? I break everything down about fragrance in this post as well as share some of my favorite natural fragrances.
Formaldehyde?! What the what? Yep, Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (also known as formalin and methylene glycol) are still used in some hair care products to help prevent bacteria growth. (Hair smoothing treatments, anyone?)
Formaldehyde has also been classified as a human carcinogen because at high levels or prolonged exposure, formaldehyde has been linked to certain types of cancers. It is also known to cause allergic skin reactions and it may also be harmful to the immune system.
Besides hair care products such as smoothing treatments and shampoo and conditioner, it can be found in nail polish, body washes, cleansers, eye shadows, nail polish treatments.
While classified “as expected to be toxic or harmful”, Dimethicone’s biggest downside in terms of hair care is the build-up issue and eventual hair dryness.
Dimethicone is a synthetic polymer and a form of silicone that’s super cheap to use as an ingredient and creates synthetic softness and smoothing. However, it will totally dry your hair out long term. And without the use of harsh sulfates (see above), you can’t fully get it out of your hair, meaning lots of build-up, weighed down hair, and/or greasy roots. Blech.
Triclosan is a widely used antimicrobial toxic chemical that’s a known endocrine disruptor – especially thyroid and reproductive hormones, as well as a skin irritant. It can be found in hair cair products such as shampoos and conditioners and should definitely be avoided.
The ingredient fragrance is super tricky due to trade secret laws that allow manufacturers to not disclose what exactly is in their fragrance. (Which, FYI, could consist of hundreds of toxic chemicals.) I wrote about fragrance in more detail here, but pay attention to how fragrance is disclosed by your hair care brands.
The Best Non Toxic Hair Products
I’ve spent tons of time trying out non-toxic hair care products and these ones are my tried-and-true faves.
Shampoos and Conditioners
I alternate between the EVOLVh UltraShine Moisturizing Shampoo and the Andalou Naturals Sunflower and Citrus Shampoo Conditioner with the EVOLVh UltraShine Moisturizing Conditioner. This pairing always leaves my hair moisturized and super shiny.
psst – Get 15% off all EVOLVh products with the code WHOORL here.
Natural Curl Enhancers
When I don’t blow dry my hair, my secret weapon for air-dried, frizz-free natural waves is EVOLVh WonderBalm Magic for Curls. I work through my damp waves and let air dry or use my diffuser for an extra boost.
For Blow-Drying Smooth
Believe it or not, The EVOLVh WonderBalm Magic for Curls also works great when you blow out hair into a smoother style! I apply to my damp hair and blow-dry with a round brush. Makes my hair super shiny but also gives it a bit of hold that allows my curling iron waves to last longer. I love this stuff!
Once a week I use Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Mask to keep my hair strong and silky.
For Lift and Texture
A little bit of hair oil is the last step in my hair routine. My absolute favorite is Sahajan Nurture Hair Oil – it smells SO GOOD, y’all. People always ask about my fragrance when I have this oil in my hair. I also love the Mermaid Hair Oil by Captain Blankenship.
What are your very favorite non-toxic hair products? I’m especially interested in finding new styling products.