10 Harmful Ingredients To Avoid In Your Hair Products

I think you would agree with me when I say:

When it comes to our health, we try to take every precaution possible to ensure the hair products we use are not harmful.


it’s really hard to understand what is in our hair care products to determine what is harmful and what is not.

Most of the time I can’t even pronounce the word!

The purpose of this post is to define harmful ingredients found in our haircare products


the average woman uses around 12 different products on their body each day.

This amounts to over 100 different ingredients in total!


Parabens are a type of chemical used as a preservative in beauty products.

They are used to prevent bacteria or mold from growing in your shampoo bottle,


they’re also known to be harmful to people.

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners is a research and advocacy organization that has completed several studies on parabens and breast cancer.

Parabens are said to mimic estrogen, and some studies have linked parabens to an increase in the growth of breast cancer cells.


Sulfates are a cleaning agent and usually the ingredient that creates a huge lather in our shampoo.

They can also be found in household detergents and other cleaning products.

The two most common sulfates found in shampoo are:

  • Sodium lauryl sulfates (SLS)
  • Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).

Although originally thought to be cancer-causing – science has recently debunked this claim.

Because they are such a heavy cleaning agent, during your rinse, the sulfates remove all the oil from your hair.

This results in dry and brittle hair.

Not to mentioned it is known to create frizz!

Additionally, sulfates are known to have toxic effects on the body and can cause allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin.

Pro Tip: Sulfates will strip your color very fast. It is especially important to avoid shampoos with sulfates if you have color-treated hair.


Yeah, the ingredient used as a preservative in medical labs and mortuaries might be in your shampoo.

Your shampoo contains what is known as formaldehyde releasers.

These releasers are used in shampoo and other cosmetic products as a preservative.

Trace amounts of formaldehyde prevent microorganisms from growing in your bottles.

There are over 40 formaldehyde-releasers, and countless branded derivatives, but the most common are:

  • Quaternium-15
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Ureas (imidazolidinyl, or diazolidinyl)
  • Benzylhemiformal

I talked extensively about the formaldehyde releaser DMDM Hydantoin – used by TRESemme in my article “Drugstore Vs. Hair Salon Products”

Not only is it found in shampoo, but it’s also a known human carcinogen and is proven to be absorbed through the skin when applied to the hair.

People with sensitive skin should avoid products that have a label containing some form of formaldehyde.


Alcohol is known to have a drying effect, and it’s often found at the top of the ingredient lists on drugstore shampoos.

If you didn’t know – the higher on the ingredient list means the more concentrated the ingredient are in the product.

The most common drying alcohols are:

  • Isopropyl alcohol (also called IPA)
  • Denatured alcohol ( denat )
  • Ethanol
  • Isopropanol
  • Propanol
  • Propyl alcohol
  • SD alcohol 40

But, I must say – not all alcohols are created equal.

Alcohol like stearyl or cetearyl can help your hair retain moisture,

If you’re looking to add moisture back into damaged hair, make sure you avoid drying alcohol.

Sodium Chloride

If this sounds familiar, it’s because you probably have some in your kitchen right now.

Sodium chloride is the scientific word for salt and is often used to maintain the consistency of thick shampoos.

Just like you wouldn’t pour salt on an open wound, you should avoid sodium chloride if you have a sensitive or irritated scalp.

This can make a sensitive scalp worse and cause it to become dry and itchy. Eventually leading to hair loss.


Triclosan is a chemical agent used to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination.

In 2016 it was banned by the FDA from being used in antibacterial soap and other antiseptic products because there was not enough data to conclude adverse side effects.

but is still allowed in cosmetic products – like your shampoo.

Recent studies by the FDA have shown triclosan to disrupt thyroid hormones, which could lead to an increased risk of developing cancer or adverse effects on fetal development.

Although research is not concluded – do your best to avoid it anyway.

Synthetic Fragrances

The word “fragrance” is a loophole manufacturers use to avoid listing chemicals.

Many of the chemicals used to create synthetic fragrances or perfumes are not listed – you should be on the lookout for the following:

  • Fragrance
  • Perfume
  • Parfum
  • Essential oil blend
  • Aroma

SafeCosmetics.org says, most of these synthetic chemicals are petroleum-based. Additionally, some contain natural gas by-products.

Some of the worst chemicals linked to cancer and illness found in synthetic fragrances are:

  • Benzene Derivatives (carcinogenic)
  • Acetaldehyde
  • Toluene

Synthetic Colors

The use of synthetic colors and dyes in cosmetic products especially skincare products have shown to cause acne, itching, clogged pores, and irritation.

Common harmful synthetic colors found in cosmetic products are called FD&C colors and they are derived from coal tar – a by-product of petroleum.

Research conducted on coal tar dyes associated with cancer and illness are:

  • 4-methoxy-m-phenylenediamine
  • 2,4-diaminoanisole,
  • 4-chloro-m-phenylenediamine,
  • 2,4-toluene diamine,
  • 2-nitro-p-phenylenediamine,
  • 4-amino-2-nitrophenol.

Because some coal tar dyes have been known to cause cancer the FDA has regulated the amount and composition of the ingredients.

Polyethylene Glycols (PEG)

PEGs are used in shampoo and other cosmetic products as a thickening agent, softener, and, solvent.

Research does not point to PEGs themselves as a health concern – but the process in which they are manufactured.

Again, another ingredient is made from petroleum and natural gas by-products.

Higher concentrations of PEGs are linked to scalp irritation and hair dryness.
Navigating the list of ingredients on our beauty products is difficult. It almost seems like we can’t get away from harmful products.

So, what can you do to protect yourself from these chemicals?

The best way is to check the ingredient list on your shampoo bottle and avoid products that contain any of the toxic ingredients listed above.

There are plenty of great shampoos out there without these harsh chemicals, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to find one that works best for you and your goals.

What ingredients have you stoped using and why? Let me know in the comment section below!

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