Hair Care Product Ingredients to Avoid

Posted by Nicole on February 10

Walk into a supermarket, pull a random hair care product off the shelf, and turn it over. Chances are good you will see a dizzyingly long list of ingredients, many with complex names. Ever wonder which of those ingredients are okay, and which you should steer clear of? Let’s go over some of the top hair care product ingredients to avoid.

  • Sulfates: Products that lather up tend to feature compounds called sulfates. If you have sensitive skin, there is a chance that sulfates will irritate you. They also dry your hair out terribly—which is one of the reasons we then follow up with a conditioner. Just by getting away from sulfate-based shampoos, you might no longer have a need to condition.
  • Parabens: These preservatives are pretty hard to avoid; they are in a huge range of hair care products. While they do help those products last longer, that benefit comes at a cost. When absorbed through your skin, they produce an effect similar to estrogen. They may even increase cancer risk.
  • Formaldehyde: Yep—that disgusting chemical you may remember from middle school biology class is sometimes one of the ingredients in hair care products. In that class, you probably were busy learning about anatomy—but your teacher likely neglected to inform you that the chemical you were handling was highly carcinogenic. So, watch out for this one in product ingredient lists.
  • Phthalates: These chemicals often go into the production of plastics, but they also go into hair care products. They are endocrine disruptors that can cause negative reproductive health effects for men and women. It is also possible that they have an adverse impact on the immune system and multiple organs and glands.
  • Hexachlorophene: This antibacterial compound can dry out your skin or even cause it to turn red and scale if you are sensitive to it. Eye irritation is possible as well.

The list above is not an extensive one—there are some other ingredients commonly used in hair care products you will also want to avoid. But an exhaustive list would take a long time to go over.

What can you do to avoid toxic hair care products? Thankfully, there are a lot of products out there that are more natural and healthy. But you do need to do your research when you are selecting new products to use.

One tool that is incredibly helpful is the Skip Deep® database by the Environmental Working Group. If there is a product you are thinking of using, you can input its name and see if it is in the database. If it is, you can view a numerical score for the product as a whole. 1 is the best and 10 is the worst.

Clicking on the product will call up a breakdown of the ingredients with numerical scores for each of them and specific health concerns listed. That way, you will have a pretty good idea of whether or not the product is one you will feel comfortable using.

Going forward, you can also pair healthy natural shampoos, conditioners and hair oils with a diet rich in vitamins and other nutrients that nourish your hair, skin, and nails.