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Toxic Chemicals in Shampoo

Learn about toxic ingredients present in commercial shampoos and the health impacts they create. Next time when you buy a shampoo stay away from these ingredients.



1. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (or) Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate – SLES

Sulfates are very strong detergents and great for removing the oils from your hair. Sadly, that also means they rob your hair of its moisture. These cleansing agents are so harsh they can damage your hair, make it brittle and increase frizz.

2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - SLS

Another Sulfate detergent, this ingredient also creates the lathering form action we love in our shampoo products. But did you know that SLS can have toxic effect on your hair. If you already have a dry and frizzy hair, you don’t want this ingredient in your shampoo.

3. Parabens

Paraben is a preservative added to shampoo and many other cosmetic products to prevent microbial growth and helps the shampoo to have a longer shell life. However, it’s believed that parabens can enter your body through skin. Since women tend to use more cosmetic products than men, women are prone to more parabens which causes breast cancer.

Tip: Look for the word “paraben” in longer ingredient words. E.g., ethylparaben,     methylparaben and propylparaben.

4. Sodium Chloride

Sodium Chloride is a plane salt. It is added to shampoos and conditioner to make a thicker consistency. Salt draws out moisture and can make an already sensitive scalp even drier and itchier. Which can eventually be a cause of hair loss.

5. Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)

DEA and TEA are used as an emulsifier in shampoos and other cosmetic products. TEA is also used as fragrance and pH adjuster. In cosmetic formulation DEA and TEA may react with other ingredients to form toxic cancerous chemical which can be adsorbed through the skin.

6. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is used as preservatives in shampoos and other cosmetic products to prevent growing of bacteria and to have a longer shell life. Formaldehyde can be absorbed through the skin and has been linked with allergic skin reactions, hair loss and cancers.

Tip: Look for ingredient names such as quaternium- 15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and DMDM Hydantoin.

7. Alcohol

Alcohol can be found in more hair care products. but while some alcohols such as Cetearyl alcohol and Stearyl alcohol can actually help your hair retain moisture. Most of the alcohols have drying effect on your hair. Steer clear of any shampoo with alcohol listed as one of the first four ingredients.

Tip: the bad alcohols to avoid usually have a “prop” in their name, like Isopropyl alcohol or propanol

8. Silicones

Silicones create the temporary illusions of healthy hair. But as you use the silicones added shampoo more and more, this silicone builds up layer by layer, eventually weighing your hair making it appear greasy, dull and lacking shine.

Tip: look out for words ending in ‘cone’ on the ingredients list. E.g., dimethicone.

9. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

These ingredients are often used as thickeners, softeners, moisture-carrying agents, and penetration enhancers. Some PEGs enhance penetrability of the ingredient itself, or for other ingredients into the skin. This means that if a product containing a PEG, contains other harmful ingredients, they might be able to penetrate the skin more easily.

Tip: PEG compounds often appear notated as PEG followed by a number (ex: PEG-40) or as PEG followed by a number and then another ingredient (ex: PEG-20 cocamine).

10. Cocamidopropyl Betaine

Cocamidopropyl betaine is another foam booster. Although it's derived from coconut oil, it can have negative effects. This surfactant is used in hair products along with dimethylaminopropylamine, which can cause skin irritation, allergies, rosacea, and eczema.

Tip: Commonly used as substitute for SLS and SLES

11. Methylisothiazolinone

Methylisothiazolinone is a common preservative in hair care products, linked to lung toxicity, allergic reactions, and possible toxicity.

12. Synthetic Color

Most shampoos and conditioners are dyed with a synthetic color to make them look nice. These colors come from petroleum or coal-tar sources, all of which come with harmful health effects.

Tip: Synthetic colors will normally go by FD&C or D&C combined with a number.

13. Fragrance

The primary health concern with fragrance ingredients is that their identity is often unknown. Without information about what ingredients actually make up a fragrance, it is difficult to understand the true extent to which our health is compromised by fragrance ingredients. However, what we do know about fragrance ingredients is troubling.

Tip:

  • Avoid products with “fragrance,” “eau de toilette,” and “parfum” on labels. These are catch-all terms for potentially hundreds of chemical ingredients.
  • When selecting scented products, choose products that use natural fragrances like essential oils.

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