15 Harmful Shampoo Ingredients to Avoid

washing hair

Did you know that your shampoo can contain ingredients harmful to both you and the environment? Chief among them: Sulfates. But what exactly are sulfates, and what other problematic shampoo ingredients should you avoid? 

Instead of harmful shampoo brands to avoid, we’ve made a list of 15 common and not-so-nice shampoo ingredients to watch out for — and why. What are the main ingredients of shampoo to skip? Read on to find out.

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

What are sulfates? Sulfates are very strong detergents that work through a chemical reaction, in which they bind with the sebum on our scalp and with water. When you rinse out the shampoo, sulfates take all the oils and residue with them. But while cleansing, they can also damage the hair, make it brittle, and increase frizz.

2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) 

This sulfate creates a lathering foam some people love, but it can compromise follicles when left on the scalp and it has other toxic effects on the human body. Yikes! Anyone with color-treated hair or dry hair should definitely avoid SLS, as it can fade your color and strip your strands of natural oils.

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3. Parabens

Parabens are also known to be harmful. They are used as a preservative to prevent bacteria from growing in cosmetics and shampoos. Parabens can mimic the hormone estrogen and have been linked to increased growth of breast cancer cells.

4. Sodium Chloride

Sodium chloride is another name for salt. Sodium chloride in shampoo and conditioner is mainly there to make the consistency thicker. Salt can make an already-sensitive scalp dry and itchy, which can eventually cause hair loss.

5. Polyethylene Glycols (PEG)

PEG is a thickening agent derived from petroleum that is often contaminated with byproducts. There has not been sufficient research done to conclude that PEGs themselves are as toxic as shampoo ingredients, but common byproducts in PEGs can be harmful.

6+7. Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)

DEA and TEA are also emulsifiers and foam agents that reduce surface tension so water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients can blend together. In 1998, researchers found a link between the topical application of DEA and cancer in animals, but the effects on humans are unclear. The European Commission has banned DEA in cosmetics.

8. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and has been proven to be absorbed through the skin in animal testing. Manufacturers often add it to products directly as a preservative, but it can also be released over time through a chemical process from other types of preservatives. If you’re wondering what to look for, a common one in shampoos is quaternium-15. They can also be found in chemicals used for Brazilian blowouts at hair salons.

9. Alcohol

Most alcohols have a drying effect, and the higher up in the ingredients list they appear, the more alcohols the product contains. Some alcohols that are not as bad for dry hair begin with a “C” or an “S,” like Cetearyl alcohol and Stearyl alcohol. They can actually help your hair retain moisture. The ones that are bad if you already have dry hair usually have a “prop” in their name, like Isopropyl alcohol or propanol.

10. Synthetic Fragrances

Products that have “fragrance” on their label can contain thousands of hidden chemicals. Some ingredients in fragranced cosmetic products can disrupt the reproductive system and cause cancer or asthma. They can also irritate the skin and scalp, which can lead to hair loss.

11. Synthetic Colors

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

12. Dimethicone

Dimethicone is a type of silicone that is used in a ton of hair products and contributes to product buildup that makes your hair feel greasy. Since it acts as a protecting cover on the surface of the hair, it stops moisture and nutrients from coming in and instead collects dirt and residue. It can clog the pores on the scalp and cause skin irritation.

13. 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.

14. Triclosan

Triclosan was banned from being used in antibacterial soaps in 2016 but is still allowed in toothpaste, shampoos, and deodorants. It’s a chemical antibacterial agent known to cause hormone disruptions, which can lead to cancer and affect fetal development, among other things.

15. Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate is the ester of retinol combined with palmitic acid. It’s a known skin irritant that can cause peeling, scaling, redness, and itching. Side effects of retinyl palmitate may include cancer, reproductive problems, and organ toxicity.

Harmless Shampoo Ingredients

While there are many bad ingredients in shampoos and harmful shampoo brands, plenty of shampoos use only natural, non-toxic, and organic ingredients, and you can even make your own homemade hair treatments using ingredients from your kitchen. If you are suffering from hair loss or unhealthy hair growth and think chemicals such as the ones mentioned above may be to blame, try switching to a natural alternative. You can also try taking natural supplements that contain plant-derived ingredients that work synergistically to help your natural hair growth.

Chemical Treatments: The Damage They Can Do To You & Your Hair

The road to beautiful, smooth hair is paved with good intentions. But before you try something with good intentions that ends up doing more harm than good, there are things you need to know. We are here to tell you why a natural solution may be the safest option.

These days women seem to opt for chemical straightening and smoothing treatments as often and easily as a normal haircut. But these popular salon services have been questioned because of harmful side effects. So what exactly is happening to your hair when getting a chemical treatment?

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Chemical Treatments Can Cause Your Hair Structure to Change

Each hair is made up of chains of keratin, a naturally occurring protein. Certain chemical treatments involve coating each hair strand with a strong chemical, then warming it up to activate the formula. This can affect the way these keratin chains are held together – and by doing so, it changes the structure of your hair.

There are several types of chemical treatments that claim to give you smooth and straight hair – the Brazilian blowout (a keratin treatment) and the Japanese straightening perm are the most common. Both processes can affect the hair structure, but the Japanese – being a permanent treatment – uses the strongest chemicals and therefore poses the greatest risks in terms of damaging your hair.

Chemicals Can Also Cause Hair Damage and Health Issues

But there are side effects that are more immediately apparent than a change in your hair structure. Some women have experienced burnt hair and hair loss, others tend to end up with drier hair than before. But the women who have suffered only damaged hair can count themselves lucky, as these treatments can also cause damage to our health. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, breathing in formaldehyde can cause allergic reactions to the skin, eyes and lungs, asthma, and even blindness, if you get it in your eyes.

Chemical Smoothing Treatments Contain High Levels of Toxic Ingredients

It is safe to say that formaldehyde – used in many keratin treatments – is not good to be around. “In general, every client and stylist [exposed to keratin chemicals] complains of burning eyes, difficulty breathing, and burning sensations,” stylist Kelly Merriman told Cosmopolitan in a recent interview. Customers that have gone through this type of treatments have also complained of throat and mouth ulcers, dizziness, headaches, flu-like symptoms like vomiting, eye damage, loss of taste and smell, and fatigue, according to the Environmental Working Group, EWG. And because exposure is added over time, hair stylists are even more likely to suffer from serious symptoms.

While the chemical is not supposed to touch anything but the actual hair during the procedure, accidental skin contact can cause blisters or rashes on the scalp, face and neck. But that is just in the short term. Formaldehyde is also a known carcinogen, which means it is proven to cause cancer in humans. Higher levels and prolonged exposure pose greater risks. This might explain why hair straightening products containing the chemical are already outlawed in some countries such as Canada, France, and Ireland. This should clearly make the appeal of natural solutions even bigger.

“Formaldehyde-free” Hair Chemicals Can Still Contain or Release the Ingredient

An investigation made in 2011 by the EWG found that formaldehyde-free products can still contain the chemical. Out of the 16 companies that make hair-straightening products that the EWG tested, none included formaldehyde in their product ingredient list, but all of them did contain high levels of the dangerous chemical. In fact – all 16 companies exceeded safety limits set by the industry safety panel, Cosmetic Ingredient Review. The way they get away with it is by claiming that when formaldehyde is mixed with water, a new chemical called methylene glycol is created. For a list of all ingredients to keep an eye out for, as they are all other names for formaldehyde, check Nutrafol’s article about the Brazilian blowout.

Chemically Treated Hair Can Continue to Release Toxins After You Leave the Salon

Using a curling iron, straightening iron or a blow-dryer after you go home could release irritating fumes long after you leave the salon. This is because some ingredients used in chemical treatments are not formaldehyde per se, but will form formaldehyde when heated up.

Natural Treatments Are Always Safer

Even though it is not the same as a straightening procedure, trying a natural dietary supplement can have a great impact on your hair quality and hair health. You might feel that it is enough, and that putting your hair and health in danger for a chemical smoothing treatment is just not worth the risk. When going for an all-natural solution, you do not have to worry about what possibly harmful chemicals you are exposing your hair to.

Plant-based supplements do not have the synthetic fillers and toxic chemicals that are common in other supplements and treatments. One of the most desirable traits of plant-based supplements is that you know what you get. There are also natural hair treatment options that can do the job, if they contain keratin but no harmful chemicals. But simple homemade treatments like coconut oil or an avocado mask can also make your hair shiny and happy.

Exposure to Hair Dye Could Cause Cancer, Studies Suggest

bleach blonde

on July 8, 2017

A lot of us choose to dye our hair to get a new look or cover grey hairs, but according to the American Cancer Society, some studies suggest that being exposed to hair dye could cause cancer. The problem seems to be more common among hair stylists, who are frequently in touch with the dyes. It is not as common for customers who have their hair done. But it could still be harmful to breath in the fumes from a chemical dye.

Different Hair Dyes

There are a few distinctions to keep in mind. There are three types of hair dyes that are commonly used; temporary dyes, semi-permanent dyes, and permanent ones. The temporary ones are not strong enough to completely penetrate the hair shaft, but the other two are. It is the permanent hair dye that will cause a lasting chemical change in your hair. But they are also the most commonly used, as the color will last until new hair grows out.

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These types of hair dyes officially go under the name coal-tar hair dyes. That is hailing back to the days when the ingredients actually came from the coal industry. Today, many hair dyes are mainly made from petroleum, but the name is still used. Hair dyes like these do not need FDA approval to be used, unless it lacks the necessary caution label or it contains an ingredient other than the coal-tar dye that is harmful.

When it comes to cancer, the FDA issued a special warning regarding two ingredients that were found to cause cancer in animals in the 1980’s. Since then, those ingredients are no longer used in hair dyes.

Studies Suggest Link Between Hair Dyes and Cancer

However, some studies do show that hair dyes can cause cancer. These studies are typically conducted in one of two ways. The first is in a lab where animals are exposed to the substance being researched. The second is by looking at cancer rates in different groups of people. Some studies use both ways to be sure of the results.

Most of the studies looking into cancer in humans are focused on certain types of cancer. The most commonly researched cancers are bladder cancer, breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or leukemia. It is important to point out that the people who run the highest risk of getting diagnosed are those who regularly dye their hair, or hair stylists who are exposed to these chemicals at work.

There have been mixed results from the studies, but according to the American Cancer Society, these are the main points.

  • Studies focusing on people who get in contact with hair dyes at work show a small, but consistent, increased risk of getting bladder cancer.
  • Some studies focusing on links between people who dye their hair and leukemia or lymphomas show a higher risk. That is especially if the people started using hair dyes before 1980 and/or use darker colors. However, some other studies have not seen an increased risk. That means the risk of getting a blood cancer like the types mentioned is probably low, but in general, older types of hair dye are worse than modern ones.
  • Studies looking into breast cancer have not found any consistent results of an increased risk.
  • For other types of cancer, there are yet too few studies to draw conclusions.

Hair Dyes Can Cause Other Irritations

It is important to remember that being exposed to hair dyes can also cause other irritations, like allergic reactions or hair loss. If possible, it is always a better idea to choose a hair dye with as many natural ingredients as possible. Back in the day, many hair dyes used formaldehyde, which has been classified as a carcinogen since 1987. Considering it is the same liquid that is used to embalm animals and turn them into preserved mounts, it is probably good news that it is no longer used.

Hair dyes are not that good for our hair no matter how much you try to have it done in a risk-free way. So make sure to go to a colorist who knows what he or she is doing. This is especially important if you have very dark hair that requires many stages of bleaching and coloring, or if your hair is thin and sensitive.

Text by Emma von Zeipel

Are Keratin Treatments Dangerous? These Are the Facts


on June 23, 2017

A keratin treatment is an increasingly popular way of achieving smooth and shiny hair even when it is humid out. When summer comes, hair tends to frizz up and get out of hand. This treatment has gained wide popularity among women, but it turns out it might not be a great idea.

This treatment also goes by the name Brazilian blowout, Brazilian keratin treatment or a straightening treatment. But back in December of 2016, the Environmental Working Group together with Women’s Voices for the Earth filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration. It cited the agency’s “failure to protect the public from dangers associated with popular hair straightening treatment.”

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What is This About?

Keratin is the protein that the hair is made up of, consisting of eight amino acids. It plays an important role in our hair growth and hair regeneration. So adding more keratin to hair logically makes the hair stronger and improves the quality of damaged hair.

Traditional keratin treatments used to contain formaldehyde, the chemical that is commonly used in building materials and in the production of household products. The lawsuit alleges that the FDA has done too little to protect people from this chemical, as it has been aware for years that keratin treatments can cause severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, eye irritation and nosebleeds in the stylist that is frequently exposed to it.

So to try making keratin treatments popular again, stylists started promoting theirs as a “formaldehyde-free” treatment. Instead they used methylene glycol. However, that is not much better. It is simply diluted with water. “The use of methylene glycol is a ploy to avoid the use of formaldehyde,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist from EWG in a recent interview.

And as the formaldehyde gets released in the air with heat, using the methylene glycol has the exact same effect as the traditional one. Once the stylist blow-dries the hair or uses any other heat tool, the chemicals are out in the open. Even clients, who are not as frequently in contact with the mixture as the stylists, have reported symptoms.

How a Keratin Treatment Works

But to some people, the risks are worth it. Even though formaldehyde has been linked to cancer, the results of a keratin treatment are pretty spectacular. With age and the use of many products, hair can become very porous. This is what makes hair frizzy which can lead to tangles and breakage. “Your hair is made up of keratin, so the treatment is putting the protein back into the hair, which is often lost due to age and chemical services,” said stylist Abraham Sprinkle.

However, you have to be careful. If you have very fine and straight hair, it is not much help. Curly or frizzy hair will see the most results. And if you are blonde, certain mixtures can affect you hair color, as not all formulas are made the exact same way.

  • You will have to go through a pre-treatment that removes buildup and prepares the hair cuticle. This involves a clarifying shampoo.
  • Keratin is applied to the hair with a brush and penetrates the cuticle. It will strengthen the keratin bonds in the hair and make it smooth. To avoid oversaturation, a fine-toothed comb can be used to distribute the mixture. This normally takes between 10 and 15 minutes.
  • After that, the hair is styled to turn it into the requested shape, usually with a blow-dryer and hair straightener. Just think about not using too high heat.
  • Afterwards, use a special type of shampoo to maintain the smooth silkiness for as long as possible. Also wait with washing it for at least 48 hours, and do not put it up in a ponytail for the same period of time.

The Healthy Options

If you do opt for a keratin treatment, pick one that is definitely free from formaldehyde. Some go the old-fashioned way and use silk from silkworms, and some you can even do yourself at home. You will not only spare your own health and the environment, but also the health of your stylist.

Can Fluoride in Water Really Affect Your Hair Health?

Fluoride in Water

The danger of added fluoride in water has been debated for a long time. Most countries in Europe and the rest of the world do not add fluoride to drinking water. India, China and some parts in Africa, have naturally high fluoride levels in their water. However, these countries are now discarding it due to health risks. The U.S. on the other hand adds fluoride to its tap water, and opinions about this differ. Is fluoride really dangerous, and how does it contribute to hair loss?

Arguments For Not Having Fluoride in Water

The Durango Herald recently published a letter by Doctor Dennis O’Brien. O’Brien’s letter stated a significant difference in patients exposed to fluoridated water compared to those who had not.
For 23 years, O’Brien lived between Vancouver, Washington, that adds fluoride to its water, and Portland, Oregon, that does not. About half of his patients came from each side of the river. According to O’Brien, the majority of the patients that experienced problems with their thyroid lived in Vancouver.

This observation, in accordance with several studies on the subject matter, proves a connection between consumption of fluoride and different thyroid diseases. But there are many more health issues to consider. A 2014 study published in the Scientific World Journal showed that fluoride in children could affect their cognitive development negatively and actually alter their IQ. Further, the only proven effect fluoride has on teeth is in contributing to the prevention of caries. But this only happens when applied topically to the teeth, not when you consume fluoride in water. In fact, research shows that too much fluoride could cause dental fluorosis, a very common disorder where white patches appear on the teeth. But if you have severe fluorosis, your teeth will go brown and get corroded. In cases where people have a very high intake of fluoride, this disorder can spread to the skeleton.

Fluoride Awareness

The Fluoride Action Network is a group that seeks to broaden awareness about the effects of fluoride. According to the group, it is unethical to add fluoride to tap water since it is classed as a drug by the FDA. But residents in a community have no choice whether they want it or not. There is also no way to control how much a person receives, as some people drink more water than others. And for mothers who do not breastfeed, the fluoride will end up in the baby’s bottle. As mother’s milk contains very low levels of fluoride naturally, this poses a significant risk for a baby.

In fact, in 2010 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Dental Association (ADA) issued recommendations for parents to infants younger than a year to avoid fluoride because of all the issues above.

Fluoride in Water
Adding fluoride in water is a debated issue. Although it is good for the teeth, too much can be harmful and have a negative impact on our health.

Links Between Thyroid Disease and Hair Loss

Nutrafol has previously written about the proven link between thyroid disease and hair loss. According to a 2014 study by British scientists, higher levels of fluoride in water do contribute to a higher prevalence of hypothyroidism. This is a common disorder where your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. The symptoms of the disorder include depression, fatigue, dry skin, constipation, weight gain or weight loss or even hair loss.



Hair loss due to hypothyroidism is diffuse and affects the whole scalp. This means that you will notice your hair getting thinner all over. Low thyroid levels affect your metabolism, which is the cause of the common symptom of weight gain. But what many do not know is that this also affects your hair follicles. The follicles react by releasing the roots of the hairs to early and delay the growth of new hair. Because of the different stages in the hair growth cycle, you will only notice the hair loss a couple of months after your thyroid problems start. Normally it will get better as you treat the disease, but it can take a while. If you want to gain your hair back faster, a hair supplement is one way to complement the process.

Stay Healthy

No matter if you live in a state or country adding fluoride to drinking water or not, there are things you can do to stay healthy and maintain healthy hair. The most important thing is to live a balanced life. Get enough sleep, eat a varied, healthy diet with many fresh vegetables and grains, get plenty of exercise and fresh air, practice mindfulness and drink a lot of water. Other measures for reducing fluoride is to use a water filtering system. These filters not only remove fluoride in your drinking water, but also copper, mercury and cadmium.


Jake Guild via Flickr

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