15 Harmful Shampoo Ingredients to Avoid

harmful shampoo ingredients

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.

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 ingredient list it appears, the more of it 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.

Harmful shampoo
Do you know all of your shampoo ingredients? Some of the ingredients in your favorite shampoo can be harmful to you.

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 things from your kitchen. If you are suffering from hair loss or unhealthy hair growth and think chemicals such as the ones mentioned above may 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.

Nutrafol lathered down two of the most common shampoo ingredients

sulfate-free shampoo

The latest buzzwords in beauty are paraben and sulfate, but it seems that nobody really tells you the reasons why. Why are parabens bad for you? Or sulfates? Why is it not good to have them as shampoo ingredients?

It’s known to us that we need to avoid them and many products today now include that statement in their marketing. But is the sulfate-free and paraben-free really that much better? Let us present the real down-low on parabens and sulfates before you decide which shampoo ingredients are bad for your hair and which are not.

They are chemicals found in beauty products

Parabens are chemicals that have been used since the 1950s to prevent bacteria. They act as a preservative in deodorants, lotions, lipsticks, shampoos, scrubs, and more. Sulfates, on the other hand, are effective cleansing and foaming agents. They can be found in toothpaste, shampoo and body washes, among other products.

They might be harmful

Yes, unfortunately studies have shown that some parabens can mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen in the body’s cells. Some estrogenic activity is associated with certain forms of breast cancer, and parabens have been found present in breast tumors. So…what about sulfates, then? Sulfates have many scientists concerned because they have been found to break down proteins, which can lead to a degenerative effect on cell membranes.

But – it has not been proven

Sulfate and Paraben
Sulfates may cause skin irritation and a dry scalp.

So far there is no scientific evidence to prove that parabens are linked to cancer. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review says that it is safe in up to a maximum concentration of 50 percent if they are properly rinsed off the skin.

Apply the safe not sorry routine

If you’re sweating just over the thought of using products that contain these chemicals – switch to something else. There’s a wide range of beauty products that are paraben- and sulfate-free. So how about ditching and switching?

Sulfate is not good if you want to keep your hair healthy

They can cause a number of problems such as drying out your hair, irritating your scalp, fading your color and in some cases even leading to hair loss.

Sulfate-free products are not necessarily better

The role sulfates play in your shampoo is to get rid of any build-up in your hair. However, with that they also take away natural oils, leaving your hair rough and dry. It’s important to keep in mind that just because a product is sulfate-free, it doesn’t mean that you still won’t run into these problems. Many beauty companies have swapped out sulfates for other chemicals, which in some cases can be even worse. So to make sure that sulfate-free products will not damage your hair, too – look for alternatives that use fruit or vegetable-based cleansing ingredients.

Use with a hint of self-control

Whatever you decide to do, balance and moderation is key. Rotate between different products to give your hair some rest every now and then.