In recent years, we’ve all become more conscious about what we put into our bodies. To the point that toxin-free and cruelty-free badges have become the norm rather than the exception in certain product categories.
But when it comes to hair products, many of us are still focusing on getting the desired short-term effect, not worrying about the harmful side effects of the bad ingredients in our shampoos. As if not putting it in but onto our bodies would make them any less dangerous.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Here is the list of the top 11 bad shampoo ingredients you should avoid shampoo – and why.
Sulfates are a common component of supermarket-grade shampoos. And one of the worst shampoo ingredients. They are potent detergents that, through a chemical reaction, take off all the residue from your scalp. But doing so, they also scrape off all the naturally present sebum and oils. In turn, this harsh rinse damages your hair, making it brittle and more prone to frizz, ultimately even leading to hair loss.
Sulfate isn’t a single shampoo ingredient. It’s a category of detergents commonly used in many beauty products. The two most common ones, and at the same time, the ones you should avoid most, are:
- Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
This is the most common harmful sulfate found in shampoos. Its job is to rinse your hair of residues like dead cells, smog, and the like. Too bad it also strips your scalp of all the beneficial protective oils you need to keep your hair strong and shiny.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
SLS works the same way as his brother SLES. But in addition, it’s the compound creating that nice lathering foam many of us love. Unfortunately, SLES is also the culprit behind possible toxic side effects in the body.
What do sulfates do to colored hair?
SLS and SLES can be particularly aggressive on color-treated and keratin-treated hair. That’s because, during hair coloring or a professional keratin treatment, your hair can become thinner and more brittle. This makes it become more prone to hair frizz and split ends.
All the more reason you should always avoid shampoos containing salt or sulfates after your coloring or keratin touch-up.
2: Sodium Chloride
What is Sodium Chloride, and Why is it Used in Shampoos?
Sodium Chloride is the chemical name for common table salt. Since it’s a relatively inexpensive ingredient, it’s an easy and cheap way to thicken hair products like shampoos and conditioners. Otherwise, they would be water-thin.
Is sodium chloride in shampoos bad for hair?
Since sodium chloride is just common table salt, it’s not toxic for hair. However, it is one of the top-3 bad shampoo ingredients because it makes it more aggressive and more stripping — especially for color-treated or keratin-treated hair.
Which shampoos are sodium chloride-free?
Premium and professional shampoos are typically sodium chloride-free since they are more concerned with leaving your hair in better shape. This type of shampoo is also more concerned with protecting hair that has been color-treated or keratin-treated.
Parabens fall into the category of preservatives. Their main job is to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria, extending the shelf life of a product. You will find many different types of parabens listed as butylparaben, propylparaben, and methylparaben.
Parabens do not harm your hair directly. But they are a very harmful shampoo ingredient. In fact, many studies have shown that parabens mimic estrogen in your body and may speed up the growth of breast cancer cells. So this one is a definite no-no among bad shampoo ingredients, and you should avoid it in all your cosmetic products, not just in your hair care routine.
Phthalates help make your hair shampoo more spreadable and make the perfume stick to your hair.
On the downside, they disrupt your endocrine system, causing early puberty in girls and reducing sperm count in men. As if that wasn’t enough, phthalates are also very toxic to the environment.
Around five years ago, triclosan was banned from being used in antibacterial soap. But the irony is that it is still allowed to be used in your everyday shampoo. A chemical antibacterial agent, triclosan is known to cause hormonal disruptions, which can cause severe issues like cancer and developmental problems in fetuses.
6: Retinyl palmitate
Retinyl palmitate belongs to the family of retinoids, which are beneficial vitamins. However, it's a bad shampoo ingredient because when it gets into contact with your skin, this particular compound can cause itchiness, redness, scaling, and peeling. Some studies show it may also be the culprit behind cancers, reproductive issues, and toxicity in internal organs.
Keep your Chardonnay to your evening get-togethers. Alcohol in your shampoo is bad because it can dry up your scalp, causing irritation, flaky scalp, and other issues. Unfortunately, alcohol is often used in shampoos as a thickening agent.
8: Synthetic Fragrances
Reality check: you rose-smelling shampoo didn’t see a rose petal in its life. Most heavily scented shampoos use synthetic fragrances that cause asthma attacks, hair loss, and even cancer.
9: Synthetic Colors
Check the backside of your shampoo bottle. See an FD&C or D&C followed by a number? Put it back on the shelf and turn away. These acronyms stand for synthetic colors, which are usually derived from coal or petroleum. They make your shampoo look nice. But these shampoo ingredients are super-harmful for your health, too.
Another petroleum derivative, this nasty compound can cause birth defects and play with your immune system. Beware: toluene can often hide under the names of benzene, phenylmethane, toluol and methylbenzene.
11: Cocamidopropyl Betaine
It’s a natural foam-boosting ingredient, so you will often find it in “organic” and “natural” labeled shampoos. But don’t let that fool you. It’s often used in combination with dimethylaminopropylamine, which causes a myriad of skin irritations and allergies.
Bad Shampoo Ingredients: The Bottom Line
When it comes to harmful ingredients in shampoos, this list could be three times longer. What’s important to understand is that the harm these nasty compounds inflict may be more subtle than “just” damaging your hair. Just because you’re applying them on the surface doesn’t mean they can’t penetrate into your body. Your skin, by definition, is a porous organ which means it will absorb whatever you put on it.
But as they say, big changes start with small steps.
So, for now, make sure you do your hair – and your health – a massive favor by switching your shampoo to one that doesn’t contain all these unhealthy chemical ingredients.
Like this one, for instance: