The Ingredients You Probably Didn’t Realize Are In Your Hair Products

Aly Walansky
Organic grocery shopping

Image via BSIP/ Universal Images Group

When we wash and style our mane, we’re hoping for a great hair day. Maybe fabulous curls, great body, or increased volume. But what if we are giving ourselves a side dish of hair loss, breakage or even cancer? It’s no joke: Many of the ingredients we see in many hair products are downright dangerous. Be armed with this information before your next shopping foray – it’s better to know, than not know, right?

Sodium Laurel Sulfate
SLS is the agent in many shampoos that causes that foaming lather we covet from hair commercials. What you may not know is that exposing your hair to this chemical actually destroys it in the long run, stripping it of essential oils it needs to stay healthy, breaking down protein and halting healthy hair growth. Great. “Products containing SLS have a cleaning power that is overwhelming, stripping the hair. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant, emulsifier, and a harsh detergent added to literally thousands of cleaners and cosmetic products/ toiletries (shampoos, hair dyes, makeup, toothpaste, mouth wash, hand soaps, and laundry detergents). It’s actually derived from coconuts, but during the manufacturing process it undergoes “ethoxylation” that results in an unwanted  byproduct – 1,4 dioxane. This byproduct contamination is suspected to be a carcinogenic byproduct,” says  hair expert and restoration specialist, Dr. Robert Dorin, Medical Director  of True and Dorin Medical Group.

MORE: How to Find Truly Natural Beauty Products

Sodium Chloride
Sodium chloride, which you may know better as table salt, is used as a thickener in shampoos and conditioners containing sodium lauryl sulfate. “Sodium Chloride may also be the cause of dry and itchy scalp in addition to hair loss,” says Dr. Dorin. Also, if you do keratin treatments, avoid sodium chloride. It undoes the process faster.

Polyethelyne glycol or PEG/Polyethelyne, or Polyoxyethelyne
This ingredient is included in shampoos as a thickening agent. It can strip hair and skin of their natural moisture.

MORE: What to Look Out For In Organic Hair Care Products

Mineral Oil
Mineral Oil, or baby oil, is also used in many hair products because it can make hair look shiny and feel soft. That’s great, right? “The name is somewhat deceiving because, unlike mineral makeup, there’s nothing good or natural about Mineral Oil. It’s a petrochemical derived from the same oil that we use to fuel our cars, and if the thought of using engine oil on your hair is not appealing, then the use of its cousin Mineral Oil shouldn’t be appealing either,” says  Juan Pinto, green product expert and co-owner of Balanced Guru. “Silicones are creepy not because of their toxicity but because they are deceiving. There are a lot of products that claim to be Argan or Macadamia Oil for hair, but all it takes is one quick look at the ingredient list to determine that Argan or Macadamia are usually one of the last ingredients, meaning their concentration is usually less than 5%. Silicones are at the top of the ingredient list and usually account for over 90% of the contents,” says Pinto.

Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA)
“Products containing DEA or TEA can cause scalp irritation and even bad allergic reactions and they also destroy all the good stuff in your hair (such as keratin) making your hair dry, brittle and lifeless,” says Dr. Dorin.

Parabens like Methylparaben and Propylparaben
Used to prolong shelf life of a hair product, parabens are chemicals that  are known for their toxic nature. “Parabens not only irritate the skin – which can make your scalp unhealthy – they can also affect your hormonal balance, which can result in hair loss,” says Dr. Dorin.

Found in some shampoos, excessive exposure to formaldehyde may cause some hair loss. It’s also a known potential carcinogen.

Almost all hair care products contain some form of alcohol, which can dry your hair out if used in high concentrations. “Stay clear of shampoos with alcohol listed as one of the first four ingredients as this means that there is  more in the product,” says Dr. Dorin.