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10 Toxic Ingredients To Avoid In Your Hair Products

We at Love Hair believe in loving your hair naturally. That's why Love Hair Pure Coconut Oil contains only one ingredient (pure Coconut Oil) with no additives or harmful ingredients that end up doing more bad than good.

But what about the rest of the cosmetic industry? Do other companies put the same emphasis on pure, natural, and organic ingredients? What chemicals are hiding in the shampoos and conditioners you use every day? We've created a definitive guide to toxic ingredients commonly found in hair products, which you should definitely avoid, for the sake of your hair and body's health.

Harmful Ingredients In Hair Products

1. Sulfates

Sulfates are cost-effective cleansing agents that are commonly found in shampoos because they are extremely effective at dissolving oil, leaving your scalp and hair with that squeaky clean feeling. When applied to wet hair, sulfate shampoos will lather up nicely with a foaming effect that finds its way into every greasy haired girl’s heart. Sulfates are the reason why we’ve come to associate foaming lather with being clean. Although sulfates are considered safe to use in hair products, we recommend for you to opt for sulfate-free shampoos instead. Sulfates are an aggressive chemical that is extremely drying to your hair as it strips away  all your hair and scalp of its natural oils. Overtime, your hair will weaken, and end up looking dull, and become very prone to damage, breakage, and split ends.

Common sulfates: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

2. Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a cost-efficient, moisturizing oil that is used in many different cosmetic formulations. When used in hair treatments, mineral oil has the ability to restore shine, reduce tangles, and prevent split ends. While mineral oil works well as a protective, glossy coating for the hair, it can’t actually penetrate the hair fibre and therefore won’t be effective at treating existing damage. If you are looking for an oil that will be more effective at preventing the loss of essential hair proteins, then we suggest looking for conditioners or leave-in products that contain Coconut Oil instead, as plant oils generally offer far more additional benefits than mineral oil. Better yet, opt for a jar of pure, 100% Coconut Oil as it acts as a moisturizer for your hair and is actually absorbed deep into your hair unlike mineral oil. Whether your hair is damaged or relatively undamaged, Coconut Oil is one of the most effective natural ingredients for maintaining healthy hair by preventing protein loss.

3. Parabens

Parabens are preservatives used to prevent the growth of bacteria in your cosmetic formulations. In 2004, a study found large amounts of parabens in the tumours of cancer patients, however, researchers were unable to confirm why or how this happened. Despite there being no further research that proves parabens in cosmetics directly cause cancer, we still can’t conclusively make the statement that they don’t. While science is rarely (if ever) conclusive, most of the existing research on the cosmetic use of parabens tells us that they are completely safe to use. But if you’d rather be safe than sorry, then look for hair products that are paraben-free.

Common parabens: methyl-paraben, propyl-paraben, parahydroxybenzoate

4. Denatured Alcohols

Denatured alcohols are a category of cosmetic ingredients that can be drying to the scalp if applied too frequently at higher concentrations, s. So it’s best to avoid any hair products that have alcohol listed as one of the first ingredients. While these alcohols are technically safe for use in cosmetics, avoiding drying ingredients will help your hair and scalp stay healthy and hydrated in the long-term.

Common denatured alcohols: Alcohol Denat, SD Alcohol 3-A, SD Alcohol 30,  SD Alcohol 39-B, SD Alcohol 39-C, SD Alcohol 40-B, SD Alcohol 40-C.

5. Synthetic Fragrances

Fragrances are known to lead to a range of skin reactions, whether that be redness, itching, hives, or dermatitis. When “fragrance” is listed on the ingredients list, proceed with caution. The label does not legally have to list what that compound is actually composed of, which means there are often an array of potential irritants hidden in any artificially fragranced formulation. More than 95 percent of the chemicals in synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals. While fragranced hair products are undoubtedly experience-enhancing, you may want to look for fragrance-free shampoos and hair masks if you are prone to scalp sensitivity. On the other hand, you can still use fragranced products on the ends of your hair without too much concern for irritation.

Also-known-as: fragrance, parfum

6. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is an ingredient that is currently under investigation for its potential safety concerns. It is a vapour that can be found in hair products for smoothing, growing, and/or cleansing. Traces of this ingredient can also be found in other ingredients (i.e. cleansing agents like laurel sulfate and, keratin treatment ingredients like methylenemethilene glycol or glyoxylic acid), wherein it may have been used as a preservative. When used in very small concentrations, formaldehyde is considered safe to use in cosmetics (but could still be potentially sensitive to zing the scalp and skin.)

When formaldehyde is used to formulate other compounds, it does not legally need to be listed on the ingredients list — which means even products that are marketed as “formaldehyde-free” may still have the ability to have potentially harmful effects when used under certain conditions.

Formaledyde is currently on the Canadian Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist and you can view restrictions for its use here.

Harmful ingredients in hair products

7. Coal Tar

Coal tar-derived dyes are used to give artificial colour to cosmetics, including hair dyes. These petroleum-derived colours can contain a variety of other chemicals and metals like aluminum substrate, which have been linked to cancer and brain damage. Due to the high potential for irritation, most coal tar dyes are banned and cannot be used in cosmetic formulations in Canada. But if you are shopping for hair dye online from a non-Canadian company, be sure to check the ingredients list before checking out.

Also-known-as: P-phenylenediamine, C.I. (followed by a five digit number), FD&C or D&C (followed by a colour name and number)

8. Silicones

Many people have a love/hate relationship with the use of silicones in their beauty products. When used in conditioners and styling products, silicones act like a protective seal by coating the strands and leave your hair with a glossy, smooth finish. Silicones are emollient slip agents that are great for locking in moisture and giving the hair an instantaneous (but artificial) silky, shine. Silicones will weigh your hair down, and since it adds an exterior seal to our hair cuticles, it prevents moisture from penetrating the hair shaft which will end up drying out your hair overtime. However, if you are looking for a longer term solution to nourish your dry, damaged hair, then using a conditioner, hair mask or serum that contains cold-pressed, plant-derived oils will give you healthier, luscious locks over time. Oils that are great for using in your hair include Coconut Oil, moroccan argan oil, and marula oil. Look for hair products that have these plant oils higher up on the ingredients list and avoid ones that contain primarily silicones if you want more than just an instant fix.

Common silicones: Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone,, Phenyl trimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Cyclohexasiloxane.

9. Phthalates

A wide rage of ingredients are classified as phthalates and each type will have its own benefits and regulations. In cosmetic formulations, phthalates are often used to dissolve other ingredients, improve texture, and can be added to artificial fragrance recipes to make the scent of the product wear longer throughout the day. The current research suggests that exposure to one phthalate, DEHP (also-known-as bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), can be harmful to human health, and luckily, the Canadian government has already banned its use in cosmetics. Under current law in the US however, manufacturers are not required to list phthalates in their labels. Any item simply listed as “fragrance” in hair care products usually contains phthalates.

While other phthalates may still be found in your hair products, no conclusive studies have shown that they’ll impose any health risks. If you prefer to avoid phthalates altogether, we suggest looking for hair products that are labelled fragrance and phthalate-free — otherwise you can always contact the beauty company to confirm the ingredient details.

Harmful ingredients in hair products

10. Para-Phenylenediamine (PPD)

PPD is the chemical compound that is found in most permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes from the drugstore or salon. When PPD comes in contact with the skin, it is known to potentially cause allergic reactions and increase UV sensitivity. While PPD can still be found in most traditional hair dyes, it should definitely be avoided by anyone who is prone to scalp sensitivity. If you are using an at-home hair dye that contains PPD, be sure to follow the instructions carefully and do a test patch first.

These toxic ingredients are found in almost all drugstore hair products and even in higher-end, top salon hair products! While some products claim natural benefits, we urge you to take matters into your own hands, do your research, and be sure that the products you use on your precious tresses meet your standards. 

Written by: Jynessa Marczuk

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