9 Hair Products That Can Be Bad for Your Health

While we all do our best to choose beauty products that will give us good results without undermining our skin or hair health, brand marketing sometimes makes it difficult to choose the right ones. There are several types of makeup, for instance, that can cause breakouts. Not only are these skin issues an annoyance, but they also signal your skin’s health has been compromised.

Similarly, there are some hair products that aren’t as wonderful as their manufacturers would have you believe. It’s time to look into the types of hair products that can be bad for your hair and your health. Check out the labels on your favorite products, and make sure that there isn’t anything on your vanity that shouldn’t be there.

1. Dark, permanent hair dye

A hairdresser places on a model a blue dyed natural extension at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week

This type of hair dye is unhealthy. | Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The Environmental Working Group recommends minimizing your use of dark, permanent hair dyes. That’s because many such hair products contain coal tar ingredients, like aminophenol, diaminobenzene, and phenylenediamine, which have been linked to cancer. Coal tar is a byproduct of coal processing and is recognized by the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a human carcinogen. Because hairstylists and other professionals are exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis, European regulators have banned many of these ingredients in hair dyes. The FDA sanctions the use of coal tar in specialty products, like dandruff and psoriasis shampoos, but the long-term safety of these products hasn’t yet been verified.

2. Products containing fragrance

A model prepares backstage at the Yigal Azrouel Fall 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Studio at Lincoln Center on February 16, 2011 in New York City.

Hair products containing fragrance should be avoided. | Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Though it’s one of the most ubiquitous ingredients in hair products, fragrance is actually an ingredient you want to avoid when possible. A product that lists “fragrance” as an ingredient could be talking about thousands of different, separate ingredients, so it’s impossible to tell whether that includes something that you may be allergic or sensitive to. Federal law doesn’t require companies to list any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture. Research from the EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals not listed on the label in 17 name-brand fragrance products. Even worse is the fact that fragrances can contain hormone disruptors, and are among the top five allergens in the world. If you can opt for fragrance-free hair products, it’s a good idea.

3. Chemical hair straighteners

Hairdresser Arzu uses a hair straightener as she dresses a client's hair on August 8, 2012 at the Dry Bar in Berlin. The shop offers to make different blow-dried hairstyles, according to a new trend coming from the US. AFP PHOTO / BRITTA PEDERSEN GERMANY OUT

Skip the chemical straightening. | Britta Pedersen/AFP/GettyImages

The EWG also recommends avoiding chemical hair straightening treatments, which often use harsh or toxic chemicals and “make misleading safety claims.” While many people think it’s hairstylists, not their clients, who should actually be worried about exposure to these products, the EWG still recommends avoiding chemical hair straighteners, particularly keratin treatments. In fact, some of these products use formaldehyde, a preservative that’s considered a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, for its hair-stiffening action.

4. Products that contain parabens

A model prepares backstage before the Richard Nicoll fashion show as part of London Fashion Week at the Top Shop show space on February 21, 2010 in London, England

Parabens are dangerous. | Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Many hair products include parabens, which are estrogen-mimicking preservatives used widely in the cosmetics industry. Propyl-, Isopropyl-, Butyl-, and Isobutyl- parabens are the ones to avoid, since the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products has found that these longer chain parabens and their branched counterparts can disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and development disorders.

5. Hair color or bleach that contains resorcinol

A guest had their hair styled at the TRESemme Salon at Moynihan Station on February 13, 2016 in New York City.

Watch out for this ingredient. | Donald Bowers/Getty Images

Resorcinol is a common ingredient in hair color and bleaching products, despite the fact that it’s a known skin irritant, it’s toxic to the immune system and is often responsible for allergies. (So you can thank resorcinol for the annoying patch test you need to complete every time you want to touch up your roots at home.) In animal studies, resorcinol has been demonstrated to disrupt thyroid function. The EWG notes that the federal government regulates exposure to resorcinol in the workplace, but doesn’t restrict its use in personal care products, including hair products.

6. Hair products that include triclosan

This photograph taken on July 29, 2013 shows a hairdresser washing the hair of a client at a salon in Taipei.

Here’s another ingredient to stay away from. | Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images

Though it’s more common in soaps, some shampoos and hairsprays include triclosan or triclocarban, which are antimicrobial pesticides. They’re toxic to the aquatic environments they contaminate, but the EWG notes that they’re also “often found as contaminants in people.” Triclosan disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones, and overuse of triclosan-containing products can promote the development of bacterial resistance.

7. Products that contain phthalates

Lead hair stylist Stephanie Hayes uses Batiste Dry Shampoo backstage at the Charlotte Ronson Fall 2014 Presentation during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Hub at The Hudson Hotel on February 7, 2014 in New York City.

This ingredient can affect your hormone levels. | Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Nutrition coach Vanessa Cunningham reports for The Huffington Post that another toxic ingredient to avoid in your hair products is phthalates. These chemicals increase the flexibility and softness of plastics and are often found in the form of dimethyl phthalate in hair spray. The problem is that phthalates are known to be endocrine disruptors, and have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls, and reproductive birth defects in males and females. What’s particularly dangerous about phthalates is that their inclusion isn’t disclosed on every product, since phthalates are added to fragrances.

8. Sodium lauryl- or laureth sulfate-based products

 A Hari's salon employee has her hair rinsed after application of the bull semen and katera treatment at Hari's Salon on February 6, 2007 in London, England. A new, alternative and intense conditioning treatment at a Chelsea hair salon, Hari?s uses organic pedigree Angus bull semen, fresh from Brooklet Farm in Cheshire. The substance?s pure protein, combined with katera, a protein-rich plant root, penetrates each shaft and deeply nourishes the hair.

Avoid sulfates at all costs. | Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate are surfactants that the same story from The Huffington Post reports are found in more than 90% of personal care and cleansing products, particularly those that foam. SLSs are known skin, lung, and eye irritants, and have the potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, known carcinogens. These combinations can lead to issues like kidney and respiratory damage. SLSs are found in many products, including shampoo.

9. Silicone- or alcohol-based hair products

A guest had their hair styled at the TRESemme Salon at Moynihan Station on February 13, 2016 in New York City.

You won’t be doing your hair any favors with these harsh products. | Donald Bowers/Getty Images

Silicone or alcohol-based products may not come with the same health risks as many of the other hair products that made the list. But they’re certainly bad for the health of your hair. Silicone products create the illusion of healthy hair by imparting shine while drying out your hair by preventing the ingredients in your conditioner from penetrating. And alcohol-based products are similarly drying — not good when it comes to styling your hair. As experts tell The Coveteur, the lack of moisture caused by silicones can make your hair brittle, which can lead to frizz and breakage.

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