You’ve likely realized by now all of the products you like to use in your hair may not be quite as safe as you’d assumed. Some hair products are bad for your health, and your hair dye may be damaging your hair. You can’t walk into a salon (or walk down the hair care aisle at Target) without encountering some potentially dangerous chemicals, either.
But you’re still going to style your hair. So which products do you need to avoid in order to tame your bedhead or achieve the texture of your dreams? Read on to learn about the types of hair products that you absolutely shouldn’t use on your hair.
1. Products that contain short-chain alcohols
Hair products that are formulated with isopropyl alcohol can strip your hair of moisture, which is particularly bad if you have dry hair or curly hair. As Tonya McKay reports for Naturally Curly, isopropyl alcohol is one of a number of short-chain alcohols — a group that also includes ethanol, SD alcohol, SD alcohol 40, alcohol denat, propanol, and propyl alcohol. These chemicals are similar to water molecules and can dissolve oil and other ingredients that don’t mix with water. If you’re concerned about your curly, dry, or frizzy hair, it’s best to avoid products with short-chain alcohols.
2. Products with propylene glycol
Another ingredient you’ll want to avoid in shampoo, conditioner, hair dye, and styling products is propylene glycol. The Environmental Working Group notes propylene glycol is a small organic alcohol that’s commonly used as a conditioning agent but is classified as a skin irritant. It’s associated with allergic contact dermatitis, and those sensitization effects can appear at glycol concentrations as low as 2%.
3. Products containing fragrances
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 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. You may want to consider fragrance-free hair products, particularly if you’re prone to allergies.
4. Products that contain parabens
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. The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety has found these longer chain parabens and their branched counterparts can disrupt the endocrine system and lead to reproductive and development disorders.
5. Products that include sulfates
Consistently cleaning your hair with harsh detergents can dry it out and cause frizz in the long run. But Paula’s Choice reports it’s not just sulfates that can be drying and damaging. Sodium lauryl sulfate is one of the more sensitizing cleansing agents, and you’ll likely want to avoid products where it’s high on the ingredient list. Even if sulfates don’t pose a significant health risk, plenty of people find these chemicals dry out their hair, skin, or scalp, and even strip away color.
6. Products with triclosan
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 EWG notes they’re also “often found as contaminants in people.” Triclosan disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones, and overuse of triclosan-containing products may promote the development of bacterial resistance.
7. Products containing phthalates
Nutrition coach Vanessa Cunningham reports for The Huffington Post you’ll also want to avoid products with 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 both males and females. What’s particularly dangerous about phthalates is their inclusion isn’t disclosed on every product, since phthalates are added to fragrances.
8. Products that are otherwise great, but wrong for your hair type
As Taylor Bryant reports for Refinery29, you need to consider your hair texture, density, and porosity when choosing hair products. For instance, oils like argan, coconut, and olive are popular, but aren’t well-suited for those with fine hair, and can leave fine hair flat and limp. Mineral oil can cause heavy buildup on thick hair, and any product that leaves residue in hair is a bad choice for thick hair. Ingredients that can strip the hair of moisture, including sulfates and silicones, are a bad match for curly hair. Similarly, products that lather thanks to sulfates or products that give shine thanks to ingredients ending in “cone” are bad choices for curly hair.