This might come as a shock to you, but a lot of our cult-favorite hair products are actually causing more harm than good. So many ingredients in hair care from shampoo and conditioner (these are supposed to be nourishing, right?) to styling products make our hair look fab in the short term, but are wreaking havoc on our tresses from the core of each strand out, from scalp to tip. Read your labels, and keep an eye out for these sneaky ingredients.
There’s a reason many drugstore brands come to a satisfying foam when you suds up. Sulfates are a foaming agent, but can cause damage to the skin resulting in itchiness and irritation, rash, and lack of moisture to the top layers of the skin. They even weaken our immune system once absorbed into the body. They’re definitely not something you want to massage into the delicate skin on your head.
Pesky parabens are types of preservatives that can also cause irritation, and have even been linked to breast cancer. They are a known hormone disruptor, especially in women, because they mimic estrogen in the body and mess with our normal function. Not cool.
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
Typically used as a thickening agent in shampoos, PEGs are a hard no because they strip hair and the scalp of their natural moisture. That can cause irritation and a flaky scalp, under the guide of feeling luxurious to apply and making hair feel soft to the touch (at first). But PEGs can also be found in coloring products, and many of these PEGs contain toxic contaminants like ethylene oxide, a component in antifreeze.
Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)
Many people have allergic reactions to these chemicals, even subtly, over time, and misinterpret the symptoms for dandruff or dry scalp. They also strip your hair of natural keratin, making your mane frizzy and unmanageable—one of the reasons it makes it into the Beauty Schools Directory’s dirty dozen.
This ingredient is pretty standard in a lot of products, helping to stabilize the formula for a long shelf life without losing the ideal consistency. However, it’s also in wood shellac, varnish, and antifreeze, which should be a pretty good indicator of how drying and irritating it can be. It’s also super easily absorbed through our skin, and the skin on our scalp is delicate and thin.
This tricky one is derived from coconut oil, so we tend to brush it off and think it’s safe. However, it’s so far modified from its original form that it is completely toxic, and is deemed a known carcinogen with a high potential for irritation.
Silicones coat the hair shaft, making the hair gleam and feel shiny, soft, and healthy. However, it’s false advertising. They prevent the hair from absorbing other nutrients and generally suffocate it while clogging pores and follicles on the scalp. If used in a heat-protectant product, keep it as far from the scalp as possible to avoid causing icky buildup.