Clean products have gone from novelty to must-have as the industry continues to grow, and this goes for hair care too. While it’s way easier to find products that are natural and high performance these days, it’s still important to learn how to identify the main toxic ingredients used in conventional hair care products.
As with skincare and makeup, mainstream hair care hosts a wide variety of not-so-safe ingredients. That front label may tell you it’s “pure”, “natural”, or “healthy”, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so. The best way to tell what a product is made of
On the back of every hair care product bottle or packaging, there should be a full ingredient disclosure. Shopping online? Authentic natural brands want you to know the healthy ingredients they use to make their products and make them easy to find. If not, be wary.
Cosmetic ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance, just like food product labels. So, if a product is made mostly of jojoba oil, that will be the first ingredient on the list, and so on. You’ll usually find oils and water at the top, preservatives, and fragrance at the bottom.
Great to know, but if a listing is made up of barely decipherable terms, this does little good. Cosmetic ingredients often go by many names. Even natural ingredients listed by scientific name can look unfamiliar.
Since getting familiar with the main hair care offenders is the best way to ensure product safety, it’s essential to know what to look for on those ingredient listings. The following are the most commonly used toxic ingredients found in hair care and how to spot them on product labels.
Look for: Dimethicone is the most widely used silicone in cosmetics, but also look for
Natural alternatives to silicones: Coconut oil, mango, and cocoa butters, horsetail, and biotin all make hair soft, silky, and glossy looking.
Conventional shampoos use synthetic surfactants, like SLS and SLES, to provide that lush foam associated with super clean hair. Not only are these harsh ingredients unnecessary for a thorough cleanse, but strip natural oils from hair and often lead to dandruff, dry scalp, frizzy hair, skin and eye irritation, and allergic reaction. They are also penetration enhancers and make it easier for the body to absorb other toxins.
Look for: Sodium lauryl sulfate, SLS, sodium laureth sulfate, SLES, sodium lauryl ether sulfate, anhydrous sodium lauryl sulfate, and
Natural alternatives to synthetic surfactants: Castile soap,
Any product that is water-based must contain a preservative to keep from growing bacteria. Even if a mainstream hair care product claims to be paraben-free, it may still contain another type of synthetic preservative.
Look for: alkyl
Natural alternatives to synthetic preservatives: Vitamin E, tea tree essential oil, grapefruit essential oil, grapefruit seed extract, and antioxidants.
One of the most toxic cosmetic ingredient categories, artificial fragrance is not only detrimental to good health but can be particularly difficult to identify on product labels. Cosmetic manufacturers are not required to disclose their unique fragrance blends due to a trade secret loophole in labeling standards, and may simply list “fragrance” or “
Synthetic fragrance ingredients are linked to allergic reactions, skin irritation, headache, dizziness, hormonal disruption, nausea, asthma, and impaired fetal development. That sick feeling you get when you sniff test perfumes in the mall? That’s due to synthetic fragrance.
Look for: If a
Natural alternatives to artificial fragrance: Essential oils, floral waters and extracts, and botanicals.
Those brightly colored hair products most likely contain artificial color ingredients. Fake colorants are petroleum-derived and contain carcinogenic impurities shown to cause skin irritation, acne, and allergic reaction.
Look for: FD&C or D&C followed by a name and number, for example, FD&C RED NO. 40.
Natural alternatives to artificial colorants: Mineral pigments and plant-derived dyes.
Have this list of the most harmful toxic ingredients handy next time you shop for hair care. And remember, you don’t need harsh ingredients for gloriously healthy hair. Nature knows best.
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