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Cosmetics and skin care products usually contain chemicals that can damage the quality of your skin in the long run. The same applies to hair care products.
Many shampoos and conditioners come with ingredients that are too harsh for your hair and scalp. These toxic elements can dry out your hair and scalp, trigger or worsen various dermatological and medical conditions, and even be carcinogenic with repeated use.
Here’s a list of harmful ingredients commonly used in hair products that you need to look out for:
Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are foaming agents or surfactants that are commonly added to shampoos and conditioners. They react with water to produce lather, which gives these hair products their cleansing effect.
But sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate can have many detrimental effects. Sulfates strip the natural lipids from your hair and scalp, leaving them utterly dry. Dry hair is prone to splitting or breaking, whereas dry scalp is prone to flaking and irritation. (1)(2) They can also trigger scalp inflammation and exacerbate preexisting skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea.
People with sensitive skin may even develop contact dermatitis after prolonged use of these chemicals on their scalp. In fact, sulfates are classified as potent allergens for this very reason. (3)
Sulfates can also damage your hair follicles to such an extent that they may not be able to produce new hair, which can lead to hair thinning. Moreover, these harsh chemicals can cause eye irritation and damage, especially in babies and young children.
Parabens are chemical preservatives that are commonly used in beauty and hair care products to extend their shelf life. They do so by preventing the growth of microbes in these products.
While parabens do serve an important function, they have many harmful side effects. They are swiftly absorbed into the skin and often trigger an allergic or inflammatory response, which can cause irritation and even contact dermatitis after repeated use.
Once inside the body, parabens mimic the activity of estrogen, which is the main female hormone. Thus, increased absorption of parabens can cause hormonal fluctuations, which adversely affect menstruation and pregnancies. Lastly, paraben overuse has been associated with increased cancer risk. (4)
3. Formaldehydes and Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives
Like parabens, formaldehydes are also chemical preservatives that are often added to perfumes, cosmetics, and hair products to keep them from getting contaminated by bacteria, mold, or yeast.
Again, like parabens, formaldehydes are recognized as potent allergens that can trigger or exacerbate contact dermatitis. They can also be carcinogenic and are associated with certain rare forms of cancer. (5)
Regular shampoos and conditioners usually contain chemical compounds such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromopol, and glyoxal, all of which release formaldehyde and act as preservatives.
Phthalates are a class of chemicals used as gelling agents in shampoos, conditioners, hair sprays, and mousses, among various other products. They keep these hair products soft, easily spreadable, and fragrant.
Studies have shown that phthalates are readily absorbed in the body and trigger a number of adverse outcomes. They are especially bad for reproductive health as they can hamper male and female fertility, inhibit the release of sex hormones, and increase the risk of miscarriages and birth defects. (6)
Moreover, phthalates are known to contribute to gestational diabetes, (7) asthma, breast cancer, neurodevelopmental problems, behavioral issues such as autism and ADHD, and thyroid, renal, and hepatic disorders. (8)
Even low levels of phthalates can combine inside the body to enhance the exposure effect and cause considerable damage.
5. Synthetic Musks
Synthetic musks are perfumed compounds that are added to many personal care products, including shampoos and conditioners. Nitro musks and polycyclic musks are the most widely used varieties.
These compounds are absorbed in the body via skin absorption, ingestion, or inhalation and typically are stored in the breast tissue, umbilical cord, and fat cells.
Synthetic musk in high concentration can be toxic inside the body by adversely affecting hormonal and reproductive functions. This can prove particularly dangerous for pregnant or breastfeeding women as the harmful effects can jeopardize the health of both the mother and child. (9)(10)
Note: Some shampoos and conditioners may not name specific phthalates in their ingredient list but mention “fragrances” or “parfum,” which are umbrella terms that include several potential toxins such as phthalates.
Hexachlorophene is an antimicrobial compound that is added to many shampoos and conditioners, and this chemical can be toxic in high quantities.
Hexachlorophene can irritate your eyes and skin by triggering inflammation. This underlying inflammation can make your eyes and skin increasingly photosensitive (sensitive to light). If swallowed, hexachlorophene is known to cause abdominal cramping and diarrhea.
Triclosan is yet another chemical that is used as an antimicrobial agent in shampoos and conditioners, among various other consumer products. It inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungus to preserve the shelf life of hair products.
The downside is that triclosan easily penetrates the skin and accumulates within adipose tissue or fat cells to trigger several adverse side effects at high concentrations. It can disrupt your hormone functioning and balance, compromise your immune system, trigger weight loss, and increase tumor cell proliferation to induce cancer. (11)
Different types of alcoholic compounds are used as emulsifiers in shampoos and conditioners to bind oil and water for a creamy thick consistency. But some of these alcohols can damage your hair health in the long run.
Short-chain alcohols such as propanol, ethanol, specially denatured (SD) alcohol, and isopropyl alcohol that vaporize quickly are considered bad for your hair. They strip away the moisture, natural lipids, and nutrients from your hair, leaving them dry, dull, frizzy, and brittle.
Conversely, fatty-chain alcohols such as lauryl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, myristyl alcohol, and behenyl alcohol, which are extracted from plant sources such as palm oil and coconut oil, can have the opposite effect and help moisten your hair and scalp.
Benzophenone and its derivatives, such as oxybenzone and sulisobenzone, help protect your skin and hair from the harmful UV rays of the sun, but concentrated amounts inside the body can induce organ toxicity, hormonal disorders, reproductive decline, and even cancer. (12)(9)
These compounds are mostly used in sunscreens but may be added to hair care products as well. Regularly using shampoos and conditioners that contain benzophenone allows these compounds to seep through the skin and collect inside the body.
These chemicals may be safe to use in limited amounts, but it’s difficult to keep track and so it is best to avoid them altogether.
Ethanolamines, such as MEA, TEA, DEA, and their derivatives are found in some shampoos and hair conditioners as emulsifiers. These compounds tend to accumulate in the tissues and have been associated with liver tumors.
Millions of different kinds of shampoos and conditioners claim to make your hair better but can be quite damaging after repeated use. They are loaded with toxic chemicals that may provide an instant shine, bounce, smoothness to your locks, but these effects are short-lived.
These chemicals deeply clean the dirt and grease settled on your scalp and hair but also remove the necessary moisture and nutrients in the process.
Regular application of these chemicals can leave your hair weak, rough, and dehydrated, while also inducing increased split ends, hair breakage, and hair loss. These harmful compounds are also absorbed in the scalp and enter the body to trigger serious health problems. Thus, the wrong kind of hair care products can cause more harm than good.
It is therefore crucial to educate yourself about these harmful ingredients and steer clear of them when choosing your hair products.