You are here:Home > Articles > Articles - Natural Health Information > Articles - Chemical Awareness & Education > Chemicals to Avoid in Hair Care

Chemicals to Avoid in Hair Care Products

chemicals to avoid in hair care productsEvery day consumers use products to take care of their hair. From shampoos and conditioners, to styling products and even hair colors, you may be unknowingly subjecting yourself to toxic exposure every day. Various products can contain chemicals that release formaldehyde, others can irritate skin and eyes on contact and for products like hairspray, you have the risk of airborne toxins.

Procter & Gamble (P&G) was forced to reformulate it's popular line, Herbal Essences, after it was discovered it exceed the acceptable level of 1,4 Dioxane in it's formula. The limit for 1,4 Dioxane is 10 parts per million (ppm) and Herbal Essences contained 23 ppm. Herbal Essences wasn't the only guilty party though - Johnson's Watermelon Kids Explosion shampoo weighed in at 10 ppm. 

Parabens: Methyl, Ethyl, Propyl, Butyl

Used as a preservative to lengthen shelf life. Known to cause allergic reactions, suspected highly of being a hormonal disruptor. Research is being done to determine links between cancer and parabens. Levels of parabens are often low in cosmetics but with the average women using at least 10 cosmetic products a day, total paraben accumulation is not known. Parabens can accumulate and stay in your body. (Banned in Denmark for use in kids products under the age of 3.)

1,4 Dioxane

Chemical carcinogen, irritant and reproductive disruptor. By product of manufacturing process. Avoid ingredients ending in "-eth" and PEG compounds. Up to 46% of products tested contained 1,4 Dioxane. May be added delibertly to product or result as a by-product of manufacturing process. Can be removed from product though most manufacturers do not do this. Cautionary statements like "Keep out of reach of children" or "Use under adult supervision" may indicate presence of 1,4 Dioxane.

Coal Tar

Known carcinogen, skin and respiratory irritant. Can cause blindness. Listed as p-phenylenediamine. Coal tar chemicals to avoid hari care productsderived colors listed as FD&C Blue or 5 digit Index (CI) number. Used often in anti-dandruff shampoos and in hair colors. The darker the hair color, the more Coal Tar present.


Considered a 'trade secret', manufacturers are not required to list individual ingredients used to make up fragrance/parfum. Often, they contain phthalates (DEP)  which help fragrance linger and last longer. DEP is known to cause reproductive issues and impact hormonal levels in the body. Phthalates also cause liver and kidney failure, obesity, insulin resistance and harmful to the environment.


pH adjuster. Suspected carcinogen, toxic to environment, irritant to skin, eyes and lungs and endocrine disruptor resulting in reproductive problems.


Preservative and used as a fragrance. Irritant to skin and eyes, toxic to organs, endocrine disruptor and damaging to reproductive system. Based on animal studies the U.S. National Toxicology Program deems BHA to be "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." May appear on label as 'Antioxidant (29) (30) (4K) (K8).

PEG Compounds

Used as thickeners in products and as moisture-carriers, PEGs are often contaminated with 1,4 Dioxane (see above) and can be skin irritants. Related to Propylene Glycol, PEGs increase absorption rates and allow other ingredients to penetrate skin more easily and deeply. Should not be used on broken skin if at all.


Used to lock in moisture, keep hair shiny and absorb UV rays. May be contaminated with PAHs (carcinogenic and allergic reactions.) Known as 'mineral jelly, petrolatum amber, mineral grease, petroleum jelly.' Toxic to environment and causes hormonal disruption.


Drying agent. Allows product to dry quickly. Toxic to environment and organs. Irritant to eyes, lungs and skin. Neurotoxic, endocrine disruptor and tumor formation shown in animal studies. May appear on labels as "Dow Corning 344 (345) Fluid, D4, D5, D6." Avoid any ingredients ending in '-siloxane' or '-cone'. Also related to Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS).

Sulfates: Sodium Lauryl or Sodium Laureth

Cleaning agent to strip away oils. Skin and eye irritant, reproductive effects, hazardous to environment and able to mutate mammalian cells. Can be contaminated with 1,4 Dioxane.  May appear on labels as "SLS, SLES, Sulfuric Acid, A13-00356, Monododecyl Ester Sodium Salt." May appear on 'natural product labels" that state it is 'plant-derived.'

Propylene Glycol

Vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol which are both natural. Can cause allergic reactions but more dangerous due to it's ability to increase absorption rates, allowing other ingredients to penetrate the skin easily and deeply.

Formaldehyde Releasers

Preservative to prevent growth of organisms. Known to be human carcinogen, toxic to reproductive system, strong irritant to eyes, lungs and skin. Neurotoxic.  If added deliberately to product, must not exceed concentration of 0.2 % in most products (nail polish hardners can contain up to 5%.) , however - there are no restrictions placed on products that contain ingredients known to release formaldehyde in lower concentrations. May appear on labels as " Formalin, Oxomethane, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, Dioxo-4 Imidazolidinyl ."

Most popular case is Brazilian Blowout in October 2010. When tested, this hair straightening product used in salons was found to contain 12% concentration of formaldehyde. During the blow drying process, the formaldehyde became airborne putting both stylists and customers at risk and making many ill. Brazilian Blowout was banned in Canada after it was exposed.

Imidazolidinyl Urea & Diazolidinyl Urea

Used as preservatives. Causes allergic reactions, releases formaldehyde (causes cancer) at over 10 degrees. Must be mixed with other preservatives to get anti-fungal success. May appear on labels as "Germall II, Germall 115"

PVP/VA Copolymer

Can become airborne and contribute to foreign bodies in the lungs.

FD&C  or D&C artificial colors

Often derived from Coal Tar (see above). Contain heavy metal salts that deposit toxins onto your skin. Cause irritation. Animal studies show them to be carcinogenic.  Labelled as FD&C or just D&C and followed by a number. Further studies being done to determine links between FD&C and neurological disorders like ADHD.

DMDM Hydantoin

Commonly used, formaldehyde releaser - see above.

Methylisothiazolinone (Neolone 950)

Preservative to inhibit organism growth and lengthen shelf life. Toxic to immune system, skin, causes allergies and neurotoxic. May appear on labels as " MIT, MI, 3 (2H) Isothiazolinone, Neolone 950." Used often to replace parabens, restricted in use.

In 2011 we were surprised to learn that Piggy Paint had added the chemical preservative Neolone 950 to their famous 'non toxic nail polish' formula. Although Piggy Paint did not contact retailers to notify them of this change, we noticed the ingredient Methylisothiazolinone on a new shipment of Piggy Paint nail polish. We immediately discontinued further sale of the new formula, despite Piggy Paint assurances that the 'concentrations of Neolone 950 were low."

Antibacterial Compounds - Triclosan/ Chlorphenesin

Used as a preservative and anti-bacterial agent. Does not break down in the environment. Toxic to organs, wildlife, causes endocrine disruption, skin and eye irritant and may be responsible for bacterial resistance and 'super bugs.' Can appear on labels as " 5-Chlor-2-(2,4 Dicholorophenoxy) Phenol, Hydroxy Diphenyl Ether." Found in many hand sanitizers.

Oxybenzone & Octyl Methoxycinnamate - Sunscreens

Shown to disrupt hormone levels, not intended for use 'over a large area of the body'. (Kind of defeats the purpose of using all over body sunscreen!) Zinc and Titanium Dioxide are safer options for UVA and UVB protection.

Natural e GREEN Health and Wellness Online Store is located in Airdrie, Alberta Canada and offers over 700 natural, organic and non-toxic products for the whole family. Voted #1 in customer service and product quality, we strive hard to continue providing great customer experiences and to be the best online store to shop for your natural and organic products!

Feel free to browse our online catalogue and our green holiday gift guide to see all the items we carry in our store!

We deliver for free to locations in Airdrie, Alberta and now offer flat-rate shipping for delivery to Canada and the USA. We also offer worldwide shipping!

Categories: Bath & Body | Baby & Kids | Pet Care | Cosmetics & Personal Care | Spiritual Wellness | Gifts and Gift Baskets | Herbs and Vitamins | ADHD Remedies | House & Home | Music CDs and Books | Deals of the Day