10 Harmful chemicals to avoid in hair care products 

Although they say that men are from mars and women are from venus, the one thing both genders have in common is that we’re equally vain about our hair.

In fact, men are often more vain about theirs than we are about ours!

Late because his car broke down? Pah! We know he was fixing his hair!

Naturally, some of us take hair care more seriously than others, but we pretty much all use our hair to frame our faces, so that we look at least mildly attractive. But despite caring about your hair, have you ever stopped to consider the kinds of nasty chemicals that are in your hair care and shampoo products?

The truth is that a plethora of commercial brands use ingredients that make your hair glow, but which also damage it in the long-term, stripping it of vital proteins and moisture. Let’s take a look at some of the worst harmful chemicals you need to avoid.

Coal Tar

Yes, seriously. Coal. Tar.


If you weren’t aware, coal tar is a carcinogen, and carcinogens cause lung cancer. The EU recognised the dangers of using coal tar in hair care products and banned it. North America, though, is still playing catch up.

Coal tar is found in numerous anti-dandruff shampoos, as well as dry skin treatments. Naturally, companies don’t list it on their packaging as “COAL TAR”, but instead they list it as a colour + number.


Lead is another known carcinogen that can cause cancer, and yet some hair care companies continue to use it in their products. You can find it in hair dye, as well as lipstick.

Well, I say you can find it but you actually can’t because it isn’t listed. Why isn’t it listed? Because it’s not an ingredient – it’s a contaminant.

Oh, I see. I guess that makes it alright.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

This is one of the most popular and one of the most commonly used harmful chemicals. Sodium lauryl sulfate comes under various names, including laureth sulfate and ammonium laurel sulfate. For this simple reason, it isn’t always easy to detect. It’s as though the hair care companies are deliberately trying to disguise it!

You will find SLS in cleansing agents and industrial detergents, such as garage floor cleaners, but for one reason or another you may also find it in some of the world’s leading shampoos.

We’re not going to go into a detailed list of the healthcare issues that can arise from making contact with this chemical (the list would basically be 6 foot long), but one thing that it is guilty of is making your hair dry. Not cool. It degreases an engine, so what do you expect it to do to your hair?!


Isopropyl is an alcoholic chemical that is found in wood finish and antifreeze because of its ability to dissolve oils.


So this essentially means that it will dissolve (destroy) the moisture in your hair, leading to breakage.

Isopropyl alcohol is found in numerous hair gels and hairsprays because it is able to hold together a hairstyle’s look. But it also risks snapping your tresses right off. So each time you apply a hair gel, you’re giving this nasty chemical the opportunity to snap away like a pair of barber’s scissors.

Not only this, but inhaling this chemical can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and even depression.

You might end up in a hospital bed, but at least you’ll have great hair!

Propylene Glycol

If you’ve got an itchy scalp, the culprit is probably not an underlying disease that is sending your health anxiety through the roof. Instead, it’s probably propylene glycol, a harmful chemical that has been highlighted by The United States Environmental Protection Agency as being one of the top 10 hair care ingredients that can damage your health.

Propylene glycol is found in numerous shampoos, conditioners, styling gels and hair dyes, and yet its main job is to destroy healthy hair structure. It even attacks cellular structure if it’s in a really foul mood.

Yet it offers a sweet smile while doing all this; it makes your hair look shiny and smooth, so that you’ll forgive it. Aww.

Okay, I forgive you propylene glycol, you, wolf in sheep’s clothing.


Okay, most hair care products contain alcohol. In fact, we’d argue that 99% of hair care products do. But it’s usually only a tiny amount which renders it irrelevant. You don’t need to worry about it.

You do, however, need to be concerned if alcohol is listed in the top four ingredients. This basically means that there is a lot of alcohol in the product – much more than usual. And this can dry out your hair. Avoid.


Parabens can be found in shampoos and moisturisers, and is in fact one of the most popularly used preservatives in the cosmetic industry. This is despite the fact that it can tamper with hormone function, and could potentially be a contributing factor to the development of breast cancer.

The problem with parabens is that it can easily get inside your skin before mimicking oestrogen. Too much oestrogen can lead to all kinds of funky skin issues, such as a rise in spider-like blood vessels on the surface of your skin. Weird.

Synthetic Colours

Like alcohol, synthetic colours are seen as an unfortunate evil that can’t be avoided in the creation of hair care products. They are in there for aesthetic purposes only.

But synthetic colours can cause scalp irritation, as well as skin sensitivity. Be careful.


PPD for short (thankfully), this ingredient is common in hair products and dyes despite its toxicity. It’s another one of harmful chemicals that is bad for your skin and can compromise your immune system.


Yes, perfume can be found in your average hair care products. But in this case it’s really an umbrella term that could quite literally mean anything.

Anything highly toxic, that is.

Perfumes in hair care products can cause all kinds of health issues, including allergic reactions and nausea. But the manufacturer doesn’t need to tell you the exact names of the perfumes, of course. Meanie!

Do you know other harmful chemicals that we all should avoid in hair care products?

Stay beautiful!




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