Harmful Chemical Ingredients in Everyday Hair Care Products

Every day we are exposed to hundreds of carcinogens. Some shampoos can cause serious health issues, allergic reactions, and even illnesses if not chosen correctly in terms of the ingredients on the label. Leave-in conditioners are of even greater concern because they stay on the hair and scalp and for longer periods of time, especially when someone washes their hair less frequently (i.e. once a week). or every two weeks). I chose this subject because it is close to my heart.

As a black woman of Haitian descent, who has practically lived in beauty supply stores since I got my first hair straightener at the age of 11, I was shocked and hurt to learn that the products Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are found in an alarming rate. in the hair products I use. Endocrine disruptors are highest in products marketed to people with textured hair and black women. This has created an additional health disparity by causing early breast development in black girls, menstruation at age 11, premature births in black women, gestational diabetes, and obesity. Me and women like me have contributed greatly to this multi-billion dollar industry.

The fact that a hairstyle choice or my love of hair care products has been hurting us for decades adds insult to injury.

The average supermarket shampoo contains 15 potentially harmful chemicals, and while some of them only cause mild irritation to the hair, scalp and eyes, others can affect the body’s hormonal balance. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s endocrine system and can cause serious female and male reproductive system health problems, cognitive impairment, obesity, and even cancer.

EDCs can be found in personal care products as well as clothing, processed foods, plastics, food storage materials, children’s products, electronics, building materials, pesticides, solvents industrial, etc

Let’s take a closer look at the most harmful chemical ingredients found in everyday hair care products and learn how to identify them so you know how to avoid them.

The most common: methylparaben and propylparaben
Parabens (methyl, butyl, ethyl) are man-made compounds found in many cosmetic products, including shampoos and conditioners, which maintain the properties of cosmetic products for a longer period of time. These compounds can cause allergic reactions to the scalp and skin.

According to some studies, parabens could be involved in the development of breast cancer, and although this effect has not yet been 100% proven, there is no reason to expose yourself. Despite their presence in everyday hygiene products, it is best to avoid them as much as possible.

The most common: di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diethyl phthalate (DEP).

If you research phthalates, you will find that there are more than 10 types. Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) are considered the most dangerous and their use has long been banned by the European Union due to their harmful effects on the human body. However, in the United States, there is still no legislation in place prohibiting the use of these chemicals in personal care products.

Researchers are still studying their effect on the male reproductive system, which may lead to disruption of testosterone production.

Pregnant women should also be on their guard when using hair care products that contain phthalates in their composition, as phthalates can cause congenital disabilities of reproductive organs in newborn babies.

The big downside to phthalates is that they are often hidden behind synthetic fragrances. On the product label, you can read that the cosmetics are perfumed, but you won’t know if phthalates are also part of the perfume. Therefore, it is safer to use phthalate-free and artificial products. perfumes .

The most common: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
In the cosmetic industry, sulphates are usually present in the skin cleaners bath foams, liquids soap , toothpaste or bath bombs, but their highest concentration is found in shampoos. Of course, the concentration of sulfates can vary from product to product, from small amounts up to 50% of the total content. The problem or concern with sulfates is that they can dry out. They can cause dry hair, and we all know dry hair is more prone to breakage, so when you can, go for a sulfate-free shampoo.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is the most commonly present and gives the shampoo a lather that makes us feel like it cleans our hair well. The consequence of frequent use of shampoos containing this ingredient is irritation, local redness and itching.

Other sulfates may be disguised in the composition of your cosmetic product under other names: sodium dodecyl sulfate, sulfuric acid, sodium sulfate etc.

The substance is a petroleum derivative and is intended to clean and dissolve oils; it can also be found in antifreeze and furniture polish.

In shampoos, this chemical removes protective oils from hair strands and dries out the scalp and hair. The long term consequences are dry hair, damaged hair and ultimately brittle hair. That’s why it’s important to avoid gels that have strong alcohol contact or where alcohol is listed as one of the first ingredients.

Most common: 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, DMDM ​​hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, methylene glycol, oxo methane, and quaternium-15
Formaldehyde is a chemical conservative which kills bacteria but is also carcinogenic if you often come into contact with it. In some countries, legislation strictly limits its use and explicitly prohibits hair straightening products from containing formaldehyde, but you can still find it in some products.

Formaldehydes have been shown to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. They can penetrate deep into the skin and are known human carcinogens associated with an increased risk of certain cancers.

The most common: dimethicone, cyclomethycaine, cetearyl methicone, dimethiconol, siloxane
You will have beautiful hair immediately after using silicone hair products. Hair will shine, be soft, look healthier and be easier to comb. But appearances can be deceiving.

Silicones are most commonly found in shampoos, conditioners, leave-in conditioners, and hair moisturizers and styling products. Silicones envelop your hair in an invisible film, but do not release any nutrients into the hair fiber. Some silicones may be too heavy for finer hair. Not all silicones are bad. The main silicones of concern when it comes to endocrine disruptors are the siloxanes.

If your scalp is intolerant of any hair products, chances are synthetic fragrances are to blame. Especially if you have more sensitive skin, artificial fragrances can irritate it unnecessarily.

That doesn’t mean your shampoo, conditioner, or hair mask doesn’t smell good. When you can, opt for scented cosmetics that contain natural ingredients, such as essential oils and plant extracts. It is important to note that since natural ingredients come from nature, which is constantly changing, they are not always uniform in color.

Skin, hair and nails are made up of keratin. As a synthetic hair protein, it is used to strengthen and smooth hair. Although the substance itself is not dangerous, many keratin treatments contain chemicals that produce formaldehyde. This is more of a concern during in-salon keratin treatments.

There is no perfect combination of products, but it is best to avoid endocrine disruptors, even in plastic bottles and plastic containers, whenever possible.

Sharleen St. Surin-Lord
[email protected]


Dr. Sharleen St. Surin-Lord is a Board Certified Dermatologist who has been practicing for over 16 years. She is in private practice at Visage Dermatology, Largo, MD. She is an assistant professor of dermatology at Howard University College of Medicine. She also practices at the University of Maryland Capital Regional Health System in Maryland. Dr. Sharleen is a Fellow of the American Hair Research Society and you can follow her on Instagram as DermHairDoc.

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