Let’s be honest, do you read the ingredient label on the packaging of the hair products you buy? We read the labels of all foods we eat, so shouldn’t we read the product label also to see what chemicals we are putting on our hair or body? Our skin is porous (think about how nicotine patches work) so our scalp has to be just as porous! In this article, we’re going to discuss 8 of the worst ingredients for natural hair.
Since the natural hair boom a few years ago, more and more natural hair care brands are aware of those paying attention (lucky for us!) to ingredients and those advocating for more natural, more wholesome ingredients.
But not all brands are thinking along the same lines. Unfortunately, the ingredients that hurt our hair are also pretty cheap — making them easy to find and at low, low prices.
Before we jump right in…
- We might get a little nerdy here but it will all be worth it! I promise!
- A quick rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not the best ingredient. Try looking for ingredients you’d find in your kitchen!
- If I go through all of the worst ingredients, this post would probably be 10 pages long so I’ll keep it short. We’ll only be discussing the most common ingredients.
- If you haven’t already, make sure you check out the best ingredients for natural hair.
Oh! Btw, I’m not a professional stylist or a scientist for that matter, but I will definitely leave as many links as I possibly can so you guys can do research for yourself. Also, these ingredients are in no particular order. Lez get it!
There’s a lot of negative connotations surrounding propylene glycol because it is well known for being an ingredient in anti-freeze. But it actually might not be that bad for us. The FDA allows a small concentration of the ingredient in our products and because the ingredient can be “flushed” easily, it’s not really a great threat to them. In other words, if a small amount gets on your skin, it can be washed away easily enough.
I have not personally seen any information stating this ingredient will cause the growth of a third arm or anything crazy but I would still avoid it like the plague. Chemists today state that there’s really no reason to fear propylene glycol. They said it is just another humectant. Ehhhh, I’d advise leaning on the side of caution and avoid it at all costs.
If you’d like a chemist’s perspective, check this out.
It is becoming more and more common for manufacturers to actually write on the label “No parabens.” And I’ve always gone with it like “yeah, I don’t want that,” even though I had no idea what a paraben actually was. After doing some research, it turns out parabens are a family of chemicals that act as preservatives in hair and beauty products. They are usually found with a few other types of preservatives to keep bacterial growth to an absolute minimum.
Cool, I don’t like bacteria. What else do parabens do?
For the record, the FDA states, “FDA scientists continue to review published studies on the safety of parabens. At this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health.” Knowing that, I don’t trust it. Just because the FDA hasn’t found anything harmful, yet, doesn’t mean it’s okay to use. I would definitely recommend keeping parabens to a minimum.
If you’d like more info on parabens, check this out.
We’ve been told to stop using sulfates so this one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. But why? In actuality, sulfates aren’t that bad for our hair. Sulfates can be found in a number of household cleaners because this is the ingredient that causes that nice, foamy lather. However, it is so crucial to understand the good and bad of sulfates.
Sulfates can be beneficial if you have an oily scalp because the suds will definitely get rid of the dirt and grime. Sulfates will not be your friend if you’re curly haired though. The natural oils from our scalp already have a difficult time traveling down the hair shaft (causing our ends to be perpetually dry) so using a sulfate shampoo is going to strip even more oils away. It’s best to learn how your hair takes moisture/builds up grime and then determine how frequently, if at all, you want to use a sulfate shampoo. I personally kicked the habit 4 years ago and haven’t had any issues finding replacement shampoos or co-washes.
AKA rubbing alcohol. Now, just to be clear cetearyl and cetyl alcohol are GOOD. They are both full of fatty alcohols and prove to be moisturizing and softening. Isopropyl alochol on the other hand, is fast drying and therefore will dry out your hair.
Isopropyl alcohol can be found in hair sprays and gels because it is known to dry quickly. A little bit shouldn’t be too bad but if you spray your hair everyday so it goes no where, you might have a problem. This alcohol type can cause the hair to be frizzy, dry, and dull. Who wants that??
If you’d like more info on isopropyl alcohol, check this out.
I know, you’re probably thinking “But who doesn’t love smelling like the tropics after wash day???” I definitely do too but I couldn’t help think there was something up with Shea Moisture’s Curl Enhancing Smoothie because it smelled too damn good!
The issue is that when manufacturers mention “fragrance” they are using thousands of different chemicals to create that scent. And you damn sure know there’s no way to list each and every chemical so they just write “perfume” or “natural fragrance” to get you to overlook it! So each time you apply that smoothie, you’re allowing thousands of chemicals to be absorbed through your scalp. Thank you, but no thank you.
If you’d like more info on fragrances in hair care, check this link.
Did you ever have to dissect a frog in high school? The stuff they use to preserve the animal before you cut and examine it‘s inners is formaldehyde. And manufacturers actually have the nerve to put it in your hair care products! To top it off, they won’t even give you to courtesy of calling it formaldehyde. The stage name for this ingredient is “methylene glycol.”
Formaldehyde is considered a “volatile organic compound,” meaning it may become breathable gas under warm, wet conditions, like when you’re in the shower. The preservatives for your shampoo are literally being released into the air. This substance can be found in “smoothing” products, like a keratin treatment or a relaxer (think of that smell when you’re getting a relaxer!). Formaldehyde has been known to irritate the eyes, cause heart palpitations, cause dermatitis, and inflame the skin.
If you’d like more info on formaldehyde in hair care, check this out.
What’s that saying about if you need some “new” in your life, get a hair cut or color? I’m not good with exact phrases but I think you guys know what I’m talking about. Dying hair is an incredibly large industry and it’s amazing we don’t know more about the chemicals used in the colorization process. The FDA doesn’t regulate what they call “coal-tar” dyes. Coal-tar is super old-fashioned and just refers to a time when hair dye was a by-product of the coal industry.
It’s super important to distinguish the difference between coal-tar dye (used to dye the hair on our head) and color additives. Color additives must be regulated through the FDA and these additives are used to color eyelashes or eyebrows.
Moving forward, the FDA says coal-tar dye can cause blindness if used around the eye. So if you thought you could use your regular hair dye to dye your eyebrows, I WOULD ADVISE AGAINST IT! Coal-tar dyes are also known for causing skin irritations, hair loss, and allergic reactions or sensitizations.
If you’d like more info on color dyes, check this out.
DEA, MEA, TEA
Oh, boy. So DEA, MEA, and TEA stand for diethanolamine, monoethanolamine, and triethanolamine. This family of ingredients can be found in shampoos, conditioners, hair dyes, foundation, eyeliner, mascara, paraffin wax, pharmaceutical ointments, etc. It is used as an emulsifier (keeps oils and waters mixed). These ingredients have already been banned in Europe for all the harm they have the potential to cause!
If you were aware of the “Eco Styler CANCELLED” phenomenon, this is what that was about. TEA is listed as an ingredient in our beloved Eco Styler. The issue is when these ingredients come into play with other preservatives they react and form carcinogens, which cause cancer. It has also been found that on average 50% of hair dyes, body lotions, etc. remain on the skin after exposure. So, if you use a product with DEA, MEA, or TEA, these chemicals could stay on your skin way after the moisturizers do their job. This is what they call “bioaccumulation.” Lastly, DEA has been linked to organ failure including of the kidney, liver, and male reproductive system. YIKES!
Please, please, please do your research. Start here:
This is my face when people tell me their Holy Grails and damn near every ingredient listed here is all up in their regimen! All of these ingredients can be hazardous to your hair’s health and your overall wellbeing. Take this sh*t seriously! Not to mention, you shouldn’t be too surprised if your hair isn’t growing the way you might think it should, if you use products with these ingredients.
What other ingredients do you stay away from? Have you tried any DIY products? Let me know!
Want to know more? Check these out:
Until next time, stay blessed & unstressed!