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10 Toxic Ingredients in Your Shampoo and Conditioner

It can be really hard to know what shampoos and conditioners are safe for use with our hair and hair extensions, especially when the ingredients list can be so confusing.  There are hundreds of ingredient combinations used to create shampoo and conditioner formulas, however there are some ingredients that are particularly toxic, and not good for our hair and bodies.  Here we break down the top 10 toxic ingredients found in everyday shampoo and conditioners.


When it comes to toxic ingredients, parabens are probably one of the best known ingredients, primarily due to the use of the term ”Paraben Free” which you will frequently find listed on packaging. Paraben, a shortened version of the official name of ingredients such as butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, and isobutylparaben, are primarily preservatives used within the cosmetics industry.  

So why should we avoid parabens when it comes to our haircare?  Well primarily due to their ability to be absorbed by the skin, as studies have found parabens to have weak estrogen like properties, which is a concern, as estrogen has been linked to the growth of breast cells, and whilst there has not been a direct link between parabens and cancer established, there has certainly been a lot of cause for concern regarding this ingredient.

Sodium Chloride

Sodium Chloride, commonly known as salt, is an ingredient regularly used in shampoo and conditioner formulas as a thickening agent, giving you the luxurious texture we all enjoy from our shampoos.  Unfortunately, sodium chloride can be incredibly drying for hair, which is why it is particularly bad for hair extensions wearers.  In order to look after hair extensions efficiently, avoiding ingredients that are drying is key. Not only does sodium chloride cause hair to feel dry, it is also regarded as an irritant, which can cause itching and other side effects.

Stanislav.nevyhosteny, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Diethanolamine (DEA)

This ingredient is often used in shampoos as the wetting agent.  It is essentially what helps the formula to lather and produce foam.  Sadly however it is not only found in shampoo, but also brake fluid and de-icer, not the most appealing of ingredients to be smothering our hair in.  DEA has produced lots of terrifying results in laboratory experiments, including becoming carcinogenic when mixing with other chemicals commonly found in shampoos, and has even been linked to miscarriages in laboratory experiments.

Triethanolamine (TEA)

Used to act as a cleansing base whilst also balancing pH levels, not only has Triethanolamine been shown to cause hair to become dry, much like Diethanolamine, when it is mixed with other commonly used shampoo ingredients is can become toxic, as well as causing eye problems and allergic reactions.  All in all, both DEA and TEA are not particular friendly ingredients, and are ones to definitely avoid.


Often listed a methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0, formaledehyde is recognised by the EPA as a known carcinogen.  It makes its way into the body as a gas that is inhaled, and can cause eye nose and throat irritation, as well as being linked to cancer.

Short Chain Alcohols

Alcohols such as Ethanol, SD alcohol, SD Alcohol 40, Alcohol Denat, Propanol, Propyl Alcohol and Isopropyl Alcohol are known as short chain alcohols, which evaporate quickly, which makes them drying for hair.  Due to the fact that this ingredient evaporates quickly, it results in hair becoming brittle and frizzy, not a quality we look for when seeking optimal hair care products.

Synthetic Colours

Whilst it is nice to see a pretty pink shampoo, synthetic colours in shampoos and conditioners only add to the aesthetics of the product, and provide no benefits to the formula.  Not only do they not provide any beneficial qualities in terms of haircare, but synthetic colours are sourced from petroleum or coal-tar sources, and can actually be hazardous to our health.  Many synthetic colours used in cosmetics have been linked to a variety of diseases, including cancer, and are actually illegal for use in some countries.  If you are looking for synthetic colours listed within your shampoo ingredients, you need to be on the lookout for FD&C or D&C combined with a number.


Added to cosmetic formulas in order to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination, Triclosan is an FDA approved ingredient, despite being banned from use in antibacterical soaps in 2016, but still found in many other household products such as shampoos and deodorants.  Thought to cause hormone disruptions with links to neurodevelopmental problems, fetal development issues and even cancer.

Retinyl Palmitate

This ingredient, which is commonly found in shampoos, as well as suncreams, concealers, bubble baths and moisturisers, was part of a study by the FDA and NTP, which found that tumours and lesions on lab animals grew 21% faster when the animal was coated in a cream containing Retinyl Palmitate.  This confirmed earlier studies which suggested that Retinyl Palmitate encouraged excess skin growth, and whilst it has not been officially classified as carcinogenic, it is certainly one worth avoiding.


You may not typically associate Petroleum with any of your cosmetic products, however due to its emollient properties, it is used an awful lot. Sadly, it may be a good emollient, but it blocks the skin and scalps pores, leading to a dry and flaky scalp, which can inhibit hair growth and cause breakage.

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