There’s something so satisfying about washing your hair! The gentle scalp massage, the pleasant scent, the squeaky-clean feel afterward. Some conditioner, hairspray, and hair mousse later, you’re ready to face the world!
But is this whole ritual more than just a feeling, and these products are actually good for you? Let’s start by looking at the ingredients in conventional shampoo and hair products.
What’s in My Shampoo?
When shopping for hair products, it’s best to avoid those containing parabens, sulfates, and phthalates, as these harmful chemicals may lead to hair damage or, in some cases, risk the development of serious illnesses.
We are aware that going for traditional products is the easiest, and often cheapest, but there are great alternatives out there that won’t damage your hair and health. Here’s what you should stay away from:
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
This compound is used in shampoo and similar products to create lather, something we’ve come to expect from shampoo and that clean feeling we love so much. However, SLS strips the scalp of its natural sebum, causing frizzy, brittle, and damaged hair—definitely not what we’re going for.
This substance is well known as a skin irritant [source] and can also cause eye irritation and even damage the eyes if used in larger quantities. Moreover, once it goes down the drain and into the waters, SLS has the potential to negatively affect aquatic life [source].
You may have heard this before: stay away from parabens! While good at preventing bacteria from growing in cosmetics, parabens are also linked with breast cancer [source].
A lot of companies already offer paraben-free products, which is a great step forward. But if the contrary is not advertised on the label, you should assume the product contains parabens.
Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen [source], despite being used in everything from shampoo and hair gel to nail polish. The FDA has issued a warning against hair smoothing products that release this substance when heated (for example, during a Brazilian blowout), advising consumers to look out for formaldehyde, formalin, and methylene glycol on the list of ingredients when making a purchase [source].
Fragrance may sound harmless enough, but it’s actually an umbrella term that can encompass a number of substances. That’s even when the product is labeled “unscented.”
These can cause allergic reactions [source] and are problematic because of their secretive nature. When you’re shopping for shampoo or conditioner, look for those scented with natural fragrances (e.g., plants or essential oils).
The promise of healthy-looking hair has taken many of us on the dangerous path of using silicone-based hair products. Dimethicone is one such silicone, commonly found in hair gel, hair relaxers, hair color, or conditioner, and it’s generally regarded as safe for humans [source].
However, this silicone creates a coating on the hair, making it appear shiny, while effectively blocking moisture and nutrients from coming in. This weighs down the hair, making it lifeless and dull again, the exact opposite effect of what we were going for.
Other hair care ingredients to avoid:
alcohol, which has a drying effect
diethanolamine and triethanolamine, both linked to cancer during lab tests [source]
polyethylene glycols, though considered to be safe, are often contaminated with toxic byproducts [source]
synthetic colors that are often petroleum aka “coal-tar” based (which do not require FDA approval for use in cosmetics even though there are known health concerns [source])
triclosan, which has led to numerous toxic effects and has been banned from use in antibacterial soap [source]
How Do I Choose Safe Hair Products?
When you’re shopping for hair care products, look to the back of the packaging rather than the front. The pretty bottle designs and encouraging claims make it easy to lose focus on what’s actually inside.
Products meant to increase volume, for example, might flatten your hair with prolonged use! Always read the ingredient list before purchasing, and make sure that these toxic chemicals are not present. You can also do a quick search on EWG’s Skin Deep to check the safety rating of a particular product.
Consider making your own hair products, which can be as simple as putting olive oil on your hair. We have a lot of recipes and tutorials for natural hair care, and once you get started, you’ll be hooked!
This is also a great option if you’re looking to reduce waste in your beauty routine, because you will avoid all of the plastic waste by packing homemade hair products in reusable glass bottles.
Another way to reduce waste in your hair care is to opt for a solid shampoo and conditioner, such as HiBar or Lush. These look more like soap bars, so they might take some getting used to, but they’re great for traveling and for the environment, too.
Our Favorite Natural Hair Products
Keep in mind that different natural ingredients provide their own distinct benefits, so read the labels carefully and choose according to your needs. For example, tea tree oil is good for the treatment of dandruff and other scalp irritations; aloe vera and coconut oil are moisturizing, and shea butter is known to enhance shine.
To help you narrow down the options, we rounded up the best natural hair products for you!
1. Avalon Nourishing Lavender Shampoo | 2. hims Thickening Shampoo | 3. Tela Beauty Organics Volume Organic Shampoo | 4. Alba Hawaiian Coconut Milk Shampoo | 5. Odele Curl Defining No-Lather Shampoo | 6. Alterna Bamboo Shine Luminous Shine Shampoo
1. Burt’s Bees Volumizing Conditioner | 2. Güd Mango Moonbreeze Softening Conditioner | 3. Briogeo Blossom & Bloom™ Ginseng + Biotin Volumizing Conditioner | 4. Earth’s Nectar Nourish | 5. The Honest Company Detangler Conditioner | 6. Alterna Bamboo Abundant Volume Conditioner
1. Alterna Bamboo Smooth Kendi Oil Dry Oil Mist | 2. Phyto Phytospecific Baobab Oil | 3. PURA D’OR Organic Moroccan Argan Oil | 4. Agave Oil Treatment | 5. Josie Maran Argan Oil Hair Serum | 6. Living Proof Satin Hair Serum
1. Living Proof Flex Shaping Hairspray | 2. Drybar Mai Tai Spritzer Sea Salt Spray | 3. Kiss My Face Hold Up Styling Mousse | 4. Living Proof Restore Instant Protection Spray | 5. Herbivore Botanicals Sea Mist | 6. Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Working Hair Spray
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Gina Jansheski, a licensed, board-certified physician who has been practicing for more than 20 years. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical review board here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.62