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Toxic Chemicals To Avoid In Your Hair Care

If you were to take a guess at the number of toxic chemicals that each of us is exposed to every day, you would likely grossly underestimate the answer. The reality is that we are exposed to over 700,000 different toxic chemicals daily – whether it’s in our water, food, air, or even furniture and clothes. Common household products can have toxic effects on our health and the environment, and exposure to multiple toxic chemicals, aka the "nasties," produces a toxic burden within our bodies and all around us over time.

The use of toxic hair chemicals is particularly worrisome in hair care, as not only is the scalp highly absorbent (the skin on our scalp is 4 times more absorbent than even our forearms), but these nasties can be particularly harmful to your hair, causing more damage than good. Beyond the bathroom, the salon, and your own shower, your hair care can also harm the environment. Down the drain your products go as they are rinsed away and the ingredients make their way into your municipal wastewater - in many cases, feeding directly into rivers, oceans, lakes, and other aquatic ecosystems. So it's our responsibility to choose wisely, read ingredients, learn to recognize the toxic nasties and avoid them. 

The good news? Today more than ever before, we have great clean, non-toxic products to choose from, and that includes performance hair care that is safe for you, your family and loved ones, and the environment.


Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) - drying to hair, strips oils, possibly carcinogenic.

While SLS is the main ingredient that gives conventional shampoos their lather, this bubbly ingredient is the top chemical to avoid in hair products. It’s extremely drying to your hair and it strips away your hair’s natural oils, and can even strip your precious color. This is an industrial strength cleansing agent and we say anything you would be using to clean your bathroom floor should not be used to cleanse your delicate strands. SLS is often contaminated in production by a toxic compound known as 1,4 dioxane, which is “possibly carcinogenic to humans” - as it’s linked to negative effects in the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system. If you have anything on your shelf with SLS, now is the time to toss it.

Other sulfates to look out for:

ammonium laureth
lauryl sulfate
sodium laureth
alkylbenzene sulfonate
ethyl peg-15 cocamine sulfate
sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate
sodium c14-16 olefin sulfonate
sodium cocoyl sarcosinate
lauryl sulfate
sodium xylenesulfonate

Propylene Glycol - causes scalp irritation.

This chemical is found in almost everything from shampoos to hair dyes. The reason it is so commonly used is because it is a skin conditioning agent that creates the appearance of shiny and smooth hair. Unfortunately, this also comes with scalp irritation and brittleness as it strips the hair of its natural proteins. 

Polyethylene Glycol - causes hair brittleness.

Commonly used to deep clean oil and grease, Polyethylene Glycol is usually used in hair products to mix oil and water based ingredients together, however, it contains a compound called Ethylene Oxide, which is a possible carcinogen. Not only that, but this chemical also causes the breakdown of your hair strands causing them to be weak and brittle. Your hair will never need this much deep cleaning and natural oils are actually very important to the overall health and strength of your hair. Using such a harsh deep cleaner can be one of the biggest dangers to your hair health.

Silicones - cause build up, drying, brittleness, and dulling.

Silicones are very popular among conventional hair styling products because they coat the hair with a waterproof layer around the hair cuticle which can help tame frizz and create the appearance of shine. However, this actually comes at the cost of buildup which can make your hair become dry, brittle, and dull. Most silicones are hydrophobic which means they repel water. In your body, silicone will displace water and push it away. When it does this in hair, the very precious moisture content of just 3% is reduced and the protein bonds that make up 97% of hair become less stable and more liable to break.

Main silicones to look out for:

stearyl dimethicone
cetyl dimethicone
cetearyl methicone

Parabens - hormone disruptors. 

Paraben usage has been commonplace, simply due to their low cost and efficacy as preservatives. However, they are becoming increasingly controversial because they are suspected endocrine disrupters - which means they can interfere with our hormones.

Paraben usage has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues because it is believed to mimic estrogen and too much estrogen can trigger an increase in breast cell division and growth of tumors. For the ladies out there, estrogen helps control our menstrual cycles among other things, and an imbalance can wreak havoc on your hormones and therefore be detrimental to your health.

Main parabens to look out for:


Synthetic Fragrance & Phthalates - hormone disruption, untested for safety.

Fragrance  can be made from about 3100 different chemicals not listed on the everyday labels that you see on your products. The term “fragrance” is a way to skirt the FDA so the company does not have to list the chemicals they're using. Aside from being linked to allergies and hormone disruption, 80% of fragrance chemicals have not been tested for safety on humans. Fragrance may also cause migraines, asthma, and chronic lung disease. Beauty products using the word "fragrance" could mean the use of chemicals including phthalates, another potential hormone disruptor.

Synthetic Dyes - toxic to humans and the environment.

While we are lured by the long lasting effects of artificial dyes, these colors come from petroleum or coal-tar sources, all of which come with harmful health effects. Naming wise - synthetic colors will normally go by "FD&C" or "D&C" combined with a number. Some of the chemicals found in synthetic dyes are mercury, lead, chromium, copper, sodium chloride, toluene, and benzene. Exposure to large doses of these substances can be toxic and can have severe effects in the human body. Water pollution can also result from manufacturing synthetic dyes when untreated dye effluent is dumped directly into bodies of water.

Sodium Chloride (in shampoos and conditioners) - cause scalp sensitivities and potential hair loss.

Sodium chloride is another name for salt. Sodium chloride in shampoo and conditioner is mainly there to make the consistency thicker. Salt can make an already-sensitive scalp dry and itchy, which can eventually cause hair loss.


Simply put - read the ingredient list and stay informed. Awareness is the most important tool that we can pass on to one another.

Hair products list their ingredients from highest to lowest concentration, so we recommend that you read the ingredients carefully and if you come across a word that sounds like it belongs in a science manual, there are now many databases to cross check ingredients and determine their safety. EWG and the Think Dirty App are two popular resources. 




Needless to say, we don't use ANY of these nasties in our products. 

While we started out as a clean brand at a time when it was much less common than it is today, we've worked hard to constantly improve to meet the rigorous standards of our community. Our savvy customers, the relentlessness of the amazing bloggers we collaborate with, and the strict curation practices of retail partners like Credo Beauty have informed and inspired every decision we make and demanded total ingredient transparency and integrity from us. We will continue to improve and evolve while prioritizing the safety of our consumer and our environment - with ingredients that nurture the health of your hair from within, of course. After all - it's in our name!

As always, please get in touch with any questions about our products or ingredients: