21 Harmful Ingredients In Hair Products

Knowing which are the harmful ingredients in hair products is becoming more and more important for many people.

This article explores which ingredients you need to start avoiding moving forwards.

As our interest in the ingredients we use in our hair increases, so does the length of the list of ingredients to be avoided. Many of these products are added to shampoos for scent, cleansing power, or their ability to lather well. As our knowledge grows, many people are returning to more natural ways to cleanse their hair.

If you are looking to increase your knowledge and be able to avoid the main harmful ingredients in hair products, keep reading.

21 Harmful Ingredients In Hair Products

Most people look to only use healthy products on their hair and skin, but this is difficult to do if you are unaware of what you are looking for when choosing your body care products.

Always check the product label for the ingredients listed below, or better still, make your own DIY No Poo hair wash at home so that you know exactly what is going on your hair.

If you are wondering what ingredients are bad for hair in shampoo, make sure you take a look at the chemical list (source 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13).

There are several potentially toxic ingredients to avoid in hair products.

Find out what they are by reading our haircare ingredients checker below:

1. Sulfates

Sulfates are cleansing agents used in many traditional commercial shampoos.

They not only remove the dirt and oils that we want to get rid of but also strip the hair of too much of our natural oil, not leaving enough to condition our hair.

Because sulfates remove so much oil, they may actually increase the number of oils produced and make your hair look greasy more quickly.

Sulfates may also remove the color from your hair more quickly than non-sulfate shampoos.

2. Silicones

Silicones are gradually being removed from many shampoos due to their potential environmental impact.

In the long term, it is thought that silicones are damaging to your hair.

This is because silicones lock out moisture that leads to frizz. It also prevents the scalp’s natural oils from penetrating and conditioning each individual hair strand.

Over time, the overuse of silicones can lead to dry and damaged hair that is prone to breakage.

3. Parabens

Parabens are found in many shampoos, body care products, and cosmetics.

They are used to increase the shelf life of the product.

Parabens have been linked to cancer. They are also said to alter hormone responses and have a detrimental effect on reproductive systems.

4. Glycols

Propylene glycol is used to make shampoo flow more freely, but it can be an irritant to your skin.

Like parabens, glycols have been linked to cancer, and are said to have possible links to organ toxicity.

5. Polysorbates

This chemical is used to increase lather and add a pleasant fragrance to your commercial shampoo.

Skin cancers and allergies have been linked to the use of polysorbate 20.

6. Phthalates

If the press is to be believed, phthalates, which improve the consistency of shampoos and make them easier to use, are responsible for:

  • Endocrine Disruption
  • Birth Defects
  • Can worsen obesity
  • Can make allergies worse

7. Methylchloroisonthiazolinone

This is a preserving agent.

It is yet another chemical that is regularly used in shampoos but has been found to increase a person’s likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer.

8. Triethanolamine

Not only does it add to the lathering capacity, it also balances pH, and improves the texture of your hair.

Unfortunately, it also causes irritation to people’s skin, even eczema, and is thought to cause eye damage.

9. Salt

An ingredient that is easy to spot on the list, but one that should not be used on your hair on a regular basis.

It can remove moisture and cause your hair to become dry and brittle.

10. Isopropyl Alcohol

This chemical will dry out your hair, causing it to become prone to breakage.

Isopropyl Alcohol is also thought to lead to scalp problems if used too regularly.

11. Cocamidopropyl Butane

Used as a cleanser and to increase the lathering effect of shampoo.

Unfortunately, many people find that it is an irritant and causes a wide range of skin problems.

12. Triclosan

A preservative that has antibacterial effects, but can also cause scalp irritation and dry out your hair.

If you want to avoid endocrine disruptors, avoid products that include this as an ingredient.

13. Retinal Palmitate

Whilst retinal palmitate may remove the grease from your hair, it is also known to irritate the skin and make eczema problems worse.

14. Unnatural Colorings

If the coloring in your shampoo is not natural then there is a good chance that it is made from harmful synthetic chemicals, many of which you will find in this list.

15. Fragrances

The problem with finding the term ‘fragrance’ on your shampoo bottle is that it covers many chemicals.

Most will be synthetic and are likely to have a negative effect on your hair and scalp health.

15. Formaldehyde

A preservative sometimes found in shampoos.

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and should be avoided where possible.

16. Potassium Sorbate

Although some believe that this chemical has a low risk of causing skin problems, it is definitely a chemical that you do not wish to get into your eyes.

This is why you should try to avoid it in your shampoo where the likelihood is greater.

17. Behentrimonium Chloride

Used as a conditioning agent, for some people it can cause skin irritation and has been linked to eye damage at larger concentrations.

18. Benzene

This is a recognized carcinogen, and definitely a product to avoid as much as possible.

19. Mineral Oil

This product is not generally an irritant or a carcinogen.

It can however lead to build-up on your hair which in time will leave your hair less healthy as nutrients are unable to reach the hair shaft, and your scalp is smothered.

20. Petroleum

Products derived from petroleum can seal in dirt and seal out moisture and nutrients.

21. Hydroquinone

Sometimes found in conditioners and hair dyes.

Can cause skin conditions and studies have shown potentially carcinogenic effects.

What Ingredients Should A Good Shampoo Have?

A good shampoo is one that cleans your hair effectively and leaves it in good condition, even when used frequently.

If you are determined to leave out harmful ingredients in hair products, then you will be left with more natural, and fewer synthetic ingredients.

Many of the big, well-known brands are now bringing out sulfate-free shampoo offerings.

These well-known companies include:

  • L’Oreal
  • Herbal Essences
  • Simple
  • OGX

There are lots of others to choose from, but those harnessing the natural benefits of honey, coconut, and tea tree, are often the most popular.

Shampoos Without Harmful Ingredients

With so many different products it can be a difficult choice to make when choosing which shampoo and hair care products are the best for your hair.

The shampoos below are free from:

  • Parabens
  • Harsh Preservatives
  • Synthetic Colors
  • Fragrances
  • Phthalates
  • Sulfates

Below are two shampoos that do not include harmful ingredients:

1. Avalon Organics Therapy Thickening Shampoo

Buy On Amazon

This shampoo prides itself on its organic status and Vegan credentials.

With none of the above nasty chemicals included, and nearly 12000 positive reviews on Amazon (fact-checked June 2023), it is difficult to see how you could buy a better-liked thickening shampoo than this!

2. Amika Dry Shampoo

Buy On Amazon

If you are looking for a dry shampoo that does not contain talc or aluminum, or leaves clouds of dust, this may be the product for you.

We love Amika Perk Up dry shampoo!

Chemicals In Hair Products That Cause Cancer

The problem with a large number of the chemicals that are in traditional commercial shampoos is that we are only now finding out how damaging they can be to our health.

Whilst some of the synthetic chemicals will cause skin irritation to some people, other chemicals have been reported as being carcinogenic, or cancer-causing.

The chemicals that are regularly included in shampoos that have been linked to an increase in cancer possibility are the following:

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list but contains the main culprits when looking at potentially carcinogenic ingredients within readily available hair care products:


These have been recorded as accumulating in tissue, especially breast tissue, and have also been linked to reproductive problems.


Along with parabens, used as a preservative, formaldehyde has been deemed a carcinogen.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

A product that is gradually being dropped from many shampoos owing to its negative health impacts.

Cocamidopropyl Bentaine

Used to make the traditional lather effect in shampoos.

Not only is this surfactant considered to be a carcinogen, but it is also known to cause skin irritation.

1,4 Dioxane

Another lathering agent, this product is suspected of being a carcinogen.


There are so many potentially harmful ingredients in hair products that are commercially available that it is sometimes difficult to find a product that is free of one or more of them.

Avoiding the main harmful ingredients such as sulfates, silicones, parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde, is the first step to living a more natural life whilst still having wonderful and well-maintained hair.

Katrina Stewardson

Hello! My name is Katrina Stewardson, and I've been obsessed for almost ever with discovering the best natural hair methods for my own hair. For years I longed for one website to tell me everything I needed to know about the amazing No Poo Method movement. I just couldn't find one though, so I decided to create it myself! I dearly hope this website will save all you lovely ladies (and gents!) from wasting hours scrolling the internet looking for natural hair-related information like I did.

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