Harmful ingredients to avoid in hair products.
Naturalistas often run to the store for a product restock, or to get new products when the old ones no longer give satisfactory results. Sometimes we base our purchases of new products off internet reviews, ads, or recommendations from people we trust. While these aren’t bad ways to pick new products, most times the people recommending do not take the time to inspect the contents of the products they promote/recommend. These recommendations are based on results they’ve seen, or just because they have been paid to promote, and so promote they will.
Certain ingredients in main stream natural hair products really do more harm than good, both to our bodies, and our hair in the long run. These ingredients being present in a product does not mean that the product will not work. In fact, these products work “wonders” because these harmful chemicals in them enhance their potency. So, here are the top 10 ingredients to look out for and avoid when buying natural hair products.
Parabens are synthetic chemicals that are used to preserve products especially cosmetics, medicines, and food. Parabens are termed as “xenoestrogens” and this basically means that they can interfere with your body’s natural estrogen. When there is an excess of estrogen in the body it can lead to increased cell division in the breasts which can ultimately lead to tumors and cancer. Now that’s a hefty price to pay for a few days of ‘poppin’ curls, isn’t it?
What to look out for: ingredients that end in “-paraben” e.g. methylparaben, ethyl paraben, and propylparaben.
It’ll be good to start this section by stating the fact that not all alcohols are bad for your hair, some are actually beneficial since they have moisturizing, and frizz controlling properties. Others are not as friendly though. A common agent found in hair products that doesn’t do you much good is isopropyl alcohol. It is drying and harsh and is mostly found in hair gels and hair gel sprays because of its quick drying action. It can react with sunlight to bleach your hair, and is able to dissolve oils in your hair. It’s a good idea to avoid this particular ingredient when buying natural hair products.
What to look out for: Isopropyl alcohol.
Petrolatum/petroleum, is a direct extract (or by-product) of the distillation of crude oil. Its great for your skin because it adds shine, and keeps you warm, so a lot of people think it’s the same story when it comes to your hair but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Petrolatum is very thick and so you could (theoretically) use it as a sealant. The downside is that it is so thick that as soon as you cover your hair shaft with it, nothing else can . Meaning no moisture can get into your hair till you shampoo. Petrolatum doesn’t even contain any essential nutrients for your hair, so its not beneficial on its own. Long term use can lead to very dry, tough hair, which equals breakage.
What to look out for: Mineral oil, petroleum, petrolatum, and petroleum jelly.
#4 Retinyl palmite
Also known as vitamin A palmite, retinyl palmite is a combination of retinol and palmitic acid that is used as an antioxidant. Even though it is a source of vitamin A, there are drawbacks its excessive use. Retinyl palmite is mostly found in shampoos and in this liquid form your skin can absorb it. This is where the problem lies. Research has found that “excess vitamin A can trigger excess skin growth, and retinyl palmite forms free radicals that can damage DNA”. So it’s pretty obvious that you should use it sparingly, or not at all.
What to look out for: Retinyl palmite and retinol palmite.
#5 Formaldehyde and its releasers
Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic compound that is usually found in wood products, soaps, and pet products as a preservative. In hair products, it is usually found in hair strengthening treatments. It can trigger reactions like, itching and coughing, and is known to trigger asthma. It is absorbable by the skin and can have long term side effects of DNA damage, and cancerous growths in the body. Although it is used in small amounts in hair products, it is still quite a potent chemical. It’s best to altogether avoid this ingredient in hair products you buy.
What to look out for: Formaldehyde might not be used directly in a product, but some compounds that release it include; bronopol, quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, glyoxal, DMDM hydantoin, and polyoxymethylene urea.
#6 Sulphur and Sulphates
The cosmetic world is still a bit divided on just how dangerous sulphates are to the hair and skin, but since there is no sure answer yet, it’s best to be careful. Sulphates are essentially salts of sulphur. Sulphates are mostly found in shampoos because they form lather when they react with water. This is why sulphur free shampoos do not foam as much as those that contain sulphur. They are also very cleansing, so cleansing that they can strip your hair of all oils and leave it feeling very dry. So you can use a shampoo containing sulphur, but make sure to pre-poo and deep condition alongside it.
What to look out for: sodium lauryl sulphate, sodium laureth sulphate.
Benzene is an organic chemical compound. In the everyday society, it is found in paints, varnishes, glues, waxes, and detergents. All this, even though it is considered carcinogenic to humans. In hair products, it is mostly in hair dyes. The actual substance used in hair dyes is tuolene, which is a direct derivative of benzene. It gets into the body via inhalation and can cause cancers, liver, and kidney damage.
What to look out for: Toluol, phenyl methane, methylbenzene.
Silicone is a synthetic substance and it is used in sealants, adhesives, lubricants, and other household items. In the cosmetic industry, silicone is a fairly common ingredient, and much like sulphur/sulphate, the hair community is still divided on its views on the benefits of silicone. They are found in shampoos, conditioners and detangling creams to give excellent slip for detangling and combing hair, and are also found in heat protectants. The issue with silicone is that it is hydrophobic (i.e. it does not easily react with water), so it’s hard to get it out of your hair, which means it leaves behind a good deal of build up over time. This build up can cause dryness, itching, clumpy hair, and hard knots and tangles. So even though silicone is safe, it is not entirely good for you.
What to look out for: Dimethecone, ceteraryl mathicone, dimethiconol, cyclomethicon, and ingredients ending with –cone.
These are commonly found in hair products because they prevent bacterial growth/contamination. However, it is under query as a carcinogenic suspect. It is an endocrine disruptor and can be associated with fertility issues, and weight gain.
What to look out for: Triclosan, irgasan DP-300, cloxifenolum, triclocarban.
This is the ultimate catch-all for “chemicals we don’t want you to know about”. Some companies claim to be protecting their secret fragrant formulas, but honestly that’s not enough. Fragrance can literally be a bunch of chemicals they throw together that end up smelling nice. It is best to purchase naturally scented product, since their get their fragrance from essential oils, fruits, flavor, and herbs.
What to look out for: Fragrance
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