12 Harmful Ingredients to Avoid in Shampoo

Many of us hardly turn around and check the ingredients list of those fancy-looking shampoo bottles which promise us silky and shiny hair in just one wash. Not many of us look for harmful ingredients before buying any beauty item, let alone shampoos. It’s high time we eliminate toxic chemicals from our beauty, hair and skin care items, and it’s a good idea to start this mission with shampoos. So, in this post, we have listed out 12 harmful ingredients to avoid in shampoo.

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is perhaps the most common ingredient found in shampoos and soaps. This detergent is widely used in garage floor cleaners, engine cleaners etc., and it’s also used as a foaming agent in most of the shampoos. On the other hand, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is the alcohol form of SLS. It is a higher-foaming variation of SLS. Though they share many properties yet SLES is less irritating than SLS. Sodium Laureth Sulfate is often contaminated with carcinogens like 1,4 dioxane and ethylene oxide.

Harmful effects of SLS and SLES:


• Damages hair follicle and triggers hair fall.


• Has protein denaturing properties which may cause skin inflammation


• Threat to immune system


• Enhances allergic response to other toxins


• May cause cataracts in adults


• May hinder in the proper development of children’s eyes.

2. Diethanolamine (DEA) or Triethonalamine (TEA): Theses chemicals are used as wetting agents in a shampoo. They help to create rich lather in a shampoo. Nitrite is used as a preservative in shampoos. A reaction between these two chemicals (on exposure to oxygen and air) and nitrite can form nitrosamines, which is a cancer-causing compound.

Harmful effects of DEA or TEA:


• Can cause liver and kidney damage


• Potentially a cancer-causing ingredient.

3. Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a known sensitizer. DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Quaternium-15, Bronopol are some shampoo ingredients in which it is present.

Harmful effects of Formaldehyde:


• It destroys natural protective oils of the skin and thus causes various skin irritations.


• Burning sensations in the eyes


• Higher percentage of Formaldehyde may also cause chest pain and shortness of breath.


• Longer exposure to this chemical may also cause asthma.

4. Silicones: Silicones are used in shampoo to form a thin film on your hair shaft to give a feeling for ‘softness’. Everyone likes the feel of ‘soft hair’ after shampooing right? Well, do check if this softness is coming because of silicones. To find out if a shampoo and conditioner contains silicone or not look at the ingredients on the label. If the ingredients on the label says Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone or silicone, avoid using the products. Remember that Dimethicone and Cyclomethicone are silicone derived emollients. Silicones coat your hair making it look soft and shiny in the short term. However, they slowly start coating hair completely, creating a buildup and effectively sealing off moisture from reaching the cuticle. If you are using silicones shampoo/ conditioner however, be sure to use a clarifying shampoo periodically to prevent their harmful effects.

5. Parabens: They are a kind of preservative used in shampoo. Methylparaben, propylparaben, benzylparaben and butylparaben are all parabens which are used in various shampoos.

Harmful effects of Parabens:

  • Can cause tumors in breast
  • Can cause skin irritations, rashes, eczema etc
  • Causes endocrine disruption.
  • May cause immunotoxicity.
  • Can trigger allergies.

6. Phthalates: They are added in shampoos for fragrance. Whenever you see a word ‘synthetic fragrance’ on a shampoo bottle just remember it is this.

Harmful effects of Phthalates:


• Negative effect on immune system


• Can cause nausea


• Skin rashes


• Hormonal disruptions


• Liver cancers


• Birth defects


• Can affect the central nervous system.

7. Fragrance: Added fragrance can clog the lymphatic system. They are usually added to appeal to customers who want their hair to smell good.

Harmful Effects of Fragrance:

  • Causes skin, eye irritation.
  • Excessive dryness.

8. Triclosan: Commonly found toothpastes, shampoos, it is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent.

Harmful Effects of Triclosan:

  • Can cause skin, eye irritation.
  • Disrupts endocrine system.
  • Can trigger asthma and allergies.

9. DMDM Hydantoin: It’s an anti-microbial agent which releases formaldehyde, widely used in cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, hair gels, etc.

Harmful Effects of DMDM Hydantoin:

  • Formaldehydate component.
  • Can trigger allergies.
  • Can cause skin irritation.

10. Polyethylene Glycol: Polyethylene glycol is widely used in household cleaning products. It is most often list as PEG-20 or PEG-40 in the ingredients list. It is often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane which are both carcinogenics. It makes it easier for other toxic ingredients to enter the body.

Harmful Effects of Polyethylene Glycol:

  • Increases toxic load in the body.
  • Contaminated with carcinogens.

11. Potassium Sorbate: It is a preservative used widely in beauty products to prevent them from spoiling.

Harmful Effects of Potassium Sorbate:


Respiratory irritant.


Causes eye and skin irritation.


Negatively effects immunity.


Toxic to human DNA.

12. Polysorbate 20: It is a surfactant and emulsifying agent widely used in shower gels and shampoo. It is also used as a fragrance component. It’s usually treated with carcinogenic with ethylene oxide.

Harmful Effects of Polysorbate 20:


Causes skin irritation.


Contaminated with ethylene oxide which is a carcinogenic.

So next time you go shopping pay attention to what you are buying.

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