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  5. 13 Harmful Ingredients To Avoid In Your Shampoo and Conditioner

Is your hair looking dull, dry and frizzy every time you wash it? This may be the effect of harmful chemicals present in your shampoo and conditioner.

Though several hair care brands promise beautiful, shiny, lustrous locks, their products are often loaded with toxic ingredients such as Sulfates, Triclosan, Silicones, Parabens and many more. These chemicals take away your hair's natural oils, cause severe damage to your hair shaft and can be carcinogenic!

If you’ve been choosing your shampoo and conditioner depending on TV ads and appearance, it’s time to read the ingredients and know which ones are harmful.

Does Your Shampoo And Conditioner Contain Harmful Chemicals?

Shampoos and conditioners are designed to clean your scalp and hair to remove sweat, dirt and sebum build-ups. Certain antimicrobial agents are also added to keep scalp infections and dandruff away. However, new products promising better results, are marketed every day, leaving us either too confused or spoilt for choice.

Hair cleansing products are often laden with harsh surfactants like SLS or preservatives such as Parabens that strip your hair of its natural oils, making hair frizzy, dry and damaged with repeated use. Some of these ingredients are also capable of triggering cancer with long periods of exposure.

“Our skin is an extremely sensitive organ. Apart from its role as the first barrier between us and the environment, it absorbs most of the things that are applied to it. Thus, one should be very mindful of the products that they choose to use," says Dr. Zeel Gandhi, Chief Ayurvedic Doctor at Vedix.

What Ingredients Are Bad In Shampoos And Conditioners?

noxious additives in cosmetics

Though there are several shampoos and conditioners in the market catering to different hair needs, the base composition usually remains the same. It includes:

1. Detergent and Foaming Agents

2. Conditioners

3. Thickeners

4. Sequestering Components

5. Artificial Colours and Fragrances and

6. Preservatives

Some types of the mentioned components are harsher or not suitable for continued use. Before selecting your shampoo or conditioner, ensure that these ingredients aren’t present in the product you use.

Here’s a list of 13 harmful ingredients that you need to look out for before picking the appropriate product for your hair.

A. Toxic Detergents And Foaming Agents

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate And Sodium Laureth Sulfate

SLS and SLES [1] are surfactants or detergents very commonly found in shampoos. They are categorised under anionic detergents and are expert cleaning agents. From floor cleaners, laundry detergents, dish washers to your shampoo, SLS and SLES are used to remove dirt and grease from surfaces.

These types of detergents not just remove excess sebum and sweat, but completely strip your hair of moisture and natural oils that keep hair hydrated. The result is dry, brittle, frizzy hair that tangles and breaks easily.

2. Diethanolamine And Triethanolamine

DEA and TEA [2] are two harmful foaming agents or emulsifiers used in shampoos to create the rich lather that most people love. TEA also helps maintain the pH balance of the shampoo.

However, both DEA and TEA may combine and react with other chemicals and form Nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA), which is a cancer-causing agent. According to research, the human skin can easily absorb NDEA leading to various skin problems.

3. Cocamidopropyl Betaine

CAPB is often used as a surfactant in shampoos and conditioners. Though it is mild compared to SLS, many consumers have reported allergic reactions to products containing CAPB. CAPB can cause skin irritations and allergies if used for longer periods.

The common belief that a shampoo that foams better, cleans better, is untrue. While a cleaning agent cleans dirt and sebum from your hair, a foaming agent helps to spread the shampoo better. Most herbal and medicated shampoos foam little, as they don’t contain harmful chemicals, but that does not prevent them from cleansing your hair.

B. Harmful Conditioning Agents

4. Silicons

The main function of Silicon is to form a shiny layer on your hair shaft to make hair appear smooth and lustrous. Silicon being an emollient, locks moisture into your hair shaft and keeps hair hydrated temporarily. However, continued use may create a permanent build-up of silicons on your hair.

This will prevent nutrition and moisture from penetrating the cuticle, causing dryness and damage. If you are unsure of what to search in the ingredient list of your shampoo, try looking for dimethicone or simethicone.

C. Thickening Agents That Are Injurious To Health

5. Polyethylene Glycol

PEG [3] is used in shampoos and conditioners as a thickening agent. It can also act as a surfactant or emulsifier. Since we like our shampoos thick and creamy, PEGs are added to increase the shampoo’s viscosity. However, PEGs are carcinogenic in nature and can cause skin toxicity if applied on cuts or broken skin.

6. Sodium Chloride

Salt is another common thickening agent used in most shampoos. Chemically termed as Sodium Chloride [4], salt is a known skin irritant and is quite damaging to the cuticle layer of your hair shaft.

D. Hazardous Preservatives

7. Parabens

These preservatives are used in shampoos and conditions to increase the product’s shelf life. Being antimicrobial in nature, Parabens keep your hair-care products free of bacterial or fungal growth. However, these can easily penetrate the skin and imitate the effects of estrogen. This increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

8. Formaldehyde

Often labelled as quaternium-15 in your shampoo bottle, it releases Formaldehyde, a well-known human carcinogen. Formaldehyde is rarely used directly, but most shampoos add Formaldehyde releasers to preserve your shampoo for a longer period.

9. Methylchloroisothiazolinone

CMIT is another scary preservative added in shampoos. It can cause lung toxicity and other body toxicities. It is widely used in several cosmetics to prevent the product from getting spoilt after you’ve opened the bottle.

10. Triclosan

Medical researches link Triclosan [5] to various health problems including skin allergies, disruption of thyroid metabolism, weakening of the body’s immune system and cancer. Triclosan is commonly found in shampoos and toothpastes as an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent. Exposure to Triclosan can cause eczema and asthma in children.

11. Potassium Sorbate

This is often used as a substitute for the more harmful preservative Paraben. Though comparatively mild in nature, Potassium Sorbate can cause skin and scalp irritation with prolonged use.

E. Harmful Fragrances

12. Polysorbate 20

Polysorbates are used for adding fragrance to shampoos, conditioners and other cosmetic products. They also behave as emulsifiers and surfactants. Commonly known health hazards from Polysorbate 20 exposure are allergies and skin cancers.

13. Phthalates

Phthalates are used in a variety of hair care and hair styling products. These chemical substances make added fragrances last longer. They also act as lubricators in conditioners and gels and help the substance spread easily on your hair.

Phthalates are carcinogenic in nature and cause various health problems such as nausea, problems in the reproductive system, and hormonal disorders.If your shampoo or conditioner contains added fragrance, then it is likely to contain Phthalates as well.

What Are The Side Effects Of Using Chemical Shampoos?

woman upset with hair loss

If you have checked the label of your shampoo and found the above mentioned chemicals present, it’s time to switch to natural products. Herbal or Ayurvedic shampoos and conditioners are made from plants and herbs. They nourish skin and hair without posing threats to your body. Read on about the side effects that chemical ingredients have on your hair and health.

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate And Sodium Laureth Sulfate

  • Dries the hair shaft causing split ends and frizzy hair
  • Clogs hair follicles and triggers hair loss
  • Affects the immune system of your body
  • Irritates eyes and may cause respiratory problems
  • Toxic in nature

2. Diethanolamine And Triethanolamine

  • Causes dryness in hair and scalp
  • Has toxicity
  • Can cause skin allergies
  • Can cause damage to organs with prolonged exposure
  • Carcinogenic in nature

3. Cocamidopropyl Betaine

  • May cause skin and eye irritation
  • Can cause skin allergies and eczema

4. Silicones

  • Prevents moisture and nutrition from penetrating the hair shaft
  • Makes hair dry and brittle

5. Polyethylene Glycol

  • Strips hair of its natural oils
  • Weakens the immune system
  • Causes cancer

6. Sodium Chloride

  • Hair and skin irritant
  • Damages the cuticle of your hair
  • Blocks hair follicles
  • Some medications

7. Parabens

  • Potential breast cancer-causing agent
  • Triggers skin allergies
  • Affects the immune system
  • Can cause hair loss

8. Formaldehyde

  • Carcinogenic in nature
  • Causes skin allergies
  • Continued exposure may cause asthma

9. Methylchloroisothiazolinone

  • Possibilities of scalp irritation
  • May cause skin allergies
  • Chances of neuro-toxicity
  • Possibilities of lung toxicity

10. Triclosan

  • Causes skin allergies
  • Interferes with thyroid metabolism
  • May cause asthma, eczema in children
  • Carcinogenic in nature
  • May cause sexual dysfunctionality

11. Potassium Sorbate

  • Irritates skin and eyes
  • Weakens the immune system
  • Toxic if inhaled in large amounts

12. Polysorbate 20

  • Causes skin allergies and irritation
  • Contains cancer-causing agents such as ethylene oxide

13. Phthalates

  • Commonly causes skin allergies
  • Overuse may result in nausea, skin irritation, rashes
  • Interferes with sexual functionality
  • Can cause cancer

What Ingredients In Your Shampoo Are Good For Hair?

ayurvedic herbs like shikakai, reetha, amla

According to the ancient science of Ayurveda, certain herbs are enriched in ‘Keshya’ properties which benefit your hair. Ayurvedic shampoos and conditioners use these specific Keshya herbs to cleanse, nourish and boost hair growth. In the Ayurvedic system, it is believed that when your Tridoshas or Life Energies are not in harmony, the normal body functions are interrupted.

For the body to stay healthy, all three Doshas need to be balanced. The Keshya herbs help balance Doshas to prevent them from affecting the health of your hair. Each herb mentioned below performs a specific Keshya function that substitutes the harmful chemical agents added in non-herbal shampoos and conditioners. Read on to choose the perfect combination of herbs to suit your hair needs.

1. Reetha

Reetha or Soapnut is a natural surfactant containing saponins. Saponins act as foaming agents that are derived from plants and have no side effects on your skin and hair. Reetha is commonly used in Ayurvedic shampoos as a cleansing agent with antimicrobial and antiseptic properties.

Reetha balances your Kapha Dosha and keeps hair moisturized. Rich in vitamins and nutrients, Reetha makes your hair look shiny and voluminous. Its antibacterial properties keep scalp infections away, thus improving scalp and hair health.

2. Shikakai

Shikakai is another natural cleansing agent containing saponins that is used in herbal shampoos. Shikakai is adept at removing dirt, grease and sebum from your hair and scalp without stripping your hair of its natural oils. Shikakai’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties soothe your scalp and keep follicle infections away. It also lubricates your hair, keeping it hydrated and tangle free.

3. Triphala

Triphala [6] combines the goodness of three Ayurvedic herbs- Haritaki, Bibhitaki and Amla, that work wonders for your hair. It is considered a tridoshic rasayana that balances the effects of all three Doshas in your body including the scalp.

Triphala contains Vitamin C and antioxidants that strengthen hair roots from within and give you damage-free tresses that don’t break easily. With the presence of mild saponins, Triphala cleanses the scalp and keeps dandruff away.

4. Bhringraj

Considered as one of the best Keshya herbs, Bhringraj is a hair growth promoter. It is also helpful against premature greying of hair or Palitya. Bhringraj prevents dryness and keeps hair hydrated and lustrous. Rich in nutrients, Bhringraj is capable of reversing hair conditions such as Khalitya or Alopecia by providing ample nutrition to the hair follicles.

5. Kumari

Kumari or Aloe Vera is a natural hair conditioner used in several herbal hair products. Its cooling properties calm the Pitta Dosha on your scalp and reduces excess sebum secretion. It clears hair follicles of dirt and sebum build-up, thus allowing nutrition to seep in. Rich in proteolytic enzymes, it repairs damaged hair shafts to give you healthy hair.

6. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha improves blood circulation to your hair follicles and promotes hair growth. Often used in a variety of herbal shampoos, oils and conditioners, this wonder herb stimulates hair growth and promotes the production of melanin that maintains the natural colour of your hair. Rich in flavonoids, potassium, nitrate and having anti-bacterial properties, Ashwagandha strengthens hair and keeps your scalp healthy.

7. Hibiscus

Japa or Hibiscus is an excellent hair conditioner that nourishes hair and provides a frizz-free, healthy shine. Hibiscus leaves are used in shampoos for their lather forming properties that mildly clean your scalp without drying it. Hibiscus is also anti bacterial in nature and keeps scalp infections away. Hibiscus is quite effective against hair loss and alopecia.

8. Coconut

Coconut extracts such as coconut milk or coconut oil is often used in shampoos to condition and nourish dry hair. It is very effective against scalp conditions such as dandruff. Rich in vitamins and minerals, coconut promotes hair growth and prevents itchiness, drying and split ends. It is a known Vata Pitta Dosha pacifier and keeps your hair moisturized and healthy.

9. Methi

Methi or fenugreek has mild cleansing properties that keep your scalp clean. It increases blood circulation to your hair follicles keeping them nourished and preventing them from shrinking prematurely. Rich in nicotinic acid and high proteins, methi can effectively stop hair loss.

10. Yashtimadhu

Yasthimadhu’s medicinal properties improve hair and scalp conditions. Rich in flavonoids and phytoestrogen, this magic herb unclogs your hair follicles and aids in the generation of new hair. A perfect Vata Pitta balancer, this herb has anti-inflammatory properties that smoothes your scalp and keeps infections away.

11. Gunja

Gunja or Indian licorice is used in shampoos and conditioners for its ability to generate hair even in areas facing premature balding. Gunja makes your hair thick and strong from the inside and prevents breakage. It balances Vata Kapha Doshas that cause scalp problems such as dandruff.

The Last Word

Shampoos and conditioners promoted through TV ads and celebrity endorsements may be tempting, but often contain hazardous chemical ingredients that are toxic to the body. Some of these substances are even carcinogenic and can cause cancer with prolonged usage. Opting for an Ayurvedic shampoo and conditioner is a safer and wiser decision, as it will only benefit your hair without any side effects.

Know Your Dosha Now

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