Worst Substances Found in Hair Styling Products

worst substances to avoid text with scientist
Written by
Morgan German
Medically approved by
Zac Hyde M.D.

In this day and age, the market is loaded with hair styling products that promise amazing results within a few uses.

These brands develop their products by including several ingredients that could potentially improve the quality of your hair. However, the story does not always have a happy ending.

You see, there are many substances that could potentially wreak havoc on your hair, especially when used for a prolonged period of time.

In this article, we will cover the worst substances found in hair styling products, then switch gears to covering some general tips to take care of your hair.


The worst substances to avoid in hair styling products

1.     Sulfate

Often labeled as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, this substance strips the oil and dirt away from your hair. However, using sulfate for a long time could lead to counterproductive results.

Your hair needs to retain some quantity of its natural moisture and oil to remain healthy.  Stripping away too much oil leads to dry, thin hair follicles. This substance also predisposes the scalp to dermatological conditions and irritation.

2.     Phthalates

Phthalates are commonly used as solvents and perfumes in hair and cosmetic products.

According to studies, phthalates interfere with the endocrine system and reproductive function of males and females. It could also cause birth defects when a pregnant woman gets exposed to it.

In the cosmetic department, phthalates get advertised as lubricants that soften other substances and promote their spreadability, absorption, and fragrances. However, the prolonged exposure to this substance can lead to devastating consequences.

3.     Aryl amines

Aryl amines are commonly used in the hair dye industry.

According to research, aryl amines could potentially be carcinogenic substances. In other words, they could lead to some types of cancer by inducing a genetic mutation in your DNA. Exposure to these chemicals in the workplace increased the risk of bladder cancer.

Note that the research in this area is lacking, which mandates further clinical studies.

4.     Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde leads to numerous adverse effects, especially in the reproductive system. It also increases skin irritation, dermatitis, and hives, which creates an unfavorable milieu for hair growth.

5.     Denatured alcohols

Denatured alcohols are extremely common in cosmetics and hair styling products. Companies use these substances for various purposes, including the preservation of the product and the prolongation of its shelf-life.

However, you should not use denatured alcohols on your hair since it leads to dehydration and strips your moisture.

6.     Synthetic fragrances

Technically speaking, synthetic fragrances are not the worst thing you can do to your hair. However, it could lead to impactful effects. These chemicals could damage your hair, especially when you do not inspect the ingredients found in the product.

The vast majority of synthetic fragrances are made from harsh alcohol (e.g., ethyl alcohol), which dehydrates and thins your hair.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that ethyl alcohol leads to substantial hair dehydration. Therefore, most cosmetic brands are shifting to other types of alcohols.

Note that when you let your hair get dehydrated, long-term damage incurs, including split ends, fizziness, and breakage.

7.     Sodium chloride

Sodium chloride is an irritant substance that could be hazardous in some cases.

It is one of the most common ingredients found in shampoos. It also affects your hair color and dehydrates the roots. It can potentially strip a layer of your hair, which predisposes the follicles and scalp to all types of diseases.

What should I use instead?

The best alternatives to the substances we listed above are organic hair products that contain little or no chemicals.

For instance, you can use soybean oil-based polymeric surfactant (SBPS) instead of sulfate-rich products. This substance is not toxic and only has mild detergency, foaming, good conditioning, and aesthetic appeal.

Another example is apple cider vinegar, which you can apply to your scalp. ACV balances your pH, preventing dryness and dandruff.

What can I do to grow hair?

  • Use a good organic oil and massage it into your scalp
  • Stay away from the chemicals we listed above
  • Look for biotin-rich shampoos
  • Improve your eating habits by adding more protein to your diet
  • Use mild shampoos and conditioners.
  • Avoid using deep conditioners as they weaken the roots of your hair follicles

Takeaway message

guy with afro hair with plant in front of him, black background

Being aware of the harmful substances that damage your hair and potentially lead to hair loss is indispensable. Before buying any hair styling product, you need to investigate the ingredients it contains by reading the label.

We hope that this article will help you be more aware of the side effects caused by some products.

Learn more about everything related to hair growth and alopecia by reading our ultimate hair loss guide.