ingredients to avoid in your shampoo

8 Ingredients to Avoid in Your Shampoo

We all love a sudsy shampoo, but did you know that the ingredients that make shampoos lather up may actually be bad for you – not to mention the environment? We break it down for you with our list of eight ingredients to watch out for (and avoid) in your shampoo:


Sulfates are what’s known as “surfactants,” or surface acting agents, that are used to clean the dirt and excess sebum on the scalp and cause lathering in shampoos. Sounds like exactly what you want in a shampoo, right? Maybe not. Sulfates, like SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), SLES (sodium laureth sulfate) and ammonium lauryl sulfate, can strip your hair of its natural moisture and can even be hormone disruptors when used for long periods of time. Plus, they can damage the environment; many shampoo producers derive sulfates from palm oil, which is harvested by clearing forests that are often home to endangered species. Also, once these sulfates wash down the drain, they make their way into waterways and can severely affect marine ecosystems and animals.

harmful ingredients to avoid in shampoo


Dimethicone is a type of silicone added to hair care products that acts as a preventive layer for your hair shaft but over time, it builds up residue on your scalp. This can prevent moisture from entering the hair and can cause scalp irritation and brittle hair over time. If this isn’t bad enough, dimethicone is a silicone, and similar silicone-based molecules have been shown to persist in the environment and are slow to biodegrade, potentially affecting ecosystems and animals. 


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are used in many personal care products, including shampoos and liquid baby soaps, as well as hair-smoothing treatments like Brazilian blowouts and keratin treatments. These chemicals are intended to prevent microbes from growing in water-based products. However, they are carcinogenic and have been linked to cancer and allergic skin reactions. 

Look out for these ingredients on the product label: Bronopol, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15 and diazolidinyl urea are all formaldehyde releasers. These ingredients are known to be absorbed by your skin. 


Parabens are another preservative used in cosmetic and personal care products but they’re extremely harmful for human health and the environment. Parabens are xenoestrogens, which means that they have a similar composition to hormones found in humans. Xenoestrogens are thought to be hormone disruptors. In fact, scientists even found evidence of parabens in samples of breast cancer tissue. This doesn’t necessarily mean that parabens cause cancer, but we’d be wise to avoid them anyway. 

Besides, parabens are also linked to environmental harm, as low levels of butylparaben can kill coral! Parabens have been detected in surface waters and fish. 


Triclosan is an antibacterial agent and preservative that is often found in shampoos, toothpaste, deodorants and more. It’s been linked to disrupt hormones, the endocrine system and even the reproductive system – making it especially harmful for pregnant women and children.

Synthetic Fragrances

This is a tricky one because there’s a lot of secrecy around fragrances in cosmetics, and shampoos are no different. Generally though, if the fragrance in your products comes from a natural essential oil, the packaging will say so. However, if all the manufacturers tell you about the ingredient is that it’s a “fragrance,” that’s generally a cause for concern. The term “fragrance” allows manufacturers to opt out of including a list of the ingredients used to create that fragrance, because there’s very little regulation around the term. Basically, if a product label lists “fragrance,” you don’t actually know what’s in there, so to be on the safe side, avoid synthetic fragrances!

Synthetic Colours

While little makes us happier than a pretty-looking shampoo, the ingredients used to create these lovely colours are usually derived from coal tar or petroleum, a clear no-no when we’re trying to reduce our impact on the planet. You can identify synthetic colours on product labels by the terms “FD&C” or “D&C.”


Last but not least, phthalates are used in hair care products to increase its spreadability and help make the perfume stick to your hair and scalp. Frighteningly, they are endocrine disruptors meaning that they can cause early puberty in girls and reduce male fertility. 

Besides, they are highly dangerous for the environment, persisting in ecosystems and causing fertility issues in animals.

While chemicals aren’t inherently bad, we all need to be more aware of what we’re using in our daily lives and putting onto our bodies – not just for ourselves, but for the environment.

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See also: Go Natural: Eco-Friendly Deodorants That Actually Work