7 Harmful Ingredients You Should Avoid In Shampoo 2022

Shampoos, conditioners! All of us use these regularly for our hair health. But let me ask you a question, have you wondered what harmful ingredients lurk inside these innocent hair products?

Have you ever read the ingredient list at the back of a shampoo pack? 

If yes (or no), do you know what these products can do to your hair? Do they actually help “maintain and protect” hair health? Do they have any side effects?

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Well, the list of questions can be unending, but if you are one of those (like me) who hadn’t checked the ingredients at the back of the product pack or considered the side effects, maybe you should.

Some of these ingredients are actually harmful to your hair and should be avoided! 

So, here’s why I’ve decided to let you in on all the information I know through my own research about these harmful ingredients and what it does to your hair.

What are shampoos?

Similar to how we use soaps and detergents, shampoos too are cleansing agents with the purpose of getting rid of dirt, grime, and greasy substances from surfaces, but in this case, the “surface” is our hair.

Our hair is always exposed and comes in contact with dirt and grime from the environment, which gets mixed with the natural oil (sebum) on our hair along with dead skin cells, forming scalp buildup. 

In order to get rid of this, we need to use a shampoo to help loosen out these particles and clean our hair.

Which Harmful Ingredients you Should Avoid in Shampoo

What is your shampoo made of?

Every time I turn to the back of a shampoo bottle to read the ingredient list, I begin to think of my Chemistry classes at school.

The shampoo is a blend of different kinds of ingredients like carrying agents, cleansing agents, thickening agents, fragrance, preservatives, and foaming agents.

All of these are mixed together in one bottle instead of a test tube. Just like in Chemistry class, right?

Well, in short, this is the mixture that gets into your hair!

What makes shampoos and conditioners different?

Since shampoos are cleansing agents, it strips the hair of all its natural hydration and moisture got through the skin’s natural oil or sebum. 

Therefore, we very often see our hair dry, dull, and lifeless once we have used shampoo. That’s when the use of a conditioner comes into play.

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Conditioners act as a protective coating over these dry and dull hair strands after you have shampooed your hair, helping the hair retain hydration and moisture in turn giving it a shinier and smoother look.

Harmful Ingredients You Should Avoid In Shampoo 2021

In this list below, I have made a note of both harmful ingredients found in not only shampoos but also conditioners, because both of these substances work in correlation with the other.


Sulfates are the cleansing agents in shampoos that make the shampoo lather on your hair when mixed with water. 

It helps get rid of the dirt and grime from the hair’s surface. Therefore, if you look into the ingredient list of a laundry detergent or dishwashing liquid, you will notice these ingredients present in them as well. 

The common types of sulfates found in shampoos are Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), which has a toxic effect on the hair.

 It strips the hair of the dirt, grime, excess oil from sweat, grease, etc, it also strips away the hair’s natural oils and moisture, making the hair dry out and get brittle.

Silicones and Cationic Surfactants

If you find words ending with “cone” like Dimethicone or “siloxane” like Cyclopentasiloxane, then you know your conditioner contains silicones.

Silicones are most often found in conditioners because they are artificial emollient agents and have the property of making the hair retain and lock moisture in, giving the hair a shinier and smoother look. 

So what’s wrong with using products with silicones? Silicones act as a protective layer over the hair strand by coating it.

Over time, when the hair keeps getting coated with silicones, it begins to add weight to your hair strand.

This makes your hair lose its natural bounce while the hair develops a greasy texture initially.

And as the silicones form a thick outer coating wherein no additional moisture can enter into the hair strand and over time the hair strand will become dry eventually.

On the other hand, cationic surfactants such as benzalkonium, dequalinium, phenyl ammonium chloride, etc. are similar to silicones.

They coat the hair with a protective layer as these cationic surfactants are nonpolar or hydrophobic in nature, and do not get washed off the hair strand easily when rinsed with water. 

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While this property of cationic surfactants can initially be helpful and protective, over time it will weigh down the hair just like silicones do and begin to have the same side effects.


Carrying agents like alcohol are a common carrying ingredient apart from the water that helps the active ingredients in shampoos function to their maximum capabilities. 

These alcohols come in two types, for example, Cetearyl alcohol or Lauryl alcohol which is safe for the hair and can help nourish the hair.

Some other types of alcohols like propanol or ethanol, are harmful to the hair and can make the hair dry out over time.

Parabens and Potassium Sorbate

ingredients to avoid in conditioner

If you find words ending with “paraben” like methylparaben or butylparaben, it means your shampoo contains a preservative agent called parabens.

These are very harmful to not only the hair but also the body, as it can increase the risk of developing skin diseases, cancer (as it enters the body through the skin) and cause hormonal disturbances.

These parabens are used to prevent shampoos from fungi or bacteria formation, as they have antibacterial and anti-microbial properties.

If you do not find parabens in your shampoo, then it is likely that you may find potassium sorbate in the ingredient list. 

Well, this ingredient too is a preservative agent and is less harsh as compared to parabens, but is still harmful and can even be a cause for skin conditions to develop.


bad ingredients in shampoo for hair loss

Formaldehyde or better known as Quaternium-15 is yet another preservative agent in shampoos and is often known to be easily absorbed into the skin. 

That being said, formaldehyde is rarely used directly and if it is used, the concentrations are very small. 

But formaldehyde releasers are often used in products. This can be a cause for skin irritation and allergic reactions on the skin once used.

Polyethylene Glycol and Sodium Chloride

ingredients to avoid in hair products

Have you noticed that your shampoo or conditioner often has a thick consistency? 

If it does, then your shampoo contains the ingredients polyethylene glycol or sodium chloride (salt) as they are not only thickening agents but also act as cleansing agents. 

While polyethylene glycol (PEGs) can cause cancer in the long run, sodium chloride can cause skin irritation and hair damage.  

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Therefore, it can be toxic when used on both skin and hair.

Secondary and tertiary amines with diols and triols

Diethanolamine or triethanolamine (or maybe you will find it on a shampoo bottle ingredient list as “DEA” or “TEA”) are foaming agents that make the shampoo lather when mixed with water. 

These ingredients are responsible to help the water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients in shampoos blend together.

Now what is important to note is that, by themselves, these ingredients may not cause any danger to the skin and hair.

But when these ingredients come in contact with the other ingredients used in shampoos, other harmful chemical formulations are formed which can enter into the skin and cause cancer or other skin conditions. 

Apart from this, it can also be toxic to the hair and scalp, causing hair and scalp dryness in the long run.

The final takeaway

Many of you might have a question in mind, as to what shampoo and conditioner should you use then? 

Which one is “safe” to use? Well, how about considering herbal shampoos with all-natural or organic ingredients or maybe even chemical-free shampoos? 

You for sure might not get the lather and foaming that you want, but you will get to see the benefits of using non-toxic and chemical-free ingredients on your hair, skin, and overall health in the long run.

A lot of people suffer from hair loss, dry hair, and hair damage and often wonder what the reason could be behind this. 

You may even stop your hair treatments and use of hair styling tools and still face these hair problems. 

If that is the case, maybe you should consider the side effects of the ingredients in the products that go into your hair on a regular basis!

This I’m sure might have been a lot of scientific information to take in at once but trust me it is worth it. 

As for next time, you might want to consider spending some more time at the shampoo and conditioner aisle at the store and look into the ingredients used before buying a bottle!

Also Read:

How to improve hair texture

How to make hair soft

How to choose a hair straightener

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