Toxic Chemicals in Shampoo – Ingredients to Avoid

5. Toxic Chemicals in Shampoo

Health Risks – Are They Worth It?

Women washing her hair with toxic chemicals
Woman washing her hair

How often when buying your shampoo do you actually read the back of the bottle to check the ingredients?  Well, not too long ago, I didn’t think I needed to look for toxic chemicals in shampoo.

Who would think that using the wrong shampoo could actually induce serious health risks to the user such as memory loss, hair loss due to the hair follicles being damaged, eye and skin irritation, and even cancer?

Shampoos are marketed as keeping our hair healthy, shiny and dandruff free.  Despite this, many of them contain ingredients that may actually damage our hair and irritate the scalp.

When purchasing shampoo, we assume that we are buying a cleaning agent to get the dirt and grease out of our hair – no harm in that, is there?  Actually, research has shown that some shampoos can have various chemicals mixed in that really shouldn’t be there.  We might see bottles labelled as “all-natural” but manufacturers leave out the fact that they still use the lathering agents (which we associate with a good shampoo) and synthetic fragrances (which makes our hair smell lovely) that contain harmful chemicals.

So many shampoo manufacturers lie about how natural their products are and that’s why it’s key that you choose the right shampoo.

Toxic Chemicals in Shampoo – Will My Hair Fall Out?

In extreme cases, some ingredients in shampoo may cause hair loss or exacerbate it.  In normal circumstances, hair loss is usually unlikely to be related to your shampoo unless, of course, you have had a severe allergic reaction after using it.

Toxic Chemicals in Shampoo – The Bad News

8 Toxic Chemicals that Can Affect Hair Regrowth


  1. Propylene Glycol (PG) is the active component in antifreeze.  PG also makes hair soft and easy to brush.
  2. Isopropyl Alcohol is a chemical used in antifreeze.
  3. Chlorine is used regularly in showers, tap water, cleaning agents, washing powders, sewage systems and many others.  Chlorine can make your hair brittle, dried out and tangled.  In some extreme cases, chlorine exposure can cause the hair to become thin and break off.  If you are a swimmer frequenting public swimming pools, remember to wear a swim cap to protect your hair.
  4. Synthetic fragrances can penetrate beyond the surface of the skin and in particular the skin on the scalp.  Fragrances in shampoos don’t actually help to clean your hair – they are just giving you that perception.
  5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are both used as detergents and surfactants.  A surfactant is a substance used to reduce the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved.  These chemical compounds are closely related and are found in garage floor cleaners, engine degreasers, and car wash soaps.  They are found in many inexpensive shampoos as they produce a large amount of foam.
  6. Sodium chloride, better known as table salt, is used to thicken shampoos containing sodium laurel sulfate (see 5 above).  It may cause a dry and itchy scalp and contributes to that stinging eye irritation you may experience with some shampoos.
  7. Formaldehyde is used as a preservative in some shampoos, including baby shampoos.  Formaldehyde may cause hair loss with excessive exposure.
  8. Parabens, like formaldehyde above, is also used as a preservative to stop bacteria from growing in the shampoo.  Research has shown that parabens have been linked to the increased growth of breast cancer as they can mimic oestrogen (a female hormone).

Chemical Free Shampoos – The Safest Option

If you’re like me, I used to choose a shampoo based on how it smelt or whether it was for my hair type i.e. curly/frizzy.  Now we have to beGeneric bottle of toxic chemicals more vigilant and be more active in assuring what we are putting on our bodies is not going to harm us.

If you read the word “fragrance” or “parfum” on a shampoo bottle, then you should translate it to mean “hidden chemicals” and avoid it.  Always try to choose fragrance-free shampoos, and don’t be fooled by shampoos that are labelled as “natural fragrance” as there are no standard criteria for what those words actually mean.  When we say, ‘chemical-free’ what we really mean is they are ‘free of bad chemicals’.  Most of the cheaper shampoos on the market use synthetic chemicals.


Even though there are harmful chemicals in shampoos, there are shampoos with natural, non-toxic, and even organic ingredients. Shouldn’t we become more conscious about what products we put on our heads?

I’ll be looking at how you can make your own shampoo using simple, natural ingredients that you should be able to find in your kitchen cupboards.


  • Great post!

    I went no ‘poo a couple of years ago and I have never looked back. My allergies were getting out of control and I knew the chemicals in shampoo and conditioner were not helping. My hair is so much more manageable and it looks and feels thicker. It also has way more body.

    I used baking soda mixed in water to clean my hair every second or third day until my hair was detoxed. I also used apple cider vinegar to rinse, but only once a week because it dried my hair out so much.

    Now if my hair seems dry or frizzy I use a dab of coconut oil, rubbed between my palms and I put it on the ends of my hair. I am so glad that I stopped putting those chemicals on my hair.

    • It’s amazing that something that smells so nice and makes our hair feel really soft, can actually be bad for us. I do put coconut oil in my hair but I haven’t tried the baking soda mixed in water – which I now will. Thank you.

  • Hi there
    Great information and advice in your blog and I particularly liked the fact that your blog is not full of initial affiliate links as in order to build the reputation of your blog, providing great content and advice is initially key and then you can encourage your readers to become your customer, because they get to know, like and trust you.

    • Hi Sandra, thank you. I’ve been fascinated with anything to do with hair since I was a child, and since my grew back, I’m even more so!

  • Hello Lynne
    First of all, I hope you have achieved 100% success in your quest against breast cancer. Our life experiences sometimes inspire us to write articles that pertain to these experiences. In view of your experience with breast cancer, you have done a commendable job writing about hair loss. You have a very comprehensible website. I especially liked your listing of the harmful ingredients contained in various hair rinses and shampoos.

    • Hi Murray
      Thank you so much for your kind words.
      Yes, I’m 100% better now and I’m back to my usual self. Before my I lost my hair, it was quite long but since it started growing back, I love to keep it short and even visit the barbershop once a month!

  • I only knew of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Did not know of all the other harmful chemicals. Thank you for writing this article and helping me to learn of more harmful chemicals that exist in many shampoos. I will look carefully at the labels from today, and watch out. Once again, thank you! 🙂

    • I’m glad you like the article! It’s only after researching online that I found out about this myself and I am now looking more closely at labels on these products. Since my hair grew back I really need to look after it. To be honest, I was only conditioned to look at food labels whilst shopping, not realising the damage I could’ve been doing to my hair/scalp with 🙂

  • Lynn, I am very interested to learn how you can make shampoo with ingredients from your own kitchen, so I will be looking out for that post. This is a very interesting article. Thank you.

    • Hi Hilary – it’s great that you’ve shown an interest in this topic and I will be posting an article very soon.


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