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Natural Hair Product Ingredients to Avoid

Updated on December 29, 2013

Read Hair Product Labels

When it comes to choosing which products are best for your natural hair, it can be a bit nerve wrecking. You’re surrounded by what seems like millions of the same products, all with different names. How can you decide when the options are endless?

It’s simple: Read the labels. The product labels are there for a reason. Just as we shouldn’t put junk food into our bodies, we should want to avoid putting junk in our hair. Label reading is fundamental.

Usually the first ingredient listed is what the product mostly contains. Water-based hair products list water as its first ingredient and are great moisturizers. It doesn’t end with water, though. There’s more.

Don’t panic. It’s not as intimidating as you think. Once you get a better understanding of the ingredients you should avoid in hair products, you’ll be more at ease when deciding which products you should lean more towards as you’re weighing your options.

My hair products
My hair products

Avoid These Major Ingredients

These are some ingredients that aren’t good for natural hair:

  • Isopropyl Alcohol: This poisonous solvent changes the natural qualities in other substances. It’s found in many familiar cosmetics such as fragrances, shaving lotions, hair rinses, and body scrubs. Isopropyl alcohol comes from petroleum and is used in antifreeze. It’s drying and will eventually cause hair breakage.
  • Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): Is used as a solvent in cleaners to dissolve grease and oil. PEG strips your hair of its natural moisture and weakens the immune system.
  • Mineral Oil: Derives from petroleum and coats the hair like plastic wrap. This plastic-like characteristic prevents the hair from absorbing natural moisture. It restricts the scalp, as it inhibits oxygen from entering.
  • Propylene Glycol (PG): As with PEG, this ingredient is present in antifreeze. This surfactant acts as a solvent. The same PG used in industry is also used in hair care products. PG is used to break down cellular and protein structure.
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) & Sodium Lauryle Sulfate (SLS): These compounds are used as surfactants and detergents that are often found in garage floor cleaners, soaps, and engine degreasers. These stripping agents are found in 90% of shampoos and are the major ingredients in cosmetics.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA), Momoethnanolamine (MEA), and Triethanolamine (TEA): These chemicals disrupt hormones and can form cancer causing nitrosamines and nitrates. If you’ve ever seen foamy personal care products, then you’ve seen DEA, MEA, and TEA in action. Some products may include body wash, bubble bath, soaps, shampoos, and the list goes on.
  • Chlorine: Is a possible cause of cancer. Exposure to substances containing chlorine (tap water, pools, laundry products, etc) can cause health effects such as hay fever, asthma, anemia, diabetes, bronchitis (just to name a few).
  • FD & C Color Pigments: Pigments can cause irritation and skin sensitivity; not all, but many. Absorbed pigments can deplete oxygen in the body and even cause death.
  • Fragrance: Can be found in most shampoos, deodorants, sunscreens, body and skin care products. Fragrance—just like many if not all of these product ingredient "no's"—is toxic (carcinogenic is another term).
  • DMDM Hydantoin and Imidazolidinyl Urea: These preservatives release formaldehyde.

Label Reading In Six Steps

When I transitioned to natural almost two years ago, my natural hair stylist told me some things that have made it that much easier whenever I have to buy new products. She told me:

  1. The first ingredient listed is what the product mostly contains.
  2. Avoid petroleum-based products.
  3. If you can’t comfortably pronounce the ingredients, don't buy the products.
  4. Avoid products that have alcohol.
  5. Products that list water as its first ingredient are good for moisturizing.
  6. Some products will list the natural ingredients in its scientific name, but will have its known name in parentheses beside it.

Don't Sweat It

Since then, I’ve used what I’ve considered as the six product buying commandments for my guide. It has made my product purchasing a world of a lot easier.

Whenever I’m considering new products (aside from the ones I’m already familiar with and have been using for a while), I refer to the six product buying commandments and it helps me tremendously.

Just as our bodies function properly with more natural and healthier foods, so does our hair with healthier ingredients. You must be just as concerned about what you feed your hair as you are with what you feed your body.

As long as you read the labels and educate yourself on what’s good for your hair and what isn’t, you’ll be fine. Happy product shopping!


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    • Rebecca Zammito profile image


      3 years ago from Brooklyn, NY

      Yes!!! Thank you Asia, I am all about reading the label, I just posted a hub with a very similar list of ingredient no-nos as you. Always glad to have other bloggers out there spreading the word about all the nasty stuff in our everyday products!

    • profile image

      Ashley Deanna 

      3 years ago from El Paso, Texas

      I was not told for my hair not to use products that start with water. Being natural is still confusing to me since there are not many products that keep my hair moisturize and soft.

    • Asia Mouzone profile imageAUTHOR

      Asia Mouzone 

      5 years ago from Maryland

      I'm glad I could help! :)

    • lindacee profile image

      Linda Chechar 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      You're right about hair care products being confusing! Thanks for simplifying the selection process. Now I need to go read the ingredients on the labels of my hair care products. Yikes! We don't realize the amount of chemicals we're putting on our hair. Thanks to your Hub, I know which ingredients to avoid. :)


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