20+ Ingredients to Avoid in Hair Products: Stop Ruining your Hair!

Do you buy commercial hair products for your hair often? It’s great that you want to take care of your hair!

However, if the hair products you buy contain these ingredients to avoid in hair products, you are doing your hair more harm than good.

Sadly, even hair products from some trusted brands contain these ingredients.

Well, you cannot stop buying hair products. Shampoos, conditioners, leave-in treatments, moisturizers – to name a few – are essential.

So what’s the safe way out?

Know the harmful ingredients and look out for them before purchasing hair products.

This post will help you take the first step – knowing the ingredients to avoid. Here’s your list of ingredients to avoid in hair products the next time you go shop for your hair!

Ingredients to avoid in hair products velacurls

Ingredients to Avoid in Hair Products

1. Alcohol

While alcohol is an excellent ingredient for hand sanitizers, it is not good for your hair. It causes extreme hair dryness and brittleness.

Hair products containing alcohol can therefore make your hair dry and should be avoided.

Many shampoos contain alcohol as a thickening agent or emollient, especially propanol and isopropyl alcohol.

So before you buy your next bottle of shampoo, check its list of ingredients to see if it contains propanol or isopropyl. If it does, you know what your hair would want you to do.

  • Mostly used in Shampoos

2. Triclosan

Triclosan is a dangerous ingredient to be avoided. It was used in the soap industry as an antibacterial agent in soap production. However, its use was stopped because of its toxicity and the possibility of getting absorbed in fat cells.

Needless to say, it should be avoided in hair products too. Ensure that no hair product you use contains triclosan.

  • Mostly used in Shampoos

3. Sulfates

There’s much awareness of the fact that sulfates are bad for hair. It’s one harmful ingredient that many people know about.

If this is the first time you’re learning this, here’s why sulfates are bad for your hair:

They can strip away useful oil and moisture, resulting in dry and frizzy hair. It also makes your scalp dry, irritated, and unhealthy.

If you want to avoid these effects, you should stay away from hair products that contain sulfates. They are commonly written as SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate), SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate), and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate.

  • Mostly used in Shampoos

Some shampoos are specifically sulfate-free. Examples are Cantu sulfate-free cleansing shampoo, Tgin moisture-rich sulfate-free shampoo, Olive oil sulfate-free hydrating shampoo, and Alberto VO5 sulfate-free strengthening shampoo.

4. Parabens

Parabens are used as preservatives in hair care products. They help those products stay for long without going rancid.

Sounds pretty harmless but parabens (more specifically butylparaben, propylparaben, and ethylparaben) are easily absorbed through the scalp and can cause damage such as hair dryness, scalp irritation, color loss, and hair loss. This is confirmed by many studies and hair professional Dr. Serkan Aygin.

Paraben is also suggested to increase the female estrogen hormone, and contribute to breast cancer risk.

  • Mostly used in Shampoos, conditioners, and hair lotions

5. Dimethicone

This is a type of silicone that acts as a protective layer on the hair surface. Regular use of products that contain dimethicone leads to buildup on the scalp, blocking the passage of moisture and nutrients into the scalp.

This means that when you try hair care routines that are supposed to intensely moisturize your scalp, dimethicone stands in the way.  

Asides from preventing moisture and nutrients from coming in, dimethicone contributes to dirt and other product residue playing freely on your scalp.

  • Mostly used in Conditioners and styling products.

6. Resorcinol

Resorcinol is used in hair dyes to cause the bonding of the dye to hair strands. It reacts with a ‘developer’ to make this happen.

While it performs that use, it can be harmful because it has the possibility of causing scalp irritation. It can also disrupt one’s immune system.

  • Mostly found in Hair dyes, hair lotions, and shampoos

7. Phthalates

This ingredient is used in hair products as a gelling agent; to make it easier for the product to spread and stick to hair. Phthalates also improve absorption and allow the fragrances in the product to last longer.

Phthalates are listed as harmful ingredients because if they get absorbed by the skin and react with each other, they can disrupt hormonal activity. They can also be toxic to the environment.

Now, you’ll hardly find a hair product that lists phthalate as an ingredient. But when you find fragrances, there’s a high chance it contains phthalates.

Read more about phthalates here.

  • Mostly found in Shampoos (again), conditioners, hair mousses, and hair sprays.

8. Formaldehyde

There are hair products designed to be applied to hair during a hair straightening process. These products are called hair smoothening or straightening products; different from heat protectants. 

Many of these products contain a chemical called Formaldehyde. This chemical ingredient is released into the air when a flat iron is placed on the hair after the application of such a product. 

This is dangerous because exposure to formaldehyde can cause ‘serious irritation of eyes, nose, and lungs’, as explained by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There’s also a possibility of skin sensitivity and allergic dermatitis. 

Glady, not all hair smoothening products contain this ingredient so if you would use one, choose one that’s formaldehyde-free. 

You can identify them with terms such as bronopol, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, and Diazolidinyl urea — all of which are formaldehyde releasers.

  • Mostly found in hair straightening products.

9. Polyethylene Glycols (PEG)

This ingredient is derived from petroleum and is present in many — not all — hair care products as a thickening agent.

While this ingredient has not yet been confirmed as toxic, experts claim that it can cause damage to the scalp. 

Better to be safe than sorry, don’t you agree? 

PEG is one of the ingredients to avoid in hair products. They appear on the ingredient list as numbers such as 100, 120, 14M, 30, 32, 40, and 75. 

  • Mostly found in Shampoos

10. Retinyl Palmitate

For this ingredient to be effective in hair products, manufacturers usually add it in higher concentrations.

Although it is not as toxic to the reproductive system as Retinol, it can still affect it. Retinyl Palmitate is also found to increase the risk of cancer-related to UV rays. 

  • Mostly found in Hair serums

11. Selenium Sulfide 

Selenium sulfide is an anti-fungal ingredient used in anti-dandruff shampoos. It specifically slows down the growth of the yeast that causes dandruff and controls itchiness and inflammation.

However, regular use of selenium sulfide — like washing your hair regularly with an anti-dandruff shampoo that contains selenium sulfide — can interfere with your scalp and follicle function, potentially leading to hair loss. 

  • Mostly found in Anti-dandruff shampoos

12. Fragrances

Yes, hair products that contain synthetic fragrances are potentially dangerous.

Artificial fragrances are largely derived from petrochemicals — widely known to be endocrine disruptors. Apart from that, synthetic fragrances are known to spike irritation, reactions, and worsen some scalp conditions.

So while you avoid shampoos and other hair products that contain synthetic fragrances, what can you opt for? 

Products that use natural, safe essential oils to bring out a natural fragrance. 

Such products would not have an item named ‘fragrance’ on their list of ingredients, but rather, would specifically list which essential oils they have mixed to create a natural fragrance. 

13. Toluene

Another ingredient related to petrochemicals used in hair products is Toluene. They are used in hair dyes, often listed as benzene, phenylmethane, Toluol, and methylbenzene.

Toluene is especially harmful to pregnant mothers because its absorption can affect the central nervous system.

So if you’re pregnant, it’s best to stay away from products that contain toluene.

  • Mostly found in Hair dyes

14. Quaternium-15

Remember formaldehyde?

Quaternium is one of its releasers mentioned earlier. Like the others, it is carcinogenic, that is, it can cause cancer. Eye irritation is another common side effect.

  • Mostly found in Shampoos and conditioners. 

15. Colors

Surprising? I know, right?

Turns out fancy colored hair care products aren’t as nice as they seem. 

Synthetic colors, named FD&C or D&C on most product labels, are derived from petroleum or coal tar. They come with harmful health effects. 

Hair dyes are also a mix of harmful chemicals. Many hair experts recommend that you do not use hair dyes on chemically relaxed hair to prevent over-processing of hair. 

16. Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)

These two ingredients are ammonia derivatives used to balance pH in hair products. DEA is also used as a thickening agent. 

Both ingredients have been linked to issues such as allergies, scalp irritation, and loss of protein. 

Monoethanolamine (MEA) is the worse of the derivatives, causing scalp irritation more easily. 

  • Mostly found in moisturizers, shampoos.

17. Mineral Oil 

Mineral oil is excellent for smoothing and detangling hair. 

While it is an excellent pro that makes it a common ingredient in many hair products, there are many claims that mineral oil puts one at potential risk of skin cancer.

This is due to its content of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). 

At the very least, mineral oil can cause build-up on the scalp.

  • Mostly found in hair lotions, conditioners.  

18. Petroleum 

Petroleum poses the same risk to skin and hair cells as mineral oil. 

This is rightly so because they come from the same source. 

19. PVP/VA Copolymer 

This is one copolymer derived from petroleum. 

It can cause scalp irritation and for people with respiratory issues, it can trigger an attack. 

  • Mostly found in Hairsprays, gels, styling creams. 

20. Cocamidopropyl betaine

Cocamidopropyl betaine is a derivative of coconut oil used as a cleansing agent and foam booster. Despite its seemingly harmless source, this ingredient can irritate the skin. 

People who have underlying skin conditions such as eczema should avoid products that contain it. 

  • Mostly found in Conditioners, shampoos. 

21. Sodium hydroxide

NaOH is not harmful to the hair unless the hair product contains a lot of it or it is used at high pH. Then, it can cause hair damage and breakage. 

  • Mostly found in straightening products, hair relaxers.  

22. Retinol

While being an excellent skincare ingredient, Retinol can be pretty dangerous for those with sensitive scalp. 

If you have an oily scalp, then retinol is an ingredient that your hair care products should contain.

For dry or potentially scalp, however, retinol-based hair products can lead to “scalp redness. Irritation, itch, burning, stinging, peeling, and sensitivity,” says Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse in an interview with ManeAddicts

Many experts also agree that using retinol for hair care will heighten sun sensitivity. 

  • Mostly found in: Hair serums, shampoos, and conditioners.


Many hair care products contain ingredients that are not actually caring for your hair. This defeats the purpose of using them in the first place. 

Now you know what ingredients to avoid in hair products. 20+ might seem like a very long list; this article has stated which hair products may contain which ingredient so it’s easier for you to watch out. 

Keep these ingredients in a mental or physical list so that you can easily watch out the next time you’re shopping for your hair.

And do not forget to read the label before making the final purchase of any hair product.

Many hair lovers have successfully cared for their hair using only natural ingredients. If you’d also like to give your hair a break from chemical hair products, these natural ingredients for hair may just be your newfound love!

Hey, hair lover, this post may contain affiliate links. So if you buy a product through a link in the post, I’ll earn some commission at no extra cost to you.

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