Many times when choosing a product for our natural hair, we’re taught to avoid harmful ingredients like mineral oils, parabens and sulfates.
But how many of us really know what these bad ingredients do for our strands to actually classify them as “bad”?
Take a look at some of the most common ingredients used in hair care products, and you be the judge?
The Ingredient Handbook
Colorants n. any dye, pigment or substance which when added or applied to hair products is capable (alone or through reactions with other substances) of adding color.
The use of colorants can result in hair breakage, unexpected hair color results and temporary scalp irritation.
DEA, known as diethanolamine, n. is a common ingredient used as a wetting or lather agent in shampoos and cosmetics to confer a creamy texture and foaming action.
DEA by it lonesome is not harmful, but it can react with other product ingredients to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). NDEA is readily absorbed through the skin and has been linked with esophagus, liver, bladder and stomach cancers.
Gluten n. (from Latin gluten, “glue”) a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye.
Celiac disease causes a person to have an allergic reaction to gluten, so if you have Celiac disease gluten should be avoided. Gluten grain ingredients have been known to be healthy for the hair, and therefore are used frequently and liberally in shampoos and conditioners. Gluten also appears in hair spray, mousse and other styling products, since its “glue” properties help hold your hair in place.
Mineral Oil n. a common colorless, odorless ingredient in anything used as a lubricant, moisturizer, or laxative. And may be listed under different names, including Petrolatum or Paraffin.
When used in hair care products mineral oil acts as a protective barrier on the hair shaft which has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The advantage being that it aids in moisture retention because the oil helps to seal moisture into the hair cuticle. It also minimizes frizz by preventing the penetration of moisture into the hair in humid conditions. However, some argue that mineral oil does the exact opposite; it actually prevents moisture and causes product buildup.
PABA, known as Para-aminobenzoic acid, n. can be natural or synthetic and is found in the Vitamin B complex. Used to protect cosmetics and personal care products from deterioration by absorbing UV rays.
It’s been said that PABA can help stimulate hair growth and to turn gray hair back to its natural color. But, it has not had great success in such uses. Although, largely nontoxic, high doses of PABA may cause nausea, vomiting and possibly liver damage. But this is very unlikely in regards to using hair care products.
Parabens n. a group of compounds used as preservatives in pharmaceutical, cosmetics, and in the food industry.
Parabens are commonly found in shampoos and commercial cosmetics, and have become extremely controversial because they have been found in breast cancer tumors. Parabens have also displayed the ability to mimic estrogen, creating the concern that they may be a factor in the increasing prevalence of early puberty in girls.
Paraffin n. ( Liquid paraffin, or Mineral oil), is transparent, odorless, colorless, waterproof and consists of saturated hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum. Commonly used in cosmetics and hair care products.
Using hair products that contain paraffin has the same advantages and disadvantages as using ones with mineral oil (as they are the same thing). Furthermore, leaving paraffin oil on the skin or scalp for long periods of time may lead to skin irritation and/or dermatitis.
Petroleum n. is a semi-solid substance that is composed of non-polar, water-repelling hydrocarbons. It is used widely in the cosmetics industry because it is cheaper to use as a filler ingredient than other oils.
Petroleum (often referred to as hair grease) can be a great lubricant and sealant for moisturizing and sealing the hair shaft. But, when used directly on the scalp, petroleum works against effective hair growth by clogging the hair follicles causing dandruff and product build-up.
Phthalates n. are mainly used as plasticizers; substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. They are used primarily to soften.
Phthalates are used in hair sprays, shampoos and hair gels to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair for more staying power. Too much phthalates can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled causing damage to the kidneys, liver, reproductive systems and lungs. Sadly we are exposed to phthalates on a daily basis because they are used in a large variety of commercial products.
Propylene Glycol n. a liquid alcohol that is used as a solvent, in antifreeze, and as a humectant in cosmetics and hair care items including shampoos, conditioners, and leave-in styling products.
Humectants like Propylene Glycol are often used as an additive to help decrease the time it takes for hair to dry. Even though PG isn’t necessarily bad for your hair it does contain alcohol which can create dry, frizzy hair.
Silicones n. are inert, synthetic compounds with a variety of forms and uses. Such compounds are typically resistant to chemical attack and insensitive to temperature changes, and are used to make rubber, plastics, polishes, and lubricants.
Silicones are found in many hair gel products, shampoos and conditioners. They coat the hair shaft and work great at conditioning our tresses by providing manageability, softness, shine, and less frizz. But if used too much silicones can cause product build-up on the hair and scalp.