12 Ingredients I Avoid In My Natural Hair and Beauty Products

By no means is this list exhaustive, and I do not have a medical degree, BUT I’d rather be informed than infirmed, so here’s my list of 12 ingredients I avoid in my natural hair and beauty products.

1. Sulfates – Also known as “surfactants” sulfates are primarily used to made cleaning and hair products such as shampoos “suds” up. They are not only harmful for the environment, they strip your hair of their natural oils in the process and can cause skin and breathing irritations. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and Ammonium lauryl sulfate are the most common sulfates put in hair and beauty products. Sodium (C-14-16) Olefin Sulfonate Sulfates has snuck onto the scene recently and is being found in some products that are listed as “sulfate-free”. More about sulfates here.

2.Parabens – This ingredient is an antibacterial additive that prolongs the shelf-life in beauty products. It’s found in everything from lotions, to shampoos, to tortillas. (yes, tortillas). Parabens bind to the body’s estrogen receptors, encouraging the growth of cancer cells.The most widely used parabens are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben and benzylparaben. More about parabens here.

3. Petrolatum – Derived from petroleum, this ingredient is what Vaseline is made out of. This ingredient alone is not really harmful, but when used in combination with lanolin, coconut oil, squalen or mineral oil, it can clog pores not allowing skin to breathe. It was made to be used as a lubricant for machinery and as a burn ointmentmeant to protect severely damaged skin from moisture so that it can heal. I chose not to use it because of how it seems to wear my hair down, and make my skin feel greasy. Also, since petroleum is a non-renewable resource, it’s damaging to the environment. More about petrolatum here.

4. Phthalates – These are man made polymers used to make things like plastic more pliable. Phthalates have been linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive defects, low sperm count and endocrine disruption. Unfortunately, it’s everywhere. From our toothpaste, to makeup, to plastic storage containers to the PVC pipes in the basement that bring in drinking water. It’s hard to avoid this chemical, but you can do your best by staying away from products with it as an added ingredient and storing your food in glass containers. Some common phthalates are: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), di-n-pentyl phthalate (DnPP), di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). More about phthalates here..

5. ConesDimethicone, Amodimethicone and other “cones” are derivatives of silicone, it’s used in hair products especially targeted at people who have curly hair and either straighten their hair with heating implements (curling irons, hot combs, etc), or want to “tame the frizz”. It provides a protective barrier against the heat and the silicone tends to keep hair straighter longer, and because the silicone wraps around the hair strnads they appear to be less “frizzy”. I have three problems with this ingredient: 1. The only way to fully wash a “cone” out of your hair is with a sulfate-based surfactant. 2. I don’t straighten my hair. Ever. 3. It’s toxic to the environment and is on Canada’s Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. More on Cones here.

6. Lead – Lead is found in many lipsticks, eyeshadows, concealers, foundations and rouge and can cause the following: Fatigue, learning difficulties, slowed growth, high blood pressure, muscular weakness and even miscarriage. To find out what lipstick brands are highest in lead check out this list. and for brands that are lead free check out this post. Click here to find out how to test for lead in your makeup.


7. Formaldehyde – This chemical is a preservative used to prolong shelf-life of products. Remember those nasty frogs from science class that you had to dissect in high school? Remember that slimy, clear fluid that they were preserved in? Yep. that’s formaldehyde. And guess what? It’s in your nail polish. Which ones? All of em. There are a few brands that are removing formaldehyde from their products, (Essie and Opi are among them). But there are chem-free nail polish lines out there like Zoya.More about formaldehyde here.


8. Hydroquinone – This compound is found in most skin care products and skin lightening creams aimed at clearing up dark spots, acne scars and other skin discolorations. It does this by reducing the amount of melanin that your skin produces, therefore giving the appearance of a lighter skin tone. However, reduced melanin means increased UVB/UVA exposure, skin thinning, and Ochronosis. Learn more about hydroquinone here.


9. Oxybenzone – This is a hormone disrupting chemical commonly found in sunscreens. Instead of sitting on top of the skin and protecting it from UV exposure, it actually is absorbed at an alarming rate, and being a man-made chemical, your body has no idea what to do with it, which couldlead to cancerous tumours. Also, when unused products with this ingredient hit the environment, it has devastating developmental effects on animals and wildlife. Better alternatives are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. More on oxybenzone here.


10. Talc – Talc can be found in most powdered makeup, eyeshadows, antacids, and yes, talcum powder. The problem with talc is that it has been linked to ovarian cancer in women and lung cancer from people who mine the mineral. It can be potentially harmful for babies because they can inhale the particles and damage their still developing lungs. Researchers have also reported that talc may even mimic asbestos in our systems. The jury is still out, but it’s been under scrutiny for so long that I’m not willing to take the risk. More on talc here.


11. Mineral Oil– This is a clear oil commonly referred to as Baby Oil. It’s also found in cold creams and many cosmetics because it’s cheap to manufacture in large quantities. However, like petrolatum, it is derived from crude oil which is harmful to the environment. No one has been able to directly prove that mineral is harmful to our bodies, but products mixed with this ingredient may coat the skin and don’t allow it to breathe, which can cause skin to flake and crack as it literally tries to get air. I’ve never liked it in my hair, because it coats the strands and makes my curls dull and lifeless, leaves an icky film behind and causes scalp irritation. More on mineral oil here.

12. Retinyl Palmitate – This ingredient is commonly used in sunscreens and is a form of Vitamin A. According to the Environmental Working Group, retinyl plamintate “may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight.” Did I mention that this ingredient is most commonly used in SUNSCREEN? The issue is that the repeated use of sunscreen, can contribute to Vitamin A toxicity, which is basically an overdose of Vitamin A. I wear sunscreen on my face everyday year round so I’ve decided not to take any chances and I only use sunscreen free of this ingredient. More info on retinyl palmitate here.
• What are some ingredients that you avoid in your health and beauty products?

Image credits:picsfive / 123RF Stock Photo
merkulovnik / 123RF Stock Photo

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7 thoughts on “12 Ingredients I Avoid In My Natural Hair and Beauty Products

  1. Deborah Davis

    Thanks for sharing this comprehensive list of ingredients to avoid.
    This is a helpful reference list for us to use when shopping for hair care and body care products.
    Now we know why your hair looks so healthy and fabulous.
    Personally, I have resorted to using a few safe, simple, organic hair care products and natural oils like coconut and olive oil for most of my skin care needs in order to avoid these and other harmful toxins.
    Again, thanks a lot.

  2. Eden Di Bianco

    The other problem with heavy use of -cones in hair products for curly or frizzy hair types is that because they rely on a heavy outer coating on the hair shaft to weigh it down, all of those fancy conditioners and at salon/home treatments people are using to treat the frizz are for naught, because the moisture from those products can’t penetrate the -cone barrier. So if you then remove the -cone build up with the use of a harsh surfactant and THEN try to add it back in with a hair masque, you’re right back to square one with frizz and fried strands.
    A smarter bet is to skip the heavy serums and styling products (avoid anything that promises to take you from an Albert Einstein like pouf to sleek, chances are it’s loaded with -cones!) and adopt a low or no poo shampoo routine with gentle products that won’t strip your hair and if you need to smooth out flyaways or frizz, use ARGAN oil, which is comprised of about 80% unsaturated fatty acids and is rich in omega fatty acids that will help nourish your strands from the inside out!

  3. Savvy

    @Ededn Thank you! What brand of argan oil do you recommend? (For those of you who don’t already know, Eden is a natural makeup artist extraordinaire, and an ingredient geek!)

  4. Rozlyn P.

    Thank you for sharing point blank what is bad for natural hair. I find as a natural (2 years) there’s so much DONT and not enough whys (esp. found in one place). So to you I say thank you. Please check out my beauty blog 🙂

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