If Chemicals in Shampoos Are Harmful, How Are They Legal?

Published on Jun 18, 2014 in Facts


Parabens and Sulfates are Harmful

Parabens and Sulfates are harmful to your health

Almost every provider of naturally-based personal care products advertise the fact they are free of “harmful chemicals”. “Free of artificial fragrances and preservatives” are also terms that often diminish the value of commercial products which contain them.

The FDA has banned many different shampoo ingredients in the past, and there is a vast pool of online resources which are reference guides to harmful ingredients. There are a few questions which result from this information:

  1. Since the FDA bans harmful ingredients, how can anything not legally banned by the FDA be considered harmful?
  2. How are so many companies who are getting away with selling shampoos riddled with these supposedly “harmful” additives the leaders of the industry?
  3. Is the public really so ignorant?
  4. If the ingredients were harmful, wouldn’t people stop buying them, and the industry would then lean in the other direction?

The answers are not so simple. But they can be best explained in the following way:

Since the FDA bans harmful ingredients, how can items not banned by the FDA be considered harmful?

The FDA bans any ingredients which have been scientifically proven to be harmful in trace quantities and above. There are other ingredients which can pose to be just as hazardous, however they are not classified as unhealthy in such tiny amounts. The public is still affected by the ingredients unbanned due to quantity control – using the potentially harmful ingredients a few times a week for months or years on end can cause a build-up that will mostly result in a temporary or permanent scalp condition.

Take note that the FDA will not ban an ingredient just because it causes dryness or breaking of hair follicles. They will only ban an ingredient which can lead to a medical condition or injury.

How are so many companies selling shampoos with harmful additives considered leaders of the industry?

One can understand the answer by translating the question to the food industry: “How are fast food chains getting away with selling unhealthy food? Wouldn’t people see how the food is unhealthy, and lean towards companies who sell healthier food?” It is common knowledge that fast food is unhealth, and the food industry leaders are fast food joints. The math is the same when it comes to shampoos. People want something fast, available everywhere, and most importantly, cheap. Healthier ingredients cost more, because they are not mass produced with cheap chemicals – when it comes to both food and shampoo alike.

Is the public really so ignorant?

There is much education regarding unhealthy foods, and for good reasons. Unfortunately, there is not too much public information about unhealthy shampoos.

We need to stay informed about the ingredients in the products we buy

We need to stay informed about the ingredients in the products we buy

Because all the ingredients used are considered safe by the FDA, people assume that using them won’t come with unhealthy side effects.

News flash – ingredients like sulfates, which are particles small enough to be absorbed into the scalp (and then the scalp doesn’t know what to do with them, so they ultimately hinder the healthy growth of cell renewal) and artificial fragrances (which can cause a mild allergic reaction the skin) should definitely be avoided. Too many people neglect their hair health due to ignorance. If you’re reading this, and you now have the knowledge, spread the word!

If ingredients are harmful, wouldn’t people stop buying them and force the industry to lean the other way?

The answer to this question is a compilation of the three answers above. Because the ingredients aren’t banned by the FDA, and because they are available in almost every cornerstore of the country, the common public falls prey to ignorance, and often don’t realize the unhealthy side effects that build up as a result of prolonged continuous use of such products.

Proper hygiene includes a healthy diet, and the use of healthy personal care products. Make sure to select shampoos and other personal care products which are advertised to be absent of potentially harmful ingredients. No longer do you have to neglect your scalp, hair, and skin – tell a friend, and start on the road to better health together.

The Most Common Chemicals Found in Shampoos

Parabens in Shampoos Explained

Parabens are essentially used as chemical preservatives in a wide variety of products, not only our shampoos. Everything from food, beauty and drugs that we may use on a regular basis may contain a large amount of these chemical additives as a mean of strengthening their antibacterial properties as well as lengthening the overall shelf-life of the product(s).

Conventional products are both costly and potentially harmful

Conventional products are both costly and potentially harmful

However, little is really known about the actual anti-bacterial effects of parabens and research has shown that they may have strong carcinogenic properties – which ultimately leads to the formation of cancer with consistent and regular use over a long period of time.

The debate surrounding the use of parabens in shampoos (and most products for that matter) has become controversial because some argue that using these chemicals in small, controlled doses won’t affect the overall quality of your health and will help to prevent the onset of infection or inflammation by removing any germs or bacteria from the scalp or skin.

However, in more recent years, parabens, along with a great deal of other endocrine suppressing chemicals, have been banned from commercial use in the EU because of mounting proof that are simply not good for consumers health over any span of time or in any amount for that matter.

Parabens come in many forms or varieties and some of the most commonly listed versions (that you’re most likely to come across in your local supermarket) are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben.

The reason that they’re so bad for your hair in particular is because they actively work to strip away not only the dirt and grime from your hair, but also the thin mantle layer on our cuticles which is made up of oil, water and salt. This mantle layer helps to keep our hair protected against going dry or brittle and ensures that our cuticles remain flat – thus avoiding frizzy or overly curly hair.

So it’s imperative that we try and preserve as much of this layer as possible and unfortunately, most of the shampoos and conditioners we use on a regular basis contain large amounts of parabens – which has lead to a resurgence of the all-natural, ‘no-poo’ movement in recent times.

Sulfates in Shampoos Explained

I’m sure we’re all used to having our shampoos form a rich, thick lather when we apply them to our hair and many believe that our hair is not being properly cleansed unless we use a product that forms a rich lather.

While this may be true to some extent, the reality is that most of the products that we use to achieve this lather contain a variety of different chemical ingredients that help to increase their lathering abilities – namely sulfates, which have more negative effects on our hair than they do good.

This is because they’re so effective at forming a lather which helps to strip away grime, dirt and excess oil from our scalp – that they tend to remove more than they need to. I’m referring again to that thin layer of oil, salt and water on our scalps and cuticles called the mantle.

This layer is our hairs natural way of keeping itself moist and hydrated and once it’s removed, our hair tends to dry our and become weak and brittle – leading to breakage. But beyond that, the chemicals also help to strip away hair color (for those who have died hair), can lead to an itchy scalp and general irritation and have even been linked to hair loss.

While sulfates may not be as bad for our health in terms of the carcinogenic properties of parabens, the fact of the matter is that they’re not ideal for our hair and avoiding them is generally considered the best option if you want to keep your locks hydrated, colorful and softer for longer.

Which Type of Shampoo is the Safest

DIY shampoo recipes are safe, cheap and effective

DIY shampoo recipes are safe, cheap and effective

I hear this question more often than not, usually because I’m running around telling my friends and family (and the general public of course) what they shouldn’t do and shouldn’t buy. So after much consideration, I’ve finally settled on a universal answer that I could offer a solution to anyone – in fact I have two.

The first is the most obvious and seemingly the most simple option and that’s to shop around for products that do not contain sulfates, parabens or any harmful chemical ingredients for that matter. However, this doesn’t mean simply choosing another product from the same brand you’ve been using that claims to be sulfate or paraben free as a great deal of companies simply remove one or two of the harmful chemical ingredients from their list and claim to be totally free of them.

The best option is to use products that are all natural and contain roughly less than 10-12 ingredients in total. This makes it easier to verify whether any of the ingredients may be harmful or not, as well as having less of an impact on your hair and scalp in general with regards to the balance of natural oils that keep them hydrated and soft.

The second option is my personal favorite, but may take some time to perfect or get used to for those who are less experienced with DIY projects. I’m referring to DIY, homemade recipes of course, as these are the best way to ensure that you know every ingredient that is contained in your shampoo or conditioner and it allows you to have more control over the type of formula you’d like to use.

This means that you have the ability to customize the formula to suit your hair in particular and ultimately have more control over the quality of your hair and how you nourish it. Once you’ve perfected a DIY recipe, you’re free to experiment with it and try out new combinations and scents which really helps to get the creative juices flowing, not to mention saving you loads of cash every year as the price of a decent conventional shampoo and conditioner can be quite high.

So do a little research and see which option suits you best.


Ultimately, you hair is only as healthy as you treat it. In some cases, just leaving it as it is is the best option, and some people can get away with washing only once a week or so, or even using a dry shampoo most of the time.

However, for the rest of us, especially those with oilier hair types, having healthy hair is a little bit more of a challenge. The irony is that most of the conventional products that we end up spending a small fortune on over the course of our lives winds up doing more damage to our hair over time than they do good.

So if you are really concerned about having strong, healthy hair and a scalp that is free of irritation and doesn’t get dry all the time, I’d recommend investing in an all-natural, preservative and chemical free brand of shampoo, or simply sourcing the necessary ingredients to make your own at home.

Having great hair is more a matter of cutting out harmful chemicals, than spending money on them and while many won’t have any issues using conventional shampoos, the truth is that a lot of people do at some point or another. My rule – you’re better off without a long list of chemical ingredients, than you are with them. Simple. Go natural and start reaping the rewards today.