What are the key things you consider when shopping for hair care? Do you focus on how the product will affect your hair – ie how shiny, strong and bouncy it will make your locks feel? Do you just consider how it smells? Or do you read the label for ingredients?
For a healthy hair and scalp, ideally you’d want to do all three. Just like skincare, haircare products may contain less desirable synthetic chemicals and despite being sold as little miracles in a bottle, the ingredients we have been taught to look for in haircare may actually do more damage to hair than good.
In honour of our organic hair month and to help you understand what’s in hair products (a lot, actually!) we’ve compiled a shortlist of the key ingredients we like to avoid when shopping haircare and why. Although, this is by no means a comprehensive list, it gives you a head start and a bit of an introduction when switching to natural haircare. Stay tuned during our month of #OrganicHaircare April to find out more!
1. P-phenylenediamin (aka PPD) – This ingredient is widely used in hair dyes (with dark hair dyes containing the highest concentration of PPD). Derived from coal tar, it may cause allergic reactions in some. It's also worth noting that colours are often contaminated with low levels of heavy metals which may be toxic to the brain1. Exposure to high levels of p-phenylenediamine may cause side effects including severe dermatitis and eye irritation. One study found that those who had worked for 10 or more years as hairdressers or barbers had a fivefold risk of bladder cancer compared to the general population.2
So what are the options if you want to dye your hair? Avoid going permanent and look for salons using brands which are PPD-free – although you should also check the label on these as people can be sensitive to a range of ingredients.
Also, always ask your hairdresser for the ingredients list to check it and make sure you ask for a patch test at least 24 hours before your appointment.
2. SODIUM LAURYL SULPHATE (SLS) – This ingredient is not a friend of your scalp. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is a surfactant, emulsifier and detergent added to a myriad of cleaning products – from car wash cleaners to engine degreasers and yes, shampoo. SLS can actually strips the hair of the natural oils it needs to stay healthy, breaking down protein and halting healthy hair growth. But the greater problems is when it comes to your scalp: a study confirmed SLS to be a very "corrosive irritant" to the skin, making it more permeable and has been known to cause skin rashes, flaking skin, eye irritation and hair loss. It may also be contaminated with other carcinogens like dioxanes. Some studies show they it increases the risk of allergies and dermatitis. Sodium Laureth Suphate (SLES) is the alcohol form (ethoxylated) of SLS. It is slightly less irritating than SLS, but can be more drying.
In a study performed by the Department of Ophthalmology at the Medical College of GA, they found that SLS can penetrate into your eyes and build up in other tissues such as your brain, heart, and liver3 . In fact one of our tips instore when people develop eczema or dermatitis around the eyes is to check if they have changed any hair products, as this may be the cause for those that are prone to sensitivities.
3. Phtalates – aka plasticizers, are compounds used in the production of plastics to help make then soft and pliable. Lurking in hundreds of consumer plastic products - including hair sprays and hair gels, they are used to help the product cling to hair. The bad news is that phthalates are difficult to spot as they are not required to be listed in the ingredient list, and may often be disguised under the term "fragrance". This means that every day we can unwittingly come in contact with them.
Phthalates are considered to be endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), so they can act as oestrogens once ingested or absorbed, and may interfere with normal hormonal function and metabolism. Although further research is needed, studies have linked certain phthalates to autism4 , infertility5 , endometriosis6, asthma7 and breast cancer. To avoid it, look for labels that say “no phthalates” or “phthalate-free.” Most true natural brands will be.
Natural or organic hairsprays will often contain ingredients like gums and proteins to give hold. It may take a bit of getting used to and you make have to reconsider your 'do' as they they won't be as rigid a hold when compared to other hairsprays - but then some things are best left in the 80's anyway.
4. Silicones – There are various types of silicone and silicone-derivative ingredients used in haircare products. These silicones are used as surface sealants in hair products to coat surfaces and seal in moisture. They are smoothing and texturising, adding shine to the hair - giving the illusion of healthy hair!
Although may consider they aren't toxic as such, they may cause an itchy scalp – particularly for those with sensitive skin. If you are you prone to spots around the hair line, avoid silicones as they trap moisture – as well as sebum and bacteria - inside pores, resulting in a more than a spot of trouble! We prefer to use nourishing natural alternatives instead to give the hair shine - look for products containing plant oils (not mineral!) such as jojoba, argan, rosehip, almond and shea butter.
Removing silicone build-up from the hair and scalp is one of the main reasons for the ‘detox’ phase your hair might go through when you switch to natural haircare. The problem is that products containing the harsher surfactants, like SLS, more easily remove silicones. Organic haircare is a little gentler on the hair but with some perseverance you will be able to wash them down the drain to reveal your true hair type. Our tip – shampoo twice! This simple trick of double cleansing makes a massive difference to the condition of your hair, when making the switch.
To shop products which avoid these ingredients click here.
3. Keith Green, M. Chapman Jack, Lisa Cheeks, M. Clayton Ruth, Margaret Wilson, and Ahmed Zehir "Detergent penetration into young and adult rabbit eyes: comparative pharmacokinetics" 1987, Vol. 6, No. 2 , Pages 89-107 (doi:10.3109/15569528709052168)
5. Buck Louis GM, Sundaram R, Sweeney AM, Schisterman EF, Maisog J, Kannan K. "Urinary bisphenol A, phthalates, and couple fecundity: the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study." Fertil Steril. 2014 May;101(5):1359-66. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.01.022. Epub 2014 Feb 15.
7. Buck Louis GM, Sundaram R, Sweeney AM, Schisterman EF, Maisog J, Kannan K. "Asthma in Inner-City Children at 5–11 Years of Age and Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates: The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health Cohort." Fertil Steril. 2014 May;101(5):1359-66. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.01.022. Epub 2014 Feb 15.