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Bad Chemicals in Shampoos You Must Look Out For

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There are many bad chemicals in shampoos that pose a threat to your body and its functionality. Learn about them in this informative article.

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The ever-growing cosmetic industry is continually striving to make its products better. In the race to bring out effective and attractive products, they sometimes compromise on the consumers’ safety and health. Let us discuss one such cosmetic product – shampoos.

Economists estimate the value of the global shampoo market at 25.73 billion $ last year!! This gives you an idea of why so much research and effort is put into its manufacture and sales.

How do you choose a particular brand of shampoo?

Generally, companies spend a tremendous amount of money on advertising their products. They use celebrities as their brand ambassadors. You might fall for these gimmicks or go by the reviews when opting for a particular brand. However, it is always advisable to read the labels or the list of ingredients printed on the shampoo bottle and buy the one that has organic or natural ingredients. Here is a list of harmful chemicals to watch out for when you are choosing a shampoo.

Bad chemicals in shampoos

1. Parabens

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Manufacturers add these chemical preservatives to shampoos to increase their shelf life. They prevent bacterial growth in your shampoo. They have prefixes like ethyl, propyl, or butyl; watch out for these on your shampoo label. Parabens can cause allergic reactions. They mimic the female hormone estrogen function and hence can cause reproductive issues and even breast cancer.

2. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a preservative used in certain shampoos. Chemicals like quaternium-15, Bronopol, DMDM Hydantoin, and imidazolidinyl urea added to shampoos are all formaldehyde releasers. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen, meaning that it can generate cancer cells in your body.

3. Sulphates

Sulfate in shampoos

These detergents remove oil and dirt from your scalp and hair. They produce the lather when you use the shampoo on wet hair. The common sulfates used are Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate (ALS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), and Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS). They are allergy-causing chemicals, hormone disrupters, and are an environmental hazard.

4. Phthalates

This component increases the spreadability of your shampoo and also helps their fragrance linger on your hair. They affect the endocrine system and can cause early puberty in girls and lower sperm count in men. Besides, Phthalates are also hazardous to the environment.

5. Triclosan

Triclosan in Shampoos

Triclosan is a synthetic chemical that has antibacterial properties. This makes it a popular addition to soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, cosmetics, food packaging materials, and even clothes for athletes. This chemical is absorbed into your body through your skin or mouth and also remains in your fat cells for a long time.

Studies on its long-term use in animals have found that it can alter hormone regulation, might lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs, and might negatively affect the immune system. It can also cause allergies, eczema, and asthma.

In 2017, the FDA declared triclosan as unsafe and ineffective for antiseptic products intended for use in health care settings.

6. Polyethylene Glycols(PEG)

These are petroleum-based compounds used as emollients to soften skin and emulsifiers to help water-based and oil-based ingredients mix properly. They can cause irritation and can be toxic when applied to broken skin. Some of the compounds are known carcinogens.  

7. Synthetic colors & Fragrance

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Unless the shampoo label has the specific name of essential oil, you can be certain that the fragrance added to you shampoo is the chemical kind. The fragrance industry uses more than 3100 chemicals to make these excellent smelling perfume additives. Companies do not list these ingredients by name. Synthetic colors are derivatives of petroleum. So be careful when you pick your shampoo.

8. Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol and Propanol alcohol are the expected additions to shampoo and are used as thickening agents and as emollients. Moreover, they can make your hair extremely dry and brittle. 

9. Retinyl Palmate

Retinyl Palmate is the ester of retinol(vitamin A) with palmitic acid derived from palm oil. It is a powerful antioxidant and delays aging.

However, it is a known skin irritant and can cause redness, scaling, and itching when applied on the skin. It is also carcinogenic and causes reproductive and developmental problems and organ toxicity.

10. Diethanolamine (DEA) & Triethanolamine(TEA)

Diethanolamine (DEA) & Triethanolamine(TEA) in shampoos

Diethanolamine (DEA) & Triethanolamine(TEA) are lathering agents used in shampoos. They react with other bad chemicals in the shampoo. This whole process in turn creates a potent carcinogen that your body absorbs through the skin.

11. Benzalkonium chloride

Benzalkonium chloride is a popular preservative and surfactant and has antimicrobial properties. However, it can cause severe skin, eye, and respiratory irritation and allergy.

12. Selenium sulfide

This ingredient is most popular in anti-dandruff shampoos. It is a popular carcinogen, that’s why you should avoid shampoos that contain selenium sulfide.

13. Quaternium-15:

This is a surfactant and preservative that increases the shelf life of your shampoo. It also conditions your hair. It is both a skin/eye irritant and a carcinogen. 

All the above bad chemicals in shampoos and a host of other substances are used in regulated concentrations and are touted as safe within those concentrations. However, long term use of these products can cause the side effects specified above. The alternative is DIY shampoos that you can try at home and include natural or organic ingredients to reduce your hair and health damage. 

DIY Shampoo Recipes

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Image Credit: Our Oily House

Basic shampoo


  • ½ cup of water
  • ½ cup Castile liquid soap
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil or glycerin
  • A few drops of essential oil like tea tree or jasmine


Mix all the ingredients and store in a bottle. Apply it on your scalp and hair and work up a lather. Rinse well with plain water.

Natural shampoo for shiny hair


  • Water – 1 Cup
  • Chamomile tea bag- 1
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp honey


  • Boil the water and pour it into a bowl.
  • Place the chamomile tea bag in it and let it steep for 5 minutes.
  • Remove the tea bag and mix in the lemon and honey.
  • Cool the mixture.
  • Massage it on wet hair and rinse out using lukewarm water.

Lemon juice cleans your hair and adds shine to it. Honey hydrates your hair while the chamomile tea soothes your scalp.

Anti Dandruff shampoo

Anti Dandruff Shampoo


  • ¼ cup distilled water
  • ¼ cup liquid Castile soap
  • ½ tsp light vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 6 finely ground cloves


Blend all the ingredients in a blender at low speed. Store in a bottle in the refrigerator for up to three days. Apply on wet hair and rinse out with warm water.

We hope you have learned a lot through this article regarding the safety of shampoos. Try out the homemade shampoo recipes to prevent yourself from the risk of these bad chemicals in shampoos.

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