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You’ve probably come across shampoos, conditioners, and other beauty products at the store or in the salon that are prominently labeled as “paraben- and sulfate-free.” But what exactly does it mean for a product to be free of parabens and sulfates, and is that the only thing you should be worried about when it comes to your products’ ingredients? 

The short answer to that second question is no. When it comes to picking a product, you’re probably most concerned with what it supposedly does and how well it works. But knowing what goes into a certain product—and what doesn’t go in—can be a major factor in determining if that product is right for you. After all, the products you choose, as well as what they’re made of and how they’re made, don’t just have an effect on your style; they can also affect your health and the health of our planet. 

Keep reading to learn more about the importance of checking beauty product labels, plus a few trusty products that can help you look and feel better. 

The “Dirty Dozen” of the Hair Industry 

A quick Google search of “harmful hair product ingredients” will turn up a mixed bag of ingredients to avoid depending on your hair goals. Whether you’re embracing your natural hair, trying to prevent hair loss, promoting hair growth, protecting your color, or treating a dry scalp, the sheer volume of supposedly “bad” hair product ingredients can be overwhelming. 

That being said, there are a few ingredients that the beauty industry and consumers collectively agree should be avoided:

  • Sulfates: A once-popular cleansing and lathering agent commonly found in shampoos, sulfates fell from favor once it was discovered that they can actually cause serious hair damage, leading to dry, frizzy strands. Some sulfates can also strip color and the hair’s natural oils and have even been shown to damage hair follicles when left in contact with the scalp. 
  • Parabens: Parabens are typically used as a preservative in shampoos and conditioners, as they prevent new bacteria from growing. They also have certain estrogenic effects, meaning they can mimic estrogen in the human body. While parabens do not increase the risk of breast cancer, they have been linked to increased breast cancer cell growth. Those who wish to play it safe will want to look for products without this ingredient. 
  • Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA): Both DEA and TEA are commonly added to hair products to help blend water- and oil-soluble ingredients. In the late 1990s, however, studies linked the topical application of DEA on animals to cancer. While the actual effects of DEA on humans are not known, it has been banned in beauty products in Europe by the European Commission. 
  • Formaldehyde: Often found in chemical processes used in the salon to achieve Brazilian blowouts and added to shampoos as a preservative under the somewhat misleading name, quaternium-15, formaldehyde is known to cause cancer in humans. 
  • Triclosan: Though it has been banned in the U.S. as an ingredient in antibacterial soaps, triclosan is another common preservative still found in shampoos and other hair products. Studies have shown that triclosan can disrupt hormones, which may lead to cancer, and can even be harmful for fetal development.
  • Polyethylene Glycols: Known as PEGs, polyethylene glycols are used to thicken shampoos, conditioners, and other hair products. Though there is no evidence to support that PEGs are harmful on their own, they are often contaminated with other byproducts, which can have negative effects. 

Other common hair product ingredients that are generally best avoided due to their ability to harm your health and your hair include alcohols, sodium chloride (salt), synthetic fragrances and dyes, and silicones (in some cases).

Looking for a great product that doesn’t have these ingredients but still actually works? We love Redken’s NATURE+SCIENCE line, which offers a ton of paraben-free, sulfate-free, and other harmful ingredient-free options. 

UVA/UVB Protection in Hair Products: Does It Really Work? 

By now, you know the importance of wearing sunscreen every day, but did you know that you can and should also be protecting your hair and scalp? Melanoma, or skin cancer, is one of the most common and most serious forms of cancer. Without daily sun protection, your scalp is exposed to harmful UVA and UVB rays. Plus, harsh sunlight can affect color-treated hair, breaking down the chemical bonds found in most hair dyes and leading to faster fading. 

More and more beauty brands are now offering products that provide UVA and UVB protection. Aside from a hat, these products are your best line of defense against those harmful rays. Check out Keune’s Care Sun Shield Oil, shampoo, and conditioner for powerful UV protection. 

Better Products for a Better World  

If you’re inspired by products that not only protect your hair but also the environment, look no further than KEVIN.MURPHY. With a focus on protecting our precious natural resources, the brand has distinguished itself as a leader in cruelty-free, environmentally friendly hair care. In fact, most of the brand’s products are made from naturally derived ingredients that are sustainably sourced and all are cruelty-free, so you can feel good about where your hair products came from and how they were made.