At every pharmacy, grocery store, and big-box supermarket, the shelves are stocked with an abundance of health and beauty products. But to get them to the marketplace affordably and without degradation, manufacturers often load them up with preservatives and additives that can do damage in the long run, especially to your hair. Before you look at the price tags, scan the ingredients for these chemicals you should avoid in hair products.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Manufacturers often use sulfates as active detergents and surfactants in shampoos. Sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, is the most popular choice among sulfates. SLS is generally safe for most people, but the powerful surfactant properties that give it such a recognizable lather have drawbacks for some users. SLS can fade hair dyes and strip keratin treatments, undoing the hard work you and your stylist have put into making your hair look its best. Even for people who don’t treat their hair, sodium lauryl sulfate is a potent detergent that breaks down oils in your hair, which can cause problems with overuse. SLS shampoos can dry out the hair and cause your hair to overproduce natural oils to compensate. If any of these are concerns to you, seek out a sulfate-free shampoo.
Parabens, or preservatives derived from benzoic acid, are popular additives to a variety of health and beauty products to extend their shelf lives. You’ll find parabens in products at the drugstore, but you won’t find them at salons—parabens are known to dry out hair and irritate the scalp, and they may be carcinogenic in high concentrations. Products without parabens are now available, allowing you to bring salon-quality products home with you.
If a year of constantly applying hand sanitizer has taught you anything, it should be that alcohol dries out the skin. Many hair products, such as hair spray and gel, have the familiar sharp scent of ethyl or isopropyl alcohol. To avoid split ends, broken strands, and a dry and itchy scalp, follow your nose to hair products that aren’t heavy on alcohols.
Making hair too greasy for its own good makes dimethicone a chemical you should avoid in hair products. Dimethicone is a cheap, synthetic variant of silicone that readily lends your hair a soft and smooth texture—but at the expense of unwanted heaviness and greasiness. Consult your stylist for recommendations on products with plant-based alternatives to silicones that will smooth out your hair without damage or inconvenience.
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