5 of the most common toxins you don’t want in your hair products

1. Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS/SLES)

Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant, detergent and emulsifier used in thousands of cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners. It is present in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundations, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents and bath oils/bath salts.

Although SLS originates from coconuts, the chemical is anything but natural.

The real problem with SLES/SLS is that the manufacturing process (ethoxylation) results in SLES/SLS being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic byproduct.

SLS is the sodium salt of lauryl sulfate, and is classified by the Environmental Working Group as a “denaturant, surfactant cleansing agent, emulsifier and foamer,” rated as a “moderate hazard.”

Research studies on SLS have shown links to:

  • Irritation of the skin and eyes
  • Organ toxicity
  • Developmental/reproductive toxicity
  • Neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, and biochemical or cellular changes
  • Possible mutations and cancer

2. 2,5 Diamine Toluene Sulfate
The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products issued its opinion in 2010 on 2,5 diamine toluene sulfate concluding that it cannot be considered safe and is an extremely potent skin sensitizer. Moreover, its use in hair products, especially hair dyes, is extremely controversial. In fact, a serious blood disorder called aplastic anaemia has long been linked to the use of 2,5 diamine toluene sulfate on the scalp in hair dyes.

The Journal of Carcinogenic Toxicology describes 2,5 diamine toluene sulfate as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” toxic to the brain and central nervous system, kidneys and liver.

3. PEG-3 Cocamide
The National Library of Medicine HazMap describes this ingredient as a “known human immune system toxicant” and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticide Programs, says that this ingredient may be a cause of cancer to humans. Yet, this foaming agent is used in many hair products.

4. Aminomethyl Propanol
This active ingredient is found is a pH adjuster that is generally considered safe at levels of concentrations below 2%. Unfortunately, many hair products, especially those that require a strong pH adjuster like straighteners or hair color, as concentrations well above 12% which is considered to be highly toxic and potentially carcinogenic.

5. Parabens
Parabens, which are used as preservatives, may be listed on the label as methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, propyl paraben, butyl paraben, isobutyl paraben or E216. They have shown particularly troubling links to cancer.

Studies have shown that parabens can affect your body much like estrogens, which can lead to diminished muscle mass, extra fat storage, and male gynecomastia (breast growth). Other studies have also linked parabens to breast cancer, as researchers found traces of parabens in every sample of tissue taken from 20 different breast tumors.

The EPA has linked methyl parabens in particular to metabolic, developmental, hormonal, and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers.