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Did you know: 1 in 5 hairstylists will suffer an illness directly related to the occupation? Hair Stylists are exposed to a wide range of toxic chemicals that we may not know about, until it’s too late.

This week we’re focusing on YOUR health and wellness, and the top 5 chemicals you SHOULD avoid.

Toxic Chemicals to Avoid in the Salon


Ammonia is the most common pH-adjuster in hair color. Its primary function is to open the cuticle and allow for pigment to penetrate. It’s a gaseous substance that’s not only bad for the hair, but for your overall health too. In fact, the World Health Organization and the United States Environmental Protection Agency classify it as TOXIC.

Why? Because it’s a highly corrosive substance used in commercial cleaning products and even explosives! Frequent exposure to ammonia can cause serious complications on the skin, not to mention damage to the eyes, liver, kidneys and lungs.

However, NOT ALL AMMONIA-FREE HAIR COLORS ARE CREATED EQUAL. It’s not enough to simply swap ammonia for Ethanolamine – we need to focus on the percentage of pH adjuster present in our formulas. The higher the pH, the more damaged hair can become. Ammonia-free hair color brands like Oway and Original & Mineral have a balanced formulation! Meaning, they contain a very LOW, optimal percentage of Ethanolamine mixed with ultra high percentages of nourishing organic ingredients that deliver real benefits to the hair and scalp. 



Used as preservative in cosmetics, formaldehyde has been linked to many illnesses like eye and throat irritations, asthma, developmental toxicity. In fact, it’s a known cancer-causing chemical. While many brands have removed “FORMALDEHYDE” in their ingredients list (thanks to the FDA), some have found a way to sneak this toxic chemical into their products through another chemical called Methylene Glycol.

Methylene Glycol is simply Formaldehyde mixed with Water, and releases Formaldehyde when heated with an iron or blowdryer. So if a product is claiming as “Formaldehyde-Free”, be sure to check the label and look for this ingredient.

3. PEGS or Polyethylene Glycols

PEGs are synthetic petrochemicals found in a wide range of cosmetics, including hair care and color products. When used in high percentages, PEGs make it easier for other harmful chemicals to penetrate the skin – and you don’t want that to happen. Why? It makes you vulnerable to illnesses and allergic reactions.

But remember: PEGS come in different sizes. Most PEGs are followed by a number, which represents the molecular size – like PEG-100. The lower the number, the smaller the molecular size of the PEG. So when molecules are small, the greater the ability to deliver undesirable ingredients into the skin and scalp.

Another factor to remember is the % level. If the PEG is listed first on the ingredients label, it means there’s a high % of PEGs in the product. If it is, throw it away! Several PEG compounds like Ethylene Oxide and 1,4 Dioxane were found to have carcinogenic ingredients by the International Journal of Toxicology. Ethylene Oxide was even used as a nerve gas in the World War II.



The dangers of synthetic fragrance are not always obvious to many of us. However, countless studies have shown that fragrance MAY contain chemicals that are full of hormone disruptors and carcinogens. Companies are not required to disclose the nearly 5,000 additional chemicals hiding under the guise of “Fragrance.”

So, why do regulatory agencies like the FDA give the ingredient “Fragrance” a pass? It was originally developed to protect a company’s proprietary perfume blend or trade secrets, under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1966. In other words, it protected Coty and Chanel No. 5 from copycats.

This allows companies to slip chemicals like benzene, styrene, phthalates and petroleum into their products without our knowledge. These toxins mimic the body’s hormones and disrupts the body’s normal functions.

PRO TIP: Go for products that use natural ingredients and essential oils for their fragrance and spell it out on their ingredients list. Not only do they smell amazing, they’re great for your health too!

5. Be careful with PIGMENTS.

This is very tricky territory for us hair stylists. Hair coloring, after all, is still a chemical process and we need pigments to give our clients the hair of their dreams. Some are highly sensitive to pigments like PPD or paraphenelynediamine. So for these types of clients, choosing hair color that either has a very low amount of PPD in it or PPD-free altogether is the best option.


Unlike consumer cosmetics, the Hairdressing Industry is less regulated, so these toxins may be hidden in your salon products without your knowledge.

It’s important to not single out just these chemicals I mentioned but to look at the formula as a whole. Many companies would “greenwash” their products by promoting them as Ammonia-Free when in fact – it’s still filled with toxic ingredients! Do the products have organic, natural ingredients in there that promote the health of the hair and scalp? Always remember that what’s included is just as important as what’s left out.

So as holistic hair stylists, it is crucial that you know about the ingredients in professional products you are using in your salon business to build trust and rapport with your clientele.

PRO TIP: Always Read the Label. Speak to the manufacturer and ask questions about their ingredients. Most importantly, choose brands that are committed to changing salons for the better.

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