If you’re concerned about recent hair loss, your shampoo might be to blame. Here are the common chemical culprits you’re probably using, and natural follicle-boosting ingredients to look for instead.
There’s nothing like the gut-wrenching feeling of running your fingers through your strands and coming out with a fist full of hair.
Your immediate reaction is probably panic, wondering what could be causing your hair to fall out more than usual. While increased hair loss can be the result of anything from scalp irritations to hormones, there’s one huge factor many people don’t consider: chemicals in hair products.
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It turns out there are an abundant amount of chemicals in your shampoo and conditioner that could be contributing to, or even directly causing, your hair loss. Read on to discover what they are, and how to find natural alternatives.
7 Chemicals That Cause Hair Loss
1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a harsh chemical detergent and surfactant used in many commercial shampoos to strip away dirt, oil, and other impurities, while also creating the rich lather we’re all used to getting from shampoos.
While these sound like nice qualities on the surface, it’s important to know that SLS is far from being a gentle cleanser; in fact, it’s a commonly used ingredient in paint remover, household cleaning products and dishwasher detergents (1). Of course, it would be hard to imagine lathering your scalp with paint remover, but can you imagine the effect it would have on your scalp if you did?
Research confirms that SLS penetrates the skin barrier where it can degenerate cell membranes and proteins on your scalp (2, 3). This is particularly concerning when it comes to hair loss since the last thing you want to do when trying to preserve your hair follicles is to break down their protein building blocks!
Another problem with SLS is that it’s designed to strip away oils. This includes the protective oils your scalp produces as a natural moisturizer. If these oils get stripped away too much or too often, the resulting dryness can result in hair breakage and loss.
Parabens are a popular group of chemical preservatives added to products to keep bacteria at bay and prolong shelf-life. Unfortunately, they are also extremely irritating to the skin and can even trigger allergic reactions in some people.
Parabens have also been shown to act as endocrine disruptors, meaning they mess with the delicate hormonal system in your body. Parabens have a dangerous ability to mimic estrogen, which leads to a hormonal imbalance linked to tumor development and mood swings. (4). This hormonal disruption can lead to female pattern hair loss in women (5).
3. Propylene Glycol
Propylene glycol is a chemical used in cosmetics and hair products as a skin conditioner and humectant, which helps retain moisture.
Interestingly, even though conditioning the skin is its “purpose,” propylene glycol is still listed as hazardous by the Environmental Working Group, with high concerns being skin irritation and organ toxicity (6).
4. Diethanolamine (DEA)
DEA is an emulsifier and lather-producing substance used in the textile and agricultural industries. It’s used frequently in the production of detergents, cleaners, fabric solvents, metalworking fluids, and, unfortunately, cosmetics, including shampoos and conditioners (7).
Studies have shown skin application of DEA in mice causes skin lesions and hyperkeratosis as well as damaging effects on the liver (8). To keep the skin on your scalp healthy, you definitely want to avoid DEA.
While it’s always uplifting to leave the shower smelling like your favorite shampoo, the side effects of chemical fragrances, or “parfum,” are far from positive.
Studies have shown that chemical fragrances can act as endocrine disruptors, damaging and changing levels of certain hormones like estrogen and testosterone (9). Like we discussed earlier, hormone levels can severely affect hair loss and growth, so any compound that messes with your natural levels may result in unwanted hair loss.
Chemical fragrances have also been shown to cause contact dermatitis and urticaria – a type of welted rash on the skin (10).
6. Imidazolidinyl Urea
Imidazolidinyl urea is an antimicrobial preservative used in cosmetics and hair products to prolong shelf-life, and its function is highly alarming.
Imidazolidinyl urea is a formaldehyde releaser, meaning it forms the strong-smelling gas formaldehyde in cosmetic products. You may be familiar with formaldehyde as an industrial disinfectant or preservative in funeral homes, or by its verified link to certain cancers (11). When it comes to hair loss, formaldehyde can be damaging to your scalp by increasing irritation, while also causing allergic reactions and raised blisters (12).
7. Sodium Chloride
Sodium chloride, better known as table salt, is often added to shampoos containing sulfates to help thicken the lather. While it is probably the most natural ingredient found in commercial hair products, it is still cause for concern when it comes to hair loss. (13)
Salt can have a drying effect on your hair shaft as you’ve probably experienced after a day at the beach. This dryness can lead to breakage and loss, especially if you’re repeatedly drying it out every day with a salt-laden shampoo and conditioner.
4 Natural Ingredients To Use Instead
Now that you know what ingredients to avoid in hair products to minimize hair loss, let’s look at natural alternatives.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar and Clay
Instead of using shampoos that have abrasive chemicals that strip protective oils from your hair, look for healthy products that use natural cleansing ingredients like apple cider vinegar or bentonite clay. Both of these help remove dirt and buildup without stripping your hair or causing dangerous side effects.
Another benefit of using apple cider vinegar is its natural antibacterial properties, which can help fight against dandruff and other scalp conditions that exacerbate hair loss (14). If your head is prone to flaking, look for natural brands that contain ACV and other natural ingredients. (One of our top choices is an apple cider vinegar shampoo by Morrocco Method that works to stimulate blood flow to the scalp for healthy hair growth.)
2. Moisturizing Oils
Look for natural oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and/or hemp oil in your natural hair products. These oils help protect your scalp and hair from too much dryness, and work to restore moisture levels in your locks that might be suffering due to years of using chemical products.
3. Essential Oils
Ditching commercial hair products doesn’t have to mean you’re giving up good-smelling hair! Swap unnatural fragrances for essential oils like peppermint, orange, lemon, and lavender. Not only do essential oils create wonderful fragrances, but some oils, like rosemary, include antimicrobials that can also help fight dandruff and buildup (15). – Just make sure to always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil when applying it to your skin.
4. Algae, Green Tea, and Aloe Vera
As with food, one of the best ways to soften and nourish your hair to encourage growth is to “feed” it whole, natural ingredients. Look for products containing superfoods full of vitamins and minerals that will help nourish your scalp, like algae and green tea. Pure aloe vera is another great natural product that contains lots of vitamin E that helps protect the scalp from free radical damage (16).
If you’re looking for natural hair products, we recommend….
Ready to start undoing the years of damage done by your toxic shampoos? First, remember to avoid the chemicals above and use truly natural products that support your specific hair type. Second, read the ingredient labels! Just because a hair product says it’s “natural,” doesn’t mean that’s 100% true. So, make sure you know exactly what you’ll be using every time you hit the shower.
When it comes to natural hair products, we love the Paleo-friendly Morocco Method brand that uses only nourishing ingredients to cleanse and moisturize hair. By feeding your scalp with wildcrafted ingredients needed to grow hair follicles, you’ll be well on your way to reversing your hair loss for good!
This post is sponsored by our friends at Morrocco Method. Our goal is to always bring you healthy, Paleo-friendly articles that we know you’ll love. We only feature trusted brands approved by the PaleoHacks team.
(Read This Next: The Ultimate Guide to Natural Hair Care)