Chemicals Found in Shampoos & Their Safety

Big words can be scary, especially when talking about scientific compounds. Listed below are some compounds found in shampoos. Not all chemicals found in shampoos are toxic but not all are necessarily safe.

Are all shampoo ingredients bad? Learn what ones you should keep an eye out for.
Are all shampoo ingredients bad? Learn what ones you should keep an eye out for.

 

Most of the information here comes from the EGW’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. They use a rating system of low hazard, moderate hazard, and high hazard. The ingredients talked about in this list range from commonly found ingredients to less commonly found ingredients. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t find any of these ingredients in shampoos.

If you click on each chemical name you can receive more in-depth knowledge and learn more about them. Multiple studies are available on most of these ingredients.  This is a general summary of chemicals that may or may not pose a danger over long-term use, how they are used, and where they may be banned.

The Goodish

These are chemicals found in shampoos that are considered a low hazard. It is up to you whether or not you want to avoid any of these.

Ammonium Lauryl SulfateA cleansing and foaming agent classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” by the Canada Domestic Substance List.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate– A cleaning, emulsifying, and foaming agent classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” as well as a “medium human health priority” by the Canada Domestic Substance List. Also, an irritant to the eyes and skin and can be aerosolized. It is suspected to be an environmental toxin. Approved for limited use as a food additive by the FDA.

Glycerin A denaturant, fragrance ingredient, humectant, and skin protectant classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” and “a low human health priority” by the Canada Domestic Substance List. Approved for limited use as a food additive by the FDA.

Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera Gel) A skin-conditioning agent, determined safe for use in cosmetics, subject to concentration or use limitations by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Designated as safe for general or specific, limited use in food by the FDA.

Menthol A denaturant, flavoring agent, and fragrance ingredient. Designated as safe for general or specific, limited use in food by the FDA. Classified as not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful by the Canada Domestic Substance List.

The Bad

These are chemicals found in shampoos that are considered a moderate hazard. Again, always up to you on whether or not you want to avoid these.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate– A cleansing and emulsifying agent classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” by the Canada Domestic Substance List. Also, an irritant to the eyes and skin and can be aerosolized.

Polyethelyne Glycol– Also called PEG, there are many types of PEGs. It also has many uses from a binding/thickening agent to an emulsion stabilizer to humectant. Classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” as well as a “medium human health priority” by the Canada Domestic Substance List. Possible organ toxicity. Approved for limited use as a food additive by the FDA.

Triethanolamine– Also called TEA, a fragrance ingredient, pH adjuster, an emulsifying agent found to be an immune and respiratory toxicant or allergen by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics and a skin toxicant or allergen by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Restricted in cosmetics by CosIng (European Commission database with information on cosmetic ingredients). but is determined safe for use in cosmetics but may be subjected to concentration or use limitations by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Approved for limited use as a food additive by the FDA. Classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” as well as a “medium human health priority” by the Canada Domestic Substance List.

Propylene Glycol– (antifreeze) Fragrance ingredient, humectant, and skin-conditioning agent. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review found limited evidence of it being a skin and immune system toxicity or allergies. Classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” by the Canada Domestic Substance List. Classified as skin irritant by the National Library of Medicine HazMap. Cosmetic Ingredient Review determined it safe for use in cosmetics but may be subjected to concentration or use limitations. Approved for limited use as a food additive by the FDA.

Dimethicone– A silicon-based polymer used as a lubricant and conditioning agent. Restricted uses by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” by the Canada Domestic Substance List. Suspected to be an environmental toxin and be persistent or bioaccumulative as well as an environmental toxin by the Canada Domestic Substance List. Approved for limited use as a food additive by the FDA.

BHA A preservative and fragrance ingredient, classified as a “high human health priority” by the Canada Domestic Substance List but they also consider it to not be potentially toxic or harmful. European Commission on Endocrine Disruption found it to be a possible endocrine disruptor in humans and a wildlife and environment disruptor. National Library of Medicine found signs of significant or allergenic effects. OSPAR found it to be a persistent bioaccumulative in wildlife. Illinois EPA is concerned with it being a wildlife and environmental toxicity but the Canada Domestic Substance List does not suspect it to be an environmental toxin. Approved for limited use as a food additive by the FDA.

BHT A preservative and fragrance ingredient, classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” by the Canada Domestic Substance List. It is a known human immune toxicant or allergen by the European Food Safety Authority as well as a possible skin toxicant or allergen. The ACGIH found it to be a possible respiratory irritant. Approved for limited use as a food additive by the FDA.

The Ugly

These are chemicals found in shampoos that are considered a to be a high hazard.

Diethanolamine– Also called DEA, a pH adjuster is banned or found unsafe for use in cosmetics in Canada and by CosIng. However, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review determined it safe for use in cosmetics but may be subjected to concentration or use limitations. The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review have found strong evidence of it being a toxicant and allergen. The World Health Organization and California EPA are concerned about possible connections to cancer. The EPA, US EPA, Canada Domestic Substance List, and the European Union have found organ toxicity. The European Union also classifies it as an irritant.

Parabens- There are many types of parabens that range anywhere from low to high hazard and unfortunately all the moderate to high hazard ones are used in products. I’m not going to go over each one so you can read more about them here. It’s good to know which of these to avoid. So if you are concerned, I would take a look at the list and what they do.

Formaldehyde– Yes, they actually do put this in cosmetics. Used as a denaturant and preservative and is known as a human carcinogen and respiratory toxicant. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, Canada, and CosIng all have restrictions for use in cosmetics. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review determined it safe for use in cosmetics but may be subjected to use limitations and concentration must be kept to a minimum.

Synthetic Fragrance“The word ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients…” Known human immune toxicant or allergen and possible human respiratory toxicant. Considered a wildlife and environmental toxicity by the EU Ecolabel.

1,4-Dioxane-This one is a little different as you won’t actually find it labeled as “1,4-dioxane.” It is a contaminant created when common ingredients react to form the compound when mixed together. Because of this, the FDA does not require that it be labeled. It is banned in Canada and is a possible human carcinogen and organ toxicity. Avoid products containing sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, and any chemicals that include ~xynol, ~ceteareth and ~oleth to avoid 1,4-dioxane.

Coal Tar An antidandruff agent, cosmetic biocide, and denaturant. Known human carcinogen by the EPA, IARC, and NTP. Banned or found unsafe for use in cosmetics in Canada and by CosIng. Cosmetic Ingredient Review found it to be a possible skin toxicant or allergen. Known human respiratory toxicant by the EPA. Classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” and “a high human health priority” by the Canada Domestic Substance List. Environment Canada Domestic Substance List found it to be a possible environmental toxin and persistent or bioaccumulative.

Hydroquinone A preservative, fragrance ingredient, hair colorant, and skin bleaching agent, classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” and “a high human health priority” by the Canada Domestic Substance List. Banned or found unsafe for use in cosmetics but also has restricted uses by CosIng. Restricted use in cosmetics by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, Canada, and CTFA. Possible toxicant, allergen, reproductive toxicant as well as a carcinogen. The European Union classifies it as a wildlife and environmental toxicity and is suspected to be an environmental toxin by they Canada Domestic Substance List.

Methylisothiazolinone Also known as MIT, is a preservative. Is a known immune toxicant or allergen and is banned or found unsafe by the European SCCS. It is also banned or found unsafe by theGerman BfR. Restricted use in cosmetics by Canada, Japan’s Standards for Cosmetics, and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Possible neurotoxicity and skin irritant. Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT) is very similar to MIT but is considered a moderate hazard.

This is nowhere close to being a complete list. There are hundreds of more chemicals out there that are used in shampoos. If you are wanting to avoid chemicals that might or have been proven to cause health risks, do your research and read labels. The EGW’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database is a great resource to look up labels and even products.

Disclaimer: All information on Not Your Typical Hippie is for educational purposes only. I am not a doctor, veterinarian, dietician, or health expert. If you wish to have advice on a medical problem, please consult a doctor. I cannot guarantee that any information provided will work for every person. Please consult a doctor before making any health changes. I am not liable for any choices you make based on the information provided on this website. (Learn more here)