Common Chemicals In Your Hair Products


This is a high-foam surfactant that makes a good base for cleansers because of the way it disrupts hydrogen bonding in water. This has the effect of allowing the water to more easily penetrate cloth fibers and hair for deeper cleaning. It is primarily used in shampoos and body cleansers.

Sulfates at one point were pointed to as a cause of cancer by the media taking one study and (as the media does) blowing it out of proportion. This has since been proven wrong.

This is a detergent and surfactant commonly used in soaps and shampoos. It is a very effecting foaming agent for generating cleansing lather.

However sulfates are still not always our friends- they are major pore cloggers and the cause of a lot of breakouts for some people.

This wax-like organic compound is used as an antistatic agent and disinfectant, it is commonly used in conditioners, hair dye and mousse.

This colorless liquid has a mild pleasant aromatic odor, and is a natural constituent of essential oils including jasmine, hyacinth and ylang-ylang. It is also a useful solvent due to its polarity, low toxicity and low vapor pressure. It is generally used as a solvent for inks, paints, lacquers and epoxy resin coatings.

This compound (blended of saturated-fatty alcohols – cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol) is a non-ionic surfactant that works by attracting both water and oil at the same time. It is frequently used as an emulsifier in soaps and cosmetics.

This compound is a quaternary, water-soluble conditioning agent that  adds shine to the hair.
Chlorhexidine salts are antibacterial agents used for human and animal disinfection and have a wide range of antimicrobial activity, being effective against a variety of organisms as well as fungi and spores. It is used in hair products to maintain purity and as a preservative.

This one sounds really scary but I promise it’s not gonna hurt you! *(Unless you have an allergy or sensitivity to it) 

This is a mild fruit acid commonly used in hair products for its ability to open the cuticle layer and allow deeper penetration of other products that are beneficial to the hair. It is often used in clarifying shampoos and deep conditioning treatments.

This is silicone oil and is used in shampoos to make the hair shiny and slippery to resist tangles. It is also used widely in moisturizing lotions as a “skin protectant”.

This is the ingredient you want for soft, smooth blow outs and a huge frizz fighter.

This compound is a member of the phenylpropanoids class of compounds and is a clear to pale-yellow liquid extracted from certain essential oils (especially from clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and bay leaf). It is soluble in water and organic solvents. It is used primarily for its fragrance and flavoring qualities, and is also used as a local antiseptic and anesthetic in medical applications. It is possible to overdose on this compound, resulting in a range of symptoms, from blood in the urine, to convulsions, diarrhea, nausea, unconsciousness, dizziness or rapid heartbeat. It may also cause contact dermatitis with the skin.

This product is an emulsifier and dispersing agent, and also is classified as a pearlescent agent to keep otherwise opposing substances blended in an emulsion. It is also a humectant which absorbs moisture from the air to keep the hair and skin moistened. It can further be used as an emollient, lubricant, emulsifier and diluting agent in cosmetics.

Glycol distearate is a form of various alcohols containing two hydroxyl groups and is a common ingredient in shampoos and hair coloring agents as an emulsifier.

This nonionic polymer is water-soluble and is used as an emulsifier and a thickening agent.

This substance is the sebaceous secretion of wool-bearing mammals such as sheep. It is chemically akin to wax and can be used as a skin ointment and water-proofing wax. It is used in some conditioners to coat and seal the hair against damage and excess water to prevent frizz.

Products with this ingredient are not vegan.

This is any of a group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues, and in egg yolk. It acts as a surfactant in cosmetic chemistry.

This hydrocarbon is a colorless liquid at room temperature with a strong citrus smell. It takes its name from the lemon – as the rind of the lemon and other citrus fruit contains a considerable amount of the substance. It is added to cleansers for fragrance and is used as a solvent.

This compound is a preservative with antibacterial and antifungal effects and is effective against bacteria, yeast and fungi. It is used in many water-based cosmetics and hair care products.

This compound is another biocide used as a preservative and to control microbial growth in water-containing solutions.

This compound is widely used as a preservative for food, drugs and cosmetics as it has antifungal properties. Similar varieties are Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, and Butylparaben.

This aromatic amine is also called paraphenylenediamine (or PPD) is used as a component of engineering polymers and composites, aramid fibers, hair dyes, rubber chemicals, textile dyes and pigments. PPD is selected because of its low toxicity, stability at high temperatures, high strength and resistance to chemicals and electricity.
PPD is found in almost every hair dye on the market regardless of brand. The darker the color of the product, the higher the concentration of PPD is likely to be. Even so-called natural and herbal hair colors contain PPD, even though they may be ammonia-free. The only natural dyes that do not contain PPD are body-art quality hennas and indigo.
The Center for Disease Control lists PPD as a contact allergen which can lead to throat irritation, bronchial asthma, and sensitization dermatitis.

(Some PPD free color lines include wella innosense as well as kevin murphy

This is a synthetic polymer made from oxirane (ethylene oxide) and amines derived from fatty acids. In most cosmetic preparations it acts as an emulsifier.

This quaternary ammonium compound absorbs well into proteinaceous surfaces, such as that of the hair. In shampoos and other products it can reduce static electricity and increase the body, suppleness and sheen of the hair.

This chemical compound is obtained on fusing many resins with potassium hydroxide and through distillation of Brazilwood extract. It is used to create diazo dyes, and is also used as an antiseptic and disinfectant, and in ointments as topical treatment of eczema.

This inorganic compound is used as a disinfectant, antioxidant and preservative.


Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is added a common ingredient found in shampoos and some conditioners. This chemical creates a rich lather when you shampoo your hair. Some people are sensitive to SLS because it is a type of detergent. If your scalp tends to itch or your notice a reaction, find a product that does not contain this ingredient. Bead Head makes several shampoos and conditioners that are SLS free.


Products containing AHAs are marketed for a variety of purposes, such as smoothing fine lines and surface wrinkles, improving skin texture and tone, unblocking and cleansing pores, and improving skin condition in general. Sometimes AHAs are used in cosmetics for other purposes, such as to adjust the pH (the degree of acidity or alkalinity).


  • Hair coloring materials made from plant or mineral sources are regulated the same as other color additives. They must be approved by FDA and listed in the color additive regulations.

Color additives approved for use on hair include henna (from the Lawsonia plant) as well as lead acetate and bismuth citrate, both of which are used in “progressive” hair dyes that darken hair gradually with repeated applications.  Of note, temporary tattoos marketed as “black henna” contain PPD and may increase your risk of allergy to hair dyes. Hair dyes are not meant to be used for staining your skin. (See above.)

I will try to update this with new information as I find out more about specific ingredients and as new products arrive on the market.


Milady Standard Cosmetology, 2012 Edition
1,040 pages | © 2012
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9781439059302
Softcover ISBN-13: 9781439059296