7 Harmful Ingredients in Your Skin and Haircare Products

It may surprise you to learn that some skin and hair products have harmful and concerning ingredients.

Illustration of harmful skincare and haircare products.

Caring for your hair and skin can be a form of self-care, helping you to feel confident while doing something that improves your appearance. But it may surprise you to learn that some skin and hair products contain potentially harmful and concerning ingredients.

Here are 7 of the most harmful ingredients that can be found in certain beauty products.

1. Mineral oil

Some hair product manufacturers include mineral oil in their products because it’s a cost-effective option that can moisturize the scalp and reduce tangles. But the problem with this particular ingredient is that it can’t penetrate the fiber, so it doesn’t work to treat existing damage.

Additionally, mineral oil won’t help your hair maintain its essential proteins, which aid in growth and appearance. Stick to products with coconut oil instead, as this type of oil is more effective at penetrating the fiber of the hair.

2. Parabens

Parabens can help reduce the growth of bacteria in cosmetic products, but a scientific study has shown large quantities of parabens in the tumors of people with cancer. Although the study didn’t conclusively determine that parabens cause cancer, their presence in tumors is alarming. Protect yourself from risk by sticking to hair and skincare products that are paraben-free.

3. Sulfates

Sulfates are cleansing agents that can dissolve oil and buildup, but they’re also incredibly harsh and can cause scalp dryness and discomfort. Since sulfates are an aggressive type of chemical, they can also weaken the hair, resulting in increased split ends, breakage, dullness, and damage.

Related: Hair Loss: What May Be Causing It and What You Can Do

If you notice that your head is feeling itchy or flaky, sulfates in your shampoo could be to blame. By switching to a sulfate-free product, you can protect your scalp and keep your hair looking shiny and beautiful.

4. Polyethylene glycols

Polyethylene glycols are thickening agents that may be added to haircare products to improve their consistency. However, this type of thickening agent is often contaminated with byproducts and derives from petroleum. Although polyethylene glycols haven’t been proven to be harmful on their own, the common byproducts found in them are concerning. These byproducts include ethylene oxides and 1.4-dioxane.

5. Formaldehyde

You’re probably familiar with formaldehyde, as it’s a preservative often used to hold human specimens in the healthcare and science industries. However, it’s also found in many haircare products, although the manufacturers tend to sneak it in under a different name.

Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, so applying it liberally to your scalp is worrisome. When checking the ingredients list, look for quaternium-15, as this is a common formaldehyde releaser that’s used in shampoo.

6. Synthetic colors and fragrances

If your skin or scalp is prone to irritation, steer clear of any products that contain synthetic colors and fragrances. Many haircare products are dyed with synthetic colors to improve their appearance when poured into your hand, but these dyes may come from coal-tar or petroleum-based sources.

Synthetic fragrances also contain chemicals that can disrupt the body’s natural systems and cause irritation. Additionally, the chemicals found in fragrances might irritate the scalp, increasing the risk of hair loss.

7. Carbon black

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned carbon black as a toxic ingredient, some manufacturers still sneak it into their cosmetic products. This black pigmented powder is often found in mascara, eyelash glue, and eyeliner.

Studies have linked this substance to changes in hormone production in vitro, neurodevelopmental problems in offspring, an increased risk of cancer, and harm to the lung function of people of all ages.

Before you buy any skin or haircare products, be sure to check the ingredients list to ensure that you’re not slathering on anything that could do more harm than good. By avoiding these worrisome substances, you can protect your hair and skin and stay looking your best.

If you are unsure about certain products, visiting with a dermatologist can help you learn important details about the haircare and skincare products you are currently using.

Looking for a dermatologist? Select Health members can use the Find a Doctor tool to locate a nearby specialist.

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