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Is Fragrance Bad for Hair? Ingredients to Avoid in Your Hair Products

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Cosmetic brands that use “free-of” as a marketing tool have flooded the market today. But if you check their label, you will notice a long list of controversial ingredients. Some of these toxic ingredients, and their benefits, are actually very popular. Nevertheless, silicones can be a potential irritant, sulfates dry your hair, while mineral oil and petrolatum are potential allergens. But there are many more - such as phthalates and PABA, and fragrances. Because yes, although fragrances may seem harmless, they can do more harm than good. 

Table of contents: 

1. What ingredients should you avoid in hair products?
  1.1 DEA (Diethanolamine)
  1.2 DMDM Hydantoin
  1.3 PABA 
  1.4 Phthalates
  1.5 Fragrance
2. Is fragrance in hair products bad? 
3. What to do if you can't avoid fragrance?

What ingredients should you avoid in hair products?

#1 DEA (Diethanolamine) 

DEA (Diethanolamine) is usually found in its variations like cocamide, lauryl sulfate, lauramide, and TEA. It is a chemical used in shampoos, conditioners, and other cosmetic products as a wetting agent and pH balancer. It creates a rich lather in shampoos and aids in preserving the creamy consistency of lotions, conditioners, and creams. DEA is not a harmful ingredient in itself, but it can combine with other ingredients in cosmetics and form carcinogens, such as N-nitrosodiethanolamine. 

#2 DMDM Hydantoin

Dimethyl Imidazoldinedione is yet another toxic chemical that, just like DEA, that can be found on the label of various products under different combination names. Its primary function is to extend the shelf life of hair products and cosmetics and it is a formaldehyde-releasing antimicrobial agent.

#3 PABA (Para-Aminobenzoic Acid)

Para-Aminobenzoic Acid can be found in many different "aminobenzoic" formulations. Its primary function is to act as a UV absorber, filter, and sunscreen agent. It was once a popular ingredient in sunscreen lotions in the 1970s, but it became a concern when data came out associating it to a high rate of allergic dermatitis reactions and photosensitivity. 

#4 Phthalates

Very commonly found in hair and skin products, including hair sprays, soaps, and shampoos, phthalates are plasticizers typically added to products such as hair spray to help them generate a flexible film. They help reduce hair brittleness and prevent breakage, but they’ve also been associated with disruptions in the reproductive functions and the hormonal systems. The most common phthalates used are dibutyl phthalate (DBP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP), and diethyl phthalate (DEP).

#5 Fragrance

Because fragrances are considered to be trade secrets, under U.S. regulations manufacturers are not required to list each ingredient, so you might find fragrances on the labels of your hair care products listed, simply, as “fragrance”. However, some fragrances have been linked to headaches and respiratory issues, some may cause allergic reactions, while others are believed to be endocrine disruptors. 

Is fragrance in hair products bad? 

Not necessarily. Some products are naturally fragranced by the natural ingredients in their composition. Ingredients such as coconut milk / oil, for instance, smell amazing on their own. 

Coconut shampoo + conditioner


Also, some brands have decided to stick exclusively to using natural fragrances, such as essential oils. So make sure you do your homework before choosing your skin & hair care products and go for those that are as close to natural as possible.

Unfortunately, some synthetic shampoo fragrances can cause scalp irritation, inflammation itching and hair dryness, so choose a shampoo brand that offers plant-powered products, which typically get their nice scent from the natural ingredients in their composition. 

What to do if you can't avoid fragrance? 

It may be disheartening to learn that these toxic substances are present in some of your favorite hair and cosmetic products. Even if you can't completely avoid products containing these substances, here are some precautions to take:

  • In general, ingredients in hair products are listed on the label in descending order of quantity or concentration. The lower these ingredients are on the list, the smaller the quantity. So learn to interpret the labels!
  • Make sure to always thoroughly rinse your hair after using a shampoo that contains fragrance and, potentially, other harsh chemicals.
  • Using cold water during cleansing and conditioning can help limit the quantity of chemicals absorbed into the skin/scalp.

Shweta Mirani

Shweta is a millennial obsessed with all digital. Often found talking about shooting stars and safaris or chasing rainbows, if you find her bedroom lights on, she is packing for the next big adventure.

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1 Comment

  • by Z.vSmith on

    Thank you for great information..
    Regarding hair growth products and caring for our beautiful hair.. .. i am a fan of wow skin science all natural products.. and the discounts.. i really love the buy 1 get 2 free💋💋💋

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