How to Buy a Shampoo without Harmful Chemicals

The cosmetics industry uses thousands of synthetic chemicals in personal care products. Unfortunately, most of these chemicals have not been properly tested before the products reach store shelves. 

While most consumers assume that the products they use on a daily basis are safe, some personal care products may hide toxic substances linked to serious health problems. Hazardous chemicals, regardless of the concentration in personal products may cause allergies, skin irritation, hormonal imbalance, or contribute to the development of cancer in people. Some chemicals may pose health risks even they are present at low concentrations in a personal care product. This is possible because repeated exposure to harmful chemicals has a cumulative negative effect on our health.

Harmful chemicals can get into your body through the skin or you may inhale them during hair treatments and styling. When it comes to personal care products, you should pay special attention to products that come in direct contact with your skin on a daily basis.

a smiling woman in the bathroom holding a shampoo bottle

Choosing cosmetic products that are labeled as organic or natural can significantly reduce the risks of exposure to harmful chemicals.

Commercial hair shampoos frequently contain harsh cleansers and other toxic and irritating compounds. When those toxic chemicals have been rinsed out, they end up in the groundwater and soil, generating a potential environmental hazard.

Is your Shampoo Safe for Personal Use?

The average consumer doesn’t care about the ingredient list when purchasing a hair shampoo? Reading product labels can also be confusing because the ingredients are usually listed as chemical compounds. In addition to that, an average user is not informed about the possible side effects of chemicals used in commercial shampoo formulas. However, this should not deter you from reading the labels before making a purchase. There are some easy ways to obtain information about all the ingredients in a cosmetic product before buying it. This way you can reduce the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals in your hair shampoo.

The Environmental Working Group runs a Skin Deep Database which analyses personal care products to give consumers complete information about the ingredients in a particular product. They also rate the overall safety of these products. By obtaining the right information you will be able to find a shampoo without harmful chemicals.

First, you need to visit the EWG Skin Deep environmental group’s website and type in the search bar the name of the product that you are currently using or planning to purchase. When you type the name of your shampoo, you will get a hazard score based on the ingredients in the shampoo formula. Each ingredient is classified as having a low, medium, or highly harmful impact on human health.

a young woman looking for a hair shampoo online

There are ten possible outcomes, ranging from one to ten (with 10 being the worst score possible). The following is a general guide to interpreting the results:

  • The most toxic products appear in red (7-10). You should stay away from them because these contain the most harmful ingredients.
  • Orange colored products (3-6) include ingredients with a moderate toxicity level.
  • Green colored products or simply “green” products (1-2) contain only non-toxic ingredients.

In some cases, searching on the website using the product name may not return any result because the EWG database doesn’t contain information about each product available on the market. Also, certain products may be sold under different brand names. However, it is possible to bypass the problem by refining your search parameters; try the search using the company name, brand, or anything related to the product. A list of products associated with a chosen company will be displayed. By taking a look at the various ratings of their products, you can get a general impression of the company. This is a great way to find out if a particular company cares about their customers’ well-being and about the environment. If your current shampoo manufacturer prefers using toxic chemicals, you should consider switching to a different brand.

If you do not get any result by searching for the product, brand name, company, or anything at all, you can analyze each ingredient in the formula. It may seem like a time-consuming task, but it actually isn’t because you do not have to go through the entire ingredient list. When you see the first two “red” or “orange” scores you will be able to find out if the product meets your criteria for safety.

According to online reviews, there are a few products that have an ingredient list that is not compatible with the score they have on the EWG website. Certain products that are rated “1” still contain highly toxic ingredients. This usually occurs when the product rating is based on insufficient data. In most cases, you will be able to notice the lack of rated ingredients as soon as you click on the product name. In such cases, you need to check each ingredient on the label to make sure that the shampoo is free of harmful chemicals.

A helpful tip is that many of the ingredients can be classified into easily recognizable groups such as:

  • The PEG-s which are orange in color and should be avoided at all costs
  • The parabens, which are orange or red in color and are easy to spot because each of them contains a paraben suffix in its name.

You can also get valuable information about personal care product safety by visiting the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Cosmetics Info websites.

After several product analyses, you will learn about the toxicity level of certain commonly used ingredients and you won’t have to check them up again. You will only need to check those ingredients you are not familiar with.

Chemicals in Hair Shampoos You Should Avoid

“Fragrances” are the biggest respiratory irritants and cancer-causing chemicals. They have also have been shown to affect the central nervous system. This highly toxic group of chemicals remains unknown to the FDA or consumers and unfortunately, “fragrance” is listed as an ingredient on the labels of most shampoos. The way out is to pick up a fragrance-free shampoo or one that utilizes essential oils from fruits and herbs to create a scent.

The most common “red” chemicals in conventional hair shampoos are Benzyl Salicylate, Butylparaben, Cocamide DEA, DMDM Hydantoin, Fragrance, Geraniol, Isobutylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Lilial, Methylisothiazolinone, Propylparaben, and Retinyl Palmitate.

a brunette girl shopping for hair shampoo

The most common “orange” compounds in commercial hair shampoos are Cocoamidopropyl Betaine, Diazolidinyl Urea, Ethylparaben, Hexyl Cinnamal, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Lecithin, Limonene, Linalool, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylparaben, Octinoxate/Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, PEGs, Phenoxyethanol, Polyquaternium-7, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Sulisobenzone/Benzophenone, and Tocopheryl Acetate (vitamin E).

Many over-the-counter dandruff shampoos contain potentially harmful agents like Coal Tar, Selenium Sulfide, Zinc Pyrithione, and Ketoconazole.

Once you start analyzing shampoo labels, the way you buy your everyday items will change. You will always have in mind toxins hidden in your personal care products. The advantage is that you will limit your exposure to harmful chemicals. By using only natural and organic hair products, you will be contributing to your overall health in the long term. The time spent on checking product labels is totally worth it!

a charming Asian girl after washing her hair  with chemical-free hair shampoo

Disclaimer: All content on this blog is created for informational purposes only. You shouldn’t use it as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Last Updated on April 16, 2022 by Gaga

About the author | Website | + posts

Gaga is a blogger and founder of the Softer Hair website. She often says that insomnia is to blame for her first blogging attempts. Being the night owl, she hated the morning alarm. She left her office job and returned to what she loved most - writing. Her pets are her coworkers, and she replaced the town crowd with a quiet neighborhood outside the city.


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