Is Your Shampoo Making You Sick? Maybe....

Are you trying to clean up your beauty routine? Find out which shampoo ingredients to avoid can be tough, but I'm here to help with a list of chemicals to avoid in shampoo as well as safer options for your hair.

3 white bottles of shampoo for a post about shampoo ingredients to avoid

Years ago, I had no idea what kind of things were in my shampoo! Looking at the ingredient labels now, I am shocked at what I used to use on my hair and whole body. Plus, think about the effect of some of those ingredients on the environment.

Here you are--trying to be healthy, but the thought of what is in your shampoo and other hair care products just never crossed your mind.

You've tried going gluten-free, eating grain free, soaking your grains, soaking nuts and seeds, going sugar-free, or you've looked at heavy metals, and done work on your stress, thyroid, and adrenals.  Why should your shampoo be a concern?

Think about it this way.

You've heard about medical patches, right?  Pharmaceutical companies put meds into patches that you can wear on your skin in order to deliver the drug.

And there are, of course, creams and ointments that contain medications -- like hydrocortisone (something I sadly used a lot on my son when he had horrid eczema due to food allergies), antibiotic ointments, hemorrhoid creams, and more.

These creams work by delivering medication through your skin.

Well, medicine isn't the only thing that can go through your skin.

Some chemicals in beauty products can get in too.

Have you thought about what synthetic chemicals are likely lurking in your hair care products and if they are getting absorbed into your skin?  Here are some things that might be sitting on your head.

Possible Shampoo Ingredients to Avoid

While all of these ingredients may not be a health concern, here are some ingredients that you might wish to avoid in your shampoo and other personal care products.

Parabens - Methyl, ethyl, propyl and butylparaben have been found to mimic estrogen in the body, which can disrupt your hormones.  Parabens seem to cause human breast tumor cells to grow and proliferate. (Source)

Propylene Glycol - According to the MSDS, it can be mutagenic (that means it affects genetic material) and cause adverse reproductive and birth defects.

Synthetic Dyes and Colors - These are considered to be unclassifiable carcinogens by the WHO and US EPA.  One study found that women who dye their hair regularly are up to three times more likely to develop bladder cancer.  Whoa!  Side note - highlighting apparently isn't as dangerous since the chemicals don't go all the way to your scalp.

Plasticizers - There can be plasticizers in many hair sprays, especially the "super hold" kind.  If you see words that end in "-cone" like dimethicone and cyclomethicone, that's a tip off.  I don't want plastic in my hair, do you?

Perms - Harsh chemical delivered right on your scalp.  I'd sometimes have sections of hair completely burned off and sometimes even had my forehead burned when I used to get perms. Not a good sign.

Others - PEG compounds (potentially carcinogenic), DEA, Sodium Laurel Sulfate (toxicity issues), and even alcohol, which, though it isn't that horrid, can really dry your hair. (Source 1Source 2)

Fragrance  - This category can include so many things.  If you're like me, the smell of artificial fragrance can really give you a headache.  Apparently fragrances in beauty products are one of the most common causes of skin irritation and allergic reactions. (Source)

This sounds like a lot, doesn't it?  Sadly, that's only a short list.

Personally, I used to try all kinds of hair products in my "pre crunchy" days in search of a product that would give me the style I wanted.  And I got a perm about twice a year then too.

I really loved products that added body to my hair, but I started to figure out that going more natural was the only option for me when I started having trouble finding a hair spray that I liked.  I bought a bunch of different brands and felt like I had brain fog from the plethora of chemical fragrances in them.  Talk about stink.

I knew I needed to make a change.

3 white bottles of shampoo for a post about shampoo ingredients to avoid

How to Have Healthier Hair

1.  Avoid chemical treatments

Since my "twice a year perm days", I've ditched the perms completely and I am really glad I have.  My hair feels healthier, and I don't have any more burned off sections or singed forehead spots :).  (I can't believe I did that now.)

Skip the perms and go natural if you can.

If you really feel the need to add some color to your hair, try henna or at least do highlights instead of overall color to avoid chemicals being in contact with your scalp.

2.  Buy or Make Toxin-free Products

Basically, you have to start thinking about your hair products just like you think about what you eat.

Read labels and be discerning about what you use on your hair.

Simply put: If it's not safe, don't put it on your head.

Over the years, I've tried a number of natural hair products.

I've made my own shampoo (haven't been pleased with the results) and have tried a bunch of more natural shampoos that I didn't really care for. I've considered the "no poo" (not using shampoo) method, but have heard too many horror stories about hair being ruined after doing this for a few months.  Right now, ruined hair isn't something I feel like I can handle without a bunch of stress.

I'm really happy with my Homemade Hair Spray and I use my Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse on occasion to clarify my hair, and these DIY Hair Masks are great for intense treatments, but shampoo and conditioner are something that I have just resigned myself to buying for now.

Also, if hair loss is an issue for you, this essential oils for hair growth blend is really helpful and include ingredients to nourish your scalp.

My Choices for Non Toxic Hair Care

Here are a few brands that I recommend.

Beautycounter's Shampoo and Conditioner is made of non-toxic and they batch test their products so you know they are on top of things. It's very rare to have the attention to detail that this company has. Their basic Shampoo and Conditioner perform like typical salon brands, but at a lower price point--and with cleaner ingredients.

Many people love their Basic Shampoo. I also really like this Leave In Conditioner from Giovanni and the Volume Spray from Morrocco Method.  Morrocco Method's Diamond Moisture Mist is really nice as well.

My hair gets great volume with these products.

You can read more about Beautycounter and what I love about them here.

Note: if you end up trying some new healthier hair products, your hair might act kind of--well, funky for awhile.  Once the icky coatings are gone you should be back to your beautiful self or onto even better hair.

Hope that helps you move towards a more natural beauty routine. Cause a nice "do" isn't worth getting sick for.

Now that you know which shampoo ingredients to avoid, will you do it?

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  1. What would you recommend for safe hair color? I don't want to go grey I'm only 37. I Def don't want to develop bladder cancer.

  2. I would love to have some recommendations for volumizer that doesn't get gummy or itch.
    I have fine swavy hair, and I have struggled with it all my life.
    I used Aveda volumizer tonic the other day and it was fantastic! Now itching and burning my scalp. Any suggestions ladies?

    1. I would look at the Beautycounter recommendation in the post. I love it. Holds great and really a little goes a long way.

  3. I'm so glad I discovered your blog! I was taking topomax for migraine issues and it made my hair fall out. I stopped it 6 mths ago and have been using rogaine to try and get some of it back! The hair loss finally tapered off and I am back to normal there but it still doesn't seem to be replacing the hair in those areas where the loss was worse. I also have fine curly hair. I cut my hair short above the shoulders. Will your DIY blend help or is the RMO blend just as good? And I would assume I should stop the rogaine? Also- what shampoo would be best for me at this point? Thanks so much!!

    1. Hi Sandy,

      I'm glad you are here! And glad your hair loss is tapering it off. I know how hard that can be. I would say do whatever you like re: the make your own or buying the blend. I like my blend but just bought their blend too :). I can't tell you to stop the rogaine - that's up to you. I don't know enough about minoxidil to say but of course it is a medication. I personally have been working on choosing a good shampoo - it's not easy. It depends what you are looking for. In the post above you can see my reference to Morrocco Method. I like their products but you do need to go b/t different shampoos and you might not want to do that. There is also potentially a detox period. In the Neal's Yard site I would probably recommend the Seaweed Shampoo. I tried the Rose and Lavender. I like them but feel that since my hair tends to be a little oily I am going to get the Seaweed instead. One of my friends has very fine thin hair and she said she really likes the Seaweed version. They have a 45 day return policy as well. I know others with thyroid issues who said they like the Seaweed Shampoo as well. Let me know if I can be of more help.

      1. OMG - the hair loss has been so upsetting! Thanks so much for your quick responses - can't wait to see your new blogs (and catch up on the old). I usually do two shampoos (alternating) at once. Right now I have Aveeno and Pureology. I'm almost out of both so wanted to try something that would be good to my hair - and I've been slowly moving to organics on many fronts. I also do the migraine trigger diet (mostly) which seems to help. You should look that one up! It's in the Heal Your Headache book by David Buchholz. It eliminates a lot of preservatives - especially the many forms that MSG takes. You are right - would rather not detox or deal with a lot of shampoos. I usually do shampoo plus conditioner. Does the seaweed smell ok? I was leaning to the lavender! Glad to hear it on the return policy too. Thanks SO much for your help!! I'm just very happy to have discovered your page!! πŸ™‚

        1. I know. Really. I don't know what Aveeno you are using but they often have things I don't care for. Both brands seem to have artificial fragrance in them. So here are my thoughts....Again, I really like the MM shampoos, but I have 5 shampoos. I tried their samples. I overall feel my hair looks thicker but find it seems I have buildup in my hair and have heard others say that. The company says it's detox but I don't know. When I used the NYR shampoos the back of my hair was the prettiest I think it has ever been. I have fine wavy hair and it almost looked like I had used hot rollers (which I don't have time for now!). I did feel that those 2 (lavender and rose) were a bit heavy for my bangs and scalp area which is why, in addition to the nourishing quality of seaweed, and the testimonials of 2 friends, I am going to buy that this time. I also know that using a DIY dry shampoo helps me a lot between shampoos and that gives me some fullness as well. I haven't posted about that but it's so simple - just some arrowroot, a little clay (sometimes) and depending on your hair color use a little cocoa. I haven't smelled the seaweed shampoo but it has Rosemary Essential Oil in it so that is what it will smell like. I don't get migraines, but I should look at that book. Does he caution you against eating gelatin in that book? I have done a lot of research into the MSG thing and some of it is malarky, in my humble opinion. I won't eat MSG, but some of the other things aren't well founded. If he is leaning on the Truth in Labeling info just I recommend taking it w/ a grain of salt.

          1. I'm looking at the seaweed shampoo and conditioner now - but got distracted by the mascara and frankincense eye cream!! LOL! I'm super sensitive to stuff - and have been using OBvita organic creams, but don't think they really help the puffy under eye stuff much. Back to the migraine stuff - he doesn't say anything about jello. There are major categories to avoid - Caffeine, chocolate (I still eat that!), MSG, processed meats and fishes, cheese and other dairy (aged mainly, you can have fresh), nuts, alcohol and vinegar (you can have clear vinegar and I do ketchup/mayo/mustard), certain fruits/joices, certain veg, fresh baked yeast goods (wait a day - but I don't), aspartame, and fermented like soy products. The diet seems to have helped me - I think my big triggers are the aged and fermented stuff as well as molds like mushrooms. I really miss the darn parmesan cheese though!! I also have the fine curly and wash every other day. So it sounds like seaweed! Do you also use the frankincense intense eye cream or the mascara?

            1. Yes, the eye creams are really nice. The first ones that have worked for me.

              I tried all of the eye creams. Can't say I know which one works best, but currently I am using the Frankincense Eye and Lip Serum. I have heard repeated testimonials about the Frankincense Intense Eye Cream and just saw a friend the other day who just started using the Frankincense Intense Line and her face is clearly more youthful.

              Typically the White Tea Gel is for dark circles and puffiness or irritated eyes from working. Rose protects from aging, the Lip and Eye is technically for fine lines around the eyes, but I think is has really helped my puffiness. The Frankincense should target the lines and puffy. I would say look at the reviews on the UK site and see what you think sounds best and try it.

              I love parm cheese too. I love nutritional yeast as an alternative.

              I use the mascara. I was using another brand, Ava Anderson, but they had major labeling and ethics issues so I left them. I loved their mascara....but anyhow, at first I didn't like NYR's, but now I do. It takes 2 coats and is lighter than the Ava one, but I like how natural, yet enhancing it looks. It doesn't take a lot of eye makeup remover to remove it either. Hope that helps.

          2. It helps SO much!! The intense eye cream gets great reviews! Was thinking of getting that aging pack - looks like samples of each, but it doesn't include the intense.
            Nutritional yeast is an alternative to parm cheese?? really? Does it taste similar?

            Sounds good on the mascara too - I hate having to remove makeup, especially mascara. πŸ™‚

            Thanks so much for all the answers!!

    2. Hey girl I'm on a generic pill for Topamax. On it a year. Hair hasn't fell out. But my hair has lost its body. It ust to have so much curl and wave to do it. Now it's pretty flat. My doctor says it's just natural aging. But I'm not convinced

      1. My hair went curlier as I got older----are you sure your hair hasn't gotten thinner as in the strands are thinner?

  4. I have been using a cleansing conditioner for 10 years and my hair is extremely healthy so I would not be "scared" of no-poo. My stylist told me that my color lasted longer than any of her clients and asked me what products I used. If you want to color your hair, don't you at least want the results to last as long as possible? Thanks for the helpful tips!

    1. I too have been using WEN (no poo) for years and also color my hair and my stylist has asked me what shampoo or product I use on my hair because it was so healthy and so manageable. I am a senior and have thin hair but after I wash it brings the fluff back into it very nice. I can go up to four days sometimes before I need to wash my hair again and not look greasy. I am very satisfied with this product.

      1. Thanks. I have heard about it and it's tempting, but their ingredients leave a little to be desired. Have you looked at them?

        PEG-60 Almond Glycerides, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Amodimethicone, Polysorbate-60, Fragrance, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylisothiazolinone, Methylchloroisothiazolinone (a "6" on EWG)

        Fragrance is a big problem:

        I think you would like Morocco Method if you like Wen. I think I have information in the post - check them out :)!

  5. A HUGE problem ingredient in most shampoos, conditioners, soaps, cleansing wipes of many types, detergents, lotions, makeup, some toilet papers and more is the ingredient methylisothiazolinone (and the many varieties of isothiazolinone that have different prefixes). This is a neurotoxin and a chemical that can cause you to develop an allergy to it. Many people have mystery rashes and eczema that they attribute to extra sensitive skin and can't figure out why even though they use all the "free and clear" or "sensitive skin" products they still react. Those products are free of fragrance and dyes but NOT isothiazolinones. It's even in brands like Seventh Generation and Mrs.Meyers that claim to be hypoallergenic. It was the 2013 Allergen of the Year as voted by the American Contact Dermatitis Society yet many Drs., allergists and Dermatologists don't think to test for it via a Patch test. Google it - VERY nasty and one that people need to hear about. Thanks for all you do!!

  6. I have fine straitish white girl hair but I have some black friends that the no poo thing works for. It does destroy hard to keep strong hair. My hair is DRY

  7. Listen to your friends, DO NOT do no poo! I did it for 6 months and I'm suffering from it still trying to heal my hair 2 months later

    1. Oh my goodness. I wonder why so many say this and others say it's the best thing that happened to their hair. What kind of hair do you have? Dry / oily / fine / thick / curly / straight?

  8. I started having problems with a spot on my scalp and the itch was terrible and regular shampoo was not helping. I had already switched to all natural soap bar that had been helping with my exczema and dry skin and decided to try their shampoo bars. They say that different bars work better on different types of hair and it was true. I got different samples and the very first one my hair didnt like. But the second was much better. They work for me and the small sample bar seems to last a while, so I imagine the regular bar lasts ages. Though I havnt finished all my samples yet to know. The itchy spot on my scalp went away and my hair seems healthier. They post different articles on there and one was about hard water and how it rinces your hair differently. They said if you have hard water and you are using their soap bars, extra rincing will keep hair from feeling gummy. I did that and followed their other advice about the shampoo bars and never had any problems with the switch. Its called Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company in case anyone is interested.

    1. Thanks for the info. For sure hard water does different things. I stayed w/ a friend who had hard water and my hair was sooooo curly after showering. It was like a DIY perm w/o the chemicals!

  9. I've been using Everyday Shea shampoo and after an adjustment it seems to be working well! Today in Whole Foods I asked the employee which shampoo had the fewest ingredients. She went straight to Everyday Shea. I also like that the brand is fair trade, gluten free, and inexpensive. I also asked the Whole Foods employee if she had any ideas about how to handle the oiliness that can come from using more natural shampoos. She said that I could use castile soap every few days on my hair to remove the excess oil, and that it's what she uses as shampoo when she's camping. So there's an extra little tip. πŸ™‚

    1. So she uses castille soap on the camping days? I was told by one of the natural hair companies that it isn't good for your hair but I forget why - perhaps it strips you of your natural oils?

      1. Yes you are right, I believe it strips the natural oils. The lady said only to use it when I felt like my hair was getting too oily, sort of as a clarification between uses of the regular shampoo. I haven't tried it yet. Instead I'm just trying to use a ton of the Everyday Shea shampoo until I get a good suds. That seems to be working better than just using a normal shampoo amount.. πŸ™‚

  10. I have been using a great shampoo bar made by a nice company called Camamu. The shampoo bar is Rosemary/Nettle, two herbs that are great for hair. Camamu also has several other shampoo bars that work great for other conditions and hair types. I have been using these bar shampoos for several years, now, and also rinse with either plain ACV, or a concoction I make using a strong tea from rosemary, nettle, and horsetail herbs letting it steep overnight, usually, then adding it and the same amount of ACV. This has worked great for me, and keeps my hair looking its best, while taking good care of it,.

    1. I heard about that awhile ago too. I was a little skeptical after reading some of the negative reviews on Amazon about them and it looked like they get used up fairly quickly. Has that been your experience? I do use rosemary essential oils on my hair and I used to put nettle on it :). I did feel that straight ACV was a little much for my hair and made it brittle - I actually have to be careful about using my hair rinse too often for the same reason. Maybe you have stronger hair than I :)?

      1. Hi Adrienne!
        I usually don't use straight ACV: I either add the herb tea 1/2 & 1/2 and then dilute it with water from the shower, or ACV with about 1/3- 2/3 ACV to water ratio. Guess I didn't explain that very, I never use straight ACV, either....much too strong. But I do love the shampoo bars.

        I did try the Moroccan Method shampoos for awhile, but they just got too expensive, and after awhile, I did note my hair feeling greasy again. With using the shampoo bars, and the tea/ACV/water, I can actually go one or even two days without washing! I have VERY fine, thin hair, so yucky greasy hair is not an option for me. I have noticed since adjusting my diet, including LOTS of coconut oil in cooking, and as a moisturizer that my hair isn't as greasy as it used to be. Score a big one for eating well!

        I just searched Amazon, but didn't find the Camamu shampoo bars...I order them direct from Camamu. They have always been very nice, and they are in my home state. I prefer to support local if I can, even if they offered it on Amazon I would still go through the Camamu website...

        I do have short hair right now, but the bars seem to last forever for me!!! I don't use that much, just a few small swipes onto the scalp part, then lather it up, and it does lather! I leave it on for a few minutes, then rinse with water, then the tea rinse. Sometimes, if my hair isn't looking too bad, I will just rinse with the tea, and not shampoo at all. Next time I start a shampoo bar, I'll note the date, and when it is gone, Ill let you know how long it lasted, but it really does go several months before I need a new one...

        I think because I use so much coconut oil in my cooking, that my hair isn't brittle, but has lots of natural moisturizer... I did try the no poo method, but decided that using baking soda on a regular basis was not really a good thing for my hair, so stopped. I never really got into that anyway....I even tried the WENN method (sp?) which was a product (NOT natural and full of junk ingredients), that seemed to be just conditioner, it was VERY much like shampooing with conditioner, and made my hair yucky! (I accidentally did wash my hair with conditioner, once. I wondered why it got oily SO quickly!!!) Duh. πŸ˜‰

        1. Interesting - I can actually go many days b/t shampoos w/ several options, but typically I use a little dry shampoo. I should add more coconut oil to my diet. I am doing pretty well but could do more. I saw WENN and saw the many varying reviews so I didn't try it. Glad I never tried that!

  11. Hi Adrienne! Will have to try this shampoo. Some time ago I ordered (from QVC) a shampoo by a stylist upon recommendation of a friend. Man, that stuff made my scalp sore to touch. My hair is super fine and limp and I need body. Don't like a perm either because of all the chems in it. I also tried the no poo and did not like it either, my hair felt like straw. I got into essential oils a while back (and thank you for the posts on the oils, very informative) and have tried different recipes off the internet, none to my liking. Thanks for this post, will have to check into this shampoo.

    1. What shampoo did you try, may I ask? I remember researching shampoos awhile ago and I think one that I looked at was offered on QVC. So many of my friends said that No Poo ruined their hair. I just feel like it makes sense - all the ACV and baking soda seems really really harsh.

      You are so welcome for the posts on the oils. I really had no idea where that was going when I started writing :).

      I hope you like the shampoo and would love to hear what you think. I am really happy with it and with the company as they are trying to push for change across the board. They sincerely seem to be about change regarding chemicals that people use and not just wanting people to buy their stuff and I love that.

      1. I think I replied in the wrong place, lol. The shampoo was by Nick Chavez, a huge bottle which I cannot use as my head was sore to touch. Wanted to say also that I love Native American Nutritionals and Rocky Mountain Oils, they are high quality oils and a great company to deal with.

        1. Oh you're fine - that's a different shampoo than the one I was looking at. How terrible? Did you get your money back? I love their oils too and need to place another order. I'm running out of some of my favorites. Thanks!

  12. I have been using Morrocco Method shampoos and their other hair care products and they are great. No toxic ingredients and they work really well.

    1. I am trying their products too. I think I need more time and want to figure out things more. They are clearly a more complicated line for people to use rather than just picking out a shampoo and conditioner, you know?

      1. Not sure if you were replying to me or not but if so then yes it is a little more complicated since they recommend rotating through the 5 different shampoos using a different one each time. But it does make sense that your hair would get used to one shampoo type and not respond as well just like if you do the same exercise every day your muscles get too used to that routine and you need to mix it up. I started with the shampoos and a couple of the conditioners and now I am even onto using the elixirs which seem to last forever. But I guess just using the 5 shampoos and one or 2 conditioners, it is nice that they offer sampler sizes, will be good and I plan to go back to that once I finish up the elixirs.

        1. Yes, I was replying to you. I agree with you on changing things up - that that could be worthwhile. On the other hand, I think that it would make more sense that using the same thing on your hair over and over would be more of an issue if it was depositing things on your hair. One thing I wonder about Morocco is the issue of detoxing and losing your hair - and it sometimes feels that their products leave deposits on the hair. Not that that is necessarily a problem, but it kind of feels like my hair did when I was at a friend's house where they had really hard water.

          Just some of my thoughts at present.....and why I am still figuring their products out.

  13. I made the promise to myself nearly 3 years ago to stop purchasing shampoo and conditioner once I ran out.

    I use to buy a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of conditioner every month. I kept my word and stopped purchasing them. I also stopped washing my hair daily. And I probably use a little less per application now then I did before.

    I am STILL using up my inventory!

    I have - for fun - made my own conditioner and loved how it worked!

    I have - for a "let's see if I can do this" - did the no poo method with just rinsing my hair. I wasn't quite ready for it, I think, because the feel of my hair was different, although it looked very good and very healthy.

    I hope the shampoo and the conditioner work for you!

    1. I use way less per application than I did before as well. So are you using a DIY version or the ones you purchased?

      I also have the "let's see if I can do this" mentality and it can be a blast or too much sometimes, you know?


      1. I am still using the store bought shampoo and conditioner. I can't believe I stopped buying the stuff nearly three years ago!

        I do mix things up and use my own homemade conditioner once in awhile. I want to make sure I had enough time to "tweak" things to my liking before totally running out of the store bought stuff. (Nailed it!)

        I am getting ready next week to start trying the homemade shampoos and maybe another go at the no poo method. I know my hair will have to go through a "transition" with the next phase, but I know I have options, and I am confident that I can handle it. πŸ™‚

        It IS a blast (and sometimes a mess) to try to do it all homemade, but man, it's so worth it if you can fine tune the method and the recipe and have fun! You definitely inspire me to keep on trying!

        1. Well, I stock up myself, so I get it - the 3 years thing. And I hear you on needing to tweak.

          I don't seem to need that much conditioner but I would be interested in what you are using. Right now I am not able to handle too much more DIYing out of what I am doing already, but perhaps soon I will. I did try a DIY astringent but it wasn't quite what I was after. Thanks!

    1. Hi Lori. Nice to "meet you". I tried Aubrey a number of years ago and wasn't thrilled - I think it made my hair feel sticky. I am pretty sure it was their "body" shampoo. Have you tried that?

      1. Nice to meet you, too! I have enjoyed reading your blog for many years. I haven't tried the "body" shampoo just the Rosa Mosqueta Nourishing Shampoo in the picture and it has NEVER made my hair sticky. I can go days without washing my hair. It works just as good as all the junky shampoos worked; better, in my opinion. I order it from I even use it to shave my legs and as my body soap. It also has a wonderful smell!

        1. I might have to try that. I have been talking to Aubrey recently, interestingly enough. I don't wash my hair daily for sure anymore - no time for that :).