One thing I’ve learnt on my natural hair journey is to read product labels. We have to be conscious of what we put on our bodies as well as on our hair. I’ve put together some harmful chemicals to look out for in our hair and skin products. Hopefully, we’ll learn to substitute them for healthier alternatives.


Parabens are used as preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast in cosmetics. They are easily absorbed into the skin and they possess estrogen mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer. They are found in makeup, body washes, deodorants, shampoos and facial cleansers.

Synthetic colors

They are usually written on product labels as FD&C or D&C representing artificial colors. These synthetic colors are derived from petroleum or coal tar. Synthetic colors are suspected to be carcinogenic.


The main phthalates in cosmetics are dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate and dimethyl phthalate. They have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls, and reproductive birth defects in males and females. They can be found in deodorants, perfumes/colognes, hair sprays and moisturisers.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

They cause irritation to the skin, lung and eyes. They have the potential to interact with other chemicals to form nitrosamines which is a carcinogen. They are found in shampoo, body wash and cleansers and mascara.


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRP’s) are used in cosmetic products to help prevent bacteria growth. Formaldehyde is known to cause allergic skin reactions and it may also be harmful to the immune system. It can be found in nail polish, body washes, conditioners, shampoos, cleansers and eye shadows.

Propylene glycol

Propylene glycol is a small organic alcohol commonly used as a skin-conditioning agent. It causes skin irritation and dermatitis in humans. It can be found in moisturisers, sunscreen, makeup products, conditioners, shampoos, hair sprays, styling gels and hair dyes.

Sunscreen chemicals

These include benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate and ethoxycinnmate. They cause cellular damage and cancer in the body. They can be found in sunscreen products.


Alcohol is known to dry out the hair. Caution should be taken when it is listed in the top four ingredients on the label .

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)

BHA is a carcinogen which can cause skin depigmentation. It is found in exfoliants and perfumes.


Silicone, which may be listed as dimethicone and cyclomethicone help to prevent heat damage by coating the hair strands during heat treatments. Over time, they build up causing the hair to become greasy and weighed down. It is advised to use a clarifying shampoo to remove all traces of silicones.

Other chemicals to avoid include

Triclosan and triclocarban

They’re found in toothpastes, deodorants and antibacterial soaps.

Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid and retinol

found in moisturisers, lip products, sunscreen, anti-aging products

Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid and retinol

found in moisturisers, lip products, sunscreen and anti-aging products.

Hydroquinone and mercury

found in skin lighteners.

It’s quite impossible to avoid all of these chemicals but I’d advise you read all product labels before you use any products. The ball is in your court for you to decide if using the products will be detrimental to your health and if it’s short term benefit outweighs it’s long term consequences.

Stay safe.


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