Washing your hair is important to keep it clean and healthy, but it’s also essential to know exactly what you’re putting in your hair. And that can be easier said than done, because many shampoo manufacturers load their labels up with ingredients the average person has never heard of. Fortunately, experts say there is one easily comprehensible word on your shampoo label that means you need to toss it out immediately: fragrance. Read on to find out why you don’t want this ingredient in your shampoo, and for more things you may need to toss, If Your Disinfectant Makes This Claim, You Should Get Rid of It.
“The word ‘fragrance’ on an ingredient list can contain a Pandora’s box of synthetic chemicals,” explains Jana Blankenship, founder of natural haircare line Captain Blankenship and author of Wild Beauty. “Scents are proprietary and classified as trade secrets in the United States, so personal care and perfume companies do not have to disclose the hundreds or even thousands of unregulated chemicals that comprise their recipes.”
Jolene Caufield, senior advisor specializing in healthy living, wellness, and healthcare at Healthy Howard MD, says the word “fragrance” typically refers to the brand’s use of synthetic smells for popular scents like roses, apples, or lavender.
“The lovely smell in every bottle is a blend of a variety of toxic ingredients such as phthalates that are linked to reproductive and developmental damage,” Caufield warns. “And all in all, synthetic fragrances are known to be carcinogenic and are linked to hormone disruption. In the long run, these can damage the scalp and cause extreme hair fall.”
Of course, not all fragrances are bad. If they come from a natural source, they’re fine in your hair, says Ghanima Abdullah, cosmetologist and hair expert for The Right Hairstyles. However, companies are usually very apparent with natural ingredients.
“Shampoo companies are very keen to highlight any natural ingredients in their formulas,” Abdullah explains. “So if the fragrance comes from a natural essence, it will be listed on the ingredients by its actual name—orange peel oil, for instance. Unless it says ‘natural fragrance,’ the fragrance is made of one or more chemical compounds.”
Much of the potential harm from fragrance in your shampoo comes from the fact that companies can use and not disclose numerous chemicals, “some of which could be hazardous to human health,” according to Luz Claudio, PhD, professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She also says that the “scalp has a lot of vascularization,” which means these chemicals could potentially absorb into the bloodstream.
However, even if they don’t, so much is unknown about these chemicals that Claudio and the other experts advise reading shampoo labels very carefully and looking for fragrance-free shampoos. Keep reading for other shampoo ingredients you may want to avoid, and for more ways to take care of your hair, discover How You’re Ruining Your Hair Every Time You Shower.
Many hair experts will advocate for sulfate-free shampoos. This is because not everyone reacts well to sulfates, says Iva Teixeira, co-founder of The Good Face Project, a site that analyzes common beauty ingredients for toxicity.
“Shampoo is known for having a soapy, sudsy texture. In some products, sulfates are responsible for this,” she explains. “However, sulfates are extremely harsh on the hair and scalp. They’re also known toxins as they specifically cause irritation.” And for more hygiene help, You’re Forgetting to Wash This Body Part Every Time You Shower.
Caufield cautions consumers against using shampoos with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. She says that although these preservatives can keep your shampoo intact for some time, they are also designed to kill things like yeast, mold, and bacteria. And while that might seem like a good thing, “human skin can develop irritation” from these ingredients. Caufield says some common preservatives you may see on a shampoo label include quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, and imidazolidinyl urea. And for more useful content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Parabens are also a “commonly used preservative” in shampoos, Teixeira says. However, she warns that parabens are specifically linked to “cancer and hormone disruption.” And for more cancer concerns, You Should Get Screened for This Cancer Earlier Than You Thought.
Triclosan is an ingredient that can be found in many popular toothpastes, soaps, and shampoos. But Teixeira says she warns against this ingredient because of its “long list of negative effects on health.” According to the May0 Clinic, research has shown that triclosan “alters hormone regulation in animals, might contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs, and might be harmful to the immune system.” And for more haircare tips, This One Bedtime Habit Is Making Your Dandruff Worse, Doctors Warn.