Chem 101 – What’s in Your Hair Products

Have you ever wondered what is in your hair products or what effects hair care products have on your hair and overall health?

Countless research findings have indicated that there are more than 10,000 chemicals that are regularly used in personal care products including hair care preparations such as hair shampoos, hair conditioners and hair treatments. Besides the ordinary and desired effects that these chemicals have on your hair, they have various other effects not only on your hair, but also on other organs in your body. It is because of this background that every person who uses some hair products needs to take interest and find out what the products used may be doing to the body. This understanding can help in the choice of more health-friendly personal and hair products.

Most of the chemicals used in personal care products have been associated with many health problems.

These harmful effects range from skin and scalp irritation, nausea, convulsions, tinnitus, damage of the central nervous system, behavioral changes, miscarriage, vision impairment and loss, to skin and other cancers.

The chemicals in hair and personal care products have differing effects. This is the reason why users need to understand which chemicals are contained in their favorite hair shampoos, hair dyes and other hair care products.

Chemicals in Hair Care Products and their Effects

While many chemicals used in hair products have adverse effects on the body of the user, there are a number of these chemicals whose effects have been reported in many research findings. Top on the list include:


Lead is a metallic element which is also a well known poison. Unfortunately, it is also a common ingredient in many personal care and hair care products. It has harmful effects on many aspects of human health including:

-Stunted growth

-Behavioral interference


-Interference with the reproductive system

Other poisonous metallic ingredients include mercury, arsenic, cadmium and nickel.


Formaldehyde is normally used in shampoos and bleaches. It is a harmful chemical which various research studies have associated with irritation and hypersensitivity of mucous membranes, eyes, nostrils and skin. Formaldehyde has also carcinogenic qualities.

Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide, which may also go by the names sodium hydrate, caustic soda and lye, is used in relaxers and hair wave products. It is a highly reactive chemical that causes harmful effects to many organs including the skin, eyes, nose and throat. In high concentrations, sodium hydroxide can cause deep scarring and damage to the respiratory tract when inhaled.


Hydroquinone, which is also known as dioxybenzene, dihydroxybenzene, hydroxyphenol or benzendiol, is used in hair bleaches as well as other personal care products such as skin lighteners. Its harmful effects include nausea, convulsions, breathlessness, irritation of mucus membranes, skin, nose, eyes and digestive tract.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is also known as propanediol. It is commonly found as an ingredient in hair dyes, shampoos, hair styling gels and conditioners. Besides the intended effects on the hair, propylene glycol is also associated with harmful effects which include irritation of skin, mouth, nose, eyes and edema of mucous membranes.


Also referred to as diaminobenzene, aminoaniline and PPD, paraphenylenediamine is used in the manufacture of hair dyes. Its use can lead to dermatitis, headache, dizziness, breathlessness, swollen eye lids, blurred vision and loss of vision.

Hydantoin DMDM

Hydantoin DMDM may also be referred to as Glydant, Gidol, GlycolylureaHydroxymethyl, 5-Dimethyl Hydantoin or Dantogard. It is commonly used as an ingredient in hair conditioners and detanglers including children’s hair products. Its effectivenessness comes from its caustic effects. Hydantoin DMDM can cause irreversible vision damage. It is also associated with other harmful effects including interference with the reproductive system and physical development.

Coal Tar

Coal tar, which may be abbreviated to C.I., is used in many hair dyes and colors. It contains paraphenylenediamine which is known to cause irritation of skin and eyes as well as labored breathing.

Dibutyl Phthalate

Dibutyl phthalate is also referred to as DBP. It is an ingredient in various hair sprays. Its harmful effects include interference with the reproductive and other hormonal systems. Environmentally, DBP can harm wildlife including fish.

Whereas hair care products are necessary in personal grooming, it is important to avoid harmful products which may have both short term and long term effects. oribe hair products

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