Cleaner Hair Products: 8 Toxins to Pass On

A good hair day can make your day, while a bad hair day can break your day. It’s hard to achieve peak awesomeness, if your hair isn’t willing to come along for the ride. (Disclaimer— Please do not take bad hair as an excuse not to be awesome. You can be awesome no matter what your hair looks like. Yeah, you, amazing you!) Some people get caught in a trap though when they think toxin-free hair means putting up with lifeless, sad hair. With awesomeness on the line….Why would people go toxin free? Here’s what you need to know and some easy upgrades.

What About the Toxic Substances Controls Act?

Way back in 1976 when teens had big glorious coifs and were dancing to the Bee Gees, they realized there were a lot of chemicals in consumer products. There was already a list of over 60,000, and more were coming out every day. To get things under control a law was passed, The Toxic Substances Controls Act gave the EPA authority to require reporting and testing of new chemicals.

So, that sounds like it’s meant to protect us, but the thing is all the chemicals that were made up until that point were grandfathered in, which means they were never scrutinized and new ones are really only restricted if there is an unreasonable risk to public health.  What’s unreasonable?

With new chemicals, where do we get evidence of unreasonable risk when the chemicals are being reported and tested by companies that want to manufacture those chemicals? If they don’t show unreasonable risk, they are free to make them. Over 20,000 chemicals have been added since the act took effect so now there are over 85,000 chemicals and over 10,000 of those are used in the wide variety of personal care products lining the store shelves.

Don’t Assume Shampoos Aren’t Toxic

This is important to know as you look at the long list of chemicals on your shampoo, even if the packaging looks all botanical. Botanical packaging doesn’t mean you are safe. A study, done in 2008 by the Organic Consumers Association, found nearly half of the “natural” products they tested had 1,4- Dioxane which is a carcinogen. (2) Huh. Thanks for the “natural” products with a side of cancer.

Our definitions of “unreasonable risk to public health” must be pretty different. With all the chemicals out there, it’s important to reduce that risk when ever possible. You have to be a diligent and informed consumer. It takes some work, but you will feel good about it every time you use your healthy products.

To Start Avoid These 8 Ingredients

1) Parabens

These preservatives are also endocrine disruptors. When these nasty chemicals get into your body they mimic the body’s natural estrogen. Huh- wonder what impact that has on a girl’s body? Or a boy’s?

It’s not good for anyone and can lead to higher risk of breast cancer for women. A U.C. Berkeley study, found that parabens were associated with cancer and also found that when the parabens were in the tissue of women with breast cancer that it could lead to faster, more aggressive tumors. (3)

2) Quaternary ammonium compounds

These are a class of compounds, also known as quats, that have anti-microbial and anti-static quality, so they are used in cleaners, disinfectants, laundry and personal care products. Almost every shampoo has them! They make shampooing easy by adding silkiness and making it easier to get through your hair.  They are also known for causing asthmatic problems, reproductive problems and a recent study has found they can cause neural tube defects in rodents. (4)

The potential effects aren’t worth the silky hair and the effects are only short term. These preservatives actually dry out and damage your hair in the long run!

3) Sodium lauryl sulfate

Also known as SLS, and its cousin SLES, can be found in soaps, shampoos and toothpaste to help them to “foam up.” They are chemically known as surfactants. SLES cannot be metabolized by the liver, allowing the effects to be longer lasting.

What most concerns us about these chemicals is during manufacturing the product can be contaminated with the biproduct 1,4-Dioxane. That carcinogen shows up again!

4) Isothiazolinones

Look for Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone on the label because these ingredients, in high concentrations, can cause chemical burns and cause skin irritation. Studies show that even low concentrations aren’t worth the risk as the chemicals can increase cell death and inflammatory response. (5)

They can be found in lots of products even those that say, “hypoallergenic.” They are banned in other countries and as of June 2016, children’s products with this product in it can no longer be sold in Canada.

5) Salicylate

Salicylate is a preservative that have been added to many personal care products and there is evidence that a growing number of people have developed an intolerance to these chemicals. It is the pain relieving and anti-inflammatory ingredient in aspirin but has been linked to worsening ADHD, Fibromyalgia, and IBS.

6) Phthalates  

Phthalates are another endocrine disruptor that are found in shampoos and other personal care products. Animal studies have linked these plasticizing agents to early puberty, interfering with the hormone system, interferes with male reproductive development, low testosterone, and low sperm count. Hormones make up so much of who we are- we do not need anything messing with them! (6)

7) Petrolatum

These products belong in your car and not in your hair. Products using petroleum have been identified as possible carcinogens.  Companies use petroleum because it puts a coating or barrier on your hair keeping it shiny and keeping  natural moisture out. This same chemical puts a barrier on your skin keeping moisture out and toxins in.

8) Fragrance

Sounds harmless, like a nice walk through a flowery meadow. This one is the one that sounds the least harmful but can be the scariest ingredient. It’s not just one ingredient. Many contain combinations of 14 ingredients out of the over 3100 possibilities. Some of those ingredients are allergens, carcinogens or endocrine disruptors like phthalates. Once you see fragrance on the list you can just mob-wife it and look the other way, but do you want to?

What’s in Pathway To Wellness Bathroom Caddies

Honest Company

We looked up Honest Co Shampoo on the Environmental Working Group’s Database Skin Deep and it looks like past formulations have gotten a 1 or 2. We looked up ingredients from the Honest Co. website on the EWG database and nothing raised any flags.

Dr. Jacqueline BerensEnVitality Wellness Center- A Wellness Way Affiliate- Englewood ,CO We use Honest Company at our house. You do have to watch the different scents based on your individual food allergies. We are always searching for good clean products!


A quick look at the ingredients does show a noteworthy preservative, natural fragrance and gluten. They are a trusted company that puts a lot of effort into safe products so, if gluten is not a concern for you, this is an option.

Heather Snedeker Bladel Office Manager, The Wellness Way Rockford, Rockford IL– For the past 4 years I have used doTerra’s Essentials Protecting Shampoo and Smoothing Conditioner along with their Root to Tip Serum. My hair is actually longer and thicker than it has ever been. I notice that I can go longer between washings as well as between trims. Which for a busy mom of six… like giving me extra time in my day! It smells great too. Our whole family uses it, even the little ones. I don’t have to worry about toxic chemicals and I feel good about putting it on my family!


Dr. Alex and Dr. Sampson do grow some nice hair. If glorious hair is equivalent to good hair advice then read closely. Wait here, while I go grab some…… This company has a variety of shampoos for different hair types. They had no current formulations in the EWG- Skin Deep Database but their varieties scored a 1-3 on the Think Dirty App. 

Dr. Alex Fennelly, Pathway To Wellness- Flathead Valley- Flathead, MT We use several brands so that we rotate. Our favorite is Acure. We only have to wash our hair once a week. And Sam does have some loooong hair to maintain.

Body Deli

We went to scrutinize the ingredients on this label and did find that they all could be on a juice or smoothie too! An organic smoothie at that! The wheat grass and barley grass is even harvested before seed production and avoids seed kernel contamination so its gluten free.

Victoria Gunyan, Office Manager, Life Momentum Wellness Center- A Wellness Way Affiliate- Beaverton, OR  I use Body Deli. It’s made in USA and so natural you could literally eat it! Looks like guacamole in the bottle but it is amazing for your hair.

Young Living

We looked up ingredients for the shampoo from this reputable company and while a few preservatives made us pause there was nothing that raised major red flags.

Dr. Beth Cook HealthSource of Copperfield- A Wellness Way Affiliate- Copperfield, TX

I use Young Living Lavender Mint Shampoo and Conditioner. They are awesome! Something about peppermint that wakes you up in the morning (if you are a morning shower-er). Just as a bonus, the conditioner is a multi-use product for me. It makes an amazing shaving cream (even my husband uses it), I dilute it and use it as a leave in conditioner for my daughter and I also mix it with water and vinegar as a fabric softener (in lieu of dryer sheets or dryer balls).

Make Your Own- No Poo!

The only way to really know every ingredient is to make your own. The no shampoo, or no poo, method has become a pretty common way to avoid unhealthy toxins.

Amanda Primm Buckner, Office Manager, Miller Family Chiropractic- A Wellness Way Affiliate- Madison, MS  I make my own. It’s no poo 😊 It probably sounds crazy, but my hair has never been better. I use a little baking soda with an old squeeze bottle full of water. I’ll use that on my scalp 2x week and I use apple cider vinegar rinse in a squeeze bottle full of water as a conditioner. I also add essential oils and rosemary in both. My hair has felt great since the first day! I have dry hair so maybe that is why. So, I use very little baking soda but if your hair is oily use a bit more. I love using a little oil on the ends of my hair to keep them healthy.

Feel Good About Cleaner Products and Toxin-Free Hair

It’s easy to look at the shelf and grab a bottle that says, “No Parabens or Sulfates” but that doesn’t mean you are grabbing a bottle of “clean” shampoo. Remember there are thousands of chemicals used in personal care products. They can swap one nasty out for another.  So, take a look at the ingredients not just what the manufacturers are claiming. Don’t worry, nobody expects you to know all the chemicals. You can look them up on EWG’s Skin Deep or on the Think Dirty App to see what people, who know what those words mean, say about the chemicals.

What’s in your bottle? Is it something that makes you feel good? Are the ingredients enriching your body while not introducing harmful chemicals into the environment? Synthetic chemicals don’t actually smell good once switch to real ingredients. Grow healthy hair and feel good about your shampoo. Do you have other “clean” shampoo suggestions? Add them in the comments and let us know what you think of ours.