What do we mean by free of: parabens, sulfates, silicones, petroleum, phthalates, dyes, synthetic fragrances, and synthetic preservatives? Here are reasons behind our FREE OF list and what ingredients (and chemicals) to avoid when purchasing hair care and beauty products.
PARABENS are chemically derived artificial preservatives that are used to prevent mold and bacteria from growing in a variety of cosmetic products, including hair care. They can cause a number of problems for your hair and scalp including drying, irritation, color fade, and potentially hair loss (yikes). If that wasn’t, enough, parabens are easily absorbed into the skin where they can be metabolized. The environment is not spared either, as parabens are washed into the sewage system creating toxic byproducts and have been linked to ecological harm. Some common names of parabens to look out for in beauty products include methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and benzylparaben.
SULFATES are chemical compounds used as cleansing agents that give shampoos their lather, but can also be very effective at washing away natural oils. If your skin or scalp is particularly sensitive, sulfates can cause irritations like redness or itching. By stripping away too much natural oil (especially on dry and fine hair), these surfactants can leave hair or skin feeling very thirsty. The negative electric charge created upon contact can also cause hair to frizz. Sulfates are petroleum-based products and that means they play a part in the degradation of our climate. To top it all off, they are commonly tested on animals. Two main types of sulfates that are used in shampoos are sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate.
SILICONES are synthetically created, chemically derived, inexpensive polymers commonly used in beauty products; as emulsifiers to combine other substances, emollient softening agents, surfactants that aid with product distribution, and humectants that retain moisture. Silicones have a tendency to build-up, and can block moisture from getting to your hair. This buildup can eventually weaken hair and potentially lead to hair loss (no thank you). There are some silicones that are purely synthetic (similar to plastic), and others that can be connected to a natural substance(s). Recent biodegradable concerns around environmental impact are linked to aquatic ecosystems, especially since silicones can be found in rinse-off products like shampoo and conditioner. Look out for 'cone' or 'siloxane', and some examples of ingredients are dimethicone, cyclomethicone, polysilicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and dimethicone – a silicone oil, often included as a conditioning agent.
PETROLEUM is a byproduct of oil and gas production, and a common ingredient found in lotions, creams, ointments, and cosmetics; including hair care. Petroleum is an inexpensive ingredient that helps reduce water loss from the skin by blocking the pores on our skin and scalp. This can prevent healthy hair growth, and is very hard to remove. More concerning is the environmental cost of the production process. Petroleum can also be listed as 'Mineral Oil' on the label, but also look for these alternative names: White Petroleum, Paraffin, Liquid Paraffin, Liquid Petrolatum, and Paraffin Wax.
PHTHALATES are multifunctional chemicals used in a variety of cosmetic and hair care products, acting as plasticizers, gelling agents, solvents, and fragrance enhancers. Despite their use in formulations, there are no actual benefits to your hair or scalp, and studies have linked exposure to endocrine disruption, reproductive disorders, and cancers. The creation, storage, and usage of these chemicals allows them to enter Earth's ecosystems causing untold harm. A lack of regulation makes them hard to spot as they are not always called out on ingredient labels (especially if they are part of a fragrance), but some common ones to look for include
DYES (i.e. artificial colorants) are added to beauty products including hair care products, to make them more appealing so you will buy more. Artificial dyes could irritate skin, and bring absolutely no additional skin or hair health benefits. Artificial dyes are likely to be derived from coal tar, which is a mixture of many chemicals derived from petroleum. Coal tar is recognized as a human carcinogen, and the main concern with individual coal tar colors (whether produced from coal tar or synthetically) is their potential to cause cancer. These dyes are identified by a five-digit Color Index (C.I.) number. The U.S. color name may also be listed 'FD&C' or 'D&C' followed by a color name and number.
SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES are a mixture of petrochemicals that can be harmful to human health. Chemicals found in many fragrances include phthalates (discussed above) and benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and toluene; which are known carcinogens. These artificial scents can also cause skin irritation, contact dermatitis, and have even been linked to asthma (not good). Furthermore, synthetic fragrance compositions are usually never listed and considered a trade secret. The details can be hidden under the general terms of “fragrance”, “parfum”, or “perfume”, and can contain more than 100 ingredients or hidden chemicals. If you are having skin sensitivity, it is hard to know what is causing the adverse reaction within the synthetic fragrance composition.
SYNTHETIC PRESERVATIVES are chemicals used prolifically in all cosmetic categories, including hair care. The most common are parabens (discussed above), formaldehyde, BHA/BHT, benzophenone, and phenoxyethanol. Artificial preservatives are used to extend the shelf life of your water-based products by releasing formaldehyde over time, as a way to preserve products by fighting off mold, bacteria, fungi, and oxidation; but at what cost? All of these chemicals can be absorbed easily into your skin allowing toxins into all of your systems with potentially dangerous long-term health effects.