This is the most common ingredient you’ll find in hair products often listed as sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate. Sulfates are cheap chemicals that dry out your hair and irritate your scalp. Interestingly, they’re responsible for the “lather effect” in generic shampoos giving you the satisfaction that your hair is getting cleaned. It’s an advertising trick played on consumers (“Febreeze” used a similar tactic on consumers in the mid-1990s by adding fragrance to their formula). Meanwhile, there are concerns that these chemicals may be carcinogenic. Steer clear.
Parabens are preservatives. Generally speaking, preservatives = bad news. To identify parabens on skin and hair care labels, look for propylparaben, benzylparaben, methyl-paraben, or butylparaben. Through painful trial and error, I learned I am very allergic to products containing parabens – my skin breaks out in hives, becomes dry, irritated and peels. Research has linked parabens to breast cancer. Another hard pass.
Phthalates are chemicals that make plastic soft and flexible. I mean just from that description, I wouldn’t want to put these chemicals in my hair. Phthalates have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive birth defects.
Often listed as Fragrance or Parfum on the label. This is a sneaky one because the FDA exempts companies from having to be more specific, even though “fragrance” may contain synthetic, preservative or allergens. Opt for a hypoallergenic shampoo, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Natasha Verma is a journalist, cancer survivor, award-winning film director and philanthropist. She is a television reporter and anchor on NBC10 Boston. She holds a Master’s with honors in Journalism from Columbia University, earned at age 18. She is the University of Texas’ youngest-ever graduate. At 17, she earned two undergraduate degrees – in broadcast journalism and biology-pre-med. After she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2017, her 501(c)(3) non-profit began to work on improving the quality of life for patients undergoing chemotherapy. The Verma Foundation creates custom cap wigs at no cost for women and children fighting cancer and dealing with the emotional side effect of hair loss. In 2018, the first year of the program, the foundation gave 416 cap wigs to patients across the country and partnered with over 200 hospitals to continue providing this emotional support.