In the pursuit of naturally beautiful hair, Americans subject their hair follicles to a lot of substances that can actually harm them. This includes the possibility – probability, even – that these substances cause hair loss in both men and women.
Every city in America features multiple clinics specializing in hair loss solutions for women and men. Every small town has at least one hair loss treatment studio packed with clients. What’s particularly remarkable is so many such product ingredients that are allowed in the US are prohibited in Canada and the European Union.
The laxity in product ingredient regulations is not restricted to hair care. Products as varied as toothpaste, shampoo, household cleaners, and even cheese and fruit juices contain 1,300 chemicals in the US that are prohibited in the EU. For example, the carcinogen formaldehyde is allowed in hair straighteners and nail polish in American-made products but nowhere in Europe where the item touches human skin. Similarly parabens (in skin and hair products) and coal tar dyes (eye shadow) are allowed in the US alone.
Still, the American marketplace is open to innovation, so there are shampoos, conditioners, dyes, and straighteners that are made with less-scary ingredients. The conscious consumer is wise to consider avoiding the following for the reasons stated:
Some alcohols: there are several kinds of alcohols used in hair care products, some beneficial (in retaining moisture) and some not (make the cuticle lie flat, smooth and soft). The bad alcohols are ethanol, SD alcohol, isopropyl, propanol, and isobutene (when “prop” is in the ingredient name, particularly if it’s high on the list of ingredients, it’s generally a bad thing).
Benzene: Found in hair dyes, the American Cancer Society says it can be a causative factor in cancers that include leukemia, and it is toxic to the immune system. It can also cause developmental damage to fetuses.
Hydrogen peroxide: Anyone dyeing hair understands that hydrogen peroxide is a necessary first step for taking out the natural color, allowing a dye to replace it. For people wanting to take the color to a lighter blonde, it may be all that is used or it’s inside the dye solution itself. But too much time in application can damage the hair cuticle itself, leading to breakage, frizz, split ends and even loss of the affected hair altogether.
Metallic salts: Used to add waviness to hair, these leave a residual coating that can cause hair breakage.
Parabens: Identified on ingredient labels by different names (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben and others), parabens are generally used to prolong the shelf life of products, but, like phthalates, are endocrine system disrupters.
Phthalates: Credited with softening the stiffness in hair sprays, phthalates are believed to interfere with the endocrine system – affecting hormones that can adversely affect hair.
Polyethylene glycol: Known as “PEGs,” this compound is found to have carcinogenic ingredients and developmental toxicants (interfere with human growth and development). Used as a thickening agent in shampoos and conditioners, PEGs can also strip natural moisture from hair.
Triclosan: This is actually a preservative that prevents bacterial growth in products that have a long shelf life. The carcinogenic and hormonal disruption properties of triclosan are sufficiently concerning that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans it from use in antibacterial soaps – yet not in shampoos.
Important to note, the degree of exposure to these agents is important relative to their adverse effects, including hair loss conditions. But the degree for each varies, and in many cases it is unclear. Words to live by: Ask questions of your stylist and colorist, as well as look at the ingredients labels in over-the-counter products you buy yourself.