It seems that in the past couple of years, being natural and embracing ones curls has become the “in” trend. I happen to think that us curly girls were just too darn tired to keep straightening our hair and too broke to keep paying someone else to do it. I know I personally haven’t straightened my hair, personally or professionally, in 7 years.
On top of embracing ones natural state, it seems that being conscientious of the types of products we use is also a part of everyday vocabulary now. We went from using whatever was on sale at the grocery store, to selectively “canceling” brands because of their chemical components.
Recently, I have come to learn that even in our most treasured and talked about lines, there are chemicals lurking that we need to know more about and stay away from if possible. Now, before you go on that soap box and tell me about how some of these chemical compounds already exist naturally and we consume them in other ways, I have to say while you are right, if I can avoid even 1% more of that formaldehyde or other carcinogen, I will.
So without further ado, lets cover the top 8 chemicals that you should avoid when purchasing your next leave-in conditioner, hair gel, or styling cream…
- Silicone – This is pretty obvious and I am sure you are tired of hearing about it but just to cover the basics, silicones are found in a lot of different forms. This is a form of plastic and yes, you have heard of silicone breast implants, so why would you put this in your hair? It has some benefits like producing shine and slip (translates to easy to comb through) but it also weighs down your hair and produces a film that prevents other products from helping your hair including water and oxygen.
Types of silicones: When reading a label, look for a compound that typically ends in “-cone” like dimethicone, methicone, cyclomethicone or sometimes a combo item like: phenyl trimethicone or dimethicone copolyol
- Sulfates: So if you have used a silicone, and as I just mentioned, silicones prevent water from penetrating, then you need some even more abrasive -enter sulfates. This is the chemical that is used often in shampoos and creates that lathering and bubbly effect. It works by lifting the cuticle of the hair and stripping it of any product or natural oils which results in long-term dryness, brittleness, and even scalp irritation. You know where else you find sulfates? In your laundry detergent or dishwashing soap. Would you wash your hair with a Tide pod or Dawn?
Then skip a shampoo that has any variation of sulfates including, but not limited to: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, sodium cocoyl isoethionate, or
disodium laureth sulfosuccinate. In other words, look for an ingredient that ends in “-ate”.
- Alcohol: I have to say that not all alcohols are bad, but think about the last time that you had a few too many drinks. How did you feel later on that night or the next day? Think beyond the headache to the dehydration. The same thing happens with your hair! Alcohols in hair products will help evaporate the natural oils in your hair leaving it dry and brittle overtime.
Look for ingredients that end in “-ol” such as: ethanol alcohol, ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, isopropanol alcohol. Even if the the “alcohol” word is not there, the base of the chemical is still an alcohol compound.
- Parabens: This is another hot discussion item but what exactly is a paraben? Parabens are chemicals that are added to extend the shelf life of a product. These are often also linked to cancer and serve as a harmful carcinogen.
Look for ingredients that end in “-yl” like: methyl, propyl, butyl, or ethyl. These are also often overlooked or regarded as an alcohol.
- Urea: I know some of you read that as a bodily secretion of sorts but really it is another form of preservatives, like parabens, that extend the product’s shelf life. These types of chemicals are linked to skin irritation, flakiness, and even dermatitis. Worse yet is when this is aggravated through heat. When these types of chemicals are exposed to heat, which could be as little as your hair dryer when you diffuse, they break down to even more harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde.
These are often easy to spot on an ingredients list: diazoldinyl urea or imidazolidinyl urea.
- Formaldehyde: I know when I first learned that some of my curly hair products had the same thing that is used when a person dies to embalm the body, I knew this was something I had to avoid. Formaldehyde is used for the same purpose as when it is used for a body – preservation. Yet another cheap ingredient like parabens or urea, this chemical has been known to cause cancer, heart palpitations, infections, and many other health conditions.
You can find this on your ingredient list in many different ways including: formalin, formic aldehyde, methanediol, methanal, or methyl aldehyde.
- Mineral Oil: If you are Curly Girl Method (CGM) or even if you have followed me on IG or in earlier posts, you know that oil + curly hair = a great equation! BUT there are some oils that are actually damaging to your hair such as mineral oil. This is an inexpensive form of oil that does not live up to its name – it is not moisturizing and is often too heavy for hair and weighs the hair down so it is lifeless and greasy. It also causes a lot of build-up on the scalp. It may feel nice because it has a lot of slip but it will have a negative impact in the long run.
While you will see “mineral oil” as its own ingredient, you may also see its sister compounds like lanolin or petroleum (yep, just like Vaseline).
- Perfume: We all want to smell good and usually are persuaded to buy products simply because it may remind us of homemade cookies, our tropical vacation, or what we project romance to smell like. However, putting on products that are full of perfumes is actually damaging to your hair for a few reasons. First off, many bases to perfumes is an alcohol, which as we already discussed, dries out the hair. Secondly, perfumes are often compounded to be concentrated in that 10oz container and if you have any skin sensitivity, you could experience scalp irritation, itchy/watery eyes, rash, dandruff, or other side effects very quickly.
Typically the ingredient list will simply state “perfume” or “fragrance” in the list so if you can find something with natural scents, you are definitely better off.
So, that’s a long list but what prompted me to start researching and posting this is what I found in one product that I specifically used almost daily – DevaCurl Styling Cream
Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Glycerin, Hydroxpropyl Starch Phosphate, Cetrimonium Chloride, Behentrimonium Chloride, PPG-3 Benzyl Ether Myristate, Ethyl Macadamiate, Laureth-4, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Protein, Panthenol, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Extract, Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Extract, Melissa Officinalis Extract, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Extract, Achillea Millefolium Extract, Lauryldimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Lauryldimonium Hydroxypropyl Wheat Starch, Propylene Glycol, Ceteareth-20, Disodium EDTA, Aminomethyl Propanol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Fragrance.
While I enjoyed the fragrance component (it reminded me of sitting on the beach in the Caribbean), I need to be careful with my sensitive skin. However worst yet is the urea, especially since I often diffuse my hair with the hair dryer. Knowing that this breaks down into formaldehyde and knowing that this could cause unwanted health defects, I have stopped using this altogether and have decided to no longer purchase DevaCurl products personally. Why? It doesn’t stop at the styling cream. The shampoos and conditioners also have harmful ingredients like the No-Poo Original Zero Lather Conditioning Cleanser has diazolidinyl urea and iodopropynyl butylcarbamate.
So moral of the story is that I am moving beyond DevaCurl for other brands that may have more organic and safe ingredients. And while I know I cannot avoid everything all of the time, if I can make one swap, and even save some money in the process, I will because my health is more important to me than perfect hair.
Have you heard about these ingredients before? Do you read the label of your hair care products before purchasing? Did it surprise you that DevaCurl had some less than ideal ingredients? Comment below and lets continue the conversation!