San Francisco Department of the Environment

Should I be concerned about the safety of my hair products?

hair products

Hair care products not approved by the FDA.  

Hair care products are considered “personal care products” and are not reviewed by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although ingredients must be listed on the label, according to the FDA , “Personal care products and ingredients, with the exception of color additives are not subject to FDA approval before they go on the market.” Some ingredients in hair care products are known to mimic human reproductive hormones, others cause cancer, eye and skin irritation, or allergies. Some toxic chemicals in hair products are preservatives that inhibit the growth of microbes, fungi, and mold in personal care products, which can be accomplished with safer chemicals.

Find safer and effective hair care products with less toxic chemicals

Start doing your research! Many hair care products marketed to consumers, such as shampoo, conditioners, hair sprays, gels, hair dyes and styling products, contain chemicals that are harmful to your health.

Read labels! Safer hair care products exist for all types of hair textures but it is important to read the labels. Try looking out for products that are free of parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde or fragrances. This can be difficult if you don’t know what to look for. These three apps make this simpler:

What else can I do?

Create your own beauty trends! Find the safer alternative that works best for you and stick with it. Don’t be seduced into trying new products.

Pick product(s) carefully. Ingredients that are listed on a product label in order of highest concentration to lowest concentration. Reduce your exposure by choosing products that don’t list any of the chemicals below.

Chemicals to avoid:

  • Phthalates: Phthalates are used in shampoo, conditioner, mousse, hairspray, and fragrance. These chemicals are known to cause low sperm count in males and infertility in women.
  • Parabens: Parabens are endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen in the human body. Parabens are known to interfere with human sexual hormone production, affecting reproductive development in men and women. These chemicals are used in hair products as antibacterial agents. Some common parabens found in hair products are ethyl paraben, butylparaben, isobutyl paraben, isopropyl paraben, methylparaben, and propylparaben.
  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing chemicals: Chemicals with long names such as Dimethyl Imidazolidinedione, Imdiazolidinyl/Diazolidinyl Urea, or DMDM Hydantoin, are commonly used in hair care products as preservatives. They release a carcinogen called formaldehyde. These formaldehyde releasing chemicals are also known to cause eye irritation, skin irritation, lung irritation, immunotoxicity.
  • Fragrance: Fragrances are of special concern because their ingredients are often not disclosed. Although the FDA does require companies to list ingredients on the product label, there is a special exception for the chemicals that make up fragrances. In some products, fragrance is called “parfum.” Most companies will list “fragrance or parfum” because the fragrance is most likely made up of many different chemical ingredients, which the companies want to protect as “trade secrets.”

Additional Resources

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