Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Shampoo and Conditioner Products

“What harms us, harms the planet.”

Research shows toxic ingredients in shampoos and conditioners are associated with serious health issues like hormone imbalances and infertility.

The levels of each chemical in each product are below the risk threshold for policymakers, but personally, we need to consider the overall quantity of chemicals we’re exposing ourselves and families to over time.

Reports have shown these toxins build in our organs, cause cancer, and are associated with mental health and digestive issues.

After we’re exposed, these chemical-laden soaps drain and pollute our waterways, poisoning groundwater, and increasing our dependence on energy-intensive water processing and treating.

Avoiding toxic ingredients isn’t just about our health, it’s about our home.


Common names: Irgasan DP-300, Lexol 300, Ster-Zac, Cloxifenolum

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent found in hair and personal care products ranging from shampoos to hand soaps to mouthwashes. It’s also used as a cosmetics preservative. 

The Canadian government assures us triclosan doesn’t pose a health risk at current exposure levels, but also admits it threatens our environment.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), triclosan is dangerous, being linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, and, even at low levels, disrupting proper thyroid functioning. 

It’s also detrimental to waterways and the EWG confirms “wastewater treatment does not remove all of the chemical, sending it into lakes, rivers and water sources, where it is very toxic to aquatic life.”


Common names: fragrance, parfum, essential oil blend, aroma

If a company uses natural fragrance, it’s likely essential oil based and listed on the packaging. 

If you check your products, you’ll notice many just list generic “fragrance” or “parfum.” These are synthetics, and they saturate the aroma sector in a largely unregulated market. They’re in almost everything—including The Body Shop stuff. 

Again, our government assures us they watch fragrances for safety, but they also admit the cosmetic industry is “predominantly self-regulating.”

It’s also difficult to have full confidence when studies have shown synthetics contribute to health issues like cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies, and sensitivities. 

shampoo and conditioner products - environment toxins

On the eco side of things, there’s no doubt the dangers of fragrances used in shampoos and conditioners.

Wildlife are poisoned from drinking contaminated waters resulting from draining shampoos and conditioners.

According to research out of Standford University, these chemicals interfere with wildlife’s natural defense system and therefore their ability to process and eliminate toxins.  

To me, it’s all criminal. Like, just think around your house for a moment. From creams to soaps to detergents and bubble baths, and, of course, shampoos and conditioners—synthetic fragrances are everywhere. 

But they’re also somewhat avoidable. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says we should read labels and avoid products when no information is given other than fragrance.

They also remind us that many products don’t fully disclosure their fragrances, obviously making total avoidance difficult unless you DIY.  

DIY is also great when it comes to saving money. Most homemade shampoos are a simple mix of vegetable-based Castile and essential oils with maybe a boost of added coconut oil and apple cider vinegar.

I’ve tried the apple cider vinegar rinses and can attest to how wonderful it works for restoring moisture and enhancing shine.  


Common names: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

Pretty much with all these ingredients, you’ll find both support for their safety and reports claiming they’re toxic. As an average consumer, it can be difficult to sift through the BS. I get frustrated with this a lot. 

Healthline says sulfates are generally safe, but outlines some risks including irritation to lungs, eyes, and skin, especially with long-term use, and potential contamination with 1,4 dioxane—a chemical known to cause cancer in lab animals. It honestly doesn’t sound like the best soap additive, even if it is great at creating foam and bubbles. 

These products are typically tested on animals and, again, pollute waterways that are supposed to support ecosystems.

What’s worse is that sulfates come from plant sources with heavy environmental impacts like palm and coconut.

Most of us have caught onto the potential risks and impact of sulfates, so many companies have removed them, but it’s best to still read the ingredients nonetheless.


Common names: ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben

Canada admits the research on parabens is concerning, but won’t ban them due to “questions” and a lack of understanding about estrogen: 

Parabens have been found to weakly mimic estrogens in animal studies. While this raises a concern because of the link between the hormone estrogen and breast cancer, there are many questions and conflicting scientific studies about the effects of low level estrogen in humans.”

 The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption isn’t taking any chances. They listed parabens as a Category 1 priority substance because they acknowledge it interferes with hormone function and has been found in breast cancer tissue.

No shocker here, but obviously parabens get into the waterways and pollute the ecosystem like the other listed chemicals.

The European Commission also acknowledges this negative impact on wildlife, stating:

“Reports of adverse changes in the physiology and behaviour of wildlife apparently linked to exposure to chemical pollutants released into the environment, and the suggestion that humans may also be at similar risk of adverse health effects, have fuelled growing concern about the extent of the risk posed by chemical EDs and calls for action to reduce such risks.”

So…there are studies showing negative health effects and waterway polluting and wildlife poisoning and…need I say more?  


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