If you’re a woman, you’ll probably use an average of twelve personal care products today–and those products will most likely include 168 different chemicals (1)! In today’s highly unregulated self-care products world, simply using conventional shampoo and conditioner a few times a week exposes you to a considerable amount of harmful toxins.
As a woman, there’s an even higher chance that you’re being exposed to parabens, phthalates, and other highly toxic chemicals that have been linked to everything from asthma to fertility issues to cancer (2,3,4).
The best natural hair products, however, will nurture your hair and scalp without harming you. I want to expose information that will empower you to ditch toxic ingredients. After, I’ll help you find the best natural hair products for your hair. I’m going to make the process of switching to the best natural hair products as easy as possible by sharing some of my favorite organic hair products. And I’m making sure to include effective organic hair products for those with curly hair, which can be hard to find!
What’s Lurking in Our Hair Products?
Shampoos, conditioners, co-washes, leave-in treatments, hot oil treatments, hair gel, texture spray, hair spray, smoothing serum-there are a TON of hair products out there- and women are using most of them. Experimenting with hairstyles is fun but unfortunately, the more conventional products we use, the more we’re likely to be exposed to nasty stuff.
To help you uncover the best natural hair products, I’m listing the worst toxins and chemicals to avoid. Most hair product companies these days use green-washing marketing, so make sure to avoid these ingredients at all costs when you’re looking for the best natural hair products:
“Fragrance” is a highly misleading term that likely pops up on most of your personal care products. However, it should never show up on any of them, especially the best natural hair products.
Here’s why: the FDA considers fragrance a proprietary ingredient (5), and doesn’t require manufacturers to explicitly state which of the 3,000 ingredients (chemicals) they’re using to make your products smell “good.” Unfortunately, many of those 3,000 ingredients are far from safe. One of the included chemicals is styrene– here’s what the Environmental Working Group has to say about it:
“Styrene also turns up in automobile exhaust, cigarette smoke and – you might be surprised to know – it might be lurking in the various sprays and liquids you’ll find in the cosmetic and cleaning aisles of your supermarket.” (6)
In 2014, the National Academy of Sciences confirmed “compelling evidence” that styrene is a human carcinogen (7). Unfortunately, styrene isn’t the worst offender on the list of FDA-approved fragrances. Even more concerning are phthalates.
Phthalates are so detrimental that the E.U. banned them (7). No such luck here in the United States, however, despite their known association with:
- Hormone disruption in infants before and after birth (8)
- ADHD, autism, and other neurological disorders (9,10)
- Infertility in both men and women (11)
- Cancer (the EPA considers phthalates carcinogenic) (11)
The highest concentrations of phthalates are found in black and Mexican-American women (12), and experts believe this is due in large part to the hair care products designed for black and ethnic hair, leaving these women the most susceptible. If you see “fragrance” on your ingredient list, toss it. It’s just not worth it!
When you’re shopping for the best natural hair products, it’s imperative to check the ingredient list. Greenwashing is the practice of using words like “natural,” “pure,” and “clean” on the front of the bottle. But since these words aren’t regulated, they’re virtually meaningless. It’s not uncommon to see words like “eco” and “organic” all over the front of a bottle, only to find heavy-duty chemicals (including fragrance) listed in the ingredient list.
Keep in mind, too, that phthalates aren’t just hiding behind a fragrance listing–if you see DEP (dii-2-ethylhexylphthalate) or DBP (dibutyl phthalate) on the ingredient list, you should also avoid the product (6).
Parabens are used extensively in personal care products in the U.S. even though, like phthalates, their use is limited or banned in the European Union (13). Parabens are inexpensive preservatives used to prolong the shelf life of products like shampoos.
However, parabens are known endocrine disruptors (13), meaning that they interfere with our bodies’ abilities to utilize estrogen. Hormone disruption can have a detrimental impact on everything from disease to mental health. A recent study found significant amounts of parabens in breast cancer tissue (14). Look for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben on your hair product’s ingredient list.
Sulfates (usually listed as sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate on the ingredient list) are detergents that lift and remove oil and dirt. They’re common in shampoos and conditioners and create that rich, foamy lather we’ve been conditioned to think of as desirable.
However, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) gives sulfates a rating of three, noting their high likelihood of causing irritation, as well as substantial contamination concerns from highly toxic chemicals 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide (15).
Sulfates are incredibly irritating, especially if your skin is sensitive or if you have eczema; they’re also extremely drying to hair. If you color your hair or have hair that tends to be dry or curly, you should stay away from sulfates!
Fragrance, parabens, and sulfates are the worst offenders when it comes to finding the best natural hair products; avoiding them is a solid first step to cleaning up your “chemical diet.” Another solid rule of thumb is to avoid ingredients you can’t pronounce.
If you’re ready to go a step further, here are more chemicals to avoid when you’re shopping for the best natural hair products:
- Propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol (PEGS)
- Mineral oils and petrochemicals
- Sodium benzoate
These are less common chemicals, but worth avoiding. When it comes to finding the best natural hair products (or any other personal care products), I read ingredient lists like a hawk, and I check products against the Environmental Working Guide’s Skin Deep database. The EWG has an app that makes switching to the best natural hair products a breeze; plus, you can look for the EWG-certified products.
The Best Natural Hair Products and Brands
Years of coloring and heat styling can leave your hair begging for mercy. Your hair may now be naturally brittle, dull, and flat. To get back to our natural, luscious locks you need some serious lock loving ingredients. Original & Mineral’s Seven Day Miracle Moisture Masque i made with cold-pressed certified organic Australian argan oil and macadamia seed oil. Turn your damaged hair into silky, smooth and hydrated locks- the all-natural way.
If you’re going natural, you likely already know that coconut oil is one of the best products when it comes to moisturizing the hair shaft. This hot oil hair mask from St. Tropica combines coconut oil with ingredients like biotin and green tea to kick up the results. You can warm it up in hot water and leave it on for as little as twenty minutes or overnight, making it one of the best natural hair products available.
I love John Masters Organics- they have an incredible line of organic and all natural hair products that are definitely worth checking out. For the sake of this post, I want to highlight one of his best sellers, his detangler! This lightweight conditioner will restore, strengthen, and shine without weighing your hair down. With incredible ingredients like peppermint (stimulates scalp) and rosemary (purifies and revitalizes) you’ll be able to say see ya to tangles and hello to silky smooth hair. While you’re over there, don’t forget to check out their organic hair spray!
If you love leave-in conditioners and are going to have a hard time giving up your conventional fav- look no further than Purely Perfect’s Foundation Créme. This styling cream intensely moisturizes dry and brittle locks while taming frizz. Manage your wild mane and get the weightless definition you desire the all natural way with this product!
The Mermaid Dry Shampoo combination of organic arrowroot powder, baking soda, and kaolin clay absorbs grease perfectly for all hair colors. Now you won’t feel bad for skipping that morning shower before work.
You’ve likely noticed that many dry shampoos rely on essential oils to mask the smell of dirty hair; however, if you’re concerned about adding additional oils to your scalp, you can try Dry Shampoo from Be Green Bath & Body. The formula relies on a mix of non-GMO rice flour and arrowroot as well as kaolin clay to soak up excess oil. Plus, it utilizes rose and lavender powder, instead of oil, to leave your hair smelling freshly washed.
Great news ladies: most professional hair salons will carry this product! So you can keep your hair dresser and a get a new do with natural ingredients like jojoba oil and grapeseed extracts. Natulique’s Organic Hair Color is a fabulous alternative for nasty hair dyes.
Palette By Nature’s All Natural Hair Color is perfect for long lasting color and a vibrant look. Easy to use and AMAZING results, this at home natural hair dye is one to give a try!
A lot of the products I’ve mentioned are some of the best natural hair products for adding moisture into your hair, but if you’re looking for something to help you control scalp issues like dandruff or oiliness, True Botanicals makes some of the best organic hair products.
The shampoo and conditioner utilize the power of cleansing agents made from coconuts, so you get that squeaky-clean feeling you love from your conventional shampoo, while aloe and green tea oil calm and soothe.
I love almost all the products from 100% PURE because I can recognize all of the ingredients! It’s one of my favorite organic hair care brands. The Honey & Virgin Coconut Shampoo and Conditioner are some of the best natural hair products and include ingredients like coconut oil, honey, kelp extract, and vitamin E for a luxurious feel. The line relies on natural ingredients like honeysuckle for a beautiful, tropical smell–no synthetic fragrance in sight!
When it comes to the best natural hair products, Living Libations has a whole line of fantastic products, and it’s True Blue Shampoo & Conditioner are two of its most popular options. Aloe vera, blue tansy, lavender, and German chamomile soothe sensitive or irritated scalp, while spirulina adds volume while also helping with dry or flaking scalp. It’s safe for color-treated hair.
Now that you’re armed with a great list of the best natural hair products, I can’t wait for you to get started on your healthier hair care journey. It may take time, but it will be worth it. Drop me a line in the comments and let me know which product you’ll try first!
- Lupkin, Sydney. (2015). WOmen Put an Average of 168 chemicals on Their Bodies Each Day, Consumer Group Says. ABC News. Full text: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/women-put-average-168-chemicals-bodies-day-consumer/story?id=30615324
- Muhammad, L. (2018) Popular Black Hair Products Are Filled With Toxic Chemicals Linked To Disease, Study Finds. Vibe. Full text: https://www.vibe.com/2018/05/toxic-chemicals-black-hair-products
- Pestano, P., Leiba, N., & Hawkins, B. (2016). Big market for black cosmetics, but less-hazardous choices limited. EWG. Full text: https://www.ewg.org/research/big-market-black-cosmetics-less-hazardous-choices-limited
- Helm, J., Nishioka, M., Brody, J., Rudel, R., & Dodson, E. (2018). Measurement of endocrine disrupting and asthma-associated chemicals in hair products used by Black women. Environmental Research, 165, 448-458. Full text: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118301518?via%3Dihub
- FDA (2018). Fragrances in cosmetics. Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm388821.htm#labeling
- Sigurdson, T. (2014). Expert panel confirms that fragrance ingredient can cause cancer. EWG. Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2014/08/expert-panel-confirms-fragrance-ingredient-can-cause-cancer#.W5hJapP27OR
- Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (2018). Phthalates. Retrieved from: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/phthalates/
- European Commission (2018). Phthalates May Affect Baby Boys. Retrieved from: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/7na1_en.pdf
- Engel, S. M., Miodovnik, A., Canfield, R. L., Zhu, C., Silva, M. J., Calafat, A. M., & Wolff, M. S. (2010). Prenatal phthalate exposure is associated with childhood behavior and executive functioning. Environmental health perspectives, 118(4), 565. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854736/
- Kristof, N. D. (2010). Do Toxins Cause Autism?. The New York Times, 219-225. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/opinion/25kristof.html?_r=0
- Latini, G., Del Vecchio, A., Massaro, M., Verrotti, A., & De Felice, C. (2006). Phthalate exposure and male infertility. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16905236
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fourth national report on human exposure to environmental chemicals, 2013.Full text: https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/FourthReport_UpdatedTables_Volume1_Jan2019-508.pdf
- Scientific American. Should people be concerned about parabens in beauty products? Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/should-people-be-concerned-about-parabens-in-beauty-products/
- Darbre, P.D., Alijarrah, A., Miller, W.R., Coldham, N.G., Sauer, M.J., & Pope, G.S. (2004) Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. Journal of applied toxicology, 24(2004), 5-13. Abstract: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jat.958
- EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/706089/SODIUM_LAURETH_SULFATE/