5 Chemicals To Be Mindful Of

By Fran of Heyfranhey.com

A couple weeks back we discussed our favorite natural and organic product lines. It was great to see how many of us loved and used the same brands. It was also extremely informative, learning of more healthy brands in the comments, which later prompted us to post a second list. Hopefully we will all be able to secure healthy products that are accessible, affordable and successful contributions to our beauty regimens.

I know it can get tricky for us, because product lines will say “Natural” or “Organic” without being fully so. It can often mean a few natural ingredients have been infused with chemicals to create the product. Make sure to base your purchase on the list of ingredients as a whole. It’s also smarter to financially support brands that are genuinely working hard for our well-being and not just concerned with profit. Those are the lines that should be taking up our shelves in stores.

Further research needs to be conducted to show clearer evidence of these harsh chemicals and their effects on our health. In the meantime, here are a few (of the many) toxins you should be aware of as a “Precautionary Principle”:

Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl)

Parabens are preservatives. They are added to our beauty products because they block any forms of microbial growth and extend a product’s shelf life. Research shows, however, that exposure to these chemicals may also disrupt our normal hormone function. They can affect our reproductive systems and have been linked to breast cancer.

Sulfates (sodium lauryl sulfate/sodium laureth sulfate)

Sulfates are detergents. They are added to our beauty products because they are aggressive at removing grease (often used in car washes, as engine degreasers and garage floor cleaners) and help create the “lather” we look for in our cleansers. We are usually told to stay away because they dry our hair and skin out, but the effect is much stronger. The corrosion these chemicals cause on our layers of skin and hair follicles can cause hair loss and the gradual deterioration of our skin’s natural (oil) protection. Also linked to cancer.

Phthalates (butyl, dibutyl, butylbenzyl, diethyl)

Phthalates are commonly used as “penetration enhancers”, humectants and emoliants (also added to create fragrance). They are added to our beauty products because the oily texture is useful at helping lotions and cleansers have more slip, penetrating deeper into the skin/hair follicle. They help give the impression that the skin is softened and moisturized when in fact the chemical is leaving a residue to make it feel that way. Research shows that these chemicals have caused a wide range of birth defects and deformities, as well as lifelong reproductive impairments.

Formaldehyde (doazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15)

Formaldehyde is another preservative (commonly used to embalm bodies and preserve tissue samples). They are added to our beauty products because of the low cost and powerful ability to kill germs. Research shows, however, that the exposure to these chemicals has been linked to many cases of cancer, neuro (brain) toxicity, depression, chronic fatigue and allergies.

Mineral Oil

Mineral Oil is used as a moisturizer (when it should only be used as a sealant). This substance tends to be the most controversial of all. Many consider it to be refined, natural and harmless; finding it to be moisturizing. While others label it as “manufactured from crude oil”; inhibiting the natural moisturizing factor of your skin. Research also shows that Mineral Oil decreases the skin cell’s (and hair follicles) ability to exchange much-needed nutrients or to release its wastes.

Ladies, do you avoid any of these chemicals?

Fran is the author of HeyFranHey.com. She dispenses hair advice on Black Girl with Long Hair every Monday. Follow her on Twitter @heyfranhey.


I'm a natural hair, nutrition and fitness blogger from New York City. Battling a kidney related illness that doctors couldn't seem to fix, I became obsessed with alternative medicine. After months of researching and finally curing myself, it became quite evident that healthy resources in our urban communities were lacking. I began my health & wellness tumblr in Dec of 2010 as somewhat of a journal, hoping to shed some light on my journey to health as well as our disconnection with healthy living. It's been my goal to create a safe haven where our wellness concerns could be shared and hopefully cured, as naturally as possible.

22 thoughts on “5 Chemicals To Be Mindful Of

    • Don’t have to look at it that way. But sound healthier . But do note that Formaldehyde is the only one proven to have cancerous affects, the others you must be be careful of because the affect it has on skin, Mineral Oil is the least problematic of the set (not say that can’t cause problems especially if your prone to clogged pores).

      Also don’t think of it so negatively think of it as being more aware and informed and safer. Plus your that worried about cancer your would have to check your genetics, avoid breathing second hand smoke, the sun and probably eating and drink out of plastic bottles and container, the PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) is a real B*** if you know what I mean.

  1. I find it fascinating the way us ladies are so scared of formaldehyde containing products like BKT when we are ingesting these in large amounts daily. I bet most of us don’t even know that aldehydes are produced during the digestion of Coca cola which is invariably worse than formaldehyde that touches your skin while applying BKT.

    I’m not saying that formaldehyde is great, on the contrary I’m just saying we need to more aware that it is not just in hair products, it’s in many nail hardeners and many other beauty products.

    Best bet is to live as naturally as possible and for everything else, there are antioxidants to protect us from toxins that come our way. Our bodies can handle some level of toxin exposure (it’s what our livers are for) but as long as the exposure is kept to a minimum, we should be fine.

  2. They forgot to add Formaldehyde activators as well. Also people should know what is listed is not the complete list of names for formaldeyde from what I recall there is a total of 7-10 names, not including the activators.

    I recall doing some research on it last year do to a very bad reaction I had on my face (worse than normal because I am eczema prone) and my Dermatologist explained that it was most likely a formaldehyde reaction based on the severity.

  3. I’m confused now! I don’t know what to use on my hair. I’ve been using my kids shampoo because I ran out of olive oil shampoo. Is there a specific brand that naturals w/ type 4 like? I’m a new natural and still fighting the urge to perm. Help!

    • Look into the Qhemet Biologics brand as well as the Terressentials line of products. Both of those tend to be staples for the 4 types! A personal fav of mine is the Camille Rose Naturals line as well as Shea Moisture. All of those are all clean and natural, too. Hope that helps!

  4. This is very informative because you have given us the alternate names used for the chemicals. Tricky, tricky! I try to stay away from parabens and sulfates. Everything I use on my hair daily is 100% natural.

    I do use some chemically products though… Nexxus, Murray’s Cream Beeswaz, Carol’s Daughter and Miss Jessie’s Sweetback DC. When my Miss Jessie pink DC runs out I don’t plan on buying another (I coworker and I went half on the BOGO sale last year lol). I do however LOVE the Nexxus Pro Mend line. It’s free of parabens and mineral oil though. Murray’s is full of bad ish but I do love it for twists. It keeps my super dry hair so moisturized for twists outs!! I also like Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Leave in. I remember when I used to buy Carol’s Daughter when she was still a small business when I lived in NY. The ingredients in the Black Vanilla were all natural – it even had vodka in it as a preservative and real vanilla extract! It’s too bad she changed most of her formula’s once she went commercial…

    I agree, natural hair natural life is my motto. I don’t do soda and limit alcohol. I eat pretty healthy most of the time but do indulge in junk once a month :-) I can’t control it.

    As far as mineral oil, I decided to go ahead and try it last year after steering clear of it for 2 years of my natural journey. I hated it. Besides the health concerns, it coats my fine strands with ick. It makes my hair feel crunchy and does nothing much for moisture.

  5. I think it is important to be aware of these issues, but is also very difficult to avoid them completely. Even if we live as naturally as possible, the air we breath and the water we ingest is contaminated with something. And being too healhty is sometimes a bad thing. I have Crohn’s Dieses, a disease where the exact cause has not been poven yet, but one theory is that it is caused from being too clean(the disease is almost none existent in developing nations and the theory holds some weight for me because my mom made my baby food and was overly clean when I was younger). The way I see it living can kill you. Formaldehyde and sulfates in my herbal essence shampoo is safer for me than liquor down my throat every night. I also find that it’s easier to tell someone to go organic when you’re not spending the money. It is good to be aware but even the best decisions will not always be the safest.

    (I just wrote that as devil’s advocate and from personal experience, but I love your articles Fran so please keep writing and don’t take it as a slight towards you!!!)

  6. The formaldehyde from coke is due to the artificial sweetener aspartame. But its not proven to have adverse physical effects on the body….. yet. Anything with 0 sugar has probably been replaced by aspartame which will be broken down to formaldehyde as one of the biochemical intermediates. People may think aspartame is better than sugar because of the lower calorie intake. Along with coke aspartame is used in
    artificial sweetners
    Breath Mints
    Carbonated Soft Drinks
    Chewing Gum
    Flavored Syrups for Coffee
    Flavored Water Products
    Frozen Ice
    Frozen Ice Cream Novelties
    Fruit Spreads
    Gelatin, Sugar Free
    Hard Candies
    Ice cream Toppings
    Ice Creams, No Sugar Added or Sugar Free
    Iced Tea, Powder
    Iced Tea, Ready to Drink
    Instant Cocoa Mix
    Jams & Jellies
    Juice Blends
    Juice Drinks
    Maple Syrups
    Meal Replacements
    No Sugar Added Pies
    Non-Carbonated Diet Soft drinks
    Nutritional Bars
    Powdered Soft Drinks
    Protein Nutritional Drinks
    Soft Candy Chews
    Sugar Free Chocolate Syrup
    Sugar Free Cookies
    Sugar Free Ketchup
    Table Top Sweeteners
    Vegetable Drinks
    Yogurt, Drinkable
    Yogurt, Fat Free
    Yogurt, Sugar Free
    This was just to make people more aware. I say go for the sugar and just exercise it off. No toxic intermediates are produced when metabolizing sugar at least, despite the higher calorie count.

    • Wow!After going through your list, I’m trying to figure out what else to eliminate from my diet. It’s gonna be hard to let go of my jolly ranchers hard candy :(. What an alternative for chewing gum?

      I’ve never knowingly eaten anything sugar free or fat free, or sugar alt. I just started using real Canadian Maple Syrup & raw brown sugar instead of white sugar. In your list you have Maple Syrup. Are you referring to the real Canadian one or the fake one?

      • Okay so based on the list. I am now a vegetarian and I will only drink water. Just kidding, but we really have to be mindful of what we eat and put on our bodies. Back to Whole Foods I go.

    • There are plenty of brands WITHOUT aspartame from that log list, all you have to do is read and be conscious of what you’re purchasing.

  7. Snopes and the American Cancer Society (and the Washington Post and The Berkeley Wellness Newsletter) have debunked the claims of SLS being associated with cancer.

    It may not be healthy for your natural hair (it is drying) or skin (if you have sensitive skin or skin that is prone to dryness, SLS won’t help) but it isn’t going to kill you. There is a difference between an irritant and a carcinogen.

    American Cancer Society: http://web.archive.org/web/20030803065801/http://www.cancer.org/docroot/nws/content/nws_2_1x_debunking_the_myth.asp

    Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/shampoo.asp

  8. I avoid all processed foods, hardly eat meat because of the way it is reared and make my own hair and skin products. The only hair product I buy is conditioner I use Giovanni or Faith in Nature.
    It is only in the last 100 years or less that people have been dying of cancer and other immune system related diseases because of the nasty chemicals the government allows companies to put in our food, water, cosmetics, clothing, cleaning and other products. 1 in 8 people will get cancer in the modern world that is pretty high isn’t it?
    I’m so glad I discovered websites like this as I was slave to the chemicals I feel good knowing I am looking after my health, it’s a shame my government doesn’t do the same for me.

  9. I was shocked I must admit after finding out that there were chemicals in makeup. I don’t know why I was shocked, everyday it seems like we are finding out something else has harmful chemicals in it. You can only be aware of these things and try your best to be as healthy as you can be.

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