By Fran of

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 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.

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22 Comments on "5 Chemicals To Be Mindful Of"

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Petro­le­um… I’m still test­ing it out, but I believe my hair and petrolatum/mineral oil is just a NO for my hair.


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.

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… Read more »
Jo Somebody

Peo­ple are liv­ing longer now and can­cer is diag­nosed more eas­i­ly now.


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:


I live in a lab
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 Cere­als 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,… Read more »

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.


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.

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… Read more »
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… Read more »

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!


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.

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… Read more »

True. anoth­er rea­son I’m glad I don’t drink soda.




Absolute­ly! Nat­ur­al hair, nat­ur­al life.


True true. but I don’t think it all fear I think it just more shock­ing, find­ing out some­thing you think you would have already known or would have been informed of ear­li­er. The Liv­er pri­ma­ry func­tion is the fil­ter and break­down min­er­als and nutri­ents but it can only han­dle so much so we should be mind­ful what we are doing is not hurt­ing our liv­er cause that can cause a slew of prob­lems.


Very infor­ma­tive post, but based on this list, I feel like I can’t put any­thing on my hair except all-nat­ur­al ingre­di­ents (shea but­ter, nat­ur­al oils)or risk get­ting can­cer. Sigh.

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… Read more »