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4 Shampoo Ingredients Worth Questioning

4 Shampoo Ingredients Worth Questioning

By Nikki Fotheirngham

You may be surprised at just how little is known about the effects of some shampoo ingredients on our hair health and overall well-being, particularly in the long term. While some studies show alarmingly negative impacts (1), more research is necessary before we know the full effects.

In the meantime, there’s a definite caution flag on many common shampoo components, from parabens to other chemicals like DEA. Here’s a brief look at what’s typically in shampoo and which ingredients you may want to eliminate from your beauty routine.

Shampoo Ingredient 101

1. Parabens

These chemical shampoo ingredients are known for their antibacterial and antifungal properties, and they act as preservatives. But parabens are known to be endocrine disruptors which means they might affect your hormonal function (2). Additionally, because parabens have been detected in breast cancer tumors, they are thought to play a role in breast cancer development (4). Some small studies have discovered a link to parabens and early onset puberty in girls (3), but further research is needed to fully understand how this affects the functioning of the endocrine system in humans.

2. Phthalates

As a shampoo ingredient, phthalates can help fragrances in shampoo stick to hair for longer, and they create a gelling effect. But they’re also regarded as potential carcinogens in several countries (5). Studies have shown phthalates as a potential contributor to many modern maladies (6), including asthma, obesity, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, breast cancer, diabetes and fertility issues. Again, more research is needed, as phthalates are a very large group of chemicals, and it’s not known which ones may be responsible for these afflictions. 

3. Triclosan

Also used as a preservative in many shampoos (8) and personal care products, triclosan has been shown to disrupt thyroid function (9). The full implications for humans have not yet been established, but the FDA has banned triclosan (11) in some antibacterial soaps. It is thought to be an endocrine disruptor and may be toxic to aquatic life when it reaches waterways through sewage systems (10).

4. Diethanolamine (DEA)

This chemical and its related compounds can be found in many personal care products and cosmetics. Very little is known about its long-term effects on humans, but several studies showed irritation of the skin and eyes in the short term and a potential connection to liver cancers and precancerous changes in the thyroid and skin long term (7). 

Ultimately, many of the chemicals found on the ingredient list of your shampoo bottle have very little data confirming they are 100% safe for the human body. While there is still a lot to learn about how these chemicals are responsible for a wide range of ailments and adverse effects on our hair and health, the existing research tells us we may want to proceed with caution.

Ready to opt for a shampoo that’s powered by plant-based ingredients and botanical extracts? Explore Cleanyst’s safe and effective natural shampoo and other body care products


  1. Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology -  A Review: Hair Health, Concerns of Shampoo Ingredients and Scalp Nourishing Treatments 
  2. ScienceDirect - Parabens. From environmental studies to human health
  3. Healthline - The Chemicals to Avoid in Your Shampoo and Body Wash
  4. Breast - Exposure to Chemicals in Cosmetics 
  5. Ecology Center - Shampoo: What to Look For, What to Avoid
  6. The Guardian - Phthalates are everywhere, and the health risks are worrying. How bad are they really?
  7. David Suzuki Foundation - The Dirty Dozen: DEA-related ingredients 
  8. EcoWatch - 5 Toxic Ingredients in Shampoos and Conditioners You Should Avoid 
  9. David Suzuki Foundation - The Dirty Dozen: Triclosan 
  10. NRDC - The Dirt on Antibacterial Soaps 
  11. FDA - FDA Issues Final Rule on Safety and Effectiveness of Antibacterial Soap
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