Ingredients to Avoid in Natural Hair Products, From A Scientist

October 11, 2021

Rochelle Pydana founder of Pydana Collection

In a 2016 study, fewer than 25% of beauty products that are marketed to people of color ranked low in potentially hazardous ingredients. These harmful ingredients have been linked to various side effects including endocrine disruption, increasing the risk of getting cancer, especially skin cancers, causing growths in the uterus, potentially interrupting with fertility and pregnancy, and birth-related problems like premature births.

If this concerns you, then this post will help you make informed choices as you search for safe black hair products. I can’t give you a list of harmful black hair products, but I can share some ingredients to avoid in natural hair products, so you’ll be able to make an informed decision going forward.


  1. Parabens

Parabens are commonly used as a preservative for cosmetic products. The most common parabens used in formulations are:

  • Methylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben
  • Isobutylparaben
  • Ethylparaben

Parabens are often linked to hormone disruption, and by extension, fertility problems, thyroid issues and more.

Pydana’s products are paraben-free, so this isn’t something you have to worry about with us.


  1. Lye and “Non-Lye”

You’re probably thinking this has no place here, but hear me out. A lot of naturals won’t be getting relaxers, but those are not the only products that contain lye. Texturizers do too.

Lye, AKA sodium hydroxide, sodium hydrate or caustic soda, is used in hair products to break down the bonds in the hair thus producing a looser curl pattern than before. Lye is a known irritant and is corrosive to skin, eyes and the respiratory system.

Several studies on hair relaxers, have linked them to increased risk of non-cancerous growths in the uterus, baldness, and pregnancy and birth-related problems.

The alternative ingredient found in Non-Lye formulations is often Calcium Hydroxide, which is also an irritant and can be corrosive to skin, eyes and the respiratory system.

Our products contain none of these ingredients.


  1. Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-releasing Ingredients

Formaldehyde and ingredients that release formaldehyde are often used in products to prolong the shelf life of the product. This ability to preserve things is why it is used in the preservation of carcasses and corpses as well.

Another reason formaldehyde is used is to preserve the new curl pattern formed after hair is relaxed.

Fomaldehyde is irritating to the skin (you may notice skin rashes after using products containing these), eyes, nose and throat, and it is also a known carcinogenic when inhaled. This is a concern because cosmetics may release some formaldehyde gas while being used, especially when heat styling is involved.

You’ll rarely see “formaldehyde” when reading product labels, but here are formaldehyde-releasing agents that you should look out for:

  • Formalin
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • Quaternium-15
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
  • Bromopol
  • Glyoxal
  • Methenamine
  • Methylene glycol


  1. P-phenylenediamine

P-phenylenediamine is a petroleum-derived pigment used in hair dyes and other cosmetics such as lipsticks. You can often identify it on your labels with “D&C” followed by a 5-digit number or “FD&C” followed by a 5-digit number. The latter meaning that they are approved by the FDA to be used in food.

The main concern with P-phenylenediamine is that it is a human carcinogen. The U.S. National Cancer Institute linked it to the formation of tumors as well. There are conflicting results, but some studies suggest that prolonged use of hair dye may increase the risk of lymphoma (cancer of the lymph).


  1. Phthalates

Phthlates are plasticizers. They are used in hair formulations because they improve the flexibility of the hair once applied. This part is nice, heck, even desirable, but it does have quite a few cons.

Phthalates have been linked to issues with reproductive development especially in males. It’s for this reason that the state of California banned the use of these in children’s toys. This was being contested in court though.

Tip: Our Herbal Silk Line is a great alternative allowing you to improve elasticity by improving the health of your hair. Check it out here.


  1. Sulfates

Sulfates are often used as cleaning agents. They help remove oil and buildup and create a lathering effect.

The problem with sulfates though is that they can be harsh and strip the hair of moisture in the process. Your hair should feel clean, not “squeaky clean”. It can also irritate skin and eyes as well. Therefore, look out for these in shampoos that you buy.

Common sulfates include:

  • Sodium laureth sulfate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate

Usually, sulfate names will end in “-ate”, so if you see this on your product, this is more often than not a sulfate. You can check on Google just to be safe.


  1. DEA, MEA & TEA

Diethanolamine (DEA), monoethanolamine (MEA) and triethanolamine (TEA), all ethanolamines, are often used in products as emulsifiers i.e., they cause oils and water to blend, or as foaming agents to create foam when cleansing, or as pH adjusters.

DEA and TEA are known irritants and allergens and have been linked to liver tumors and cancers. You may find their abbreviations on the ingredient list, but also look out for:

  • Cocamide DEA
  • Cocamide MEA
  • DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
  • DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
  • Diethanolamine
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Linoleamide MEA
  • Myristamide DEA
  • Oleamide DEA
  • Stearamide MEA
  • TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
  • Triethanolamine


  1. Silicones

Silicones are often used in hair product formulations because they coat the hair, improve shine, reduce frizz, and help lock in moisture in the hair.

Silicones aren’t toxic per se, but the main concern with silicones is that they can be difficult to wash off, and if you don’t effectively clean them off of the hair, they can cause build-up and even more frizz in the long run. This can also make the hair look dull and feel drier after using them for a while.

Look out on your ingredient list for anything ending in “-cone”. These are often silicones.

Often, people have to use harsh shampoos to strip the silicones off of the hair. Cue the sulfates. Ultimately, their temporary benefit is replaced by very dry hair. So even though silicones aren’t toxic, avoid them to keep your hair moisturized.

Tip: You can use our Clovol Bundle that comes with a sulfate-free shampoo and silicone-free conditioners and a hair growth oil.


  1. Triclosan

Triclosan is an effective antibiotic, which is used in hair products to improve the shelf life.

However, it is an irritant to the skin and has been linked to hormonal disruption. It can be found on product labels with the following names:

  • TSA
  • Irgasan DP-300
  • Lexol 300
  • Ster-Zac
  • Cloxifenolum


  1. Toluenes

Toleune, often benzene, methylbenzene, phenylmethane and toluol on beauty labels, are usually used as solvents, dissolving hair and dirt.

These are generally considered to be toxic, but benzene gets an especially bad reputation since it is linked to hormonal issues and pregnancy and birth complications. It is also a known carcinogen.


Knowing what ingredients to avoid in natural hair products is already half the battle. Tell us which other ingredients found in natural products concern you. We’d love to hear from you.




  5. ii IARC. “Formaldehyde.” Monographs 88 (2006).

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