Where do I even start with the hair care industry and my never-ending quest to find clean, non-toxic hair care? It’s honestly overwhelming to dig into this topic, which is why I ruminated (well, procrastinated) on this topic for so long.
Long story short, there’s a lot of shit we put in our hair. It may explain, at least some of the reasons, why women experience hair loss, along with other health issues such as irregular periods, thyroid irregularities, and various reproductive health concerns.
I first got into this, strangely, when watching a Weird History video on Queen Elizabeth. I was browsing Youtube and stumbled across the clip “What May Have Caused Queen Elizabeth’s Death” (highly recommend it).
I learned that the Queen’s signature pale white skin and red lips were from makeup that was largely composed of lead and mercury.
I don’t have to elaborate for us to know that these are dangerous chemicals.
In fact, it seems crazy to me that Queen Elizabeth used this makeup for most of her life, which ate at her flesh and caused severe skin deterioration along with hair loss.
Women used lead powder makeup dating back to 6th century BCE, but it wasn’t until about 40 years after her death in 1634 that lead was classified as a poison.
All the hundreds and thousands of women who had been using this on their face and bodies and wondered why their skin was constantly so horrible must now be rolling in their graves.
It also makes me think, is history repeating itself yet again with modern beauty and hair care ingredients?
Is my hair loss beyond my grandmother’s genes and something I could have avoided with clean, non-toxic hair care?
I wrote an initial article on clean hair care back in July, and my stance on it back then was, “meh – SLS (sodium laureth sulfate, the most commonly attacked ingredient in shampoos) isn’t good, but it doesn’t seem bad either. I’ll avoid it just in case.”
After deeper research into this over the months, I’ve realized this topic goes beyond just SLS. There are many more harmful ingredients to avoid, especially with hair care products for wigs, hair toppers, and extensions.
I’ve phased out several products in my routine to try to use more and more clean, non-toxic hair care products. I’ve realized, not only is SLS wrecking havoc on my scalp, so are several other ingredients in hair care products I’ve used every day.
Looking specifically into hair care for wigs and hair pieces, I was shocked to see that many products didn’t even have ingredients listed on their bottles. The ones that did have ingredients didn’t have much good news to share.
For example, Walker Tape blue strips – the ones I have personally used and recommended to others – don’t have ingredients listed on the package. I wasn’t able to find its ingredients anywhere on the internet (if someone does find it, please let a sister know) after scouring numerous online pages.
However, I did find ingredients for its Ultra Hold Brush-on Liquid Adhesive, which has Isopropanol, Ethyl Acetate, N-Heptane, and Toluene in it.
The Safety Data Sheet for this product, buried in its website, discloses that it can cause symptoms such as but not limited to – skin corrosion/irritation, serious eye damage/eye irritation, reproductive toxicity, aspiration toxicity and “may cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure.”
There are absolutely no warning labels or signs that cover this information when you look on the back of the package or on Amazon where the wig adhesive is commonly sold.
This practice is, unfortunately, more common than you think, particularly for wig and hair piece products.
You could say that’s maybe “the worst of it.” What about mainstream products?
Jessica Yarbrough, a personal favorite of mine to follow on Instagram, wrote about ingredients in every day shampoos, conditioners, mousses, and spray in her article here.
Here’s an excerpt from her article:
“In fact, hormone-altering chemicals are so prevalent in beauty and personal care items that they have their own name: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, or EDCs for short.
… According to the Environmental Working Group, EDCs have been shown to mimic estrogen, mess with periods and fertility, infiltrate breast milk, cause thyroid irregularities and tumor growth, lower sperm count, and, uh, shrink testicles. Yup. You read that right.”
Ingredients such as parabens, phthalates, BPA, Triclosan, Glycol Ethers, and even the vaguely described “fragrance” (can you believe brands are not required to disclose the ingredients in their fragrance??) are likely in a lot of our beauty and hair care hauls.
It would be too exhaustive to call out each brand and the shit they put in their products. So instead of giving you a list that may never end, here’s some of my practices to try to avoid the crap as well as some websites I use to figure all of this out.
Look at the labels
First of all, if a product doesn’t have an ingredient list, don’t use it. Period.
I don’t even do “test patches” with these products anymore because you really don’t know the long-term effects. I would just avoid these all together.
Beyond that – look closely at all labels. I don’t know how many times I’ve been personally tricked by pretty packaging and words like “shea butter” that made me think the product was non-toxic and natural. Many brands that consider themselves “clean” still have crap ingredients.
For almost all ingredients, there are online resources that you can use to look up their safety and testing. Here’s some websites I use that are reader-friendly:
Be alert to the side effects when trying a new product
Some side effects you shouldn’t ignore when trying a new product:
- itchy and inflamed scalp
- increase in sebum (oil) from scalp
- hair loss
- scalp acne
While these symptoms may not be indicative of long-term safety, it can give you some signs of whether or not you are allergic to the ingredients.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask hair care brands for an ingredient list
If you Google something and can’t find information, that’s a worrisome sign in my book. Almost every brand has a social media account these days and a response via DM might be faster than via email.
I’d reach out via their Instagram account and ask them if you could get a full ingredient list of the product you’re interested in.
We can all do our part to increase awareness regarding the safety of these ingredients. Other beauty sectors such as makeup and skincare have made awesome leaps forward with clean products because women have demanded it.
By talking about a topic, we bring attention to it and show brands that there is an audience who demands change and innovation.
When demand increases, so should supply. Clean hair care should be an expectation, not a niche sector!
In the meantime, I recommend following Jessica Y.’s advice: