The Truth Behind Your Shampoo

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Considering how often we use shampoo, it may be time to take a closer look at those ingredients on the back of the bottle. But what do all those big words mean? Sulfates, Parabens, Formaldehyde? Harmful chemicals like these are likely hiding in some of the most popular and well-known drugstore shampoos. What makes them so bad?


Sulfates are cleansing agent chemicals used not only in shampoo, but common cleaning supplies too. There are two types of sulfates commonly used in shampoos that should both be avoided: sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. According to, “the purpose of these sulfates is to create a lathering effect to remove oil and dirt from your hair.” However, the problem is that these sulfates can cleanse your hair too well, ultimately stripping your hair of its natural oils that create moisture and strength. They also have the potential to cause skin irritation and scalp itchiness if not properly rinsed.


Parabens are added to shampoo as an efficient and inexpensive way to prevent bacteria growth and prolong the product’s shelf life. However, parabens are known as xenoestrogens―agents that mimic the natural estrogen in the body―and are shown to be linked to cancer. Senior scientist, Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D. says, “scientific studies suggest that parabens can disrupt hormones in the body and harm fertility and reproductive organs, affect birth outcomes, and increase the risk of cancer.”  

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In cosmetic products, formaldehyde can be added directly or released through preservatives such as DMDM hydantoin. According to the National Cancer Institute, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen found in cigarettes, industrial cleaning products and building materials such as plywood and glue. In November 2020, two women filed a class action lawsuit against Unilever, TRESemé’s parent company, after experiencing hair loss allegedly from the DMDM hydantoin found in TRESemé’s Keratin Smooth Color Shampoo. Other common brands that contain DMDM including Dove, Axe, Suave, V05, and OGX were recently exposed in TikTok user @mikaaeeliah’s viral post with nearly 14 million views.

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What are better options?

Ironically, many of these drugstore brands have released their own “clean” variations of their shampoos and conditioners. TRESemé’s Pro Pure line might help repair some of the damage caused by their other products, but there are hundreds of other, more natural (and affordable!) brands to choose from. Maui Moisture Heal & Hydrate, Shea Moisture Daily Hydrating Shampoo and Hask Argan Oil Repairing Shampoo are all hairdresser approved and recommended shampoos that won’t necessarily break the bank.

If you have any more safe shampoo recommendations, let us know on Instagram or Twitter at @VALLEYmag!



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