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The Dark Side Of Parabens, Sulfates, And Alcohols In Your Shampoo

By Andrea Douglas
The Dark Side

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Published Date

July 26, 2021
The Dark Side Of Parabens, Sulfates, And Alcohols In Your Shampoo
Dark Side
April Summers

By April Summers

Hair Care 101

Have you tried a “No-Poo” regimen lately? How did that turn out?

Shampoo is out the window for a few select, stalwart, nature-loving hair owners (1).

It’s a relatively recent fad to quit shampooing altogether, but people typically didn’t wash their hair daily until the mid-twentieth century.

Shampoo wasn’t a naughty word, even for hippies (although many of us just didn’t bother).

The idea behind refraining from using shampoo is that many formulas contain ingredients that can be rough on scalps, hair follicles, and curly (or straight) locks, such as parabens, sulfates, and alcohols.

Many factors determine your hair health:

  • Heredity
  • Nutrition
  • Climate
  • Pollution
  • Sun (2)
  • Chlorine (3)
  • Hard metals (4)
  • Haircare, like coloring, dying, and styling techniques.

Heredity is something you don’t have any control over, but you can improve your hair care by modifying the other aspects of your lifestyle.


Eat a well-balanced diet and avoid fads that eliminate entire food groups. Pay special attention to including these two:


Your hair will appreciate getting at least 45 grams of protein each day.

Inadequate protein intake can weaken and damage your hair, making it brittle, colorless, and thinner (5).

Omega-3 fatty acids

Your body can use omega-3 fatty acids to stimulate hair follicles and sebaceous glands to improve scalp health.

Find this nutrient in these foods (6).


Climate (weather), exposure to pollutants, chemicals, sun, and hard metals can alter the health of your hair.

People can usually tell the difference in how their hair behaves, feels, and looks when they travel from one climate to another, such as changing from a dry to a humid environment and from cold to hot.

Exposure to sun, chlorine, and metals in pool water won’t damage your hair with intermittent exposure.

Spending all day in the sun for extended periods, multiple pool sessions every week, and chemical treatments may cause hair to dry, split, break, lighten, or turn green (or whatever color you dye it) (7).


Some people feel gross if they don’t wash their hair every day, and others clean less often.

Many hair owners use conditioner after shampooing, and some don’t feel the need.

And of course, some shampoos come with conditioners in them for one-stop bottle opening during your shower.

Conditioning after shampooing is super helpful to detangle long hair after scrubbing.

It also keeps hair soft and shiny, cuts down on frizz, and makes it easier to style.

It’s a good idea to comb the conditioner through your hair while you’re still in the shower to distribute it to all your locks.

Wait to rinse it out until after your other shower chores (soaping, shaving, etc.), about three to five minutes to let it do its magic (8).

Go easy on the styling after your shower.

Your hair is more likely to break when it’s wet.

Towel your hair gently, let it air dry when possible, using a wide-toothed comb instead of a brush, and if you must use a blow dryer, try using a mild or moderate setting instead of the hottest one (9).

Hair Abuse

While not punishable by law, rough treatment of your tresses can lead to poor hair health.

Some forms of abuse are sometimes necessary to address other aspects of your health and should be considered. These behaviors include but are not limited to:

  • Using harsh shampoo*
  • Subjecting it to chemical treatments
  • Overusing styling products
  • Brushing excessively
  • Over Consuming alcohol
  • Submitting to ultra-low-calorie and crash diets
  • Over-stressing about stress
  • Using blood thinners
  • Taking prescription drugs for heart problems, depression, high blood pressure, and arthritis (10).

    *Shampoos with harsh ingredients, such as sulfates, parabens, and alcohol, have been cited as culprits in hair mistreatment (11).

    So, what’s the scoop about these shampoo “bad guys?” First, let’s talk about why they’re in shampoo in the first place.

    Sulfates and Parabens

    Sulfates and parabens reduce the tension between water and dirt and separate the grime from the hair and scalp, washing it away with the water (12).

    Scientists test these ingredients regularly to ensure safety, but no amount of vigilance and monitoring will save everyone from the ill effects of cleaners.

    Some people have problems, allergies, or sensitivities to sulfates and parabens.

    People who have dry, itchy, red scalps from using shampoos with these ingredients have the option to use shampoos that are easier on their skin and hair.

    In this world of infinite varieties of people, we’re fortunate to have a wide range of cleansers to choose from.

    We also need to realize that not all chemicals are harmful, and not all natural substances are harmless (13).

    The key is to be aware of your unique skin and hair to know whether to avoid or allow these chemicals.


    Sulfates are a type of preservative typically added to cosmetics and shampoos.

    They work in cleansers as surfactants or foaming agents that attract oil and water and make lots of suds.

    It’s easy to identify a sulfate on a label since it’s usually one of the first ingredients.

    Some of the names get a little fancy, but you can readily make out the “sulf” or “laur” part.

    These are some names you’ll find on shampoo labels:

    • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Sodium
    • Laureth Sulfate Sodium
    • Lauryl Sulfoacetate Sodium
    • Lauroyl Isethionate
    • Sodium Lauroyl Taurate


    You’ll find parabens cosmetics, hair products, lotions, food, and drugs.

    They’re effective and inexpensive preservatives, fighting bacteria and mold growth (14).

    Some studies have shown that parabens may interfere with estrogen production because they mimic the hormone and potentially disrupt the endocrine system.

    Still, studies haven’t proven they cause women to create too much estrogen, potentially leading to tumor growth (15).

    Parabens are also easy to identify on a label and have “paraben” somewhere in the ingredient name. But look out for the tricksters:

    • Methylparaben
    • Propylparaben
    • Butylparaben
    • Ethylparaben
    • Alkyl parahydroxybenzoates.


    You might hear that shampoo contains alcohol and cringe, thinking of rubbing alcohol or ethanol drying your skin and making it itch, flake, and peel.

    Alcohol in hand sanitizer and aftershave dry quickly and tighten the skin.

    Some shampoos contain these harsh alcohols called “SD-40” on the label.

    This substance is isopropyl alcohol and is also used in hairspray to make it dry quickly (16).

    But fatty alcohols, like Cetearyl alcohol, have a different chemical structure and can make your scalp and skin feel smooth and soft.

    We refer to them as emollients (17).

    Other alcohols found in cosmetics and shampoos are pretty easy to notice on a label, except for lanolin, which is an alcohol but became the name of a lotion used to soothe dry, irritated skin.

    Here are some terms you’ll see:

    • Cetyl alcohol
    • Oleyl alcohol
    • Stearyl alcohol

    As with other shampoos, there’s a small risk of allergic reaction to alcohols (18).

    Other products that contain Cetearyl alcohol (the lovely one) include:

    • Lotion
    • Moisturizer
    • Cream
    • Sunscreen
    • Conditioner
    • Hair removal cream
    • Mousse
    • Hair dye
    • Mascara


    If your shampoo is causing you problems with dryness, itchiness, or irritation, you might look at the label for ingredients like parabens, sulfates, and alcohols.

    It might be a good idea to check out our #1 rated shampoo that’s paraben and sulfate-free and see what it can do for your beautiful tresses.