How To

How to Decode Your Favorite Product’s Ingredient List

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According to the Environmental Working Group, the average woman uses 12 products containing 168 unique ingredients each day, and most of those ingredients get absorbed into our very porous skin.

While the short-term impact is minimal, unless you have an allergic reaction, scientists say that over time those sometimes harmful ingredients can build up in your body and cause health issues such as decreased reproductive function, hyper or hypothyroidism or new allergies.

Beyond makeup and skincare, women use haircare products on a daily basis that range from shampoos, leave-in conditioners, gels, hairsprays and much more, and every once in awhile we’ll glance down and see an expansive ingredient list of chemicals we can’t even pronounce. Eek!


Well, I’m here with a few quick tips on how to decode what’s on the back of your favorite products so you can make the best and healthiest decision for your hair journey!

What to watch out for

Sulfates: Sulfates are strong detergents that are used to strip the hair of any oils, dirt and product residue. The most common forms are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).

While sulfates are great for deep cleansing, they can be especially harmful to textured hair that tends to be dry, and some people can even experience scalp irritation due to the overuse of products with sulfates.

So, begin searching for sulfate free products to reduce dry hair and scalp, and only use sulfate shampoos when you need a really deep clean.

Parabens: Parabens preserve many of the beauty, skincare and haircare products we use each day. While the jury is out on the long-term impact of parabens, some researchers say the chemicals mimic estrogen in the body, which can be dangerous and lead to certain types of breast cancer.

Although the link hasn’t been completely proven, it doesn’t hurt to look at the number of parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben) in your products and try to cut down on their usage. Also, there are plenty of paraben free options out there!

Phthalates: Phthalates are used to soften lotions and creams for easier absorption into the skin and hair. They’re also used to preserve fragrances and make the scent last longer. Doesn’t sound bad, huh?

Well in 2003, the Center for Disease Control issued a warning about Phthalates and called for the cosmetic industry and other industries to limit their usage. Phthalates have been linked to asthma, ADHD and reproductive issues in women and men.

Look out for these forms of the chemical:

  • DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
  • DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
  • DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
  • DEP (diethyl phthalate)
  • BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
  • DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
  • DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
  • DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
  • DnOP (di-n-octylphthalate)
  • Bisphenol A (BPA)

What can I do?

There are a number of other chemicals being studied, but these three are the most common in beauty and hair products.

If you find that your favorite product has one (or more) of these ingredients, don’t totally freak out. Limit your usage, and if possible, begin transitioning to more healthy alternatives.

For more in-depth information and product suggestions, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database of more than 65,000 products.

Stay gorgeous and stay healthy!

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