Woman checks for harmful ingredients in her hair shampoo

Three of the Most Harmful Ingredients in Shampoo all Hair Types Should Avoid

Why You Should Be Shopping for a Clean, Non-toxic Shampoo

Are you a digger or a skimmer when it comes to choosing haircare products? Do you read every line on the label or just grab and go? Either way, you may be unknowingly exposing yourself to harmful ingredients in your shampoo.  

Maybe you already know to avoid shampoo ingredients like sulfates or alcohol that will damage your hair. But do you know how to recognize the ingredients that can damage your health

Choosing a clean, cruelty-free, non-toxic shampoo isn’t just a lifestyle choice, it’s important for your health and the planet. A lot of the things you shouldn’t be putting on your body also shouldn’t be going into the water supply. They can harm your health and damage marine life.

In over 20 years as a stylist, and as a product ambassador for Paul Mitchell, I have spent a lot of time researching haircare ingredients. When my client Allison Conrad and I founded Arey, we committed to making clean haircare products that are also science-backed and effective.

Because we believe that you deserve your best hair and your best health.

Here’s one thing I have discovered in my career in hair care – that even though an ingredient can be used in a haircare product, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your health. 


Why Are Harmful Chemicals Used in Shampoos?

It all comes down to regulation standards. Higher testing standards in Europe mean that more than 1,300 chemicals are banned from use in personal care products.1 In the US, only 11 have been banned or restricted. 

In other words, thousands of potentially harmful ingredients banned in the EU are legally allowed in the US. A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology2 found that "more than 100 types of common consumer products contain at least one, and often multiple, chemicals linked to cancer or reproductive and developmental problems."

I want you to be able to make the best choices for your hair and your health. When you’re shopping for clean, non-toxic hair products, you need to know what chemicals to avoid. 

Here’s my hit list of three harmful shampoo ingredients you should not have in your bathroom or your life:

    • Phthalates

    • Formaldehyde

    • Parabens

If you see any of these on the ingredients list – return the product to the shelf.

Woman checks that her shampoo ingredients are safe for her hair type

What Are Phthalates?

Phthalates are nicknamed the “everywhere chemical”3 because they are found in so many products. They are used as gelling agents to stabilize and thicken shampoos and other cosmetic products. Phthalates also make artificial fragrances and dyes last longer. 

Even though they are banned in Canada, US cosmetics don’t have to include phthalates on ingredient lists. You need to look for products that are free from dyes and artificial fragrances (parfums) and labeled “phthalate-free”.

At Arey, we only use 100% natural fragrances sourced from cedar and sage. That’s why we don’t need to use harsh chemicals like phthalates to preserve our products’ signature scent. 

Synthetic fragrances are much cheaper to include in formulations than essential oils, but is it worth the risk? We say no. That’s why all Arey products are proudly phthalate-free. 


How Worried Should You Be About Phthalates in Your Shampoo?

At Arey, we are worried enough about phthalates to never use them in our products. 

Phthalates are absorbed into your body from skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion. According to the Center For Disease Control (CDC), women have higher levels of the chemical in their urine than men because they tend to use more personal care products.


Pregnant person checks shampoo is safe and free from phthalates, parabens and formaldehyde

Phthalates are connected with many health and reproductive problems3 including:

    • Issues during pregnancy: including a higher risk of miscarriage and diabetes.

    • Premature births: often resulting in lower birth weight. 

    • Developmental disorders: phthalates are believed to affect children’s development.

    • Damage to reproductive systems: especially of children and young adults.

    • Disrupted hormone function: leading to reproductive and immune issues.

    • Early deaths from cardiovascular disease: older people are most at risk.4 

According to the CDC, exposure to the chemical is widespread in the U.S. population. Phthalates are found in plastic food containers and wraps, perfume, nail polish, toys, vinyl flooring, and many household products. 

The good news is that regulators are calling for changes in the use of phthalates. Also, you can make a difference to your exposure by choosing phthalate-free, non-toxic personal care products and avoiding plastics.

Why You Don’t Want Formaldehyde in Your Hair Care Products

Formaldehyde is another common chemical to avoid. This compound is found in building materials, paints, and furniture and is used as a preservative in hair products. It is also used in some salon hair smoothing and straightening treatments.

Repeated exposure to formaldehyde can cause skin rashes and allergies as well as serious lung and eye irritation. It’s also linked to cancer in humans.5 

Here’s what to look for when you’re avoiding formaldehyde-related ingredients:

    • Formaldehyde
    • Formalin
    • Methylene glycol

    Formaldehyde is most dangerous when you inhale it – particularly to people with asthma. When found in shampoo and other hair treatments, formaldehyde can trigger allergies and even eczema.6

    Arey’s clean haircare products are all free from formaldehyde. We are committed to non-toxic products so you can have clean hair and a clean conscience.

    Woman holding Arey clean, non-toxic shampoo and conditioner

    What Are Parabens and Are They Safe in Shampoo?

    Parabens are chemical preservatives often found in skincare and hair products. You should avoid parabens in shampoo because they’re so easily absorbed by your skin.6 While they are banned in Europe,1 they are still widely used in many US products.7 

    Here are some of the parabens you can look for on product labels:

      • Propylparaben
      • Benzylparaben
      • Methylparaben
      • Butylparaben
      • Ethylparaben

    Parabens are xenoestrogens – chemicals that disrupt estrogen levels.8 Xenoestrogens build up in your body over time and have been linked to breast, testicular, and prostate cancers, miscarriages, and infertility. 

    Parabens are bad for you and the planet. When butylparaben finds its way into the ocean, even in small quantities, it is known to kill coral. 

    The bottom line is – clean, paraben-free shampoos and cosmetics are better for you and the planet. At Arey, we are committed to keeping our products free from parabens. We are also always gluten-free and cruelty-free. 


    Are Harmful Shampoo Ingredients Making Your Rosacea or Acne Worse?

    Your skin is your largest organ and your scalp skin is a continuation of your facial skin. As you lather up your hair, your shampoo also gets on your face and neck. That’s why clean, balanced haircare is important for your face and your scalp.

    Rosacea-prone skin is easily irritated by many shampoo ingredients. That’s why we avoid all potential triggers in our shampoo and conditioner. That means no sulfates, artificial fragrances, menthol, or witch hazel.

    Woman with rosacea made worse by harmful shampoo ingredients

    Arey products also do not contain mineral oil – a common moisturizer used in shampoos and conditioners. We don’t use it because mineral oil can clog your facial pores and cause breakouts of whiteheads on your forehead, hairline, and the back of your neck. Clogged pores on your scalp can cause itching and flaking. They can also lead to hair thinning and reduced hair growth. 


    Discover the Benefits of Safe, Non-toxic Ingredients for All Types of Hair

    I’m very proud that Arey is a clean, non-toxic hair care brand. There are too many scary chemicals out there and we didn’t want to add any more to the world. Allison and I founded Arey with a shared goal that our products would be safe, clean, and effective. 

    Our shampoo and conditioner – Arey Wash and Smooth – are free from unsafe ingredients commonly found in shampoo. They are free from sulfates, parabens, formaldehyde, and phthalates. They are also gluten-free, vegan, cruelty-free and 100% naturally scented with cedar and sage. 

    We use clean ingredients in our non-toxic shampoo to gently cleanse and balance your hair. Arey Wash shampoo also delivers our clinically efficacious peptide to your scalp so you can enjoy thicker, fuller, softer hair. 


    At Arey, We Care About Your Hair and Your Health

    That’s what motivates us to create innovative science-based haircare solutions that slow the signs of aging hair and improve hair health. 

    We want to make it easy for you to have your best hair health – that’s why we offer 25% off on all subscriptions to help keep you on track. We know from experience that science + consistency = results.

    We are Arey.

    Aging is beautiful – but if your greys are growing faster than you wish, we are here for you with science-based, effective solutions. We want you to feel happy and confident with your hair. Have questions? Say hey@areygrey.com.


    Jay Small, Stylist and co-founder of Arey, cuts a client’s hair

    AuthorJay SmallJay Small is a sought-after hair stylist and Trichologist in Los Angeles with over 22 years of experience. His clients consist of high-profile business and creative leaders. He trained as an apprentice to the owner of Paul Mitchell and worked in education and product development for Paul Mitchell Systems. Jay is incredibly passionate about the creative process both in terms of styling hair and developing effective products.


    1. US cosmetics are full of chemicals banned by Europe – why?
    2. Identifying Toxic Consumer Products
    3. Phthalates and Their Impacts on Human Health 
    4. shampoo, makeup may kill 100k Americans prematurely 
    5. Hair Smoothing Products That Release Formaldehyde 
    6. health/beauty-skin-care/shampoo-ingredients-to-avoid 
    7. Four harmful ingredients to avoid in your hair products  
    8. Xenoestrogens: What Are They, How to Avoid Them