My hair is usually a hot mess when I wake up in the morning. Fortunately, thanks to my good ol’ flat iron and a little styling gel, my hair becomes tamer and more presentable for the day. I’ve always avoided hairsprays since the fumes irritate my eyes and nose, as well as create indoor air pollution. Little did I know both hair gels and hairsprays consist of some pretty foul chemicals that impact your hair and health long-term.
What to Look Out For
The main ingredients you want to be cautious of are alcohols, PEG compounds, parabens, dimethyl phthalate, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, and fragrance. Let me go into more detail about alcohols.
Alcohols, commonly found in styling products, hold your locks in whatever cool new hairdo you have–whether it’s flowy Rapunzel-like hair or punk rock spikes. But of course, there’s a price to pay. In return for solid hold, the alcohol dries out your hair, which in extreme cases could result in breakage.
The majority of hairsprays utilize alcohol, but you should be especially concerned if it’s one of the first ingredients on the label. Why? Companies list ingredients in descending order by weight. Thus, if alcohol is the first ingredient, that product could be the culprit of your dry hair. On top of that, inhaling the fumes could cause dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Therefore, steer clear of ingredients like SD alcohol, alcohol denat., isopropyl alcohol, and ethanol.
3 tips if you’re using hairspray that contains these alcohols:
1. Use hairspray occasionally, not every day. Save it for special events.
2. Don’t use too much hairspray. If the hairspray isn’t dry within 30 seconds, you’re probably overdoing it.
3. Hold the bottle 6-8 inches from your hair. Close your eyes, and make sure you’re spraying in a well-ventilated area.
Are all alcohols equally bad?
I feel like I need to clear the reputation of alcohols here. Not all alcohols are drying. In fact, fatty alcohols, like cetyl, cetearyl, stearyl, and behenyl alcohol, impart a smooth, soft feeling to the hair shaft. So, these types of alcohols actually condition your hair!
Propylene glycol, another type of alcohol, can be found in a multitude of personal care products, hair gel being just one of them. It wears so many different hats, functioning as an emulsifier, solvent, or humectant (helps retain moisture). For that reason, it can be found in a wide range of goods, including medicine, food, antifreeze, e-cigarettes, and cosmetic products.
Unfortunately, propylene glycol has developed quite a bad reputation due to misinformation over the internet. Often times, people will take statements from the Material Safety Data Sheet and use it out of context. Understandably so, workers exposed to large amounts of concentrated chemicals need to take strong safety precautions in the workplace. However, these warnings shouldn’t then be used to claim the chemicals are toxic and dangerous when used in personal care products.
In 2004, the National Toxicology Program concluded “there is negligible concern for adverse developmental and reproductive effects in humans” regarding propylene glycol. Furthermore, in 2012, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel reviewed data, determining that propylene glycol is safe for use in cosmetics when formulated to be non-irritating. The one low health risk to keep in mind is the potential to irritate skin and cause contact dermatitis, sometimes at low concentrations of 2%. The Environmental Working Group rates propylene glycol a 3/10, so it’s definitely not a high health concern.
Side Note Regarding Babies
Infants and toddlers cannot break down propylene glycol as quickly as an adult can. This is due to the fact that their enzyme pathways are still in development. Therefore, babies and pregnant women shouldn’t ingest foods or be exposed to propylene glycol in products. To avoid it in food, look for propylene glycol, 1,2-propanediol, or E1520 on ingredient labels. A good general rule of thumb is to cut out processed foods, desserts, and sodas.
Interested in trying some cool, new hair products made with nourishing ingredients?
Best Hair Styling Products I Like
Why I Like It: Badger Hair Pomade is certified USDA organic and made with simple, natural ingredients. It provides medium hold with great shine.
Why I Like It: Dr. Bronner’s hair creme is certified organic and vegan, providing light styling hold. It makes your hair silky soft without the use of any synthetic ingredients.
Why I Like It: This is a volumizing powder that’s easy to apply and long-lasting. You can distribute it into dry hair at the roots for an instant boost.
Why I Like It: This color-safe hairspray is a medium hold formula that controls static and protects against humidity, frizz, and flyaways. Andalou Naturals hairspray contains ethanol. But, as long as you’re not using hairspray too often, it shouldn’t be drying for your hair.