Natural Hair Products: Myths, Legends & Catch Words

We are more than ever looking for something more natural when it comes to haircare and cosmetics. With almost everything we do having a chemical attached to it, including our ‘fresh’ fruit & vegetables & even our drinking water, people are hunting for a more natural, chemical free way.

However, a lot of people are also being mislead…..whether it be by product companies, bloggers, health food shops or well meaning family members.

What do you see when you scan the back of a bottle of shampoo….a whole bunch of big words right? It makes sense in your brain that anything that has more than 10 letters is most probably going to be a chemical of some sort. So you put that bottle down and utter the words “that’s not natural”.

Here is your first mistake. 

Do you know what some of the top  most poisonous substances known to man are? (And believe me when I was researching this, THIS was an eye-opener!)

Ricin: Deadly Poison. A dose the size of a single grain of sand is enough to kill. It comes from the Castor Bean….Castor Oil also comes from Castor Beans but is not poisonous.

Botulinum: Neurotoxin made by bacteria.You can get this from improperly sealed cans or bad meat. Pain and temporary muscle paralysis is the best case scenario. Severe paralysis can stop a person from breathing, causing death. It is also contained in tiny amounts in Botox.

Tetradotoxin: Or TTX is a powerful neurotoxin. Just a tiny bit paralyzes muscles you need working in order to live…6 hours and you’re a goner. The puffer fish contains this toxin and  is used to prepare the Japanese delicacy fugu.It’s also found in some Octopus, flatworms, sea stars, angelfish, toads, and newts.

Cyanide: A deadly poison that binds to iron in blood, preventing it from carrying oxygen to cells. A lethal dose kills in minutes.It’s found in seeds of apples. cherries, almonds, and apricots. Its said to smell like almonds, but in fact the smell of almonds is the smell of the cyanide contained in them.

Strychnine: A naturally-occurring poison, mainly obtained from seeds of the Strychnos nux-vomica tree. It’s a neurotoxin that acts on spinal nerves, causing victims to contort and convulse.

Plonium: Radioactive material that is naturally occurring.

Radon: Natural radioactive gas. (Fun fact: Did you know Cork has an unhealthily high level of Radon in the ground? Radon can be contained within rocks in the ground and when building, these rocks will be split open releasing this gas into the environment. Check out this link for more info by UCC on Radon in Cork)

Mercury, Lead….the list goes on…..

Do you see a pattern in this list? That’s right, they are all natural. NATURAL.

While you obviously wont find these in a natural store, it is a lesson that not all that is natural is good. (I knew there was a reason I didn’t like marzipan…see almonds!)


However, this can also be applied the other way around….



Some scary words that are actually naturally derived:

Cocamide MEA, or cocamide monoethanolamine: Produced from the fatty acids in coconut oil when reacted with ethanolamine (ethanolamine is an organic chemical compound that is used for preparing emulsions or as a PH regulator in cosmetics).

Linalool: Found naturally occurring in many flowers and spice plants and usually used for scent.

Hexyl cinnamaldehyde: A common additive in perfume and cosmetic industry as aroma substance. It is found naturally in the essential oil of chamomile.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa): Used as a foaming agent but made from vegetable origin such as coconut oil, guar beans etc. (NOT THE SAME AS SLS).

Glycol Stearate: A natural occurring fatty acid used as an emulsifier.

Panthenol: Is a form of Vitamin B5 and used for moisturising hair.

Essential Oils can also be classified in chemistry as: classified as terpenes, alcohols, esters, aldehydes, ketones and phenols – how that for a bunch of trigger words when  you are looking at ingredients.



Lets talk the scary ones: These are the ‘Trigger Words’ when it comes to hair care.



Sulfates are chemicals used as cleansing agents. They’re found in household cleaners, detergents and shampoo. Two main types of sulfates are used in shampoo: sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. The purpose of these sulfates is to create a lathering effect to remove oil and dirt from your hair.

Sulphates got a bad name a few years ago as they were claimed to be cancer causing, however further scientific evidence has debunked this claim.

However it is a known irritant for skin and eyes if used long term, hence why many people will be sensitive to it.

BUT don’t be scared of every sulphate because of this. Many alternatives have been developed using natural products such as guar bean and coconut oil which are both naturally create lather, such as SLSa.

DEA (diethanolamine) MEA (momoethnanolamine) TEA (triethanolamine):

These are hormone disruptors and have been shown to cause Cancers.

On the US TV show “CBS This Morning”, Roberta Baskin said that “It [DEA] is in hundreds of cosmetic products….but it does something more than make soap bubbles. A Federal government study says that DEA and DEA-based detergents have been shown to greatly increase the risk of cancer, especially liver and kidney cancer….”

John Bailey, head of the cosmetic division for the FDA, says that the new study is especially important since “the risk equation changes significantly for children.” Tests at the University of Bologna in Italy found TEA to be the most frequent sensitiser used in cosmetics, gels, shampoos, creams, lotions, etc.

U. S. Food and Drug Administration
Centre for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Office of Cosmetics Fact Sheet
December 9, 1999


Alcohols: While alcohols aren’t necessarily bad for your health (when in hair products) they can be drying on your scalp and hair. On the other hand, some alcohols help with moisture and manageability of our hair. Cetearyl alcohol and Cetyl alcohol are two of the most common fatty alcohols in hair products which are used to help your hair retain moisture.

Parabens: These are commonly used as preservatives. They are cheaper to alternative preservatives so are widely used in drugstore and supermarket shampoo’s. However, they also have the ability to mimic oestrogen and cause breast cancer and are easily absorbed through the skin.Some commonly found parabens are butylparabens, propylparabens and methylparabens. But some are harder to spot such asAlkyl parahydroxy benzoates.

Essential Oils can also be classified in chemistry as: classified as terpenes, alcohols, esters, aldehydes, ketones and phenols – how that for a bunch of trigger words when  you are looking at ingredients.

Silicons: While also not being proven to be bad for your health, they can cause build up in your hair which can cause problems when colouring or bleaching hair. They are usually one of the biggest reasons people think they have dandruff as it causes a flaky appearance when the silicons build up on your hair and scalp and flake off.

However most salon exclusive shampoo’s (bought from only salons not drugstores) contain silicons, the difference being that they are water soluble. This means that with every wash, the old silicon is being washed off and replaced with a new layer, creating the shine. Instead of the non-water soluble, cheaper type that builds up.


You might think you are safe with haircare from natural shops……


While you may be forgiven for thinking that all natural haircare looks like this pretty picture……. I did some research recently into the ingredients listed on some of the top brands from health food shops.

These were interesting. While they weren’t all cause for concern, some were misleading and others just outright lying.

A certain range of products claims to be rich in minerals and extracts sourced from the depths of the Dead Sea.
…the only one we can see is Sea Salt. There rest are flower oils e.g. geranium and beeswax….umm excuse me?
“This rich, creamy shampoo has been created to soothe dry, flaky scalps and revitalise damaged hair. The gentle formulation can be used daily on all hair types.”
It also contains Zinc Pyrithione which is used for Dandruff as it is anti-fungal so would not consider this effective for all hair types and one side effect of  but side effects Zinc Pyrithione can be hair loss!
Also claiming to revitalise damaged hair, this product also  contains Salicylic Acid, the side effects of which include drying and thinning of hair. Though generally considered safe, some people may have skin sensitivity to it, and if they use it regularly, may end up with skin that is dry, red, and peeling.
Another very popular brand which contained the word Nature in its name claims to be all natural contained Potassium sorbate which is a chemical additive. It’s widely used as a preservative in foods, drinks, and personal care products. It is an odorless and tasteless salt synthetically produced….so I wouldn’t really call this natural. While non toxic but prolonged use most especially in large amounts can potentially lead to allergies.
Another brand which had Organics in its title actually contained a formaldehyde releaser called Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate which a useful Cosmetic Database listed it as moderately to highly hazardous, had a moderate to high chance of causing allergies and slightly cancer causing!

The problem with labelling – There are no laws that regulate the use of words such as natural or organic on products. 


Well now you have an insight into hair care ingredients. If you are looking to go more natural. It is usually best to ask a trusted professional at a salon if you are also concerned about the health and look of your hair.

While health food stores and naturally hand made products are great, they aren’t going to necessarily be great for the look of your hair. They may contain low or no nasties, but keeping the colour in your hair or strengthening it against the damages of bleaching and the environment isn’t going to be their top priority.

Cheaper shampoo means cheaper ingredients, and the reason that some of these bad ingredients are used is because they are cheap. Its false economy in the long wrong as we have done tests to prove that professional shampoo, although more expensive to purchase actually lasts so much longer that it makes it almost the same price as cheaper shampoo per number of washes (or ml for ml used).

Also, you can be fooled into thinking that using things straight from the vine (so to speak) or out of your baking cupboard is the best way to deal with this. However the old baking soda to wash your hair with and vinegar to rinse is less than ideal. While chemicals can cause irritation in some people, some natural products such as this can be just as harsh. Baking soda is the quickest way to get out your expensive hair colour….its also the quickest way to dry out your hair. Its harsher than dishwashing liquid. Think what your mum used to scrub the kitchen sink with to get rid of the stains.

Natural doesn’t always mean irritation free or good for you, as this blog has proven. Some people will not get a reaction to Sulphates, while some people are allergic to lavender. I even have a client that gets a headache at the smell of oranges. Everyone is different. Do what is best for you….and if all else fails, don’t be fooled, do your own research.


By Sarah Thomas





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