The Dirt on Shampoo Ingredients: 8 Tips On What to Look For and What to Avoid

You can probably pick out shampoo faster than it takes you to read this sentence, but accidentally snagging a bad one can strip your hair of protective oils, cause breakage, and even contribute to hair loss. Here's a breakdown of ingredients to avoid, along with a list of the most beneficial for sudsing up.

Photo courtesy of Corbis
Photo courtesy of Corbis

You can probably pick out shampoo faster than it takes you to read this sentence, but accidentally snagging a bad one can strip your hair of protective oils, cause breakage, and even contribute to hair loss.

Here's a breakdown of ingredients to avoid, along with a list of the most beneficial for sudsing up.

Biggest Offenders

1. Sulfates

They're strong chemical detergents (also found in kitchen degreasers like dishwasher soap) that give shampoo that foamy quality, but they can cause scalp irritation, redness, and itching.

2. Isopropyl Alcohol

The petroleum-derived substance cleans and dissolves oils, but it's also found in antifreeze, wood finish, and shellac. Alcohol is also extremely drying and strips hair of moisture, which can lead to hair damage and loss.

3. Formaldehyde

The chemical preservative kills bacteria, but it's also a known carcinogen that irritates the eyes and respiratory system and can cause skin inflammation.

4. Propylene Glycol

The detergent helps cleaning ingredients penetrate hair, but it also breaks down healthy-hair proteins and irritates sensitive skin and eyes.

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The Good Guys

1. Glycerin

It acts as a protective barrier to follicles, helping hair retain moisture long after you've rinsed.

2. Nut and Seed Oils

Jojoba, avocado, and shea naturally add moisture and shine to hair while also removing oily build up.

3. Acidic ingredients

Sodium citrate or citric acid helps keep shampoo at the right pH balance to wash away dirt and oil while also causing hair cuticles to lie flat so hair looks shiny and smooth.

4. Panthenol

A form of vitamin B, it thickens hair follicles and helps to retain moisture and shine.

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Recommended Shampoos

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Photo courtesy of Corbis

For Daily Shampooers: Apivita Shampoo for Frequent Use ($20)

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Photo courtesy of Corbis

For the Spare-Haired: Apivita Shampoo for Thinning Hair ($22)

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Photo courtesy of Corbis

For a Little TLC: Dr. Harris Therapeutic Shampoo

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Photo courtesy of Corbis

Best for Less: J.R. Liggett's Jojoba and Peppermint Bar Shampoo ($7)

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