Guide guide hair care

Ingredients Guide

What You Need to Look for On Your Hair Product Labels


  • The ingredients in any hair care products are listed in order of concentration: from highest concentration to lowest concentration
  • Use water soluble silicones, especially if you have thin or fine hair
  • “Sulfate Free” does not always mean that the product is free of sulfates. Read your labels carefully
  • Avoid parabéns


Why do cosmetics manufacturers use silicones?   

Silicones have been incorporated in personal care products since the 1950s. Initially used in skin care products, and more recently in hair care applications, silicones are recognised for their lubricating properties and for the characteristic soft smooth feel they create (comb-ability, reduced friction and breakage). While silicones that made it to your product shelf are considered safe to use, not all silicones have been created equal. Long-term effects of usage, including build up and hair brittleness have been gaining more and more prominence recently.

In response, beauty industry has introduced what’s known as “water soluble silicones” to address negative effects of non-soluble silicones while also keeping its benefits, especially to those of us with thin or fine hair. In hair care, cosmetic manufacturers add silicones to shampoos, conditioners, and styling products to help create the slip needed to detangle and give hair a silky shine and manageability. Let’s look at how silicones types differ.

Water soluble silicones

The name is the give-away – a water-soluble silicone is the one that it is able to dissolve in water. It is a silicone that is easy to wash out of the hair using mild-shampoos or conditioner-only techniques and which does not leave a heavy buildup.

Approved Water-soluble Silicones:

  • Anything with:
    • PEG (for example, PEG-12 Dimethicone, PEG-7 Amodimethicone, PEG-8 Disteramonium Chloride PG-Dimethicone, Dimethicone PEG8 meadowfoamate, Lauryl PEG-8 Dimethicone)
    • pg- (for example, Dimethicone-PG Diethylmonium Chloride, Hydrolyzed Silk PG-Propyl Methylsilanediol Crosspolymer)
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane  

What does the “PEG” and the number mean? It’s important! Let’s say you have PEG-12 Dimethicone. That means that 12 molecules of polyethylene glycol were reacted with 1 molecule of dimethicone. The higher the number, the more soluble the oil (and silicone is essentially an oil). That’s because there are more of the water-soluble ingredients -the “PEG,” relative to the water insoluble dimethicone. For example, PEG-8 Dimethicone is slightly less water-soluble than PEG-12 dimethicone, which is slightly less water-soluble than PEG/PPG 15/20 dimethicone.

Non-soluble silicones

These are silicones that cannot be removed or penetrated with water, which can inadvertently damage the hair. This happens by silicones “sticking” to the hair surface creating a plastic-like film, preventing strands to absorb water, air and nutrients. They are removable with Sulfates, but in turn, the frequent use of Sulfates dehydrates the hair. It becomes a vicious cycle. 

Silicones to Avoid:

All ingredients that contain the following words.

  • botanisil
  • cone (for example, avoid “Cetearyl methicone“)
  • dimethcione
  • dimethicon (for example, avoid “dimethiconol”)
  • microsil
  • silane
  • silicon
  • siloxane
  • siloxysilicate
  • silsesquioxane
  • silylate

Sulfates (and other cleansers)

“Sulfate free” doesn’t always mean sulfate free. When advertisers label “Sulfate Free” at the very front, they are referring to one of the harshest Sulfates: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. However, this does not mean that the product is entirely free of Sulfates. On several occasions, we have found other drying Sulfates in the list, despite the “Sulfate Free” label.

Approved Gentle Detergents:

  • ammonium cocoyl isethionate
  • babassuamidopropyl betaine
  • capryl glucoside
  • caprylyl glucoside
  • cocamidopropyl betaine
  • cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine
  • coco betaine
  • coco glucoside
  • decyl glucoside
  • decyl polyglucose
  • disodium 2-sulfolaurate
  • disodium cocoamphodiacetate
  • disodium cocoamphodipropionate
  • disodium laureth succinate
  • disodium laureth sulfosuccinate
  • disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate
  • lauryl glucoside
  • lauryl hydroxysultaine
  • sodium cocoamphoacetate
  • sodium cocoyl isethionate
  • sodium lauroamphoacetate
  • sodium lauroyl glutamate
  • sodium lauroyl hydrolyzed silk
  • sodium lauroyl lactylate
  • sodium lauroyl oat amino acids
  • sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate
  • sodium laurylglucosides hydroxypropylsulfonate
  • sodium methyl 2-sulfolaurate
  • sodium methyl cocoyl taurate


The following are sulfates or similar cleansers and not recommended because they can dry out hair, especially if you have thin or fine hair. How drying a product is depends on more than if it contains sulfates or not, but it’s easiest just to avoid them.

  • alkyl benzene sulfonate
  • alkylbenzene sulfonate
  • ammonium cocoyl sulfate
  • ammonium cocoyl sulphate
  • ammonium laureth sulfate
  • ammonium laureth sulphate
  • ammonium lauryl sulfate
  • ammonium lauryl sulphate
  • ammonium xylene-sulfonate
  • ammonium xylenesulfonate
  • ethyl peg-15 cocamine sulfate
  • sodium alkyl sulfate
  • sodium alkyl sulphate
  • sodium c12-18 alkyl sulfate
  • sodium c12-18 alkyl sulphate
  • sodium cetearyl sulfate
  • sodium cetearyl sulphate
  • sodium coceth sulfate
  • sodium coceth sulphate
  • sodium coco sulfate
  • sodium coco sulphate
  • sodium coco-sulfate
  • sodium coco-sulphate
  • sodium cocosulfate
  • sodium cocosulphate
  • sodium laureth sulfate
  • sodium laureth sulphate
  • sodium laureth-40 sulfate
  • sodium laureth-40 sulphate
  • sodium lauryl sulfate
  • sodium lauryl sulphate
  • sodium myreth sulfate
  • sodium myreth sulphate
  • sodium polystyrene sulfate
  • sodium polystyrene sulphate
  • sodium xylene-sulfonate
  • sodium xylenesulfonate
  • tea dodecylbenzenesulfonate
  • tea lauryl sulfate
  • tea lauryl sulphate
  • tea-dodecylbenzenesulfonate
  • triethanolamine lauryl sulfate
  • triethanolamine lauryl sulphate


Some find these drying, but they are NOT sulfates. We recommend you do your own research to find out if these are good for your hair.

  • dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate
  • disodium cocoyl glutamate
  • olefin sulfonate
  • oliefin sulfonate
  • sodium c 14-18 olefin sulfonate
  • sodium c 16-18 olefin sulfonate
  • sodium c12-14 olefin sulfonate
  • sodium c14-15 olefin sulfonate
  • sodium c14-16 olefin sulfonate
  • sodium c14-26 olefin sulfonate
  • sodium cocoyl glutamate
  • sodium cocoyl sarcosinate
  • sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate
  • sodium lauroyl methyl lsethionate
  • sodium lauroyl sarcosinate
  • sodium lauroyl sarcosine
  • sodium lauroylmethyl isethionate
  • sodium lauryl methyl isothionate
  • sodium lauryl sarcosinate
  • sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
  • sodium myristoyl sarcosinate

Waxes/Hair Coating Ingredients

Approved Water-Soluble Waxes:

  • emulsifying wax
  • emulsifying wax nf
  • peg 8 beeswax
  • peg-75 lanolin
  • peg-8 beeswax


All ingredients that contain the following words. These ingredients can build up on the hair and it is not possible to remove them easily. They are removable with Sulfates, but in turn, the frequent use of Sulfates dehydrates the hair.  

  • cera
  • cire
  • dodecane
  • dodecene
  • isododecane
  • isohexad
  • isohexadecane
  • isohexanedecane
  • lanolin
  • mineral oil
  • paraffin
  • petrolatum
  • shellac
  • wax (for example, avoid “almond wax“, it contains “wax”)


Other questionable ingredients to avoid:


Why You Should Avoid Soap On Your Hair?

Soap is much worse for your hair than sulfates. It can be much more harsh than sulfates in all scientific tests of harshness that we have seen. It is also alkaline. The pH of hair is 5.5 and most good quality cleansers are around that as well. But soap is usually 8 or more. This can damage hair badly, leaving it dull and dry. For skin soap can be fine, as skin can recover from the damage. But hair is not “alive” and cannot.

We detect soap by looking for the following, but this may not catch all soap. We recommend contacting the manufacturer to ask if something contains soap:

  • potassium hydroxide
  • saponification
  • saponified
  • saponifying
  • soap
  • sodium carboxylate
  • sodium palm


Parabens are a common category of preservatives used in cosmetics and hair care products. Compared to other, safer alternatives, they are cheaper, and mimic anti-microbial agents in plants. However, they also have the ability to mimic estrogen and cause breast cancer. Research has found that parabens and mineral oil may cause considerable damage to the hair and scalp. Today, there are many other safer alternatives to such ingredients.

Risks associated with Parabens

Parabens are supposed to inhibit microbial growth in common cosmetic products like lotions, creams, scalp cleansers and so on. However, they may also disrupt the normal hormonal cycle of the body. As mentioned above, parabens can mimic estrogen and reduce the production of this important hormone in women. This increases the risk of breast cancer. Parabens are being suspected to be the cause of early puberty in girls as well.

Parabens are easily absorbed through the skin. It is due to this reason that they can harm the scalp, which is an extension of the skin. In a recent study, parabens were found in the urine and blood of healthy males after using paraben-based products. Using products containing parabens may also cause low sperm count and testicular cancer.

Parabens are hard to spot

A lot of the risk associated with parabens is that they are found under a range of compound names. Some commonly found parabens are

  • Butylparabens
  • Propylparabens
  • Methylparabens
  • Alkyl parahydroxy benzoates

Witch Hazel

Most types of witch hazel contain alcohol. Contact the manufacturer to see if the witch hazel in this product contains alcohol. Even if it does not contain alcohol, many people find witch hazel drying. Use with caution if you have hair prone to dryness.

Sources and Further Reading: